Time On Our Side
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Manifesto for a slow future
The clock was originally meant to help us organize work, transport and trade. ‘By far the most artificial of all our inventions,’ W.G. Sebald called it. Nowadays it rules our entire lives and this book is a fervent plea to free ourselves from the dictatorship of the clock and find a new balance, to go back to doing nothing, to embrace boredom and repose.
In her search for the experience of time, Joke Hermsen draws upon a wide range of writers and thinkers, from the ancient world to the present. One of the more important is the Frenchman Henri Bergson, whose philosophy enables Hermsen to distinguish between ‘clock time’ and ‘inner time’. It is the latter that leads to reflection, creativity and a zest for life. This may sound naive or apolitical, but for Bergson much was at stake. Like Charlie Chaplin in the film Modern Times, he feared for a world in which the individual was being destroyed by industrialization.
Boredom is good, since out of that nothingness philosophy is born, wrote Martin Heidegger. It can offer access to the past, as in Proust’s quest for the buried memories of youth. Hermsen shows that in painting (Mark Rothko with his ‘transcendental experiences’), photography (Margriet Luyten’s portraits of the elderly) and music (a genre that places itself outside time), the inner experience of time is fundamental.
Hermsen intersperses her manifesto with extracts from the diaries she wrote in Italy and Greece while working on the book. Under the Athenian sun she wanders past the places where ‘thinking about time began’. She finds herself in bed with food poisoning, having to rest for five days, and there she experiences the dark side of timelessness: ‘It’s almost as if time is slowly fading out, becoming a grey mass that no longer offers any footing or point of departure. It seems as if this time could eat me up, the way Cronus consumed his children, without leaving so much as a crumb of me behind.’
- A philosophical plea to slow down that makes you think about how you plan your own time
- A warning of the socio-political dangers of a society that is restless and in many ways adrift