Joke J. Hermsen

Time On Our Side

Pleidooi voor een langzame toekomst

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

Engagingly and with great vitality, Hermsen charts the richness of our inner lives. This makes her book successful and inspiring, an exhortation to cherish things like sensitivity, intuition and responsiveness.

NRC Handelsblad

Hermsen shows with absolute clarity how boredom and slowness can awaken creativity.

De Morgen

Joke J. Hermsen

The writer Joke J. Hermsen (b. 1961) is one of the most prominent Dutch philosophers of her generation. She has a particular interest in time, memory and art, and has written extensively about the philosophy of Hannah Arendt, Ernst Bloch and Lou Andreas Salomé. Her award-wining essay collection…

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Stil de tijd. Pleidooi voor een langzame toekomst (2009). Non-fiction, 272 pages.
Words: 71,000
Copies sold: 15,000

With illustrations in colour and black-and-white


De Arbeiderspers

Weteringschans 259
NL - 1017 XJ Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Tel: +31 20 760 72 10

[email protected]

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