Here’s the thing (if you can refer to time consciousness as a ‘thing’) that makes Kenny such an ingenious character:
We can’t represent the present moment as we actually know it, so linear time has gaps – the gaps being our inability to represent the present moment to our knowing. We each have a past, pretty much represented in our consciousness as a figment of our imaginations according to the findings of neuropsychologists (more about this later) as well as to many filmmakers and artists. Maybe most of what we remember is true, but something that didn’t happen we can believe did happen. Watch Get Out (2017) and there are a lot of other good movies and also good science to back it up. The past is a construct of our imagination. It might be what happened, or not.
The future, of course, is entirely a feature of our imagination; it hasn’t happened yet so we just make that shit up too.
So the present is all we can know for sure, but we can’t know it really because as soon as we represent it to our minds, in our minds, it’s past. It’s here and now, life as we live it, so logically speaking it’s got to be. Yet, in the nanosecond it takes us to process what’s happening now, it’s already become past.
We live in the present. We can figure that much out. We can represent it, but that’s an act of our imagination. We make up the present moment that’s already past.
Then we configure it into a narrative thread, as having a narrative structure: a beginning, middle, and end. Like Tray and Matt and all the South Park kids with their beginnings, middle, and end (except the series goes on season after season, while the characters don’t seem to age, and then there’s Kenny …)
Only Kenny doesn’t die. Here with Kenny’s immortal being we have represented what is present (without the narrative structure of beginning, middle and end) and generally unimaginable (the kids can’t even remember Kenny has died, over and over again.)
It just happens to be true: we, logically speaking, live in the present but the present has no narrative structure and our brains create a narrative anyway. We, like Kenny, live in the present, outside that narrative structure of our own life and death. We construct the narrative in our heads, certainly: our remembered past (that is a figment of our imaginations) and our anticipated future (again, a figment of our imaginations). It’s in the present where we actually do our living, we just can’t imagine it. It has no narrative structure. It just is. We just are.
Again: that is-ness doesn’t have the structure of narrative time (past, present, and future). Like Kenny, (though he’s being shaped into a confounding narrative) we just are. Without a narrative structure – without a beginning, middle and end – we must exist.
This being with no structure is presented tonally as silence, which of course we can’t actually experience – just try to meditate to find out how noisy silence can be. It is presented visually as a blank space, the horizon, a Rothko painting … or as Kenny in the vortex of death and rebirth.
(Just to be clear: we’re talking about time consciousness, not necessarily physics. But we can only try to understand physics as conscious beings, so that’s hardly an aside.)