Close Reading : Written on the Body
“So what affects the circadian clock? What interrupts it, slows it, speeds it? These questions occupy an obscure branch of science called chronobiology. Interest in the clock is growing because as we live more and more artificially, we’d like to con nature into altering her patterns for us. Night-workers and frequent fliers are absolutely the victims of their stubborn circadian clocks. Hormones are deep in the picture, so are social factors and environmental ones. Emerging from this melée, bit by bit, is light. The amount of light to which we are exposed crucially affects our clock. Light. Sun like a disc-saw through the body. Shall I submit myself sundial-wise beneath Louise’s direct gaze? It’s a risk; human beings go mad without a little shade, but how to break the habit of a lifetime else?” (Winterson, 80)
Time doesn’t work linearly in this story. The narrator talks about the circadian clock in the passage above, but it would be more accurate to call it a circadian rhythm. We might not be able to change it, but we can affect the circadian rhythms with far more accuracy than we can time. The narrator has more trouble with time than they do with this clockwork pattern; Louise is working against time. To address Louise’s “direct gaze” as the same as a sun gaze, makes the narrator the one telling the time as a sundial. The narrator is helpless to tell time, they aren’t able to do anything but watch and report time passing. The narrator says “we’d like to con nature into altering her patterns for us” but I don’t think that’s quite accurate; the narrator wants to con nature into changing how time functions, not it’s natural patterns. They say:
“Frighten me? Yes you do frighten me. You act as though we will be together for ever. You act as though there is infinite pleasure and time without end. How can I know that? My experience has been that time always ends. In theory you are right, the quantum physicists are right, the romantics and the religious are right. Time without end. In practice we both wear a watch. If I rush at this relationship it’s because I fear for it. I fear you have a door I cannot see and that any minute now the door will open and you’ll be gone. Then what?” (Winterson, 18)
The problem is not with time as a concept, but how time affects the precarious nature of the narrators relationships, not just with Louise but with all of their lovers. They idealize love as an infinity but are cowardly when it comes to acting in the same manner. They refuse to be vulnerable enough accept love as a finite concept, and in doing so can never fully commit to love. Over and over, the narrator shows how they make the same mistakes in their relationships, and the constant fear of time passing only contributes to this.
There are moments in the book where the narrator seems to recognize and contemplate how time interacts with the novel as a whole, which is where it starts to get interesting. “This is outside of time,” they say on page 72. That sentence could be referring to the point in the story, but I think it’s more relevant to look at the statement as a comment on the novel as a whole. The narrator is so highly focused on time, and time running out, but they’ve created their own story that ultimately has no clear beginning or end, so any fears about time exist only in the mind of the narrator, not in the audience.