Saturday 2 August 2014

Pondering time

I feel that I am experiencing temporal chaos in my blogging at the moment. Here I am in Greece, but I am still posting about our break in Amsterdam which was over a month ago. I still have to write some posts on our day in London which was after Amsterdam, but before Greece. So the three places and their times are all mixed up in my head. It's nice to be reliving what were very good times but somehow it feels that I am not living completely in the present.

And this is what (amongst other things) A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki, the novel I am currently reading, is all about: the nature of time. Nao (pronounced Now) the protagonist, introduces herself like this: 'I'm a time being. Do you know what a time being is? It's someone who lives in time'.
She pens her thoughts in a diary written in a hacked copy of Proust's A la Recherche du Temps Perdu.  'And what does it mean to waste time anyway? If you waste time is it lost forever?' she ponders. Jiko, her great grandmother is 'very careful with her time. She does everything really really slowly, even when she's just sitting on the veranda, looking out at the dragonflies spinning lazily around the garden pond. She says that she does everything really really slowly in order to spread time out so that she'll have more of it and live longer, and then she laughs so you know she is telling you a joke'.

Appendix A in the novel is about Zen Moments: 'you can't understand what it means to be alive on this earth until you understand the time being, and in order to understand the time being, you have to understand what a moment is... A moment is a very small particle of time. It is so small that one day is made of 6,400,099,980 moments'. Snapping your fingers equals sixty-five moments so that even the snap of a finger provides us with sixty five opportunities to wake up and to choose actions that will produce beneficial karma and will turn our lives around. 'In the time it takes to say now, now is already over. It's already then'. The only way to enter time completely, is to do zazen - meditation.

And because nothing is permanent, and all things are just kind of flowing through for the time being, form is emptiness and emptiness is form.

It's a wonderful novel, riveting. But I am trying to take my time and read it slowly, in the same way that Ruth, the person who finds the diary, decides to read it. She asked herself:  'how do you search for lost time'?  She decided that perhaps a clue lay in the pacing. 'Perhaps if Ruth paced herself by slowing down and not reading faster than the girl had written, she could more closely replicate Nao's experience... This way she wouldn't end up with an overly compressed or accelerated sense of the girl's life and its unfolding, nor would she run the risk of wasting too much time'. Now I obviously cannot pace my reading at the pace that Ozeki wrote the novel, but I feel that this novel requires careful pacing, and this is what I am doing.

Time was also very prominent in a novel/autobiography I started reading two weeks ago: A Death in the Family, by Karl Ove Knausgaard. He too mentions Proust. In the beginning he ponders the way our experience and perception of time changes as we grow older:

'[As you grow older and] as your perspective of the world increases not only is the pain it inflicts on you less but also its meaning. Understanding the world requires you to keep a certain distance from it... At length we bring [the world] within the scope of our senses and we stabilise it with fixer. When it has been fixed we call it knowledge. Throughout our childhood and teenage years we strive to attain the correct distance from objects and phenomena. We read, we learn, we experience, we make adjustments. Then one day we reach the point where all the necessary distances have been set, all the necessary systems have been put in place. That is when time begins to pick up speed. It no longer meets any obstacles, everything is set, time races through our lives, the days pass by in a flash and before we know what is happening we are forty, fifty, sixty... Meaning requires content, content requires time, time requires resistance. Knowledge is distance, knowledge is stasis and the enemy of meaning'.

Such a promising beginning!

But, I stopped reading around page 150. I got bored. I found it extremely self-indulgent and developed quite a strong dislike of the main character. In this I know I am in the minority as this autobiography is a great hit,

but time is too precious

and not to be lost.


  1. When I was young I would persist with a book I was not enjoying in the way that one persists with a course of antibiotics, ... but now, as time is more obviously finite, I toss the book aside if it does not engage me. After all, there are more books than one can ever hope even to skim through in one lifetime!

    1. Exactly the same with me: I used to feel I just had to finish a book however much I did not enjoy it - I like the antibiotics analogy, by the way. Now, life is too short. I still feel guilty about the money I've spent though.