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A good book beginning; clocks and time

I've started The Dubious Hills by pameladean, and even just a few pages in, I find it wonderful in ways that are difficult to articulate. There's the intimate scope: the focal character, Arry, lives in a very small community, where everyone has been intimately connected all her life. Partly it's the small details of that life--milk spilled on the floor for cats to lap up, hair cut to get rid of burrs (a necessity I remember from my own childhood). But a bigger reason is the way people understand and speak about things in the book, and therefore how it's conveyed to us, the readers:

According to Halver, today was the first day of May in the four-hundredth year since doubt descended. According to Wim, it was the second hour after dawn. But since dawn in its wandering way moved about, back and forth over the same small span of hours like a child looking for a dropped button, some of the leisured scholars at Heathwill Library (according to Mally they were leisured, according to Halver they were scholars, according to Sune there was indeed a structure called Heathwill Library) had named all the hours of the day from their own heads without regard to the shifting of the sun.

This lineage of information, and transmitting it with the authorities appended, I love.

I blame it for inspiring the following thoughts on clocks, analog clocks:

Analog clocks are like sportscasters or simultaneous translators: they're telling you about a thing (the passage of time) as it's happening, and in the exact amount of time it happens in. It takes a second hand the whole of a second to tell you that a second's gone by, and it take a minute hand a whole minute to tell you a minute's gone by. Analog clocks are like a v-e-r-y gross-grained book of all things that are happening right now: no specifics, but the biggest possible picture: time is passing. I remember hearing somewhere that time measurement is the weirdest of measurements, because when the measurement is accomplished, the time is lost. This doesn't happen when you measure the weight of flour or the distance between New York and Los Angeles. Imagine if those things were gone if you once measured them. Imagine if the only way to know about the weight of flour were to eat it.

And with that thought, I'm back to work. But by the way, both The Dubious Hills and Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary, which had been out of print, are now in print again. Details here.


( 23 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 28th, 2016 06:20 pm (UTC)
I like the point that time is lost once it is measured. I'm sure there's a time-management lesson in there. :)

That book sounds marvelous. I must go buy a copy.

Happy Monday!
Mar. 29th, 2016 11:02 am (UTC)
I'm enjoying it very much! It's unusual and instantly appealing--strange in an enchanting way.
Mar. 28th, 2016 07:46 pm (UTC)
Did you ever get a chance to see One Hundred Ways Of Looking At Time at the MFA?
Mar. 29th, 2016 11:04 am (UTC)
Not in person, but your comment prompted me to look at other people's reactions. Interesting. I think we--maybe I've said this to you before? I'm getting a sense of déjà vu, but--I think we could learn a lot about time and ourselves if we tried doing some of the stuff she did for those 100 days.
Mar. 29th, 2016 01:29 pm (UTC)
I don't remember you ever saying that to me. True, though.
Mar. 28th, 2016 08:07 pm (UTC)
Eeee, I'm so glad Pamela Dean's books are coming back in print! Now I feel the terrible urge to buy Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary and pass it out gleefully to my friends, although it's sort of an odd book so I'm not sure they would all appreciate it, actually. Hmm.
Mar. 29th, 2016 11:06 am (UTC)
It's a tricky thing giving friends books you like, especially if they're idiosyncratic favorites. But when they like them, it's so rewarding!
Mar. 28th, 2016 08:48 pm (UTC)
...the leisured scholars at Heathwill Library (according to Mally they were leisured, according to Halver they were scholars, according to Sune there was indeed a structure called Heathwill Library)...

This reminds me strongly of some thoughts I've been ruminating on lately about exactly how much the world has changed in my generation. Not so long ago, if you wanted the answer to a question (even a relatively mundane one, such as whether you needed to worry about mold after a plumbing leak), you had to either talk to someone who knew more about the subject than you do (talking to a drywall repair specialist, if you happened to know of any, who would've had to go to school and/or apprentice to learn their trade) or consult a book (which meant going to the bookstore or library, and possibly a long wait time if your local store or branch didn't have a book that covered the topic). Now I can hit up Google and, within ten minutes, read enough about the conditions that cause mold and the cost and procedures of drywall repair to put my mind solidly to rest about whether it's worth being concerned about.

I know we more or less take this kind of thing for granted, now, but it's a genuinely profound shift in the way knowledge flows between people and communities. And while it's a less flashy change than, say, the ubiquity of television, I think people underestimate exactly how influential it's been in shaping our lives.
Mar. 29th, 2016 06:51 am (UTC)
A while ago, I overheard my son saying he wondered how his father knew so much about fishing. "I think he looked it up on the internet..." he said.
Mar. 29th, 2016 11:11 am (UTC)

I've been experimenting for several years with trying to extract fibers from milkweed plants. I've learned a lot from videos about processing flax, but just now I've hit upon talking to experts at a nearby restored colonial village, where they probably have the eighteenth-century tools and maybe actual experience using them. So sometimes even now, it's back to the expert. Funny how long it took me to think of this as a way of getting information, though.
Mar. 29th, 2016 07:47 pm (UTC)
I guess the other aspect is that now the experts are accessible all over the world. I can talk to sailing and boat restoration experts on the other side of the planet, and watch their videos and tutorials. Although, I guess what's also lost is the master-student relationship. In the past, you might learn from one mentor and preserve their body of knowledge and now you can pull from so many different sources that you're constantly aggregating what you learn.
Mar. 29th, 2016 11:09 am (UTC)
I agree with you so hard! I think this all the time. SO much random information we now have at our fingertips. The name of that singer. The year that movie came out. What Charlotte Bronte died of.

Back in 1999 and 2000, I worked at a dictionary company, Merriam-Webster. I was hired to help work on a single-volume encyclopedia. It was a great book, and highly useful for just this sort of information, and there've been times in the intervening years when my kids would ask me something, and I'd bring out that book. So long as people had to run to desktop, or even laptop, computers, I was probably faster with the encyclopedia. But now that people have smart phones, they carry a universe of knowledge with them at all times.
Mar. 29th, 2016 12:01 pm (UTC)
I wonder whether you'd mind my quoting the bit about the encyclopaedia you worked on, in my LJ? As a starting point to a rumination of my own.
Mar. 29th, 2016 12:34 pm (UTC)
Not at all--I'd be honored!
Mar. 29th, 2016 11:40 pm (UTC)
Thank you so very much.
Mar. 29th, 2016 06:50 am (UTC)
Hmm. Clocks are also fundamentally inexact. Even the best clocks have fractional errors (unlike the stopped clock, which is exactly right twice a day), and whenever you try to time something, there are always marginal delays between starting and stopping. I guess that's no different from any other form of measurement though - they're always approximations of the real thing, which is probably impossible to know perfectly.
Mar. 29th, 2016 11:17 am (UTC)
Time is such a profoundly different thing from any other measurable thing. It's like a whole different order of reality that I feel like our measuring other things are only a very poor analogy. It's true that clocks are inaccurate, and you're going to get slightly high and low measures for, say, 5 minutes, if you try to measure it, the way different rulers may give you slightly long or short measures for 5 inches. But if you mismeasure 5 inches, your piece of wood or paper is still there--you can measure it over and over again. You can only ever measure one section of time once, and it's gone.

Then again, you could get 40,000 people all assembled in the same park, simultaneously measuring that section of time, whereas you couldn't have 40,000 people simultaneously measuring the same piece of wood or paper.

(I can't figure out if these thoughts are actually going anywhere, or whether they're just deliberate mystification of completely obvious reality.)
Mar. 29th, 2016 03:07 pm (UTC)
They are wonderful thoughts. Everything about clocks is metaphor. Think of the first genius who thought that those pointing things looked like hands, or that the round thing they were going around looked like a face! All lost with digital clocks.

The clock metaphors were new enough that Shakespeare could have Mercutio play with them in his bawdy way, answering the Nurse that "the bawdy hand of the/ dial is now upon the prick of noon." And "dial" came to mean "the human face" in later UK slang.
Mar. 30th, 2016 04:18 pm (UTC)
The metaphor made flesh--or, anyway, made wood, metal, gears, springs.

I didn't know that about "dial" being slang for a face--interesting. (I think I associate dial with phones, though that's an obsolete association now.)
Mar. 30th, 2016 12:24 am (UTC)
I don't think timepieces actually measure time, though. I think that they make it visible/audible/tangible.

Edited at 2016-03-30 01:09 pm (UTC)
Mar. 30th, 2016 04:19 pm (UTC)
I hadn't thought about it that way--that jives nicely with what negothick says, up above. It's very... tingly to think about it.
Mar. 30th, 2016 04:22 am (UTC)
Sounds wonderful., I knew nothing of this author; now I want to read all her books. Thank you.
Mar. 30th, 2016 04:20 pm (UTC)
So glad to introduce you! I'm loving this book very much.
( 23 comments — Leave a comment )

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