Rhythm Research Class

Module 1, Class 3: Rhythm and the Dissolution of Temporal Boundaries

Rhythm is invariably tied to the question of time. We cannot think about rhythm without thinking about time, nor do we ever encounter time completely independently of rhythm. As such, one of the ways in which liturgies may be significant is in their formation of our experience of time through rhythm. This is the argument of the text we used in class this week – Emma O’Donnell’s Remembering the Future.

O’Donnell’s argument is that in liturgy, temporal boundaries become disintegrated. The boundaries between past, present, and future become porous and even break down, in that liturgy is arguably an attempt to help us locate ourselves in the past, as part of a tradition and community that was before us. Likewise, in so doing we identify with their eschatological hopes for the future, such that the future appears to be located in the past, both of which are experienced in the present liturgical moment. Thus, as the temporal boundaries disintegrate, time becomes fully integrated in a way that it rarely is in everyday life.

The students didn’t have the background to know this, but this is of course associated with that which is called by various names in philosophy including the Moment, the Instant, Kairos. It has even been recognized as associated with liturgy, particularly by Jean-Yves Lacoste’s Experience and the Absolute. Lacoste argues that in prayer or liturgy we are taken out of the flow of time and are able to symbolically see the whole because we are standing in the Eschaton. Lacoste’s perspective is, in a sense, the inverse of O’Donnell’s. Time is integrated from the perspective of the Eschaton, whereas O’Donnell seems to suggest that time is integrated primarily through identifying with the past.

Regardless, one of the implications of the fact that this unique experience of time is associated with liturgy is that the mechanism by which this experience is achieved is rhythmic, which is fascinating since it is not the absence of rhythm, which is a kind of marking of time, that achieves suspension from time, but its intensification. I suspect this is associated with Kimerer Lamothe’s identification of repetitive dance, such as that of the whirling dervishes, as capable of initiating a trance-like state in which the boundaries between self and universe are felt to dissolve.

It is interesting to consider why this would be the case. What is it about repetitive bodily motion that leads to the experience of a breakdown in boundaries?

My instinct is that something about repetitive movement breaks down the sense of difference we tend to experience from our own bodies. Illusory or not, I suspect most of us experience our bodies as responding to our will most of the time. This will, these decisions, mediate between our sense of subjectivity and our bodies. However, in engaging in a repetitive motion, the will no longer maintains the movement. Instead, it takes on a momentum of its own. The movement itself is therefore in control of, not only our bodies, but our minds, our subjectivity, as well. Thus, any distance or barriers that experientially separate body, motion, and mind are broken down and with the sense of immediate connection to a movement that appears to not be generated by ourselves, we feel a sense of connection to the world beyond ourselves as well. Finally, I suspect that much of our sense of past, present, and future is associated with willful decision-making and a sense of subjective identity in that we always make decisions in the context of where we are now relative to what happened before and what might happen in the future. Likewise, decision-making is arguably the situation in which we are most likely to experience ourselves as subjects. Thus, in moving away from this way of being in the world, our sense of past, present, and future naturally breaks down as well.


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