"Pip Pip: A Sideways Look at Time"
Reading history and reviews
Finished in 2008I was really looking forward to reading "Pip Pip". I'd bought it at the start of the year after reading some recommendations at the end of 2007, the reviews on the cover also sounded ecstatic, and it was about the subject of "time", which I find really interesting.
Unfortunately it turned out that the book was in many ways a real disappointment to me (in spite of all those great reviews). From the start the tone is frequently rather patronising, and with many irritating - and irrelevant - clever-clever puns, pseudo-puns and other flourishes, and the pacing is breakneck (reading this book often felt like being battered around the head by a whirlwind of ideas and opinions). Many of the themes feel underdeveloped and underexplored, often serving merely as springboards to caricature and berate various vague percieved bogeymen (which seem to include corporations, Christainity, scientists, and the nuclear industry) that are held responsible for all that is wrong with modern Western society. I felt that there were often inaccuracies or misunderstandings which undermined the conclusions that they were supposed to support.
Ultimately though I think that the biggest disappointment for me was how I felt it wasted a great opportunity to really examine many of our modern ideas about time (including concepts of history and progress), to make explicit how these ideas inform our world view, and how alternative ideas of time might give us profound new insights and ways of living. Frustratingly, while there are occasional hints of this (for example in the examination of tradition and ritual and the idea of "carnival", and the suggestion that the current trend of preserving old buildings whilst ignoring old traditions that are dying out, is emblematic of our society's emphasis of the material over the cultural), these are rarely pursued, and instead I felt that I was simply being told what I should be thinking.
It seems ironic that a book that claims to be arguing for a slower approach to life should zoom along at such high speed (something it has in common with In Praise of Slow). It seems equally ironic that its complaints about the superficiality of modern life should feel so shallow, that its arguments for diversity of ideas should feel so intolerant of those that don't agree, and that its exhortations to have more fun should feel so serious and devoid of humour.
"Pip Pip" compares unfavourably with a couple of books that I was thinking of while reading it: the first is Roger Deakin's Wildwood, which describes a world which operates on different time scales that are tied more closely to the rhythms of nature. Deakin's book doesn't try to romanticise this world, and acknowledges the challenges that come with the world changing. The second book is Joseph Campbell's Myths to Live By, which discusses amongst other things the role of tradition and ritual in society. Again there is an acknowledgement that as the world changes old ways are lost - but Campbell suggests that as we can't go back, the challenge is to look forward and make the future better. All I got from "Pip Pip" was that "modern" is bad while "old" is good.
I really wanted to enjoy this book, and I suppose that one good thing I can say about is that it really challenged me and made me think (though probably not in the way that the author intended). That's not a bad thing, and I don't feel that it was a waste of time. It might even be that I'm so locked in my own view of time that I'm unable to appreciate the arguments in "Pip Pip" - maybe I just missed the point. But I really feel that this could have been a truly amazing book that could have fundamentally changed my view of time, and it's disappointing that instead it seems to be content just to preach to the converted.