Tuesday, June 22, 2010

a sideways look at time

Excerpt from Jay Griffiths' book, "A Sideways Look at Time":

Clocks: caging time. The watch: the manacle on the wrist. Deadlines like barbed wire. Coercive, cruel, crushing speed. Punctuality next to godliness. The work ethic. Efficiency über alles . Western Christian time, linear, dry, masculine and ripped away from nature, exemplified in the clock, tediously ticking you off, count, count, count.

By contrast, picture this. A gibbet, a drawbridge, flags, turrets and oil drums. Made of scrap metal, wit an anarchy; place of white cider and Attitude. Welcome to Fort Trollheim, built by eco-activists who lived in their Fort, and up in treehouses in the nearby trees, opposing a road in Devon, in the mid ‘90s. And they had their manifesto: ‘This is the Independent Free State of Trollheim... we have no allegiance to the UK government... We do not recognize history, patriarchy, matriarchy, politics, communists, fascists or lollipop men/ladies... We have a hierarchy based on dog worship... Our currency is to be based on the quag barter system . We do not recognize the Gregorian calendar: by doing so this day shall be known as One ... Be afraid, be afraid, all ye that hear. Respect this State'

Time is a political subject. It is a crucial part of the language of power , between nations, and classes, between men and women, between humankind and nature. Stealthily, nastily, one type of time has grown horribly dominant: clock-dominated, work-oriented, coercive, capitalist and anti-natural: Hegemonic Time .

The Benedictine monasteries first began scheduling time, controlling and ordering time according to Christian dictat. With the sixth century Rule of Saint Benedict, idleness, that impish spirit, was decreed ‘the enemy of the soul.' Crucially, bells would be rung not only through the day but through the night too, for the night was the time when even the most well-behaved monks could slope off, free in their dream times. By ringing bells through the day, the monasteries commanded the bodies of the monks; by ringing bells through the night, the order of Christian time would get into their very minds.

The Industrial Revolution radically altered the sense of time experienced by the common people, and it created time-owners; the capitalist factory-owners, erecting clock-bound fences of work-time and the sense that employers owned the time of their employees, enslaving their time, enclosing time. This time, and all the time-values which go with it, has been imposed on numerous cultures across the world in a widespread and unacknowledged piece of cultural imperialism.

What's the time? Dishonest question. A political question. There are thousands of times, not one. But this one mono-time has worldwide dominance. Greenwich Mean Time comes reeking with the language of imperialism and smug with the knowledge that time is power: the chief clock at Greenwich in 1852 was called the ‘master' clock; it sent out signals to ‘slave' clocks at London Bridge. All the history of time-keeping and the discovery of longitude enabled Britons to rule the oceans and then build its empires of land. Having built its empires of land, it set about building empires of time, enslaving people's lives and enclosing other cultures' times (plural) with the One Hegemonic Time. When missionaries arrived amongst the Algonquin people of North America, the Algonquin, outraged, called clock-time ‘Captain Clock' because it seemed to command every act for the Christians.....


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