I have stumbled upon a secret that I am with much risk choosing to share with you. I only ask that if you spread this secret, which I would like you to do (for this is my reason for telling you), that you share it with responsible individuals and also that you cover your tracks. The last thing I want or need is the government, or any government for that matter, discovering that I have learned how to time-travel.
But it’s true; I’ve just discovered how last week. And surprisingly, the process is quite simple. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I arrived at the process accidentally, for I was merely doing what I normally do, which is love and pay attention to art, and quite suddenly and miraculously I began transporting, and now I have trouble stopping. But maybe I can stop for just a moment to tell you how it all started, from the beginning.
He crosses two sets of railroad tracks, or the same tracks twice.
—Jorge Luis Borges, ‘The Approach to Al-Mu’tasim’
Coincidentally there are railroad tracks around the Dia:Beacon. I rode the train up the Hudson Valley railroad from New York City, disembarked at the Beacon station, and followed the tracks by foot to the entrance of the museum.
I don’t remember exactly when it happened; all I know is that it occurred inside the museum. Whether I stumbled upon something specific that triggered some sort of portal or not, I can’t be too sure, but suddenly I found myself standing in a stairwell in the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh, Scotland, and the date was 11 January 2009. I had traveled back in time.
Why, just a second ago (and here, the details are slowly coming back to me, but they are a bit fuzzy, so I ask that you bear with me), I was in Beacon and it was 20 December 2012. Yes, and I had come up for the day from New York City, yes, to be on my own in a new place for a little while. And, yes, I was in a museum and I was looking at some sculpture made from real bone (human or animal, I’m not sure but am slightly appalled either way). And it reminded me of a woman I worked with briefly in London who was also a sculptor, and though I don’t think she worked with bone, she probably would’ve liked this, but I hadn’t seen or spoken to her in four years. Since January 2009, if I remember correctly. And now here I am (or was?).
Time-travel is all very confusing at first. It’s very much like attempting to gather your bearings after emerging from an unfamiliar subway station, only instead of frantically trying to grasp which way is north without visibly acting a fool, you are doing so with time and space, which is different and slightly more difficult. By now I’ve gathered that I have somehow been transported to around the last time I spoke with that sculptor friend of mine, but I look around and she is nowhere to be found. Instead I find myself gazing at a wall filled with names. The names, I learned after locating the placard to the side, belong to everyone Douglas Gordon, a Glaswegian artist, has ever met. Or ever remembers meeting. To the best of his ability. At that specific time of listing.
The art piece was titled List of Names (Random) and it is just one of several lists of names Gordon has in museums all over the world. None of the lists are exactly the same; in fact, they are all probably very different, both in size and content. When I went back to the room I was renting (yes, we are still in 2009, in case you’ve forgotten), I copied Gordon’s experiment in my own notebook, listing the names of the people I’ve met as they came into my head. I started a new list everyday for the rest of the week, and oftentimes people would appear on the list grouped together by some sort of common thread. Co-workers at Gower Street, for example. Cousins. Kids from high school. The lists also illuminated the connexions between these people and me, or these people and each other, whom I met through whom. The sculptor woman made a couple of those lists, but if I had made another list before the time-travel incident, I probably wouldn’t have remembered to include her.
It can be pretty funny, can’t it, when one thing reminds you of another thing, especially when the connexion seems rather thin objectively, yet it is still able to hold the present and the past together quite easily amidst the rough and wild current of your running mind.
Funny, yes, but strange? Perhaps not. Strange would be if the north and south banks of the River Thames held all of London together by those skinny little bridges. But of course that is not the case; we all know—we just must be reminded—that the north and south banks make up one London and, if you were to drain the Thames, there is but one land altogether. And perhaps that is what our memories are: just different parts of the mind that we, for one scientific reason or another, forget is all connected and part of one thing.
That was my first time-travelling experience. I’ve since gotten better at the feat, only recently discovering how to travel to time periods before I was born. Last week (2012), during a visit to Mast Books in Alphabet City, Manhattan, I pulled off the shelf a rather tattered issue of The Paris Review (No. 39, Fall 1966) that featured correspondence between e.e. cummings and Ezra Pound, which can’t have been more than forty years old at most, since the two poets began writing to each other sometime during the 1920s. And here I thought the problem with periodicals was their very nature of being periodical, that once one issue is superseded by the next, that issue was immediately rendered worthless. But I realise that I might’ve gotten that all wrong, especially now as I sit here, regarding a month-old issue of Harper’s Magazine that I, up until thirty seconds ago, regretted buying just so I could read an article about Prince.
I didn’t even need to open up that issue of The Paris Review but only had to regard the cover and right away I was transported. The magazine’s shape and size was smaller and thinner than today’s version, which looks physically more like a periodical, whereas the old one looked physically more like a book. The cover design clued me in on some signs of the times as well. The list of inside features were of reasonable, small print and placed below the artwork, so as not to distract or take away from the design’s own merited beauty. Today’s Paris Review relegates its cover image slightly to the corner, with its list of inside features in boldface along the left side of the cover so it is read first. It now occurs to me that I have trouble recalling what the last five issues, or any other issue beside the Fall 1966 issue, actually look like.
For those who’ve always, or even just recently, wanted to time-travel, the easiest way (for me, at least) is to hold a book in your hands and, if you’re brave enough, open it up. Books are time capsules: compact little worlds that preserve the time and history they cover. And even long after we close the book, we can (with practice) remain in time for as long as we want, or until we get hungry or need to pee.
I held that old issue in my hands long enough to wonder who held it before me, for how long, and for what reasons. Why the crease on the cover’s bottom-right corner? Did the person hastily shove the book into her bookshelf? And if so, was it out of excitement or frustration? Did she time-travel too?
I regard the books in my possession now and wonder about those travellers from the future, one of whom may one day come across my copy of Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, run her hand over the dents on the top of the book, and feel convinced that the book’s contents upset me to such a degree, that I was that sensitive a human being. The truth, fellow time-traveller, is that I certainly am that sensitive a human being, and that I don’t have the heart to tell you that I merely dropped the book on the floor by accident.