‘Moment’ Is Having a Moment


Sam Anderson in The New York Times Magazine:

In normal everyday life, time is a liquid that flows around us all unceasingly — a kind of existential syrup. During election season, this syrup is captured, boiled down, dehydrated and separated into its constituent grains — grains that we like to call, without fail, ‘‘moments.’’ Thus Donald Trump is (according to The New York Times) ‘‘the man of the moment,’’ and although he was briefly ‘‘out-­Foxed’’ (according to The Belfast Telegraph) ‘‘by a Megyn moment’’ (Jim Rutenberg's coinage in this magazine), he went on to recover with a ‘‘big, symbolic moment’’ (according to Mark Halperin on the ‘‘Today’’ show) at the Iowa State Fair. Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, might be having an ‘‘Al Capone moment’’ with regard to the legality of her private email server (The Washington Post), but she still found time to have a ‘‘celebrity moment’’ (The Times again) by taking a selfie with Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. No nexus of events is too large or heterogeneous — no geopolitical weather too swirlingly turbulent — to avoid being reduced to the shorthand of the moment.

As the election grinds on, the names attached to such moments will change. Marco Rubio might succeed Trump as the official man of the moment; Al Gore might have his Lazarus moment. The only thing we can be certain of is that the moments will arrive, incessantly, and that when they do, they will be collected, labeled neatly and displayed for public consumption. We are living in the moment moment.

Modern media-­saturated humans didn’t invent the concept of the moment, of course. Our obsession with it probably goes back, as most modern obsessions do, to the ancient Greeks. The Greeks had at least two different notions of time: chronos (the vast, inhuman, infinite stretch of time) and kairos (the moment). A boring old hour — 15 degrees on the sundial, 60 soulless ticks of the clock — is a little patch of chronos. Kairos, on the other hand, is where the magic happens: those decisive instants in which the world suddenly changes. Kairos is significant time, charged time, heavenly time. It transcends calendars, soaks everything in meaning.

More here.