Monday, September 22, 2008

How long do you want?

My college has unveiled a new clock/metaphor where once there was the door to the NatWest bank. It now is one of the corners of the college's excellent new library. You can read all about it if you just google 'Corpus clock'. It even has its own facebook fan page (and various other sites for those less keen on it) and a wikipedia entry.

The thing on top is a 'chronophage' which eats time. It's supposed to remind us as we pass of the imminence of death and the fleetingness of our mortality. Well, it is of course true that we are all going to die and it is true that our lives, looked at from the right kind of perspective, are short. The question is, however, whether they are too short. I'm not so sure about that. Sure, some lives are too short -- we can think of examples of people who have 'died before their time'. But are all lives like that? Aren't some lives even too long? -- we can think of someone who has been harmed by living as long as they did, perhaps because they were living in great pain or lived long enough to see some cherished project collapse or be ridiculed. The chronophage is only part of a story about our lives and time, an arresting one, I suppose. No doubt there will a lot of people who find the image provocative, perhaps even upsetting. That's OK -- I don't expect all public art or even public clocks to make everyone feel better. But I wonder if there ought to be somewhere a disclaimer that says that the passing of time can be something positive too...

1 comment:

Catherine Osborne said...

Isn't there a difference between wanting a longer life ad nauseam and finding that there isn't enough time to do things and that time is running away too fast? I mean the chronophage is eating up the moments we were trying to spend wisely, and once they're gone they're gone. It's no good having longer at the rotten end of life when old age has set in, but it would be nice if time would occasionally slow down enough for us to finish the tasks we need to finish in time for the deadlines we have now...