And you thought Parsifal was long

The clock that tells the time: A Bulova Accutron watch, subject of discussion in Mad Men Season 7, Episode 1.

The clock that tells the time: A Bulova Accutron watch, subject of discussion in Mad Men Season 7, Episode 1.

Can anything new be said about the experience of time in relation to new forms of art and entertainment? I know this has been discussed in relation to particular works, such as Einstein on the Beach, and probably broader treatments exist, but some experiences are available nowadays that didn’t exist a few decades ago: streaming TV, for instance, and immensely elaborate video games. If you want to binge-watch all 92 episodes of Mad Men from beginning to end, you can do so, pausing only to eat and sleep. Assuming 45 minutes each, that would amount to some 4,140 minutes, or 69 hours, of involvement in the affairs of Don Draper et al. Meanwhile, a friend recently told me about an upcoming video game (I forget which one) that provides, for those who choose every opportunity it offers, more than 400 hours of exploration and gameplay.

The duration of these things extends way beyond any single work of music, theater, or fiction that I know of, even mammoth books such as The Arabian Nights or The Tale of Genji, though the scale of multiseason TV shows may compare to that of a multivolume series of novels. It’s obvious that the culture industry has gotten better and better at providing distractions, if that’s how you choose to view them, but that’s not a new idea. Is there something different, in more than a merely quantitative way, about sustained engagement with 69 hours of television, or 400 hours of a game world? Something else occurs to me as well: How does one teach a class that includes such things?

These thoughts were prompted by reading an amusing entry on Alex Ross’s blog that pertains to Parsifal, which might be called “What you can get done while Parsifal is going on.” Find it here.

[Update 9/06/15 AM: Corrected a word repetition and an erroneous number.]


2 thoughts on “And you thought Parsifal was long

  1. Highly interesting comments, plus the Ross blog was hilarious,. Been to Parsifal, done that, gotta say it is alleviated by a lot of dirty dancing in the Garden of Evil by Klingsor’s hootchy-kootchy girls, which Alex didn’t stick around long enough to see. But even that—maybe especially that—gets boring after a while. I have to say though that there are longer or at least longer-seeming musical experiences. I vote for Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony as the langweilischest of them all!


  2. Maybe you were writing in haste and misspoke: those weren’t Alex’s comments but those of Theodor Fontane, a 19th-century German novelist.

    Bruckner is a whole ’nother story in one sense; in mere clock time, his symphonies don’t approach operatic scale, or the duration of Shakespeare’s longer plays if performed uncut (which they seldom are), but as you say they do seem to move slowly—glacially, if you will. I just discovered an essay in the NYT’s “Art of Slow” series in which Anthony Tommasini discusses Bruckner’s Seventh. It’s here.


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