Saving Time : ' Discovering a Life Beyond the Clock ' By Jenny Odell. [ The gap between present and future ].

Jenny Odell's undertaking is massive and ambitious. The book cites everything from Frederick Winslow Taylor to bird-watching to travel influencers to the racial geography of leisure in the United States to niche but influential zines about office work in San Francisco -

To the work of disability activists, to Indigenous philosophy and historical scholarship, to the writings of Henri Bergson, to her own life experiences, diary entries and dreams from childhood to the present and even - and even this hardly touches on the diverse sources and forms of knowledge she impressively unites.

Climate change is doing strange things to time. Last year, ancient Roman ruins emerged from the Tiber as extreme drought parched the river, revealing history in the shallows. 

The last time there was much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, there were trees at the South Pole. All of our fossil-fuel burning is accelerating or rewinding all kinds of natural phenomena, mixing geological eras and warping the previously well-defined strata of Earth history.

We are hurtling into the future at a breakneck pace, only to be outrun by the distortions of nature we have unleashed by rampant extraction and consumption.

All of this makes it harder [ if not impossible ] to believe in a Whiggish interpretation of history, in which life constantly improves . That's not really how we encounter lived history, but it's often how it's told; history is often written by the victors, and things typically get better for them, at least for a while.

It is in the gap between present and future, where outcomes are not yet determined, that Jenny Odell enters with her paradigm-destroying new book, 

'' Saving Time : Discovering a Life Beyond the Clock.''

This grand, eclectic, wide-ranging work is about the various problems that swirl out  from dominant conceptions of ''time,'' which sometimes means history, sometimes mean an individual lifetime and sometimes means the future.

Odell, an artist and writer, has said that ''Saving Time'' began, she tweeted, as an exploration of the phase ''time is money'' and ''the relationship of time to power..' But while investigating that relationship, she found that it had intersected with the climate crisis, and that both contributed to her existential dread.

The book is loosely structured around a daylong trip in the San Francisco Bay Area - from the Port of Oakland to a beach nearby to a community library and a columbarium - which allows us to see different time scales at play : the immediacy of the on-demand economy, the geologic history of a rocky coastline, the collective gathering of knowledge over time, and eternity.

Vignettes of the trip alternate with discussions of the histories of labor, personal ''time management,'' leisure; time in space; the Anthropocene; alternative ideas for time and care; mortality and mass incarceration; a vision for the future.

Exploring these various time scales puts in perspective the asynchronicity of human and planetary time. [ Odell often describes human time as ''time pressure,'' by which she means the fungibility of time that makes it interchangeable with ''stuff,'' thereby giving it a price - which is to say wage labor.]

These two times are so mismatched, she writes, as to inspire feelings of ''lonely absurdity''.

The phenomena of ''individual time'' pressure and climate dread,'' Odell writes, ''share a set of deep roots, and they have more in common than just fear.

European colonialism, she argues, let loose upon the world an economy of extraction, both of human labor and of natural resources.

Our problems stem from the economic model that makes ''stuff'' and assigns a monetary value to that which is priceless : our lives, the miracles of physics and coincidences and evolution that have given rise to everything on this planet, and our continued ability to live here.

Much of the book was written during the Covid-19 pandemic, which was an experiment in time perception for many of us - monotony alongside urgency and panic; wanting to speed up the future so things could go ''back to normal,'' as if the world could be unchanged by our collective experience.

The World Students Society thanks review author Tatiana Schlossberg.


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