13 hour clock

Literary Tattoos: The Flash of Lightning Behind the Mountain my doom smiles at me George Orwell Charles Bukowski 1984

This belongs to Anthony Tracy.

1984 is one of my favorite novels. The opening line is incredibly significant for me. It was the inspiration for my recent tattoo, a timepiece with the hands striking 13.

I chose the clock because it is the most recognizable symbol from the book and of its theme; that truth is subjective and a product of power. I don’t find the 12 hour day to be a particularly significant expression of power, but for me it is an adequate example of the theme. I understand that I could have gone with a 24 hour analog (which some people say is actually what is happening in the novel) but I opted for the 13 hour for its simplicity and its capacity for emphasizing the idea I wanted to express.

I wanted to express the concept of Newspeak, the thirteen hour clock would be category C vocabulary, or scientific and technical language (per the categories administered by the Ministry of Truth). This category is less significant for meeting the ideological needs of the party but is nonetheless an expression of the ability of the party to determine truth. My opinion of most things accepted to be truth is that it is more a constructed product of tradition and reiteration than it is of an objective, pre-existing truth. I know this isn’t the case for every thing taken to be true; I am not so naïve to believe that gravity is a social construct, my view on this obviously has its nuances. However, I find myself agreing with the idea in almost all of my studies; from international relations to religious studies. I think Nietzsche said it best:

“All things are subject to interpretation. Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.”

Following that statement, I think it’s fair to say that we have 12 hour clocks for the same reason we use the imperial measurement system instead of metric, the same reason we have the Christian Gregorian Calendar instead of the Mayan, or the same reason that I attended Catholic church growing up; because of tradition and because the people embracing that tradition prevailed over other people embracing alternative interpretations, not because it is the naturally true or correct way. A day can be divided up any way you like, but for historically significant reasons we have settled on this particular interpretation. Aside from the Orwell reference, I would be perfectly fine with just this as my justification.

Basically, this is one of my favorite concepts. It summarizes my personal philosophy on everything from politics to religion. Plus, Katie Kroeck of Nectar Tattoo in Excelsior did a brilliant job. I gave her a concept and she turned it into a beautiful piece of art.

The poem underneath is from “my doom smiles at me” by Charles Bukowski.


  1. Alice says

    I love your reasoning behind the tattoo (I tend to think in the same way, particularly when it comes to the concept of time funnily enough) and the art itself is gorgeous.

Leave a Reply