Saturday, August 2, 2008

Retreat Pt. 2 — The Clock and the Watch

On the weekends and when I'm on vacation, I make it a point to leave my watch on the dresser. I appreciate the liberation from structure, discovering at 2:15 that I haven't had lunch yet, sleeping until I wake up.

Sennett makes the differentiation, though, between two different kinds of timepieces: the clock in the public square and the private wristwatch.
The monastery was a closed world in which the hours and their parts were reckoned by listening to the bells, and this same marking of time through bells of course continued in the churches of the Renaissance cities. These ringing bells marked the ritual moments during the day, the mount of time lapsing between one sacred duty and the next. The machinery that produced little mechanical dramas when the hours struck, in Venice or other cities — such as a bell ringer popping out of a concealed compartment to pound on a drum while the church rang out its hours — reinforced the ritual of the moment. Practical time required instead reckoning how much time was passing between these little dramas. The quantification of the time in between, of time elapsing in units, was the time shown on clock faces; in this sense, secular time meant visible time without ritual. (p.178)
I've spent a fair bit of time in two small towns whose volunteer fire departments mark the noon hour by sounding the fire horn. And when I hear them, I only partly think "Oh, it's noon." More thoroughly, I think "Here I am in this place, among these people." There is a sensory specificity to the workings of community — smelling the yeast from the brewery or the brine from the marsh, feeling the damp chill of morning fog or the dry cool of desert sundown — that cannot be replaced by mechanical engineers. The 72-degree, still-air, constant humidity interior environment that HVAC technicians shoot for is an individual conceit, the making of animal comfort for each of the animals in the building. So perhaps one of the aspects of places that really mark us is not so much that we feel at home there, but rather that we feel part of a community that feels at home there.

So many of our "communal" experiences now are really individual experiences simultaneously undergone by many at once. Television is the perfect example: it may well be that 30 million people watched each episode of Seinfeld, but almost all in ones and twos. We experience traffic jams as individuals and subway crowds as individuals. No one has caused them, no one comments on them, they just are. Maybe this is why sports (especially college sports) draws such a vocal and unified response — for at least the duration of the game or the season, individuals can take on a meaningful group identity larger than their families. My Duke students used to talk about how "We" beat NC State or UConn in a basketball game, and I was always amused by the degree they took ownership over the work of a dozen mercenaries who shared almost none of their daily student-life experience. Looking back, I think they were smarter than I was — they accepted that they were part of a community that had multiple ways of expressing itself, but they were able to take joy in each of the expressions even if they individually had nothing to do with it. Just as I take pleasure in a place with a volunteer fire department that sounds the horn at noon.


Professor Batty said...

Spending time in Reykjavík, in the old part of town, one quickly becomes attuned to the cathedral bell- mixing the old world and new in a most appealing way.

MaloyMark said...

It’s interesting what we become tuned to. Some time ago I visited Hawaii, where you learn about the Polynesians and their concept of time and space, related to sense of time we brought them. They got up when it was time, eat when need, and probably had a much less stressful live.

Something I did while on the trip and when back at home, I put the old watch in the drawer. It is now been seventeen years sense that time, and I get up without a clock, and have are fairly good sense of time.

It drives my sister mad when she asks the time and I tell her, and I’m fairly close to real time.

Think we become tuned into our environment and take clues for events around us that clue us into time, place and event.