On Clockwork: Editorial

Chapter Six brings together reflections that defy, occupy or play with, and in, time.

Clockwork. Clockwork. Clockwork.

We use ‘clockwork’ to think about how time escapes its keepers, and to locate times: slippery, solvent, lazy, shared, subversive times and their interventions in an accelerated, capitalist world. Clockwork constitutes our movement with and through time, but also our being with it.

In our call out, we wrote about the ways we uphold the fiction of the clock while understanding the mysteries it leaves behind. We thought about Laurie Anderson’s song Another Day in America, in which she offers a distinctive “theory of punctuation: instead of a period at the end of each sentence, there should be a tiny clock that shows you how long it took you to write that sentence.” Within the brevity and concision of the song lyric, Anderson doesn’t ponder the differences between, for instance, a sentence written in condolence or a sentence passed in judgement, a sentence typed in threat or the heart-flutter of love.

We also thought about John Berger’s book And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos, in which he describes the arrival of the railway, with its timetables, bringing with it regularised time of industrial capitalism: “the notion of a uniform time, within which all events can be temporally related, depends upon the synthesising capacity of a mind.” He writes against this, of a time of the body and a time of consciousness, one linear and the other circular, the ground against which a wheel grinds, and the friction between them. When time moves only linear, Berger argued, death becomes “triumphant over all”.

And finally, we thought about the decimal time that followed 13 years after the French Revolution of 1798, a short-lived experiment that foreshadowed later changes. In the digital clock, time returns repeatedly to zero, as if nullifying the experience that came before. In the digital realm, time is also concurrent and dissonant, where history and futurity are co-existen. But each experience of revolution or its potential isn’t negated by its historical failure: it is material to learn from, on which to build.

Responding to these themes, the writers gathered here consider time as a condition and as a material; as a structure and as a body; as an experience that is felt, and as an experience that is lost. The texts move through clockwork.

Lucy Cash writes about time as it seeps through the walls of the Foundling Museum, once a hospital for abandoned children whose lives were regulated by time as a preparation for later life. Deborah Pearson’s poignant film (not yet online) reflects on time in the work of the writer, artist and polymath John Berger, who died early last year. And Mira Mattar’s note about record keeping speaks of the currents of time as affective material: how time feels, what time does, who we are at different points in time, and how we slip away from our present selves.

In her three poems. Mary Paterson writes about the economics of care, as measured in time, money and careless efficiency. Sara Hamming’s manuscript also tells a story of care: an intimate attention to the body, and how it can be explored. And Nik Wakefield focuses on time as a stolid atmosphere in the theatre, writing about the sociality of silence in relation to people and performance.

For Rowan Lear, time is a form of transformation; she imagines a person’s transformation into digital form, and its effects on time. Likewise, transformation is the theme of Kamil Adamus’ surreal and interdisciplinary text, presented here in two languages, English and Polish. And for Diana Damian Martin, time is explored through the disconnections of language.

Finally, Caridad Svich’s text address the times of connections and mis-connections, of belongings and longings, of knowings and not knowings, through the form of the letter – the type of writing that is most declarative about its own ambitions to travel through time.

When we launched this chapter, at Something Other Live in London in June 2018, the night included performances by Wm Green, Maddy Costa, and by JR Carpenter and Mary Paterson, which are not documented here. Likewise, there are texts published here that were not performed. There is always a gap between what is done and what is written; what is felt and what is remembered; what’s in time, what’s out of time, what travels. We deconstruct the clock, together.

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