Thursday, August 12, 2010

... but I digress

"Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine; -- they are the life, the soul of reading."
-Tristam Shandy

I've recently learned that the use of the timeline as we know it is just a little over 250 years old. Apparently, until the mid 18th century, chronologists (one whose name happened to be Joannes Temporarius!) had used tables, charts and matrices of varying forms to convey the passing of time with a visual image, but were admittedly stumped as to how to create a "common visual vocabulary for time maps."

And just as a fellow named Joseph Priestley and his chronologist buddies were playing around with the idea of the timeline, Laurence Sterne was publishing his satirical novel, The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy, Gentlemen, in which Tristam, the main character digresses throughout his entire narration. In Sterne's novel, Tristam offers this wonderful diagram, similar to a timeline, to illustrate his pattern of digression.

My brother Joel, the best and most effective digressor I know, will arrive here tomorrow for a weekend visit. I've always held that my passing the World and U.S. History portion of the PRAXIS test had more to do with my regular exposure to his offshoots in conversation than any formal history instruction I ever received. The content of his digressions is always worth hearing, and I'm looking forward to a weekend filled with them. His late birthday present from me will be Cartographies of Time: A History of the Timeline, by Daniel Rosenburg and Anthony Grafton. In our family, we have the habit of enjoying the presents we choose before actually giving them to the recipient, and I've been enjoying this one immensely. Here are a few of my favorite images from the book:

Jacques Barbeu-Dubourg's Chronographie universelle. He referred to it as a "time machine." It actually folds up.

Emma Willard's Temple of Time.

The Long Now Foundation's comparative time scale of the concept of the long now.

In the "nowadays" it's become increasingly difficult to work out schedules and find time for trips to see loved ones, and living so far from those who know me best, I am very happy that my brother is coming to visit with us here, and "now."


katy said...

A small bit of digression, but... did you read all of Tristram Shandy?

Elizabeth Dark Wiley said...

not at all. I only know enough about it to reference it. And I know how the movie is different from the book. What about you? Where would it fall in your rankings? In comparison to, say, The River Why?

Rebecca Martin said...

I must know more. I must investigate this book you've given your brother.

Elizabeth Dark Wiley said...

Rebecca, It was really interesting! And the pictures were just fascinating.