An arbitrary annoyance of mine has piqued a strange and obsessive interest, and perhaps you could say, a one-woman mission to rethink the way we cut off time.
A fancy way of saying this: as midnight approaches (well beyond my bedtime on a school night), I look at the clock in the playground below my balcony. And I think, it’s almost tomorrow.
But why is it almost tomorrow? Why mark the day with midnight, why that arbitrary division? Not that any division won’t be arbitrary, that any border or category of “day” and “hour” and any other subdivision won’t be, but that I wonder – why not the dawn?
Surely, one can protest, it is fluid and doesn’t remain constant on every day. It ruins, as Benedict Anderson put it, homogenous, empty time. Is time homogeneous, even for those of us who live in supposed modernity? I argue that it is not, although that’s not much of an argument. I state that is not. I put forward that we give great meaning to temporal boundaries, that those meanings change day today, season to season, year to year. Those boundaries can, and are, meaningful markers, no matter how arbitrary.
As a technical Catholic (there is no escape; trust me, I tried), I reflected recently on my idea to spend Christmas as a vacation, to indulge my atheism. And then it hit me – perhaps I could enjoy a really spectacular Christmas in finding an opulent Catholic church and attending midnight mass.
Midnight mass. What an example. I’ve got my own intellectual issues with Anderson. They are legion. I can’t think of a better example to contradict his argument about time and modernity. Midnight mass is a technicality, like so much in the Catholic faith (and I say that with the utmost good will), a way to get in an obligation just-in-time, before getting off the hook for the commercial and gustatory hedonism that is Christmas Day. It’s predicted “just-in-time” delivery of business services by, well, as long as it’s existed. Something tells me that’s quite longer than the 1990s.
Back to my proposition, which is this: forget this day change at midnight. What is the point? We sleep through it. (Well, some of us. We should. And we don’t.) We can’t directly experience our social marking of the boundaries of the day. There is, really, no social marking, save for those on the night shift or those who are rushing to finish a project that was due tomorrow one minute, then today the next. Midnight projects an air of sadness, loneliness, and sometimes one of panic.
I’m on a one-woman mission to change this. From now on, I call for a universal change of marking the passage of one day to the next. My choice is 5 am. I’d love dawn. But our homogeneous empty time seems to call for an arbitrary number. 5 am. This is what I want.
Anyone with me?