I have an obsession with zeitgeist, and I have for a long time. I think that eras and times have a texture, a quality that informs every moment of them, outside of whatever specific events define them. Sometimes this is easy to see, when old photographs have a quality of light to them that is hard to capture. Was everything in the 1970s really colored in harvest gold and avocado green?
It was not until today that I learned to phrase it this way, but in my mind, whenever I imagine people who lived before I was born, I
always imagine them surrounded by time. The artifacts and styles and fashions would coalesce into an enveloping field of zeitgeist. Every moment of every day would be saturated by the era in which people lived. Sometimes this saturation is literal: I imagine people in the early 1960s actually living in a landscape of oversaturated, technicolor cherry red and turquoise. I imagine that those people were swimming in the viscous fluid that was the mentality of their time. Every moment of the 1970s, in my mind, was a thick sludge of macramé, spider plants and fake wood paneling.
But as for myself, I feel like I am skittering along on the surface of time itself, and the surface is so slick and resilient I can barely feel my foot pressing down into it before I am bounding and bouncing off somewhere else. I notice the change of time, I notice that fashions and styles shift and change around me, but I don't feel myself immersed in my own time. There have been times in my life where this isn't true, where I did feel immersed in the zeitgeist, gently floating in the warm waters of sympathy with my surroundings. Sometimes it was a private zeitgeist, sometimes it was a private zeitgeist that locked in with a larger one.
But for the most part, I feel that I have been bouncing along the surface of time. On this very site, I look at things I have written ten years ago, and while I have become a bit mature, a bit better of a writer, I can't say that the gap separating me from ten years ago is the gap I imagine separating someone in 1973 from their self in 1963.
Perhaps this is because times are not as sharply delineated as they were a generation ago: with the choices of entertainment the internet offers us, we are not as keyed into the popular music, television and movies we were when three networks and ten radio stations defined our culture. It could just be my personal conceit that the enveloping feel of time doesn't apply to me. Most likely, however, it is this way for everyone, that just as we never know the aroma of our own home until we leave it and come back, we never realize just how immersed we are in time while we are there.
But as for myself, the idea of enveloping time fills me with both claustrophobia and with a type of longing for the sense of meaning and texture it can bring.