Pierre Shaw 

The mythology of linear time is but a social agreement; a part of the social contract that binds the collective consciousness. It is an understanding of time as a sequenced projection of absolute cause and effect.

Cyclical time is also the time of rituals; it is an understanding of the universe as a continuum of repeating episodes, unbound by the mechanical march of time. Here run the undercurrents and rhythms that lie unmeasured. Unearthing and reevaluating these (sometimes ancient) structures, the city opens up to alternate flows that challenge the narrow constructions of the myth of linear time.

The ferocious individualism of the past century has lead to the successes of mass consumerism, ecological denial and mainstream political theatrics; all consequences of a fractured complex collective consciousness due, in part, from the increasing division of social forms into segmented divisions.

Constructed within a linearly conceived trajectory of time, the self experiences life from a consistently privileged present, watching history and taking from it whatever it pleases. The self is locked in fear of the future, immobilised by the mechanisation and industrialised division of labour. The myth of linear time is presented to  us in the guise of progress and is itself an institution built into the collective consciousness. Mythologies uphold the social contract, binding in social law, they hold the power of the collective.

In order for myth to become part of the collective consciousness it is first deemed by society to have some inherent significance. Usually originating as a pragmatic event in the survival of a culture, the harvest for instance, it will be evaluated and judged by society. In order for an event to be accepted in the culture’s myth structures it will be ritualised, that is to say, the myth is put into practice through a process of exaggeration and repetition. In this way it gains meaning and its own reality.

In the Native Mexican societies of the Aztecs, Two Reed time was a repeating cycle of 52 years in which the whole of society is transported to the time of creation by divine intervention of it’s leaders coinciding with the stockpiling of crops from harvest. In Ghana, the Dogon tribe’s sowing of seven seeds every 60 years ritualise the renovation of the world and rejoining society with the time of creation.

Mythology in Ancient Greece bound itself into society’s moral guiding principles, ritualised by the through folk law and legend. In these times, myth could be regarded as a statement in words that “says” something, that same thing as ritual can be regarded as a statement in action. We may choose to think of mythologies in much the same way today but this would be limiting the concept to say, providing only moral guidelines.

The nature and definition of mythology can be understood working differently from ancient times but it is still a prominent practice that is vital to society’s re:production. We could define a myth today as a ‘charter of customs, beliefs, rights, they preserve what is called ‘historical truth’ but this truth almost never has to do with definite persons and events but with institutions, customs and landscapes’

The ancient Sumerians and Babylonians living in some of the first urban conditions in what is now Iraq, Iran and Syria some five thousand years ago undertook regular ‘restoration of justice and equity [by] cancelling the debts, destroying the records, [and] reallocating the land’ 2. In ritual ceremonies that coincided with the commencing of the new year of 2350 BC,  Uruinimgina announced a ‘canceling not only all outstanding loans, but all forms of debt servitude, even those based on failure to pay fees or criminal penalties, The history of debt and sin was wiped out, and it was time to begin again’ 3. The Sumerian practice of debt annulment suggests a will for a ‘restored (idealized) status quo ante through an “eternal return” 4,  intrinsincly linked to the conceptualisation of time as cyclical. ‘A kind of circular time was at work, whereas economic practice since classical antiquity had been characterized by linear progress’.  

We can understand the institution of time as being either cyclical or lineal. Societies based on cyclical understandings of the universe see life as a continuum of repeating episodes, usually based on ecological or cosmological rhythms. For this reason, the myths and rituals that enforce their beliefs occur at many scales.

Ritual, in many instances, was the very literal practice of transcending our own time in an attempt to rejoin the time of creation. In doing so allowed the literal rebirth of the community, culture and collective consciousness. ‘Any repetition of an archetypal gesture, suspends duration, abolishes profane time, and participates in mythical time’.  

Today thousands of atomic clocks track and record, from the start to infinity, the irreversible history of time. We commodify and prioritise the present, we are nostalgic for the past and fear the future. We never have enough of it. Linear time originates from the conceptualisation of individual life, viewing birth to death as an individual’s first and final sequence. With history and future compressed, the individual breeds an ego of individualism in the face of the unknown.

Society reproduces in linear time, after all the clock is the tool of industrialisation. It is this mythology that helps, among other institutions, produce a fracturing of collective consciousness into many singulars.

The ancient cycles of debt annulment are still a part of todays economic landscape and resist  neat linear progress. The cycles of cancellation that once benefitted the whole of society now  operate on vastly elevated levels and rhythms. ‘Today, a safety net is afforded by individual bankruptcies wiping out debts on a case by case basis, [whilst] financial crises do so on a more extended scale, but there is no society-wide clean slate’ .

The financial markets that dominate global trade operate on complex virtual credit systems, largely disconnecting themselves from self-dependency and security on land, the large scale reboots of the ancient era have been replaced by a self interested determination toward self destruction and the new “modern” notion of impersonal debt swells international deficits to unimaginable and infinite scales.

What I call ‘whole time’ is the complex combination of both linear and cyclical time in a melange of superimposing and multidirectional waves. The world operates here; ‘everywhere there is interaction between place, time and an expenditure of energy: rhythm’ 8, the true rhythms of which do not fit into the purely linear or cyclical concept of time. Time exists in both states, working in combination to create a complexity of rhythms and returns experienced through our bodies, politics, economics and through the multiple levels of collective consciousness.

Eternal rhythms can be felt in our cities, in parks, in relationships, in our weather. Between cracks of progress in our linearly constructed world, old rhythms reveal the extent to which society still relies on cyclical time. We exist in constantly repeating episodes. In unearthing and reevaluating these (sometimes ancient) structures the city opens up to alternative flows that challenge current narrow constructions of the linearity of time. A mythical time measured, for example not in seconds but in the eternal cyclical flows of debt, that once originated as productive public loans in the plains of the horn of Africa and now in the untraceable transfers of high speed buying and selling of global bonds and securities, might reveal some other unit in which to construct a space of eternal return. 


1.  Beirut Seafront, Pierre Shaw 2017
2.  Dogon traditional dance
3.  Anthony McCall, Landscape for fire, 1972
4.  Himalayan buddhist dance
5.  (Reverse) What Time?, Pierre Shaw 2017


1.  Stephen Kirk, Geoffrey., 1973, Myth: Its meaning and function in ancient and other cultures.
2.  Eliade, Mircea., 1953, The Myth of the Eternal Return: Cosmos and History.
3.  Graeber, David., 2014 Debt The first 5000 years
4.  Ibid
5.  Hudson, Michael., 2002, The new economic archaeology of debt.
6.  Ibid
7.  Ibid
8.  Lefebvre, Henri., 1992, Rhythmanalysis