Sunday, April 01, 2007

A stretch of river XXXIV: An unstopped stopwatch

On this morning's walk, over on the park side of the river, I found someone's watch laying in a pull-over area for cars. It's one of those watches that sometimes gets called a chronograph because of its multitudinous ways of, well, graphing Time. The strap and buckle are intact; it looks exactly as though the person to whom it belongs had just gotten tired of it and taken it off and left it there in the road.

It's not expensive, but, boy, does it ever have buttons on it. It has a calculator. It has an alarm. It has a calendar. It has other functions as well, but the printing on the watch's surface is worn off and so I can't tell what else it does.

And as I write this, its stopwatch function is measuring . . . something, something that as of my writing this, if I'm reading it right, began 13 hours, 6 minutes and 25 seconds ago and, for all I know, may still be going on.

I have no plans to stop it. The watch may be in my possession, but it is not mine to stop.

So how can we describe what's being measured here? I'm not a trained metaphysician, by any means, but I'm up for a bit of speculating.

I'm told that quantum mechanics theorists say Time is an entity that exists in the universe independent of humans' perceiving it, and it seems to me that this stopwatch I'm looking at is somewhat illustrative of that idea. It's performing the task of measuring some movement that began some time ago and/but which might as well be occurring in a parallel universe.

Yet parallel universes are purely speculative spaces; we can only theorize their existence. We cannot know them directly. This particular space, though, we do know the existence of through the watch. It becomes the time, therefore, of a heterotopic space in Foucault's sense of the term, one whose existence we can know solely by the existence of this watch measuring a time peculiar to that space. We can say nothing about the space itself or its inhabitant(s). As far as I'm concerned, these numbers mean nothing, because I don't know their referent. They are signifiers of an absent, unseen, unknown signified, a dynamic set of hieroglyphs. The space is known-of but unknowable.

It also made me think of something very unexpected: my father's birthday.

That was March 21st. He is 69--or would be if he were still alive. That is the subjunctive mood, expressing an event that cannot ever be true in this world. But that too is another sort of chronograph, is it not, that keeping track of the birthdates and subsequent years of those long dead. Why do that except to keep them, if not alive, at least present in some way? So long as someone remembers the dead, they continue to have birthdays.

Now: even though the referent, my father, is no longer here, his space we do know of, seeing as we (well, I) are/am still alive and still remember him. I am his watch, for now.

More literally, though, I am now the keeper of a timepiece that is not mine and that continues to measure the "life" of some event I know not what. It is strange to look at this thing on my desk. Somehow, it is this literal manifestation of time rather than the figurative one(s) that is the more unnerving to ponder, as though we prefer our time nice and abstract, not really giving it much thought when it's the communal time of time zones, arrivals and departures. If it's a common time, the burden is easier: everyone acknowledges this time's sovereignty over us. But the time being measured by this watch is most definitely an uncommon one, bearing no link with common time. It, like the universe, like God, like the whatever-it-is-that wills our bodies to keep on living, is ultimately unknowable in the most basic, the most essential of ways.

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The County Clerk said...

Now THIS is partucularly interesting. A found stop-watch, stop-watching - a voyuersitic insight into some unknown other's measurement of an unknown thing.

This is the basis of a great story.

R. Sherman said...

A solid addition to the series. I suppose you, and perhaps we, should be glad it's not counting down.