Surah number 18 of the Qur’an is Al Khaf, the Cave. It is considered to be amongst the most cryptic of the verses within the Holy Book. Its concerns Time and navigation: the former concept is our subject today. The first section of the surah concerns a group of people referred to as the “People of the Cave and the Inscription” who God sent to sleep for many years within a Cave, to “test” their understanding.
The scholars have debated: why are they called People of the Cave and Inscription? Some speculate that “inscription” refers to some form of writing or book that the people were engaged with in the cave. Partly true.
But an inscription is our life as signification. It is us as a trace: the simultaneous recording and playing through of the proof to our personal judgements, whether they are illuminated or not. Life is inscription. And life is signification in process: life is the realisation of judgement through Time. And so the People of Inscription are tested on their understanding of Time. Mastery of our temporality lies at the essence of the chosen.
When Joseph enters into prophecy during his imprisonment, can see into the future through dreams: prognostication is a mastery of time. We can move through life with a mastery of timing or find ourselves mistiming events: this is calculation. Before Joseph ascended into prophecy, he tells his brothers his dream: a mistake because it delays the realisation of his rule over them. In Surah Al Khaf, God extends the lifespan of a believers in the cave to test their ability to calculate Time (Qur’an 18:12).
The philosophy of Heidegger has given us a choice between authenticity and inauthenticity, between heroism and cowardice. This is a rather bleak way of seeing things: the moment Faith descends upon us, the true dialectic of authenticity becomes apparent. It is one of illumination. But the philosophers are correct in saying that authenticity is self-awareness of the our temporality, of how we move through the Time of Reason to judgement. Self-awareness is control of Time: self-awareness is timing and calculation. If Time is the Time of Reason, then self-awareness is an understanding of proof theory.
The Time we construct is a robe of days, a garment we shall take with us to the New Body. What colours we patch our robe with as we journey through time, these are the colours of our proof, whose Final Theorem will be our reawakening.
Authenticity for the philosopher was to come face to face with the death and the finitude of their temporality. But authenticity comes from mastery of Time: the prophets have achieved this, and we strive to achieve it.
Illumination is achieved through interaction with other subjects within Lacan’s three moments of Logical Time.
Joseph learnt to control time through his relationship with other subjects. His dream was given to his brothers at the wrong time: it predicted the future, but he mistimed it by sharing it with the unenlightened. Their unenlightened judgement on him leads to his imprisonment. Then, within the prison, in interaction with the other prisoners, he gains control of Time, and his prophecies, a form of time travel, become well timed, leading to his release.
We are not prophets, so our mastery is limited. But our lives are lived through Time as proofs toward judgement. We are separated from the Beloved in the Cosmic Romance, and our journey back is through a space of Reason. There is Truth, there is the breathed Word, But the nature of our existence in Reason is as signification in process, as we exist within language, we cannot escape language and our hearing is sealed from God’s Word, sublimated deep within. We are the people of the Cave. We are the people of Inscription:
Or did you think that the people of the Cave an al-Raqim were the wonders of Our Signs? When the youths too took refuge in the Cave saying “Our Lord, accord us from Yourself mercy, and guide us well in our affair.” Then We Sealed their hearing in the cave for many years. Then We roused them to learn who of the two parties was able to calculate the time they had lingered. (Qur’an 18:9-12)
So when the men are raised up to determine who is best at calculating their time period, it is a test of understanding time, whose understanding is highest. What is this test? It is the book of deeds: the trace that is our lives, the record of our proof. Our proof is the temporal movement to our own judgement, to our own perception, deeds, thoughts, actions, choices. The book of deeds is the simultaneous record of this temporal movement and the movement itself: the record of the proof and the proof itself. It is our inscription. It is our calculation.
And the test is the authenticity of our proof. The test is the illumination of our own judgement. This is the final judgement over the book of deeds: it is exactly the trace of our own logical movement up to however we judge the world and our place in it. If we are illuminated, then we pass the test. Following the psychoanalysis of Lacan, illumination of judgement comes from a proof in Logical Time that comprehends its own nature as a proof. An authentic proof requires an understanding of Time. And this authenticity arises only from our placement in the world alongside competing subjects: we can only understand Time if we are a group of subjects who contemplate intersubjectively.
The men of the cave are logicians. We are logicians.
This is why the people of the cave (the inscription) are moved right to left:
You would have thought them awake, whilst they were asleep, and We turned them on their right and on their left sides: their dog stretching forth his two fore-legs on the threshold: if you had come upon them, you would have certainly turned back from them in flight, and would certainly have been filled with terror of them. (Qur’an 12:18)
This is the movement of God’s time (a backward movement), a movement of the fall (because the fall into difference follows from Love), but that allows the people of the cave to enter into their personal times, which may then be compared. They are moved from the right side of Love to the left side of Judgement, they move into logic, they are born into logic, so they might take this logic and perform their proof, enact their becoming, to the Theorem. They are groups, because as Lacan correctly notes, this proof must be intersubjective. It is a proof that is achieved through working through our proofs in consideration of how others work through proofs about us: it is only through the mirror of others that we can gain self-awareness and become complete subjects, “real” human beings.