chapter  1
16 Pages

Time-keeping

As a modern reader, one may be a little perplexed to find Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales praising a rooster by the name of Chauntecleer for being a better timekeeper than the clocks he competed with: ‘Wel sikerer [more accurate] was his crowyng in his logge | Than is a clokke or an abbey orlogge [clock tower]’ (Chaucer 1974: 199). Chaucer assigned separate lines to the natural and mechanical timekeepers, thereby coupling and contrasting, hyperbolically, the chicken run and the abbey belfry: the competing temporal regimes dovetail and overlap in a late medieval Europe world where clocks, already beginning to preside over the market places and civic spaces, were none the less far from reliable. Chaucer, as a civil servant in the incipient system of proto-capitalist trade and exchange, was attuned to the time-keeping needs of early accounting and nascent logistics. Clearly his praise of Chauntecleer is parodic, but natural rhythms (night and day, work and rest, harvesting, sowing) are still hegemonic enough to make the comparison viable. But what Chaucer’s successive lines perform, and perhaps even

drive, is the beginning of a slow but ineluctable separation of two linearities: that of calibrated chronometrical time, and that of a mode of temporality given by nature itself and part and parcel of

natural processes and events. This chapter traces the increasing sophistication of the former modes of temporality (from timekeeping devices to the development of universal time), but also points up the attendant aporia which allow the latter to remain partially visible even today.