Posted by: Corri van de Stege | January 13, 2010

Eva Hoffman and Time

Yes, I am reading.  I updated my ‘Read in 2010’ page above and realise I may just have too many on the go.  I had not realised.  I am flitting from one thing to another, but the two main ones are Eva Hoffman’s Time and Hilary Mantel’s Wolford Hall.

Eva Hoffman – Time: this is a book that needs to be savoured, thought about, turned and pondered, revisited, and then read a bit more, another chapter perhaps.  Eva Hoffman confesses a preoccupation with time, from when she was a child.  Time seemed to move slowly, time had no value, people talked, endlessly, there was no hurry because there was nowhere to go.

Once in America, time moved a lot faster, and Hoffman becomes aware of the “differences in construction of time prevailing between the two worlds”.  Not only does time move faster in America, there is also a nervousness about time – everyone is under stress of not doing enough, a sense of guilt about not using time appropriately.

This introduction has me hooked: I so much recognise this awareness, in Hoffman’s words “It was as if anxiety were the tithe paid to the gods of the work ethic in lieu of more concrete sacrifices”.

I recognise it as the Calvinist work ethic, that haunts me still, has haunted me ever since I was a child and even now, when I worry I am not using my time ‘appropriately’ , whatever that means.  Always on the road, always making sure I use my time ‘well’.

In the first essay of this book, Hoffman consider time as biological time ‘Time and the Body’.  She notes the forward moving of time, and that ‘problems of biological time have given rise to a new scientific discipline called ‘chronobiology’ and the fundamental findings that emerge from these studies which are that ‘all biological species living on planet earth are adapted to earthly time, and its day/night cycle’.  It seems so obvious, we take it for granted: all animals, whether diurnal or nocturnal, follow the 24-hour cycle.  It’s what makes us biological beings, it’s what drives us.  But it also delivers our death sentence – time of death is determined by the time of reproduction.  ‘Biological lifespan is intimately related to the most fundamental enigma of all – that of death’.   But now, of course, there is the desire for perpetual youth, and the belief that we deserve it. 

Cynically ‘ The only way to arrest the passag eof time on the biological level is through what has been called the ‘complete but reversible cessation of metabolism’ – that is through the temporary suspension of all those physiological processes which add up to the experience of being alive’. 

Being alive and noting the passage of time (biologically) are inextricably linked.


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