When the shadow of the sash appeared on the curtains it was between seven and eight oclock and then I was in time again, hearing the watch. It was Grandfather’s and when Father gave it to me he said I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire; it’s rather excruciating-ly apt that you will use it to gain the reducto absurdum of all human experience which can fit your individual needs no better than it fitted his or his father’s. I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all your breath trying to conquer it.
Because no battle is ever won he said. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools.William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury (1929)
The second part of Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury focuses on the struggles of young Quentin Compton and starts with his memory of how his father gave him his grandfather’s watch. This quote has so much to unpack. I will focus specifically on the “breath trying to conquer” time.
In modern times, it may be more apt to replace the watch with a smart phone. For some of us, a smart phone can seize our attention for hours a day, making you wonder why you grab for the screen again, why you scroll again through irrelevant posts, until its 3AM and you need to get up in less than four hours. It has taken a hold of a major part of our lives. The instant connectivity it offers to friends, family or strangers all over the world has given us a feeling we need to be connected. At moments, it can feel impossible not to be connected. When we finally do, when for a second we forget our devices and live in the here and now, when we spend meaningful time on simple things, it can feel like a relief that we were able to disconnect.
The ironic part is that it is the watch and the phone that make it possible to feel this relief. When you venture deep into the jungle, into an area so remote that it will be impossible to find a connection to the outside world within a few days, a strange, wonderful feeling takes hold of us. Experiencing disconnection becomes harder and harder with our increasing technology. But to be acutely aware of this feeling is only possible by the large contrast caused by the connectivity that this technology provides in our normal day-to-day lives. Conquering time is a battle that cannot be won. The watch allows us to forget this battle from time to time.
Part two describes the last day in the life of Quentin Compton. We find him struggling with his thoughts, and family. He smashes his watch and breaks it, then brings it to a repair shop. When his time is up, he takes his own life in the late afternoon.