I’m having one of those synchronicity weeks. This one is about time. I stumbled across this old photo the other day. I took it in Salon de Provence. It was at the top of a tower in the middle of the town. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a clock like this before. Instead of dividing the day into hours and minutes, it divides the week into seven days. And it uses the ancient astrological/mythological origins of the names of each day – starting at the top, where the arrow is pointing, is Jupiter, for “Jeudi”, or Thursday (in English we swapped Jupiter for Thor, but both carry a thunderbolt), next in sequence is Venus (Vendredi, or in English, Friday, again swapping the Greek goddess and planet for Frigga, the Germanic goddess of married love), then Saturn, for Saturday, the Sun, for Sunday, the Moon for “Lundi” (or Monday), Mars for “Mardi”, (again, the English swapped Mars for the German god of war, Tiw) and Mercury for “Mercredi” (yep, you guessed it, the English went to the Germanic gods again, and swapped out Mercury for Woden).
Apart from the powerful use of the ancient symbols for the days of the week, what impressed me about this clock was its single hand, which slowly and smoothly moved from day to day. That felt immediately like a different pace of life.
This week I listened to the BBC’s Start the Week podcast about “Bergson and Time“, possibly the best, and clearest introduction to Bergson’s startling concepts of time I’ve ever heard. I recommend it. Bergson, in essence, talked about two kinds of time – lived time, the time we actually experience, (which he called “duration”); and measured time, which is artificial and divides the flow of time into discrete pieces we call hours, minutes and seconds.
I’m reading Jacques Ellul’s “The Technological Society”at the moment, and just this afternoon read this –
At most, life had been regulated since the fifth century by church bells; but this regulation really followed a psychological and biological tempo. The time man guided himself by corresponded to nature’s time; it was material and concrete. It became abstract (probably toward the end of the fourteenth century) when it was divided into hours, minutes and seconds. ….The first private clocks appeared in the sixteenth century. Thenceforward, time was an abstract measure separated from the traditional rhythms of life and nature. It became a mere quantity.
Today the human being is dissociated from the essence of life; instead of livingtime, he is split up and parcelled out by it.
Then, today, in Austin Kleon’s weekly newsletter he has a link to a post, “Working with time” –
“Like, you can always make more. I think that’s why I’m a time-based worker. I try to go at my work like a banker. I just have hours. I show up to the office and whatever gets done gets done. “And I’ve always been a time-based worker. You know, like, ‘did I sit here for 3 hours and try?’ I don’t have a word count when I sit down to write. It’s all about sitting down and trying to make something happen in that time period — and letting those hours stack up.
Now, there are writers who work in quite the opposite way, sitting down to write a certain number of words or pages each day and just doing that until it is done, irrespective of the hours passed. I’m not claiming one way is better than the other, just that it’s interesting to become aware of the difference between lived time and measured time.
And to wonder about how the influences our everyday lives. (this second photo is one I took in the Musée d’Orsay, in Paris)
Are we distanced from the rhythms of Nature, of the World, by the machinery of time-pieces?
That’s Ellul’s claim, and I think we are. Whilst machines often allow us to achieve what we couldn’t have without them, I think it’s healthy to step out from that occasionally and re-connect ourselves to Natural Time…..re-connect ourselves to Nature. Get a dose of Vitamin N.