i never knew …

This is a book I highly recommend:  i never knew what time it was by David Antin.

The book is a collection of talking pieces which the author organizes around the operation of the human mind, memory, and abstract concepts such as time. There is no punctuation or other markers in the book because, as Antin states, it is to be distinguish from printed prose (even though it is printed) it lays no claim to “right thinking or right writing.” His book is described as “a provisional housing for a number of elusive bright colored migratory meanings”.

I have to confess that much of the geography in this book is my old stomping grounds out in San Diego and the lovely, once sleepy towns along Route 101 north of the city. Antin was on the faculty at the University of California at San Diego which was new and untried when I was applying for colleges. I actually went for UCSD first but ended up at UCLA since I was considering a major in English and UCSD was more of a science and engineering school. Long after the fact I learned that if I had gone to UCSD I would have been a classmate of Kathy Acker. But I didn’t do too bad with UCLA so I expect it’s more nostalgia than regret.

The talking pieces in this book are friendly, well written (even if not following strict grammar and punctuation) and offer a sense of friendship and honesty that makes them delightful to read. But at the same time they are contemplating some interesting, almost philosophical questions. Here are the titles of the pieces:

  • the theory and practice of postmodernism—a manifesto
  • california—the nervous camel
  • café europa
  • talking at biérancourt
  • the noise of time
  • i never knew what time it was
  • time on my hands
  • now wide is the frame
  • what happened to walter?
  • endangered nouns

Most of the talking pieces are sufficiently rambling, with digressions and changes of direction, that it’s difficult to convey their magic in a short post like this. You really have to read the book. But here’s a little clip; Antin is discussing time and the idea of the turn of the century comes up (what became the Y2K delusion) and at one point Antin writes:

     so you’ve got a Problem     days don’t work out neatly into years     days don’t work out neatly into months    and the cycle of months     doesn’t fit neatly into solar years    the jewish calendar is based on the lunar year     and the roman calendar is based on the solar year     so its nt very easy to compute the year two thousand

i begin to think that finding the year two thousand is like painting a wave white in the middle of the sea and saying     lets gather there and celebrate     well go out to the right place     575 waves out into the atlantic were going to make an indelible white patch and them were going      to take our lifeguard boats and go out there and find it     thats what the year two thousand is like     its like a white patch in the middle of the atlantic ocean

As you read i never knew what time it was you stop periodically and file away an interesting observation to contemplate later. By the way, Antin has a few things to say about how we file these things in our memory and how we retrieve them later. This book is definitely worth the effort and I think my copy will go back on the shelf for future rereading.