Experimental Arcades

3 Networks of time

The materiality of time relations is not limited to experimental activities as they were carried out in physiological laboratories and futurists’ ateliers. In the course of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the material cultures of time underwent a remarkable extension and distribution. The production of clocks became rationalized (hence accelerated). Coordinated clocks were displayed in the streets and squares of large cities, and railway and telegraphic lines were connected to time systems. Clocks at the entrances and in the interiors of factories, offices, and schools structured daily work. Living rooms were decorated with large clocks, and with the massive spread of pocket and wrist watches time related objects got quite close to the human body. Toward the end of the 19th century, there were growing attempts to standardize and unify time, but in almost the same period, the notion of linear time received remarkable criticism in physics and philosophy.

Peter Galison has argued that there is a connection between these two developments. According to Galison, Einstein’s study “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies” (1905) must be interpreted against the background of the coordinated clocks that Einstein was confronted with on his daily promenades through turn-of-the-century Bern. Einstein was also familiar with the details of clock technology through his work at the Swiss patent office. According to Galison, Einstein’s central question in the 1905 paper (“What would it mean to say two distant events are simultaneous?”) did not result from a juvenile enthusiasm for trains and railway stations (as the physicist himself suggested), but rather from daily contact with the system of electrical clocks that had been installed in the city of Bern toward 1890. That system connected the towers and squares of the city with the railway stations and state institutions.

In light of Galison’s argument, one is urged to ask the more general question of how the “networks of time” that industrials, scientists, and engineers jointly tried to establish intervened in the discursive and non-discursive practices of life scientists, artists, novel writers, and philosophers. This question concerns primarily “tacit practices.” What was the purpose of introducing clock systems into the physiological laboratories of, e.g., Angelo Mosso (Turin) and John N. Langley (Cambridge)? How did standardized time invade the seemingly closed worlds of the museum and the archive? When, and under what circumstances were indications of time integrated into paintings and photographs, and what purposes did they serve there? Secondly, one might ask about texts and images. How did the material culture of time leave its imprints on the theories and fictions that explicitly addressed the problem of time at the turn of the century (Bergson, Wells, Proust, etc.)? What was everyday life like in the cultures of material time that formed the background for the novels of William Faulkner or the sculptures of Alexander Calder? The relations between networks of time and time discourses form the third aspect of the conference topic.

The three topics suggested here show that the question on the Materiality of Time Relations in Life Sciences, Art, and Technology is not at all a simple one. On the one hand, one must deal with the possibilities and perspectives of the “experimentalization of life” opened up by a materiality of time that continued to bifurcate, but became also more and more self-coordinated. On the other hand, one has to deal with the question of how the regimes of coordinated time limited and restricted the multiplicity of intrinsic times that constitute a main characteristic of the Experimental Arcades. Only an interdisciplinary effort will allow us to meet these challenges.