Under the Eye of the Clock
Christopher Nolan is a young Irishman who, as a result of an accident at birth, has spent his entire life in a wheelchair, unable to move or take care of himself. His sole means of communication are voluntary upraising of his eyes and involuntary, spastic flailing of the arms. He is also a gifted writer.
Under the Eye of the Clock: The Life Story of Christopher Nolan, his second book, is a stylized, third-person account of his life, in particular his struggle for articulation. As the title implies, somewhat gnomically perhaps, the book should be received as nothing more (or less) than a representation of one man and his time, a representation informed by the adage that nothing human should be alien to the reader. Much of the work’s significance, however, derives from the author’s agonistic adjustment to the alien character of his body. His triumphant acceptance of himself functions as a moral guide to the reader.
Such acceptance, however, did not come easily. Nolan’s fulsome tributes to the various enlightened helpers he encountered in the course of his development do not entirely disguise his own personal difficulties. It is characteristic of his approach to his experience, however, that he should give such prominent attention to the teachers and therapists who provided both the technical means and the encouraging social environment in which he could realize his potential. Indeed, one of the more interesting aspects of Under the Eye of the Clock is its description of the institutions attended by the author. Both the Central Remedial Clinic, Dublin, where Nolan began his therapeutic experience, and Mount Temple School, which he later attended, emerge as impressively enlightened institutions. Consistent with this book’s spirit, however, it is not the remedial or educational systems as such which engage the author’s attention but the presence at all levels in both institutions of tolerant, generous individuals.
The author’s experiences at Mount Temple are particularly illuminating, since the school is part of the conventional educational system in Ireland rather than being a special school for the disabled. Under the Eye of the Clock conveys a minimal sense of adjustment on the part of this school’s staff and students, and the author seems to have adapted to its scholastic and social routine as well as any other member of the institution. One of the most exhilarating episodes in the book recounts a field trip to the Southwest of Ireland, a trip from which the author derived as much cultural enlightenment and schoolboy fun as the most able-bodied of his companions. It was during his career as a student in secondary school that his first book was published, a book of poems entitled Dam-Burst of Dreams (1981). The book concludes with the author’s matriculation in Trinity College in Dublin.
Clearly, few of these accomplishments would have come the author’s way had it not been for the extraordinary support provided him by the most important people in his life—his mother, Nora, his father, Matthew, and his sister, Yvonne. When Christopher was born, the family lived in County Westmeath, in central Ireland. Under the Eye of the Clock contains vignettes of life there, including one describing the young cripple as he watched his mother prepare a freshly killed turkey for Christmas dinner. The family then moved to Dublin, which meant selling their small farm and making other sacrifices. Throughout the book, there is a firm emphasis on the fact that the author’s family considered his life worth living and encouraged him to experience it. This commitment was successfully communicated to the author as a boy, and a considerable part of his autobiography’s drama lies in the force of his efforts to participate in a life as close to normal as possible.
There are numerous striking examples in Under the Eye of the Clock of how the author experienced the dramatic tension between effort and disability, upon which the reality of his existence had been founded. His attempts to make friends, his relationships with authority figures, and his involvement with people in the same physical plight as himself provide some of the cases...
(The entire section is 1730 words.)