But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.-Marvell, To His Coy Mistress (ll. 21-24)
Considering the my life has been utter chaos over the past few days, I have been thinking a lot about time. My lack of time, thee compression of time, and, of course, going back in time. To be honest, I think about time often, not just when stressed. Temporality is related heavily to my ideas of materiality. Objects move through time, are in time, and are time. Objects become a means of shaping, directing, and understanding time.
Old books are old, not necessarily because the date on the title page (which could be a lie), but because of the marks that time has left on them. The 16th century hands in the margin, the rebinding and gilding in the 19th c (damn them!). The conservation methods used in the 21st c. In a sense, books, as with all objects, hold time within their boards.
But today, I want to talk about watches. If any other object best relates the temporality of objects, it is certainly the watch. Watches in a sense are portable representations of time. They move forward, backwards, and sometimes they just stop.
Of course, the watch has its own history (its own time), critic/historian Jonathan Sawday writes, "It has been claimed that the development in the course of the thirteenth century of the mechanical clock, and, later in the sixteenth century, of the portable timepiece or watch, marked a decisive shift in the everyday rhythms of life."1
It is interesting to think about a period in which watches, much less clocks, did not exist. Naturally, the sun has always been a wonderful means of telling time. Nonetheless, how much has the development of the watch lead to our time-conscious society? Would we have the same pressures, deadlines, and strictures if not for the watch.
More importantly, the watch generally moves forward, expresses a time that is linear and that cannot be regained. As such, we often understand time as linear. The past is behind us, the future in front.2 It is assumed that you cannot normally move up or down in time, backward, sideways, diagonally, tangentally, etc. No, we just move forward along the timeline. Of course, physics and theorist have heavily questioned this notion. Time is anything but linear. Personally, I like Deluze and Guattari's formation of time as Rhizomatic. Time works in connectivity and in becoming. Time is in the middle, never fixed, never ending, never beginning, anything but linear. Theirs is not the only non-linear time, but I think it is more dynamic than others. As such, if time is not linear, than we are just always having to fight the watch to reimagine time.
Why then are watches so pervasive, so controlling of our notions of time? Perhaps it is because watches allow us to own time. Sawday explains that as watches became popular "…time itself became privatized or personalized. Time became the property, if not of everyman, than certainly of many."3. Time becomes owned in the 16th c. It is no longer common, but rather now property. Time is then sold, bought, and marketed. The phrase "Time is money" has new meaning in this context. Yes, I do mean to infer Marxist notions of property, ownership, and the market. Perhaps linearality then is a property of capitalistic time, a time than has been packaged and controlled for the sake of production. It would be impossible to own a non-linear, rhizomatic time. Could you imagine a boss trying to scold you for coming in "late" if time were not linear?
The watch then becomes apart of this creation. The watch is the product that allowed for the conscription of time into a line. The object becomes not just touched by time, but as I mentioned early creates time.
-Your Humble Author
1. Pg 76, Sawday, Jonathan. Engines of the Imagination: Renaissance Culture and the Rise of the Machine. New York: Routledge, 2007. <<
2. Notice how the spatial dimensions of time are centered around the body. Words like "behind" and "front" all stem from the spatial directs of a body. A box or better sphere would never use such terms. <<
3. Sawday 76.<<