The time golem stood and was, ignored the linearity around it, only was.
It was a violence, a terrible intrusion in the succession of moments, a clot
in diachrony, and with the dumb arrogance of its existence it
paid the outrage of ontology no mind.
– China Mieville Iron Council
By some strange happenstance or mystic wisdom I had the pleasure of reading China Mieville’s Iron Council, while I was enrolled in a course on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. More specifically I read Iron Council as I was working through Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship. The effect was electric and unsettling, particularly in the way both these authors engaged with themes of time,existence, and hiddenness.
Everpresent in Bonhoeffer’s theological project is the underlying theme of an “epistemology yielded on the basis of revelation,” an idea he discusses explicitly in his post-doctoral work Act and Being. The world is known, in other words, not through empirical observation nor through a process of ratiocination, rather it is known only as it is revealed. In The Cost of Discipleship Bonhoeffer addresses this theme around the binary of revelation/hiddenness. The true disciple of Christ knows only what is revealed to her or him through Jesus Christ, there is no unmediated relationship with the world, with others, or even with oneself. The reverse of this, therefore, is that much is left hidden. Revelation has its own rhythm, its own timing, over which the subject of knowledge has no control. It is given, by the spirit, in the moment it is needed.
This is a mystery, yet not a mystical fusion of the I with the Oneness of Being. Precisely in its momentous character revelation is a matter of existence, and in existence there are always others. Indeed, for Bonhoeffer becoming a person is only possible through the other. He writes, “the individual becomes a person ever and again through the other, in the moment.” (Sanctorum Communio).
In Mieville’s story there is a monk who, out of the pantheon of gods in the world of Iron Council, worships the God of the Moment. This God reveals knowledge to the monk at the necessary times. Yet the discipleship of the monk is not without cost, indeed it is at the cost of the monk’s very self-knowledge that the revealing comes. Without giving too much away, as the tale progresses the monk, who has joined with a band of rebels and political outcasts in search of their comrades, loses more and more of her (or his) self-knowing as she seeks the revelation needed to make important decisions.
Bonhoeffer and Mieville inhabit very different worlds. One a theologian, the other a writer of science fiction. Yet the mysteries of existence, and of time are strongly present. Discipleship, for both, is a costly endeavour, and yet in the end proves the very grace of life.
It is grace, it is violence, it is passion. The Christian sense of time is not one of linear accumulation. Nor yet of circulation within an ontologically fixed field. The event of Christ is singularity, forever affixed existence within which existence can take place.
This too is the mystery of the church, the presence of Christ on earth, already fulfilled and yet waiting. Hidden yet revealed. Perhaps the Church too, like Mieville’s time golem” is a clot in diachrony, who with the dumb arrogance of its existence pays the outrage of ontology no mind.
Or perhaps it should be so.