Time flies «Time gives all and takes all.»

Time in the room

Decades ago I visited the office of a friend at Todai, in Komaba. He shared his office with a Japanese colleague. In the spacious room there were two desks, like two islands. They were nearly impossible to reach, because of piles of newspapers to the left and right of the desks, towering over them. There were other stacks of newspapers in front of the shelves and on the office cabinets, piles on the coffee table. On the uneven surfaces of a sofa and two armchairs, the stacks of newspapers threatened to fall over, also because of the polyethylene wrappers. Because most of the newspapers were still sealed in plastic, unopened. The words «Die Zeit» («The Times») were printed in large letters on the front pages. The piles were ordered chronologically according to year – years and years of Die Zeit. Tanabe-sensei smiled: «Someday when I have time, I'll ...start reading.»

–Die Zeit is a large-format German newspaper, eighty pages long, with articles about all aspects of society, reports, analyses, editorials from all over the world–and a new issue every week! If all that piled-up contemporary history were compared to everything still possible to learn before you die ... doesn't that have something to do with the gap that keeps getting wider and wider? Before I really got dizzy imagining someone reading newspapers like a hamster running on its wheel, the bell for classes rang.

From the perspective of today, when remembering that office of the (still) analog era, it was as if time had materialized into an (unintentional) art installation. Now our print media is all online, things are synchronized worldwide like never before (just think of global industrial production networks or international flight schedules). Today we can see everything in the world from the viewpoint of a god–with just a few clicks of the mouse. Which is also an illusion! How are we supposed to find time to process all those messages, coming almost simultaneously and most with upsetting contents, without becoming a panicked alarmist?

What is time?

A thinker of late antiquity once wrote:  «For myself, I know what time is. But if you ask me what it is, I don't know.» Time is something mysterious, even incomprehensible. I'm sitting here NOW, with the previous moment already over, no longer real.  The same thing happens again and again.  This trickling away of time! To avoid becoming melancholic, we have the urge to own the world. And that devours time, such a huge amount of time that our calendars are full (at most, with a «time slot» for one more appointment). We need «time management» and we take «time out», as if we have to evade time to recuperate!

The philosopher Henri Bergson, with his Lebens-philosophie, believed that experiencing time is a construction of our consciousness. Our abstracting mind arranges feelings and sensations as if they were objects in space, but actually our entire inner life, with its various psychological states, is influenced by streams of consciousness flowing into one another. According to Bergson, true time (duration) is this constant becoming and passing away. It can be neither measured nor analyzed completely rationally; we rely on intuition.

Einstein had a terse response: «Time is what you see on the clock.» Yes, a metronome is pure time, mechanical and abstract. (But not even a metronome goes the same speed everywhere; it is slightly faster at higher altitudes). In physics, time («t») is a quantity that describes a sequence of events having a clear, irreversible direction: from the researchable past, to the present being experienced now, and on to the still open future. –The revolutionary physicist Einstein examined the complexity of our universe. He linked time to the dimensions of space in order to form «space-time», which is spanned over four equal dimensions, namely the three spatial directions plus time. His everyday example: two people can only have a date if they are present in the same place at the same time (regrettably, he didn't know about online dating). It was also clear to him that there is no such thing as absolute time: time passes much faster next to a nice girl/boy than next to a hot stove...

In everyday life, we generally have an emotional relationship with time. If we experience something beautiful, hours go by in the blink of an eye; if we experience something bad, they expand into infinity... Psychology has shown that our perception of time is subjective. We perceive time in various ways, our perception of time is not always identical to a clock.

–Time is also has a therapeutic function: «time will tell» is an old English saying, and according to Voltaire, «time heals all wounds», although Mark Twain added that time is a lousy beautician.


Yes, the right rhythm in life. Too little time causes stress, too much leads to boredom. We often experience empty passing of time, waiting with nothing happening, to be excruciatingly boring. Doing something pointless feels like killing time. We are afraid of our own emptiness and escape into a frenzy of activity, as if events and being busy will «drown out» our time. Kierkegaard stated provocatively that culture is just an escape from boredom... Time machines, time travel, time tunnels... Physically speaking, you can't go back in time. But literature, like the movies, functions like a time machine. A journey back to the nineteenth century or into the future, a trip around the world, anything is possible. Writers can play with time, jump back and forth, into the past and the future. We walk through Berlin at the beginning of the twentieth century, explore Tokyo districts and their residents from the perspective of a cat, go on a space odyssey, and yes, maybe thanks to a children's book, our childhood lights up again. – And who knows, maybe fashion can also give us a different sense of time, a slightly futuristic one (?)...

Corona times

We are currently experiencing «an enormous  worldwide experiment», according to the sociologist Hartmut Rosa, namely, «forced deceleration», comparable to a global traffic jam. In fact, the unimaginable has happened: planes have stopped flying, schools, companies, concert halls and cafés have closed ... only essential stores are open and entire cities are quarantined. That is still the current state of affairs, although in a milder form.  Our global economic system is based on acceleration. The more time we save thanks to digital technology, the more time is freed up and must be used (still more communication channels, more appointments, more trips, more offers...). The status quo of society can only be maintained through expansion, since otherwise the economic systems would collapse. Optimization at all levels, making the whole world available.  And then the virus came along, a tiny thing you can't see, smell, or taste; it was «the return of unavailability in the form of a monster». Because an effective vaccine didn't exist. It still doesn't exist. But: though most people had time like never before, they didn't do what they had always wanted to do if only there was enough time (!). Painting, finally reading James Joyce, learning to play the piano ... That was the discovery of a German survey. Having to cope with a sudden plunge from the normal state of «not having enough time» to standstill, domestic confinement, and a forced plethora of free time, generated above all distrust, fear and frustration in people.

There may have been other, better times, but the only one we have is the one we are living in. And so we are still looking for a way to deal with this new state of affairs. Striking is the increased focus on topics having to do with the environment, such as renaturization or the enormous boom in gardening. (During the corona crisis, seeds were almost sold out.) When gardening, we witness the age-old cycle of time. As the theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli said in an interview, time is what offers us the gift of our existence, but it is also time that takes that gift away from us again. The Rolling Stones once sang optimistically: «Time, time is on my side, yes it is, yes it is.»

Karin Ruprechter-Prenn
[translation: Cynthia Peck-Kubaczek]


Hot: Classics and Brand New

People often wonder what will last, especially in uncertain times. What will last when so much is defined by change? It is true that the development of new things (usually new technologies) promises solutions for current and future problems. And yet if the future, by definition, is shaped by change in the present, how can anything last or keep its value for any length of time? Faced with the destruction of the environment, the need for wide-ranging economic and social transformation is becoming more and more urgent. Connected to this is the need to redefine not only what we perceive as new, but also the temporal dimension of manufacturing in terms of the lifetime of products. In reaction to the hyper-accelerated production of the fashion industry, Edwina Hörl has reflected on various aspects of time by creating a dual collection that addresses product lifespan as well as product innovation. As long shown by discussions on sustainability, we must pay a price if the future, together with our desires about that future, is constantly linked to the new. In the long run, can this only be counteracted by rethinking how things are produced? By rethinking constant development? If new things are as fleeting as an instant in time, then the expiration date of the new is defined by viewing it from the future.


In reaction to these issues regarding time (lifespan) and space (the environment), Edwina Hörl has examined her own manufacturing processes and divided her collection into a group of standard, timeless models, and a group of exploratory models for the future: «Dauerbrenner» (Classics) and «Brand New». In the «Dauerbrenner» (Classics) series, past styles and designs are changed, reinterpreted and upcycled with new fabrics and details, after having been tested for timelessness, dependability, and durability. Through this process of gentle modification, recontextualization adds value to existing styles. Linked to the value of a product is its inherent lifespan. Which styles are potentially classics? Which styles won't yield to current trends or fads? There seem to be several prerequisites: material durability, straightforwardness of design, a wide range of potential wearers identifying with the style. In this, a common denominator must be found regarding image and status symbols, identity markers, and the context in which a certain piece of clothing can be worn. For a product to last longer, not only must it meet certain standards of quality, its user must be able to develop an emotional bond with it.

If social status is defined by sustainability and no longer by purchasing power and quantities, this leads to questions about product lifespan and the constant urge for the new. What determines whether something old or new is precious or is worthless, should be kept or should be thrown away? In part this has to do with a product's workmanship and quality—that is, its material value—but it also has to do with emotions, memories, and possible future wishes. So does this mean that the future of something new depends on what already exists? Or does it depend on the projected development of theoretical options? As always, the answer is—both.

Time after time

«Dauerbrenner» goes along with Edwina Hörl's new collection, which contains new designs that cross-reference both current and future developments. Not only is she reacting to the temporality of innovation, but she is also dealing with questions about the future that concern us all. In her repositioning of the collection by dividing it, she is also referring to the notion of resilience. Resilience (from Latin resilire, «to jump back, bounce off») has to do with the ability to self-regenerate or adapt. It also has to do with robustness: whether of people, materials, or ecological systems. The concept of resilience («jumping back») could be contrasted with the concept of avant-garde («pioneer, standard bearer»1), which has been used in the modern era to describe new things in the sense of fundamental and longer-term change. In the postmodern era, the concept of avant-garde has been replaced by a parallelism of various new style directions, and thus the notion of a linear development of the exclusively new has ended or been split up.

The warming of the climate due to global capitalism has made us question our compulsion to continually produce new things. While the new is usually associated with technology and innovation, if seen in the sector of sustainable products and alternative lifestyles, it is increasingly linked to ecologically based solutions. Resilience has to do with the best way to deal with an already existing crisis. In contrast, sustainability focuses on prevention and the long term. Supporters of the degrowth movement believe that economic growth should be reduced, since they are convinced that economic growth cannot be decoupled from environmental pollution. Such alternative models, with their different approaches to guaranteeing the future survival of the human species, see themselves faced with enormous time pressure allowing little leeway. Options for active steps to take are regularly being sought, and increasingly they point to decentralizing the subject. Human beings are no longer considered the center of the world; in the context of abolishing dualistic models such as subject‒object, human‒nature, nature‒culture, etc., new perspectives and object-based positions are being discussed as future possibilities. In terms of fashion, this could mean that garment and wearer interact as equal entities.

Now or never

Deciding what should be left as is or should be changed is one of the oldest dilemmas in the world. The rivalry between conservative and revolutionary is always linked to the hopes and fears anchored in the contemporary historical context. Judging innovative developments is often difficult since the effects of change, as for example the consequences of technology, are usually not foreseeable. Moreover, the past is often idealized, or ignored.

Fashion has to do with the past as well as the future; it picks up elements of style from other epochs, but it also shapes the present out of the future. Thus while it innately has a structure that is constant, it also involves radical acceleration. Fashion anticipates the future in order to shape the present. Armen Avanessian speaks of time changing its direction. Algorithms like those used by Amazon, for example, know in advance what we want, how we will behave, what we are likely to covet, etc. It is no longer Hollywood or the fashion industry that dictates what we want, how we should conduct ourselves, who or what we ought to identify with. It is digital corporations and their agents (influencers). Our concept of time has gotten mixed up. «We no longer have a linear time, in the sense of the past being followed by the present and then the future», as Armen Avanessian and Suhail Malik explain in their conception of the time complex. «It's rather the other way around: the future happens before the present, time arrives from the future.»2 We are thus living in a speculative period in which time (eras, duration) is being traded as an object of speculation—on one hand, nurturing uncertainties, on the other, opening a wide spectrum of possibilities.

The present is shaped from the future, which is why the future is the coveted unknown. Applied to the production of objects, this means that the value of a product lies in the future. Linked to this, however, is its loss of value in the present, accompanied by products no longer being appreciated due to fast-paced consumption. Products made for a short lifespan are designed with their successor products already integrated into them as an object of desire, as for example smartphones. The longevity of a product is no longer a mark of quality, because the successor product is already waiting in the wings. If it's cheaper to throw something away than to repair or clean it, that not only leads to the devaluation of raw materials, objects, and their production, but also to exploitation of resources, dumping wages, and ever-bigger mountains of garbage. Short-term product life planned into production has an impact on working conditions, consumer behavior, and the environment. But the future is not only being speculatively staged in the context of products, it is also being staged as a form of competition in our private lives. Subjective experiences in the present only become real by sending staged photos, photos whose value lasts only as long as it takes for them to arrive at the other end. This becomes a lifestyle of subjectively experienced moments being turned into a self-marketing tool designed to be effective in the future. Accelerated series of self-staged photos are similar to ever new products, and both seem inflationary due to overproduction.

The compulsion for short-lived new things which are defined economically is increasingly being replaced by growing ecological awareness. However, speculating in the new turns conventional patterns upside down and offers fresh perspectives for finding solutions. Both open new possibilities for developing design based on value: on one hand, with regard to product lifespan, and on the other, with regard to aesthetics combined with ecology.

Sabine Winkler
[translation: Cynthia Peck-Kubaczek]


[1] Originally having the military meaning of «advance guard of an army».
[2] Armen Avanessian and Suhail Malik, «The Time Complex»:



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