Monday, September 11, 2017

Have Watches Become Art?

In roughly chronological order:

Oscar Wilde published The Picture of Dorian Gray, with a Preface which ends with the flat statement: "All art is quite useless."

I was born.

The 4th edition of The Norton Anthology of English Literature, volume 2, was published. It contains the Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray on pp 1681-82. It does not contain any more of The Picture of Dorian Gray.

I was required several times in school and college to read works by Oscar Wilde, including, more than once, The Picture of Dorian Gray, including its Preface, with whose conclusion I disagreed. For most of my life I quite disliked Wilde.

I got a copy of the 5th edition, of The Norton Anthology of English Literature, for a college class. It's much shorter than the combined 2 volumes of the unabridged version. I have no idea whether it contains the preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray. I still own but I can't find it at the moment.

Quartz watches -- watches powered by batteries or some other electrical source, such as light converted to electricity -- reached the point where they kept much better time than mechanical watches -- watches powered by springs -- at a much lower cost.

I saw the movie An Ideal Husband, based on Wilde's play of the same name. It has been filmed at least 4 times: I saw the 1999 version, directed by Oliver Parker, starring Jeremy Northam, Rupert Everett, Julianne Moore, Minnie Driver and Cate Blanchett. I saw it several years after 1999, on TV, primarily because of Ms Blanchett, about whom I am daffy. Ms Blanchett is particularly adorable in this film. But I liked more than Ms Blanchett, I liked the entire film very much, definitely including those words written by Mr Wilde. I instantly went from being a loather of Wilde to being a huge fan. I re-read the Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray and began to seriously wonder whether art is indeed useless. I have not stopped thinking about it. At the present I would agree, if we stipulate that Wilde was being somewhat ironic when he wrote that. Art is not useful in the same way as other things. I agree with Nietzsche that art makes life bearable, which means that it is extremely useful indeed; but still, it is not useful in the same way as other things.

I got the 4th edition of The Norton Anthology of English Literature, volume 2, either free because some place like a university library was giving it away, or for a dollar or so at a thrift shop, I don't remember. I've only got volume 2.

The Coen brothers' film version of Carmac McCarthy's novel No Country For Old Men was released in 2007. The film is set in 1980. The character portrayed by Josh Brolin carries a wrist watch in his pocket. If the film is historically accurate in this detail, it is a mechanical watch. The title of the movie and novel comes from a line in the poem "Sailing to Byzantium" by William Butler Yeats. Like Wilde, Yeats was born in Ireland. Wilde moved to England, where he ingratiated himself with the upper classes. Yeats stayed in Ireland and supported the fight for independence from England.

I began to become fascinated by watches. Mostly by pocket watches at first;

but the more I learn about watches, the more my interest is captured by wrist watches rather than pocket watches, because watches -- mechanical watches. I couldn't tell you much about quartz watches -- keep becoming more sophisticated and precise and interesting, even as they become farther and farther away from being necessary or practical. There are still some mechanical pocket watches being produced today, but as far as I can see, most of them are presented as objects of nostalgia, designed to remind people of bygone eras when most watches were pocket watches, rather than to closely resemble the most modern products of the watchmaker's -- art.

Ha! Right there I said "art." I was never drawn to pocket watches because I'm nostalgic. I like them because I'd rather carry a watch in my pocket than wear it on my wrist, and pocket watches are designed to be carried that way. But almost all of the really interesting stuff in watchmaking is going on in mechanical wrist watches. Which, as good as they are getting, are still much more expensive than quartz watches which keep better time.

But let's face it, very few if any people actually need quartz watches either, what with all of the online devices which keep even better time, which almost all of us use to one extent or another.

And then, earlier today, my interest in watches, which I freely admit serve no practical use, and are only good for fascinating people and making them feel good, clanged together with Wilde's statement that all art is quite useless. And I said to myself, "Hey -- does that mean that watches have become art, or are becoming art?!"

And then I rushed over here to tell you all about it -- first checking the 4th edition of The Norton Anthology of English Literature, volume 2, to make sure that I got the quote by Wilde right.

PS, 11 Sep 2017: I found it, the version of The Norton Anthology of English Literature which I got for use an an undergrad. And once again we see how faulty is my memory: it is not called the shorter edition, but the Major Authors Edition. And it is not the 5th edition, but the 3rd. And Wilde is not in it AT ALL. It judges 31 English authors, from the author of Beowulf to Auden, to be Major. But not Wilde. Well, as we know, these things are not only quite useless, but also completely subjective.

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