The Commodification of Time

I got to musing about time.

I was thinking about that wistful feeling when you think back on a book that you wrote, which meant a lot to you but which failed to set the world on fire. Thinking about the process of writing the expression “invested so much time” flitted across my brain.

I stopped to consider why was I using an economic metaphor to think about time? Time is something I “spend” or “invest.” I suspected that “invest time” was a modern expression and I checked the Google ngram viewer.

Invest Time Gif

As you can see, the expression “invest time” and its variants really gained traction in the 1960s and has been growing ever since. “Spend time” had a bit more use early on, but it seems to have grown with industrialization and really rocketed, along with the expression about investing time, in 1960.

Spend Gif

As I was born after 1960, I found it hard to come up with a comparable, older, expression to test against these. I drew a giant blank. The closest I came up with was to work for many years on something. This lacks the aspect of laboring over a period so it will pay off (another financial expression) later. Reap and ye shall sow.

What I’ve learned from all this pondering is that I find it surprisingly hard to break out of the frame of thinking of time as a precious commodity that can be spent or invested as one would budget a salary.

Maybe Arlo Guthrie has it right:

A Lean Knife Between the Ribs of Time

To Hugo, the cathedral, with its heavy towers and its soaring spire leaping weightlessly heavenwards, was a book in which, over the course of two centuries of construction, builders and masons and architects and worshipers had inscribed their thoughts. Passersby and worshipers could read their hopes and see the spots that marked their transit from birth to oblivion. Their labor wrote sentences in the stone, paragraphs; it built a cathedral. It was not merely a sermon in stone; it was a symphony, made up of innumerable voices. Yet, as it turned out, it was not simply the act of building it that consecrated it, but that people continued to read it and inscribe stories in it…

bosieThis article, from Alexandra Petri in The Washington Post, on Notre Dame de Paris as “a great stone book” had me thinking again about art as a desire to speak across time.

It reminded me of Lord Alfred Douglas’s City of the Soul, written while Douglas was living with Oscar Wilde in Naples.

Each new hour’s passage is the acolyte

Of inarticulate song and syllable,

And every passing moment is a bell,

To mourn the death of undiscerned delight.

Where is the sun that made the noon-day bright,

And where the midnight moon? O let us tell,

In long carved line and painted parable,

How the white road curves down into the night.

Only to build one crystal barrier

Against this sea which beats upon our days ;

To ransom one lost moment with a rhyme

Or if fate cries and grudging gods demur,

To clutch Life’s hair, and thrust one naked phrase

Like a lean knife between the ribs of Time.

Naples, 1897.