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Time Lord: The Remarkable Canadian Who Missed His Train and Changed the World

by Clark Blaise

In Time Lord, Clark Blaise pays homage to the creation and evolution of a modern and postmodern consciousness of time through the biography of Sir Sandford Fleming, the inventor of standard time. It is more the biography of an idea rather than of Fleming, for Blaise’s text digresses frequently, dropping its focus on Fleming to meditate on engineering, psychiatry, cultural mythology, and esthetics.

Part One begins with Sandford Fleming, an expatriate Scot, missing a train because of a confusion over time. This leads to his invention of standard time and the rescue of the world from a “twilight zone” of thousands of local times. Blaise devotes himself to a thorough but dry investigation of Fleming’s background, and his various achievements as civil engineer, patriot, networker, and technological visionary.

In Parts Two and Three, Blaise argues that Fleming was a protomodernist, whose inventions of standard time and the world-circling sub-Pacific cable helped to define a social coherence and provoke new esthetic movements, even though Fleming himself experienced more than his share of vile political opposition. The sections on esthetics burn with a steady flame as they show how the need to manipulate time was central to every technological, intellectual, and artistic discovery of the 20th century, as scientists and artists sought ways of extending “the moment.” In brilliant passages on the Impressionist painter Caillebotte and novelists Hemingway and Faulkner, Blaise demonstrates how the “cutting and faceting of time” and the breaking-up of continuity crystallized a new esthetic ideal.

Blaise has long proven himself adept at the metaphysical or reflective essay, and his other non-fiction books have successfully coupled the documentary mode of his best fiction with this interest. It’s surprising, therefore, that so much of Time Lord reads like an academic textbook. Fleming’s life and achievements are presented in well-documented detail, but Blaise does not attempt a vivid portrait. I yearned for even deeper meditations on Blaise’s subject – and demonstrations of his well-celebrated fiction techniques.


Reviewer: Keith Garebian

Publisher: Knopf Canada


Price: $32.95

Page Count: 246 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-676-97252-7

Released: Mar.

Issue Date: 2001-3

Categories: Memoir & Biography

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