New Criticals

The mechanical clock only emerges in the 13th Century, an important moment because it marks a move away from the continuous measurements of sun, water, and fire to a discontinuous measurement marked by a pulse (though the use of the term “pulse” betrays an implicit connection to the body—with each beat of the second hand, the beat of a human heart). "Clock" comes from the Celtic clocca and slogan, both meaning "bell." With the mechanical clock that tolls, the measurement of time begins to lose its connections to the body as it is in the world and becomes something external, outside, a subject that speaks, announcing itself regularly, telling us that time has passed, that we are mere objects inevitably moving one step closer to death. I think of the great astronomical clock in Prague that begins (or ends) each hour with death ringing a bell. The saints make their parade, the trumpeter plays his tune, the crowd below applauds, celebrating time, rooting life, jeering death.

But time can never wholly escape its connections to space no matter how much our tools try to objectify it. It is no surprise that two of the greatest astronomists, Galileo and Christian Huygens, also built clocks, Huygens credited as being the inventor of the pendulum clock. The interrogation of space is necessarily tied to an inquiry into time, and embedded in the parallel developments of the telescope and the clock is an anticipation of Einstein's discovery of the space-time continuum. “The Clock” takes us on a journey of time and place, but because the clock constantly reminds us of our own "now," there is a sense that the images are in fact pictures of a possible world that is occurring not elsewhere, but here, not at another time, but now. The viewer is somehow seeing another part of the world right at this moment—someone waiting, someone dying, someone laughing, someone eating.