I was born at four in the morning. 4:10 to be exact, or so says the certificate. That’s exactly how I’d start my memoir if I ever had the nerve to write a memoir, or if I even thought that’s where I began. In any case, I feel a special kinship for the Museum of Four in the Morning (mofitm) for its fascinating chronocritical obsession.
By asking its audience to crowdsource any and all cultural references to that specific time, the mofitm has compiled a significant archive of 4 ams. A remarkable thing happens as you scroll through more and more references (there are nearly 600 of them, if we count by number of Tweets): what seems to be merely a time of the day (or the morning), quotidian in the truest sense of the word, emerges from anonymity fully clothed in culturally constructed self-consciousness.
The phrase is less of a time and more of a hyperbolic expression of lateness. 4 a.m. isn’t a time so much as it is an idea and a feeling. It’s a hyperbolic expression of lateness. It’s a bipolar hour, a space full of either mania or sleep. It becomes more and more apparent that nothing actually happens precisely at 4 a.m., that the specificity of the time 4:00 is almost universally a white lie. It means, simultaneously: “exceedingly late” and “exceedingly early.” It seems insist upon the marriage of such opposites–it is simultaneously a time of extreme inactivity and extreme activity, particularly comprising the unpleasant mash of the two together. Which of the two (late or early) it means in any given context or usage is hard to determine, it seems to mean both at the same time. Such paradoxical duality in a temporal statement would be no surprise if we were talking about, say “noon” or “midnight,” those moments that seems to stand between two days, between am and pm, that announce themselves as temporally peculiar therefore merit their own names and titles (“the witching hour”)… but who would have thought that 4 am would find itself turned into an idiom, an expression, into a temporal idea of comparable liminality?
I was born at 4:10 a.m., March 16, 1988. Pisces.
Lesson learned: 1) the exploration of sets of ideas grouped under relatively random or frivolous categories can bring surprising insights; 2) crowdsourced databasing is fantastic — leads to a “natural” or seemingly organic growth of archives that refuses the prejudices a singular curator would necessarily impose on it 3) Umberto Eco would love this.