Time does go slow
Posted: 02 Nov 2006 @ 00:00
DOES time always march with an inexorable, steady beat? We have all
experienced occasions when time appears, if not exactly to stand still, to be
excruciatingly elongated: during sermons by particular preachers, or in General
Science might now support the phenomenon, we learned in Time, the
first episode of a big-name documentary series presented engagingly by Dr
Michio Kaku (BBC4, Sunday), a co-founder of String Field Theory in modern
The passing of time is more than an industrial construct, a ploy by
capitalist bosses to squeeze the last ounce out of a downtrodden proletariat by
means of clocking-on, and time-and-motion stopwatches. Deep within our brains
we all have a mechanism that fires cells in a pattern of beats which
synchronises our bodies, a biological mechanism that we apparently share with
every other terrestrial life-form.
But this steady rhythm can be altered: the production of adrenalin in
moments of acute stress slows down our body time so that the perception of,
say, a serious accident as happening in slow motion is in fact exactly what
Speaking as a mere arts wallah, I thought Dr Kaku was concentrating on
subjective rather than objective time, what we feel internally to be the
passing of time rather than its actual passage: surely it's reasonable to
expect that organisms would develop some mechanism to enable them to respond to
the inexorable exterior temporal fluctuations - day and night, phases of the
moon, the yearly progress of the earth round the sun. Perhaps all that will be
addressed in future programmes, which, among other delights, promise to
disclose why time proceeds in only one direction.
Time pretty much came to a standstill for me during the interminable
Gideon's Daughter (BBC1, Sunday). This new drama is part of a
celebration of the work of Stephen Poliakoff, and is intended as a riposte to
the criticism that nowadays the BBC never commissions, well, new dramas.
On the showing of this and (in January) Friends and Crocodiles,
they needn't bother. Both were self-indulgent: attempts to offer a dramatic
critique of our recent history by weaving character and story around real
events and political and social movements.
The characters had no internal reality: we were constantly told how
important, successful, influential they were, but none of them said or did
anything to make us believe these claims. On both occasions, a starry,
wonderful cast, with no expense spared on location, design, and production,
attempted to breathe life into wooden dialogue and incredible situation.
Our recent history was far more immediately summoned up by Searle's
Progress (BBC4, Saturday), a celebration by his peers of the great
cartoonist. Most telling was the way his famous St Trinian's drawings, the
innovative presentation of schooldays as a time not of innocence, but of spite,
torture, and crime, were a comic reworking of the terrible drawings that he
smuggled out of his unspeakable sufferings at the hands of the Japanese as a
prisoner of war.
It was a remarkable example of how art and humour can transform horror and
degradation, a therapeutic coming-to-terms with the worst that humans can