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Momo, Dogen, and the Commodification of Time

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The odd thing was, no matter how much time he saved, he never had any to spare; in some mysterious way, it simply vanished. Imperceptibly at first, but then quite unmistakably, his days grew shorter and shorter. (Momo 65)

One of the most remarkable novels of the late twentieth century is Momo, by the German writer Michael Ende. Although apparently written for children, it contains profound insights into our modern attitude toward time. Is it a coincidence that Ende later became interested in Buddhism? He visited Japan several times: the first trip in 1977 included a discussion with a Zen priest; the second time in 1989 to marry his second wife, SATO Mariko. This essay will explore the deep resonances between Ende's view of time in Momo and the Buddhist perspective on time, particularly as expressed by the Japanese Zen master Dogen (1200-1253). These resonances are of more than literary or historical interest: understanding what Ende and Dogen have to say about time gives us important insight into how we experience time today.


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