The Time Regulation Institute by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar


Ticking in my head

It’s a showdown of traditional values vs. modern advancements as East clashes with West in Turkish author Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar’s delightfully absurd novel The Time Regulation Institute.

It’s amazing how the most innocent, seemingly inconsequential of moments from childhood can forever shape our worldview and set us on a lifelong path of obsession.  For Hayri Irdal, the gift of a watch from his uncle to commemorate his circumcision marks the start of a fixation with all things time related.  Like any curious young boy, he becomes fascinated with knowing what makes the strange, shiny thing tick, and just a few short weeks after it’s presented to him he’s all but reduced the device to a pile of useless scrap metal and springs in his quest for answers.  Is he sad about the destruction of his precious ticking time piece?  Far from it:

This experience revealed two things to me:  my overwhelming desire to take apart and understand every watch and clock I came across, and my total indifference to the rest of the world.

The Time Regulation Institute serves as Irdal’s memoir, a set of recollections revealed chronologically that he’s jotted down to honor his family heritage, the legacy of his dear friends, and the one man who would forever change his life in mysterious and unexpected ways,  Halit Ayarci.

It’s Ayarci (whose name literally translates to Timeless Regulator) who ultimately puts in motion the plan to launch The Time Regulation Institute, a government agency that unleashes upon the public a humorous, overly complex system of fines to ensure the synchronization of all time pieces in Turkey to Western Time.  It’s an ambitious undertaking and even for all of his expended effort on its behalf, it’s one that Irdal never quite believes in fully.

Whether dealing with personal or private matters, his naïve inability to simply believe repeated gets Irdal into trouble, and it’s the charismatic Ayarci who always seems to be there to effortlessly bail him out of one perplexing jam after another.  What Irdal ultimately realizes however is that time is a finite thing and that nothing and no one can last forever.

Written over fifty years ago, Tanpinar’s novel amazingly stands out as a dramatic reminder that in today’s world of rapidly changing technology where face-to-face contact with others is on the decline and where we willingly choose to love our mechanical devices over our flesh and blood brothers, sisters, family, and children, that we need to slow down and reconnect with that which is most important in life.  It also questions the selective, flawed nature of memory.

How do we decide which moments to hold on to?  Which are most important when it comes time to write about our lives?  Where do each of our individual journeys truly begin and end?  What’s most important: the amount of time we’re given or how we choose to spend the minutes contained within it?

These aren’t the easiest of questions to answer, and just like each and every one of us, Irdal wastes away precious time in a losing struggle against that which should be painfully obvious to him.  He appears to stumble, fall, and then get back up, only to repeat the process over again.  It’s this all-too-human stubbornness that makes him such an endearing character.

Originally published in its native language in 1961, and appearing in English for the second time (the first being 2001’s translation by Ender Gürol), Tanpinar’s novel offers readers an astoundingly relevant and unforgettable journey directly into the heart of what makes us all tick.

The_Time_Regulation_Institute ★★★★½
The Time Regulation Institute
By Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar
Translated from the Turkish by Maureen Freely and Alexander Dawe
Penguin Classics
(1961) 2013
401 Pages
ISBN 9780143106739

About Aaron Westerman

Aaron Westerman is the Manager of Web Architecture for a national human services organization. When he's not busy tearing sites apart and rebuilding them, he spends his ever shrinking free time trying to keep up with his twins, reading works of translated literature, and watching far too many Oscar nominated movies.