The Time Regulation Institute – Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar

Years ago, I bought The Time Regulation Institute on a whim and placed it in my library. I just couldn’t start reading it for a long time. I avoided reading it because I thought I wouldn’t understand or appreciate it. So The Time Regulation Institute moved to England with me from Turkey and waited in my library here. Again with the same concerns, I carefully avoided reading it. I finally decided to read this year and saw that The Time Regulation Institute is not a novel to be feared at all. Still, I’m glad I waited for this age to read it.


The Time Regulation Institute - Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar

But, Doctor, I’m not ill. Good God! I’ve told you everything”.
Again his fixed his eyes on mine and stopped me, his voice full of resolve.
“You are ill. It is the fate we all share since the birth of psychoanalysis”.

The Time Regulation Institute, Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar

The Time Regulation Institute was a book in which I dwelled on its many sentences for a long time, thought a lot, and found myself. Sometimes I discovered that I was the character Hayri Irdal and sometimes Halit Ayarcı. I laughed a lot; I was sad and surprised a lot; I was amazed by Tanpınar’s ability to fit the whole world into one book.

Published in 1961, The Time Regulation Institute describes Turkish society so beautifully that it is possible to read the country in each of its characters and each of its events. We read about the impact of the transition from the Ottoman Empire to the Turkish Republic, the conflict between those who adhere to the traditions and the innovators, and those in between.

I fear that those who see freedom solely as a political concept will never fully grasp its meaning. The political pursuit of freedom can lead to its eradication on a grand scale—or rather it opens the door to countless curtailments.

The Time Regulation Institute, Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar

The Time Regulation Institute is one of the rare books that will show people different things each time they read it, and that will give place to new thoughts and feelings. Whether you read it as an absurdist criticism of society or a parody of a whole life, you will not be able to get rid of its influence, and you will be happy to be alone with all the beautiful sentences and thoughts it left you. If you miss that glorious feeling that good writers and good books leave you with, The Time Regulation Institute will be the perfect choice for you. Enjoy!

All of us, even those not endowed with a hopeful disposition, have thought, even dreamed, of life after death. It is the reward we project onto the unknown and distant future, promising consolation for this string of catastrophes we know as life. It is a game of cards played with the very best hand, one we’re always destined to win, a wild desire that no man is ready to relinquish: the dream of living another life, provided of course there remains a narrow recollection of the past to make him conscious of the change and pleased to have left the other world behind.

The Time Regulation Institute, Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar
The Time Regulation Institute - Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar

The Time Regulation Institute

The Time Regulation Institute: One of the greatest and most overlooked novels of the twentieth century, by an author championed by Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk, The Time Regulation Institute appears here in English for the first time more than fifty years after its original publication in Turkish.

Perhaps the greatest Turkish novel of the twentieth century, being discovered around the world only now, more than fifty years after its first publication, The Time Regulation Institute is an antic, freewheeling send-up of the modern bureaucratic state.
At its centre is Hayri Irdal, an infectiously charming antihero who becomes entangled with an eccentric cast of characters—a television mystic, a pharmacist who dabbles in alchemy, a dignitary from the lost Ottoman Empire, a “clock whisperer”—at the Time Regulation Institute, a vast organization that employs a hilariously intricate system of fines for the purpose of changing all the clocks in Turkey to Western time.

Recounted in sessions with his psychoanalyst, the story of Hayri Irdal’s absurdist misadventures plays out as a brilliant allegory of the collision of tradition and modernity, of East and West, infused with a poignant blend of hope for the promise of the future and nostalgia for a simpler time.

Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar

Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar was born in Istanbul on June 23, 1901, and died in Istanbul on January 24, 1962. Due to his father’s duty as an Ottoman judge, Tanpinar spent his childhood in various towns and cities of Anatolia, and he returned to Istanbul in 1918 to pursue his higher education. He first attended the Faculty of Veterinarian Science for a year and transferred to the Darülfunun Faculty of Letters, where he studied history and then philosophy. Later, he transferred to the Department of Literature, because he wanted to take classes from Yahya Kemal Beyatli, whose work had a great influence on him.

During his university life, he studied western as well as Divan literature. He had the opportunity to learn the works of Divan poets Baki, Nefî, Naili, Nedim and Seyh Galip. In 1923, he graduated from the Faculty of Letters and was appointed to Erzurum as a schoolteacher. He worked as a teacher of literature at various secondary schools in Konya, Ankara and Istanbul. After the death of the renowned literary figure and academician Ahmet Hasim in 1933, Tanpinar was appointed to the Academy of Fine Arts as a lecturer of art history.

The Time Regulation Institute - Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar

In 1939, he started working at Istanbul University as a professor of contemporary Turkish Literature. From 1942 to 1946, he worked as a representative of the province of Maras. From 1946 to 1948, he worked as an inspector for the Turkish Ministry of National Education. Afterwards, he returned to his academic position at Istanbul University and taught fine arts and literature until the end of his life. The gravestone of the poet features his most famous verses: “I am neither inside time / Nor am I completely outside of it.”

Tanpinar took his first steps into the literary world in 1920, with his poem “Musul Aksamlari” (“Musul Evenings”), which was published in the literature journal Altinci Kitap. His poetry carries influences of Ahmet Hasim rather than that of Yahya Kemal Beyatli, whom he admired. His interest in philosophy surfaced in his novels in the form of his characters settling accounts with their inner realities. His essays, on the other hand, dealt with daily social problems related to Eastern and Western lifestyles.

While Tanpinar wrote his poems in the style known as “Bes Hececiler” (“Followers of the Five Syllable”), in his novels he has dwelled on the inner human truth, and as a thinker he wrote about the challenges of internalizing Eastern and Western lifestyles and values. Tanpinar stated that “Western civilization develops constantly, however it does so without severing ties with its history and renaissance.

Furthermore, it safeguards its material and spiritual values. Just like they have done, we need to change the “old,” and to strive to become a better society; however while doing this, we need to make use of our own values rather than blindly imitating the West. We need to protect our own values.”

Time is one of the prominent themes that appear in Tanpinar’s stories and novels. The commonly accepted opinion is that Tanpinar has been influenced by Marcel Proust. Both Tanpinar himself and his characters are longing for times past. The past is both individually perceived time and the past of the nation. In Tanpinar’s novels, time is prominent as an aesthetic element, and a literary device.

A Mind at Peace, which appeared as a daily series in the Milliyet newspaper between February 22nd and June 2nd 1948, and which was later published in 1949 in book form, is one of his most important works. The most significant feature of the novel is that it adheres to the principle of unity of time, as its action takes place in a 24-hour timeframe. In the novel, the time has been established through the characters conveying their memories into the present.

In the other novels, it is possible to see a spiralling plot of the same type that goes back and forth between past and present. As far as the subject matter goes, A Mind at Peace deals with the search for peace that the intellectuals of the Republican period undertake.

The Time Regulation Institute deals with the relationship between the individual and society. It relates the problems and challenges that Turkey encountered in the process of internalizing Western civilization. Tanpinar’s novel Sahnenin Disindakiler relates the years of national struggle. The novel deals with the experience of people who remained uninvolved with the war of independence. His characters sometimes plunge into the past to remember the changes that took place and are left lonely in their yearnings. Mahur Beste narrates the story of unhappy love.

It would appear that through his character and his works Tanpinar believes in the necessity of embracing the new, and in fact, he elevated novelty. However, his works do feature a sense of emotional pain related to the slow disappearance of Ottoman civilization and culture, and of values that created them. All these novels, stories and poems carry traces of folk and divan literature and are enriched through repetition of the feeling of nostalgia.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges: 

Read Around the World, A Great Journey

Reading Challenge 2021

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