26 September 2006

My new watch according to Cortázar

Since I was given a watch for my birthday, I thought I might share with you what Julio Cortázar nightmarishly said in Preamble to the instructions on winding a clock. If you haven't read Cortázar, go now and get Historias de Cronopios y de Famas.

Think of this: when you are given a watch you are given a small flowery hell, a chain of roses, an airy prison cell. They don't just give you the watch, happy birthday and we hope it'll last since it's a good brand, Swiss with a ruby anchor; they don't just give you that tiny rockpecker that you will tie to your wrist and parade around with you. They give you -- they don't know this, it is terrible they don't know this -- they give you a fragile precarious new piece of yourself, something that is yours but isn't your body, that must be tied to your body with a strap like a tiny arm hanging from your wrist. They give you the obligation of winding it every day, the obligation of winding it so it remains a watch; they give you the need to attend to the exact hour in jewelry shop windows, in radio announcements, in telephone services. They give you the fear of losing it, that it might be stolen, that it might fall to the ground and break. They give you its brand, and the security that it's a better brand than others, they give you the tendency to compare your watch with other watches. They don't give you a watch, you are the given one, you are given for the watch's birthday.
It does sound a bit like Brad Pitt's Tyler Durden admonishing Ed Norton, "Things you own end up owning you", but Cortázar can never be reduced to an anti-consumerism slogan. I suspect there's something other than sheer anti-materialism in the above. If you're not worried about your watch, think of this, because you should.

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