Living by the Clock

Writing about time by David Cannadine, Perry Anderson, Angela Carter, Stanley Cavell, Barbara Everett, Edward Said, John Banville, Rebecca Solnit, David Wootton, Jenny Diski, Malcolm Bull, Andrew O’Hagan and Peter Burke. 

Time, Gentlemen, Please

David Cannadine, 19 July 1984

As someone once said, although we do not know exactly when, time is of the essence. It can be given or taken, saved or spent, borrowed or beaten, kept or killed. There are old timers and egg timers, time bombs and time tables, time signals and time machines. There is half time and full time, short time and over time, standard time and local time, the best of times and the worst of times. There is a time to be born and a time to die, a time to break down and a time to build up, a time to reap and a time to sow. 

Time Unfolded: Powell v. the World

Perry Anderson, 2 August 2018

Powell’s imagination was deeply historical, as Proust’s was not. He was also much more deeply conservative. That could easily have led to a threnody of time past, not individual as in A la recherche, but political and cultural. What checked any such move was the other side of his conservatism, conviction of the constancy of human nature, which he shared with Proust.

Adventures at the End of Time

Angela Carter, 7 March 1991

All writers of fiction are doing something strange with time – are working in time. Not their own time, but the time of the reader.

Time after Time

Stanley Cavell, 12 January 1995

Thoreau’s idea is that time has not touched the thoughts and texts he deals in. What chance is there for us to share his faith today, now? When is now?

The care for time in The Winter’s Tale, that is, is not precisely or primarily a matter of ‘seasons’, or of what the undeveloped Imogen, like her husband, defines as the belief that ‘seasons comfort’. Beyond and within time stand love and nature, which are faculties of the human.

I was given my first watch, an insipid-looking Tissot, at the age of 11 or 12; for several days I spent hours staring at it, mystified by my inability to see its movement, constantly worried that it had stopped.

The question of clocks and dilation in clock times was at the heart of the disagreement between Henri Bergson and Albert Einstein. Bergson eventually came to accept that a clock sent off into space at tremendously high speed would show a discrepancy with a clock stationary on earth: he just didn’t see that it mattered much.

Diary: In the Day of the Postman

Rebecca Solnit, 29 August 2013

When I think about, say, 1995, or whenever the last moment was before most of us were on the internet and had mobile phones, it seems like a hundred years ago. Letters came once a day, predictably, in the hands of the postal carrier. News came in three flavours – radio, television, print – and at appointed hours. Some of us even had a newspaper delivered every morning.

Our ancestors, it seems, did not sleep as we do, we who live by clock time. Their night was divided into a first sleep and a second sleep; in the early hours they woke. Some meditated, some prayed, some read by candlelight (though candles, even when made of mutton fat, were a luxury: the poor relied on rushlights), some talked, some made love.

Diary: Trying to stay awake

Jenny Diski, 31 July 2008

If you set aside the incomparable cruelty and stupidity of human beings, surely our most persistent and irrational activity is to sleep. Why would we ever allow ourselves to drop off if sleeping was entirely optional?

Tick-Tock: Three Cheers for Apocalypse

Malcolm Bull, 9 December 1999

 By listening for the next tick as a tock, as the end of something that preceded it rather than the next in a meaningless and interminable succession, we invest time with shape and significance. And if tock is a tiny apocalypse, the end of a millennium ought to be a very big one.

On Being Late

Andrew O’Hagan, 24 January 2019

Latecomers get all the bad press. Is that because they’re indifferent to fate or because they’re indifferent to other people’s resentment? It’s not Romeo’s boisterousness or gang mentality that hurts the girl he loves, it’s a mix-up about timings. Hamlet’s problem is his own terrible lateness. What’s the hold-up?

Medieval Dreams

Peter Burke, 4 June 1981

Time was secularised in the later Middle Ages. Merchants and craftsmen came to think of time as belonging to themselves. As one city after another installed a public clock, task-oriented time was replaced by time divided mechanically into equal units. The analogy between time and money goes back to the 15th century at least.

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