Thursday, August 2, 2007

The gift of time

We left behind nearly 80% of our books when we moved to Arizona last year. Prime candidates were books we had both read, which generally meant fiction. We used to seek out local bookshops when we traveled, often coming home with fairly hefty bags full of new books. We would drive for five hours to get to Borders when Borders was the local bookstore in Ann Arbor. It served a large and vibrant university community, a world class bookstore if there ever was one. It isn't the same since it joined the corporate book world. On the west coast? Let's go to Portland so we can go to Powell's! It occupies an entire city block and is still a world class bookstore. I browsed for small press fiction, postmodern essayists, philosophers and novelists (preferably in translation), in addition to the literary equivalent of B-movies in hard-boiled crime, international thrillers, and world creation sci-fi. My wife also likes novels, plus cookbooks and other kinds of non-fiction, so we accumulated books. Eventually, most of the books actually got read. As we jettisoned books, the ones we had read and would be unlikely to reread were the first to go.

The unintended consequences were that we are left with a bookshelf that looks like we're a couple of great thinkers, since the fun books got read and the serious books were saved for another day. The other day is now, and it's interesting to read the books that I bought twenty and thirty years ago. There must have been some kind of seed that led me here, and although I scratch my head at some of them, there are some that are like a message from my younger self, that recognized something essential about these thinkers.

The book that got me started on these reminiscences is by J. T. Fraser, who founded the International Society for the Study of Time. I don't remember when I acquired Of Time, Passion, and Knowledge (probably shortly after I read Heidegger's Being and Time), but it is a real gift from my past to my present, one of those rare books that will continue to resonate for years to come. He identifies several different layers of time, and the transitions and conflicts between them. With these layers in mind, his discussions of clocks and how man came to measure time, how and why the human mind developed and evolved, the different perspectives on human learning throughout recorded history, are all worthy of further study and reflection.

Jonathan Kramer, whom I've mentioned before, devoted the final chapter of his seminal work The Time of Music to a consideration of Fraser's theory of time as conflict. This chapter is quite dense and was always a bit of a puzzle, but now I should be better prepared.

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