I have the impression this isn't the first time I've found myself in this situation: with my bow just slackened in my outstretched left hand, my right hand drawn back, the arrow A suspended in midair at about a third of its trajectory, and, a bit farther on, also suspended in midair, and also at about a third of his trajectory, the lion L in the act of leaping upon me, jaws agape and claws extended. In a second I'll know if the arrow's trajectory and the lion's will or will not coincide at a point X crossed both by L and by A at the same second t_X, that is, if the lion will slump in the air with a roar stifled by the spurt of blood that will flood his dark throat pierced by the arrow, or whether he will fall unhurt upon me knocking me to the ground with both forepaws which will lacerate the muscular tissue of my shoulders and chest, while his mouth, closing with a simple snap of the jaws, will rip my head from my neck at the level of the first vertebra.
So many and so complex are the factors that condition the parabolic movement both of arrows and of felines that I am unable for the moment to judge which of the eventualities is the more probable. I am therefore in one of those situations of uncertainty and expectation where one really doesn't know what to think. And the thought that immediately occurs to me is this: it doesn't seem the first time to me. With this I don't mean to refer to other hunting experiences of mine: an archer, the moment he thinks he's experienced, is lost; every lion we encounter in our brief life is different from every other lion; woe to us if we stop to make comparisons, to deduce our movements from norms and premises. I am speaking of this lion L and of this arrow A which have now reached a third, roughly, of their respective trajectories.
Nor am I to be included among those who believe in the existence of a first and absolute lion, of which all the various individual and approximate lions that jump on us are only shadows or simulacra. In our hard life there is no room for anything that isn't concrete, that can't be grasped by the senses.
Equally alien to me is the view of those who assert that each of us carries within himself from birth a memory of lion that weighs upon his dreams, inherited by sons from fathers, and so when he sees a lion he immediately and spontaneously says: Ha, a lion! I could explain why and how I have come to exclude this idea, but this doesn't seem to me the right moment.
Suffice it to say that by "lion" I mean only this yellow clump that has sprung forth from a bush in the savannah, this hoarse grunt that exhales an odor of bloody flesh, and the white fur of the belly and the pink of the under-paws and the sharp angle of the retractile claws just as I see them over me now with a mixture of sensations that I call "lion" in order to give it a name though I want it to be clear it has nothing to do with the word "lion" nor even with the idea of lion which one might form in other circumstances.
If I say this moment I am living through is not being lived for the first time by me, it's because the sensation I have of it is one of a slight doubling of images, as if at the same time I were seeing not one lion or one arrow but two or more lions and two or more arrows superimposed with a barely perceptible overlapping, so the sinuous outlines of the lion's form and the segment of the arrow seem underlined or rather haloed by finer lines and a more delicate color. The doubling, however, could be only an illusion through which I depict to myself an otherwise indefinable sense of thickness, whereby lion arrow bush are something more than this lion this arrow this bush, namely, the interminable repetition of lion arrow bush arranged in this specific relationship with an interminable repetition of myself in the moment when I have just slackened the string of my bow.
I wouldn't want this sensation as I have described it, however, to resemble too much the recognition of something already seen, arrow in that position, lion in that other and reciprocal relation between the positions of arrow and of lion and of me rooted here with the bow in my hand; I would prefer to say that what I have recognized is only the space, the point of space where the arrow is which would be empty if the arrow weren't there, the empty space which now contains the lion and the space which now contains me, as if in the void of the space we occupy or rather cross -- that is, which the world occupies or rather crosses -- certain points had become recognizable to me in the midst of all the other points equally empty and equally crossed by the world. And bear this in mind: it isn't that this recognition occurs in relation, for example, to the configuration of the terrain, the distance of the river or the forest: the space that surrounds us is a space that is always different, I know this quite well, I know the Earth is a heavenly body that moves in the midst of other moving heavenly bodies, I know that no sign, on the Earth or in the sky, can serve me as an absolute point of reference, I also remember that the stars turn in the wheel of the galaxy and the galaxies move away from one another at speeds proportional to the distance. But the suspicion that has gripped me is precisely this: that I have come to find myself in a space not new to me, that I have returned to a point where we had already passed by. And since it isn't merely a question of me but also of an arrow and a lion, it's no good thinking this is just chance: here time is involved, which continues to cover a trail it has already followed. I could then define as time and not as space that void I felt I recognized as I crossed it.
The question I now ask myself is if a point of time's trail can be superimposed on points of preceding passages. In this case, the impression of the images' thickness would be explained by the repeated beating of time on an identical instant. It might also be, in certain points, an occasional slight overlapping between one passage and the next: images slightly doubled or unfocused would then be the clue that the trail of time is a little worn by use and leaves a narrow margin of play around its obligatory channels. But even if it were simply a momentary optical effect, the accent remains, as of a cadence I seem to feel beating on the instant I am living through. I still wouldn't like what I have said to make this moment seem endowed with a special temporal consistency in the series of moments that precede it and follow it: from the point of view of time it is actually a moment that lasts as long as the others, indifferent to its content, suspended in its course between past and future; what it seems to me I've discovered is only its punctual recurrence in a series that is repeated, identical to itself every time.
In short, the whole problem, now that the arrow is hissing through the air and the lion arches in his spring and I still can't tell if the arrowhead dipped in serpent's venom will pierce the tawny skin between the widened eyes or will miss, abandoning my helpless viscera to the rending that will separate them from the framework of bones to which they are now anchored and will drag and scatter them over the bloodied, dusty ground until before night the vultures and the jackals will have erased the last trace, the whole problem for me is to know if the series of which this second is a part is open or closed. Because if, as I seem to have heard maintained sometimes, it is a finite series, that is if the universe's time began at a certain moment and continues in an explosion of stars and nebulae, more and more rarefied, until the moment when the dispersion will reach the extreme limit and stars and nebulae will start concentrating again, the consequence I must draw is that time will retrace its steps, that the chain of minutes will unroll in the opposite direction, until we are back at the beginning, only to start over again, and all of this will occur infinite times -- and it may just be, then, that time did have a beginning: the universe does nothing but pulsate between two extreme moments, forced to repeat itself forever -- just as it has already repeated itself infinite times and just as this second where I now find myself is repeated.
Let's try to look at it all clearly, then: I find myself in a random space-time intermediary point of a phase of the universe; after hundreds of millions of billions of seconds here the arrow and the lion and I and the bush have found ourselves as we now find ourselves, and this second will be promptly swallowed up and buried in the series of the hundreds of millions of billions of seconds that continues, independently of the outcome, a second from now, of the convergent or divergent flight of the lion and of the arrow; then at a certain point the course will reverse its direction, the universe will repeat its vicissitude backwards, from the effects the causes will punctually arise, so also from these effects I am waiting for and don't know, from an arrow that plows into the ground raising a yellow cloud of dust and tiny fragments of flint or else which pierces the palate of the beast like a new, monstrous tooth, we'll come back to the moment I am now living, the arrow returning to fit itself to the taut bow as if sucked back, the lion falling again behind the bush on his rear legs tensed like a spring, and all the afterward will gradually be erased second by second by the return of the before, it will be forgotten in the dispersal of billions of combinations of neurons within the lobes of brains, so that no one will know he's living in reversed time just as I myself am not now sure in which direction the time I move in is moving, and if the then I'm waiting for hasn't in reality already happened just a second ago, bearing with it my salvation or my death.
What I ask myself is whether, seeing that at this point we have to go back in any case, it wouldn't be wise for me to stop, to stop in space and in time, while the string of the barely slackened bow bends in the direction opposite to the one where it was previously tautened, and while my right foot barely lightened of the weight of the body is lifted in a ninety-degree twist, and to let it be motionless like that to wait until, from the darkness of space-time, the lion emerges again and sets himself against me with all four legs in the air, and the arrow goes back to its place in its trajectory at the exact point where it is now. What, after all, is the use of continuing if sooner or later we will only find ourselves in this situation again? I might as well grant myself a few dozen billion years' repose, and let the rest of the universe continue its spatial and temporal race to the end, and wait for the return trip to jump on again and go back in my story and the universe's to the origin, and then begin once more to find myself here -- or else let time go back by itself and let it approach me again while I stand still and wait -- and then see if the right moment has come for me to make up my mind and take the next step, to go and give a look at what will happen to me in a second, or on the other hand if it's best for me to remain here definitively. For this there is no need for my material particles to be removed from their spatial-temporal course, from the bloody ephemeral victory of the hunter or of the lion: I'm sure that in any case a part of us remains entangled with each single intersection of time and space, and therefore it would be enough not to separate ourselves from this part, to identify with it, letting the rest go on turning as it must turn to the end.
In short, I am offered this possibility: to constitute a fixed point in the oscillating phases of the universe. Shall I seize the opportunity or is it best to skip it? As far as stopping goes, I might well stop not just myself, which I realize wouldn't make much sense, but stop along with me what serves to define this moment for me, arrow lion archer suspended just as we are, forever. It seems to me in fact that if the lion knew clearly how things stand, he too would surely agree to remain where he is now, at about a third of the trajectory of his furious leap, to separate himself from that self-projection which in another second will encounter the rigid jerks of the death agony or the angry crunching of a still-warm human skull. I can speak therefore not only for myself, but also in the name of the lion. And in the name of the arrow, because an arrow can wish for nothing but to be an arrow as it is in this rapid moment, postponing its destiny as blunted scrap which awaits it whichever target it may strike.
Having established, then, that the situation in which we now find ourselves, lion arrow and I in this moment t_0, will occur two times for each coming and going of time, identical to the other times, and that it has been so repeated as often as the universe has repeated its diastole and its systole in the past -- if it really makes sense to speak of past and future for the succession of these phases, when we know that it doesn't make sense within the phases -- an uncertainty still remains about the situation in the successive seconds t_1, t_2, t_3, et cetera, just as things were uncertain in the preceding t_-1, t_-2, t_-3, et cetera.
The alternatives, on closer examination, are these:
either the space-time lines that the universe follows in the phases of its pulsation coincide at every point;
or else they coincide only in certain exceptional points, such as the second I am now living in, diverging then in the others.
If the latter of these alternatives is correct, from the space-time point where I now am there extends a bundle of possibilities which, the more they proceed in time, the more they diverge, conelike, toward futures which are completely different from one another, and each time I find myself here with the arrow and the lion in the air will correspond to a different point X of intersection in their trajectories, each time the lion will be wounded in a different way, he will have a different agony or will find to a different extent new strength to react, or he won't be wounded at all and will fling himself upon me each time in a different way leaving me possibilities of self-defense or not leaving them, and my victories and my defeats in the struggle with the lion prove to be potentially infinite, so the more times I am disemboweled the more probabilities I'll have of hitting the target the next time I find myself here billions and billions of years later, thus I can express no opinion on this present situation of mine because in the event that I am living the fraction of time immediately preceding the clawing of the beast this would be the last moment of a happy period, whereas if what awaits me is the triumph with which the tribe welcomes the victorious lion hunter, what I'm now living is the climax of anguish, the blackest point of the descent to hell which I must make in order to deserve the coming apotheosis. Therefore it's best for me to flee from this situation whatever may be in store for me, because if there's one interval of time that really counts for nothing it's this very moment, definable only in relation to what follows it, that is to say this second in itself doesn't exist, and so there is no possibility not only of staying in it but even of crossing it for the duration of a second, in short it is a jump of time between the moment in which the lion and the arrow took flight and the moment when a spurt of blood will burst from the lion's veins or from mine.
Consider, too, that if from this second infinite lines of possible futures move out in a cone, the same lines arrive obliquely from a past that is also a cone of infinite possibilities, therefore the I who is now here with the lion plunging on him from above and with the arrow cutting its way through the air is a different I every time because past mother father tribe language age experience are different each time, the lion is always another lion even if I see him just like this each time, with his tail which has curved in the leap till the tuft is near the right flank in a movement that could be a lash or a caress, with the mane so open that it covers a great part of the breast and the torso from my sight and allows only the forepaws to emerge laterally raised as if preparing for me a joyous embrace but in reality ready to plunge the claws in my shoulders with all their strength, and the arrow is made of material that is always different, tipped with different heads, poisoned by dissimilar serpents, though always crossing the air in the same parabola and with the same hiss. What doesn't change is the relation between me arrow lion in this moment of uncertainty which is repeated exactly, an uncertainty whose stake is death, but we must agree that if this menacing death is the death of a me with a different past, of a me that yesterday morning didn't go out to gather roots with my girl cousin, that is rightly speaking another me, a stranger, perhaps a stranger who yesterday morning went gathering roots with my girl cousin, therefore an enemy, in any case if here in my place the other times instead of me there was somebody else, it doesn't then matter much to know if the time before or the time after the arrow struck the lion or not.
In this case, then, it's out of the question that stopping in t_0 for the whole cycle of space and time could have any interest for me. However, the other hypothesis still remains: as in the old geometry lines had only to coincide in two points to coincide in all, so it may be that the spatio-temporal lines drawn by the universe in its alternating phases coincide in all their points and therefore not only t_0 but also t_1 and t_2 and everything that will come afterward will coincide with the respective t_1 t_2 t_3 of the other phases, and likewise all the preceding and following seconds, and I will be reduced to having a sole past and a sole future repeated infinite times before and after this moment. One might, however, wonder whether there is any sense in speaking of repetition when time consists in a single series of points not allowing variations in their nature or in their succession: it would then suffice to say that time is finite and always equal to itself, and can thus be considered as given contemporaneously in all its extent forming a pile of layers of present; in other words, we have a time that is absolutely full, since each of the moments into which it can be broken down constitutes a kind of layer that stays there continuously present, inserted among other layers also continuously present. In short, the second t_0 in which we have the arrow A_0 and a bit farther on the lion L_0 and here the me Q_0 is a space-time layer that remains motionless and identical forever, and next to it there is placed t_1 with the arrow A_1 and the lion L_1 and the me Q_1 who have slightly changed their positions, and beside that there is t_2 which contains A_2 and L_2 and Q_2 and so on. In one of these seconds placed in line it is clear who lives and who dies between the lion L_n and the me Q_n, and in the following seconds there are surely taking place either the tribe's festivities for the hunter who returns with the lion's remains or the funeral of the hunter as through the savannah spreads the terror of the prowling murderous lion. Each second is definitive, closed, without interferences from the others, and I, Q_0, here in my territory t_0 can be absolutely calm and take no interest in what is simultaneously happening to Q_1 Q_2 Q_3 Q_n in the respective seconds near mine, because in reality the lions L_1 L_2 L_3 L_n can never take the place of the familiar and still-inoffensive though menacing L_0, held at bay by an arrow in flight A_0 still containing in itself that mortal power that might prove wasted by A_1 A_2 A_3 A_n in their arrangement in segments of the trajectory more and more distant from the target, ridiculing me as the most clumsy archer of the tribe, or rather ridiculing as clumsy that Q_-n who in t_-n takes aim with his bow.
I know the comparison with the frames of a movie film emerges spontaneously, but if I've avoided using it so far you can be sure I've had my reasons. It's true that each second is closed in itself and incommunicable with the others exactly as in a film frame, but to define its content the points Q_0 L_0 A_0 are not enough: with them we would limit it to a little lion-hunting scene, dramatic if you like but surely not displaying a very broad horizon; what must be considered contemporaneously is the totality of the points contained in the universe in that second t_0 not excluding even one, and then it's best to put the film frame right out of your head because it just confuses things.
So now that I have decided to inhabit forever this second t_0 -- and if I hadn't decided to it would be the same thing because as Q_0 I can inhabit no other -- I have ample leisure to look around and to contemplate my second to its full extent. It encompasses on my right a river blackish with hippopotamuses, on my left the savannah blackish-white with zebras, and scattered at various points along the horizon some baobab trees blackish-yellow with toucans, each of these elements marked by the positions occupied respectively by the hippopotamuses H(a)_0, H(b)_0, H(c)_0 et cetera, by the zebras Z(a)_0, Z(b)_0, Z(c)_0 et cetera, the toucans T(a)_0, T(b)_0, T(c)_0 et cetera. It further embraces hut villages and warehouses of importers and exporters, plantations that conceal underground thousands of seeds at different moments of the process of germination, endless deserts with the position of each grain of sand G(a)_0 G(b)_0 . . . G(n^m)_0 transported by the wind, cities at night with lighted windows and dark windows, cities during the day with red and yellow and green traffic lights, production graphs, price indices, stock market figures, epidemics of contagious diseases with the position of each virus, local wars with volleys of bullets B(a)_0 B(b)_0 . . . B(z)_0 B(zz)_0 B(zzz)_0 . . . suspended in their trajectory, bullets which may strike the enemies E(a)_0 E(b)_0 E(c)_0 hidden among the leaves, airplanes with clusters of just-released bombs suspended beneath them, airplanes with clusters of bombs waiting to be released, total war implicit in the international situation (IS)_0 which at some unknown moment (IS)_X will become explicit total war, explosions of supernovae which might change radically the configuration of our galaxy . . .
Each second is a universe, the second I live is the second I live in, la seconde que je vis c'est la seconde où je demeure, I must get used to conceiving my speech simultaneously in all possible languages if I want to live my universe-instant extensively. Through the combination of all contemporaneous data I could achieve an objective knowledge of the universe-instant t_0 in all its spatial extension, me included, since inside t_0 I, Q_0, am not in the least determined by my past Q_-1 Q_-2 Q_-3 et cetera but by the system composed of all the toucans T_0, bullets B_0, viruses V_0, without which the fact that I am Q_0 could not be established. For that matter, since I no longer have to worry about what will happen to Q_1 Q_2 Q_3 et cetera, there's no use in my assuming the subjective point of view that has guided me so far, now I can identify myself with myself as well as with the lion or with the grain of sand or the cost-of-living index or with the enemy or with the enemy's enemy.
To do this I must establish exactly the co-ordinates of all these points and I must calculate certain constants. I could for example emphasize all the components of suspense and uncertainty that obtain both for me and for the lion the arrow the bombs the enemy and the enemy's enemy, and define t_0 as a moment of universal suspense and uncertainty. But this still tells me nothing substantial about t_0 because granted it is indeed a terrifying moment as I believe is now proved, it could also be just one terrifying moment in a series of moments of mounting terror or equally a terrifying moment in a series of decreasing and therefore illusory terror. In other words this established but relative terror of t_0 can assume completely different values, since t_1 t_2 t_3 can transform the substance of t_0 in a radical manner, or to put it more clearly there are the various t_1's of Q_1, L_1, E(a)_1, E(1/a)_1 which have the power to determine the fundamental qualities of t_0.
And here, it seems to me, things start becoming complicated: my line of conduct is to close myself in t_0 and to know nothing of what happens outside of this second, giving up a limited personal point of view in order to live t_0 in all its global objective configuration, but this objective configuration can be grasped not from within t_0 but only by observing it from another universe-instant, for example from t_1 or from t_2, and not from all their extension contemporaneously but by adopting decisively one point of view, that of the enemy or of the enemy's enemy, that of the lion or that of myself.
To sum up: to stay in t_0 I must establish an objective configuration of t_0; to establish an objective configuration of t_0 I must move to t_1; to move into t_1 I must adopt some kind of subjective viewpoint so I might as well keep my own. To sum up further: to stay still in time I must move with time, to become objective I must remain subjective.
Now let's see how I must behave practically: it remains established that I as Q_0 retain my residence in t_0, but I could meanwhile make the quickest possible dash into t_1 and if that isn't enough proceed on to t_2 and t_3, identifying myself temporarily with Q_1 Q_2 Q_3, all this naturally in the hope that the Q series continues and isn't prematurely cut off by the curved claws of L_1 L_2 L_3, because only in this way could I realize how my position of Q_0 in t_0 is really constituted which is the only thing that should matter to me.
But the danger I risk is that the content of t_1, of the universe-instant t_1, is so much more interesting, so much richer than t_0, in emotions and surprises either triumphant or disastrous, that I might be tempted to devote myself entirely to t_1, turning my back on t_0, forgetting that I had moved to t_1 only to gain more information on t_0. And in this curiosity about t_1, in this illegitimate desire for knowledge about a universe-instant that isn't mine, in wanting to discover if I would really be making a good bargain trading my stable and secure citizenship of t_0 for that modicum of novelty that t_1 could offer me, I might take a step into t_2 just to have a more objective notion of t_1; and that step into t_2 might, in turn . . .
If this is how things stand I realize that my situation won't change in the least even if I abandon the hypotheses from which I set out: that is, supposing time knows no repetitions and consists of an irreversible series of seconds each different from the other, and each second happens once and for all, and living in it for its exact length of one second means living in it forever, and t_0 interests me only with regard to the t_1 t_2 t_3's that follow it with their content of life or death in consequence of the movement I performed in shooting the arrow and the movement that the lion performed in making his leap and also of the other movements the lion and I will make in the next seconds and of the fear that for the whole duration of an interminable second keeps me petrified and keeps petrified the lion in midair and the arrow in my sight and the second t_0 swift as it came now swiftly clicks into the following second and traces with no further doubts the trajectory of the lion and of the arrow . . .