In the course of moving some items from one household to another, in among the objects were several clocks that had made the journey. These clocks, time machines of varying sorts, were unplugged in the morning and their faces reported the last moment before time stopped for them. They showed that they left one place at precisely 11:40 and although it was several hours later, in their deactivated state, to them it was 11:40. Stuck in time, so to speak, as the relentless coursing seconds, minutes and hours were literally standing still for these long-vigilant counting machines. I think I felt a little sad for them, removed from their tasks and losing their rhythm.
We all accept the artificial overlay and concept of time and time-keepers. We may not be synchronized to Greenwich Mean Time, but we do obsess over delays or off-schedule events, by the clock. Look how time, split into hair-like fragments, determines outcomes of competitions.
In areas that are prone to electrical surges or outages, the annoying distinction of digital clocks is that they go off but they come back on blinking in a kind of S.O.S. call that their workings have been meddled with – alarmist tactics that agitate rather than put the mind at ease, a crying-wolf pattern that ends up meaningless when something real takes place. Some of the older analog clocks have a colored dot that appears if the power goes out, just so you know – nothing pushy. Of course, the battery clocks are unaffected. They can stop, but never in unison – their trauma is individual, not communal.
It was a bit unnerving seeing these recently moved clocks so disconnected, living in the past. It made me think about horrible disasters – floods, earthquakes, tornadoes – that, when electricity goes out and life as we know it is destroyed, all the clocks stop at precisely the same moment recording the balance-tipping instant. In a sense, time has stopped and the time on the clocks has eternalized the event, the frozen hands imbuing a poetic sorrow with the real. Imagine how we would know from clocks the exact moment when the world ended, if we didn’t end, too. Except for the poor souls forever cast in stone after Vesuvius erupted, there is no other more telling a silence than a stopped clock. In toto, permanently and collectively stopped.
I remember when my mother had her stroke while sitting at her computer and laid on the floor for we-didn’t-know-how-long. My brother was able to access the clock in the computer to figure out when it was turned on, what activities took place in a sort of log and when it went idle. It was fascinating, yet devastating. The computer’s clock told us more than we wanted to know about time stopping for mom. It became a witness to the crime, as well as a sleuth.
Miss Havisham ordered every clock to be stopped on her never-to-be wedding day, to live forever frozen in that time, as a constant reminder. Was it the moment of betrayal, the moment of thrill before betrayal, or the moment when the vows were to be spoken? Whatever, it was chilling.
Magritte’s Time Transfixed illustrates this occurrence as a free-floating, unmoving locomotive and as a stopped clock. Both are powerful images of fate and loss, the human condition. Time is the human condition. Stopped time, for sure.
So these clocks of mine that are temporarily halted have enough placeness to give me pause, make me extend their meaning to existential wonderings. We hear them tick as background, like heartbeats. And then they can quit, just like that.