Today I got to thinking about clocks. Almost two years ago someone left a copy of Cabinet Magazine (yes, again – unfortunately I’m not paid for every time I drop that name in my blog) – the first I’d ever read, Sloth – with me for the summer, and I pored over it every night before bed in my very first apartment in Asheville. In this edition there was an article called A Brief History Of / Time Without Clocks by Joshua Foer about different kinds of clocks and how each tracked the passage of time in unique ways: on a traditional flat face, in shadow, with architecture, through the rhythms of the human body and the opening and closing of flowers…. The full article is available in PDF form.
It occurred to me that each of these clocks vary in their ability to track the effect of time’s passage. A traditional clockface, in its mercilessly perfect circularity and driven by the precise movement of manmade cogs and gadgets, speaks to the unrelentingly regular movement of time and aspires only to imitate this natural process without further commentary. Other timemarkers are more nuanced: a sundial traces not only time’s passage but also its effects on the world, manifested in sunlight, shadow, clouds, and ultimately darkness. To keep time with honeybees who flock at certain hours to a feeding site, as described in Foer’s article, is to measure it in units of need or desire; to track the opening and closing of flowers in the sunlight is to tick off the minutes based on an essential thirst for warmth present in so many life forms.
Recently I heard – and I forget where – something someone said about losing someone they loved along the lines of “It took me 40 days and 400 nights to get over you.” It made me think about the way that, in so many cases, something can seem so different in the morning than it does in the afternoon or at night. If some of the timekeeping systems above are able to track things as sensual as the fluctuation of desire and yearning for warmth, in what ways could a clock express the way that the passing of a day corresponds with the ebb and flow of happiness, of certainty, of passion, of resolve..? In a way the sundial is the device most capable of keeping time with the heart: its strength is dramatically altered by the movement from cool, grey-pink morning to blinding gold afternoon to blue-green dusk, and loses its way after the sun sinks.
Vic Chesnutt – Little Fugue
If I could keep time with music, this would be 4:30 p.m.