Video installation The Clock presents an entire 24-hour cycle in clips that reference particular times of the day, lifted from thousands of different films. Could we do the same with lines from literature?
One of the most spectacular pieces of video art in recent years, Christian Marclay‘s The Clock, is finishing its run as part of the British Art Show in London this weekend, with two special late openings. The scheduling – you’ll be able to visit the Hayward Gallery, where it’s on tonight and tomorrow, until 1am – is apt, because The Clock presents an entire 24-hour cycle in elegantly sutured clips from thousands of different feature films. Each of the narrative glimpses in Marclay’s grand patchwork, all of which feature references to a particular time of day, is exactly synced to the actual clock time in the room where you’re watching.
It’s a genuinely mesmerising experience, and a hot tip if you’re in London with time available this weekend. (The exhibition will be moving on to Glasgow and Plymouth in coming months: do catch it if you can.) But what, readers of this blog may reasonably ask, could it have to do with books? Marclay’s video, which is the result of years of patient foraging and stitching, is an approachable “high-concept”, but does provoke much thought about time itself, both as the “transcendental” solvent of all human experience and as a structuring principle and theme of every story, from “once upon a time” up.
It’s particularly suited to films, of course, because of the way narrative time moves in and out of sync with clock time during a movie. But something similar is going on in every story, as time’s mechanics push and pull plots, and the winged chariot takes its toll on the characters depicted. Which set the books team a-thinking.
Could an analogous literary “clock” be assembled?
“Good heavens! nine’o’clock! I must get ready for mass at once if I am to have time to kiss aunt Léonie first.”
“As they crept along, stooping low to discern the plant, a soft yellow gleam was reflected from the buttercups into their shaded faces, giving them an elfish, moonlit aspect, though the sun was pouring upon their backs in all the strength of noon.”
“The city clocks had only just gone three, but it was quite dark already – it had not been light all day: and candles were flaring in the windows of the neighbouring offices, like ruddy smears upon the palpable brown air.”
“And off with him and out trying to walk straight. Boosed at five o’clock.”
“‘And ever since that,’ the Hatter went on in a mournful tone, ‘he won’t do a thing I ask! It’s always six o’clock now.'”
Marclay’s Clock took three years to assemble and edit, with the help of six full-time assistants. With rather less concentrated time available, we were wondering whether all of us in the books community could assemble a similar collage if we scratch our hydra-head for germane quotes.
Is fictional time going to be too generalised to fill out a clock in detail? It could work really well, but as Harry Hill would say, there’s only one way to find out …