Group for Experimental Methods in Humanistic Research
at Columbia University


  • Dennis Yi Tenen
  • Susana Zialcita

This project was inspired by Christian Marclay’s The Clock1 Each minute, the LITclock Twitter handle will tweet one minute in time from a novel or narrative non-fiction book. (Occasionally, a travel guide chimes in.) Each tweet will be a quote from a book, describing what is happening in that very minute.

For example, the LIT CLOCK started with a quote from Christopher Marlowe, at precisely 12:00 am on 3/13/14:

The clock striketh twelve O it strikes, it strikes! Now body, turn to air

and then thirteen hours and nine minutes later, the LIT CLOCK told us that Miriam Wu from Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy is being interviewed:

“The time is 1:09 pm.” She turned off tape recorder.

Our goal was to create, as Zadie Smith said of Marclay’s clock, “thousands of fictional interpretations of time repurposed to express time precisely…” The effect, she said, was that “you don’t feel that you are watching a film, you feel you are existing alongside a film.”

We hope that you’ll enjoy existing alongside the nearly 1,000 books that we pulled quotes from.

How did you find time stamps in books?

We created “Human Intelligence Tasks” (HITs) on Amazon’s Mechanical Turks website. For every minute of the day, we created one HIT, the task being to search Google Books for that minute in books.

This is the layout design we used to create the HITs: create-turk-hit.txt. This is the input that created HITs: input-time-turk-hit.csv. You can find the output of our HIT batches here.

How did you get the quotes to Tweet every minute?

Every 60 seconds, this program does the following things:

  • First it reads this file, which has organized tweets and timestamps into 1,440 lines, one for each minute.

  • Then it separates each line into two columns, one column for the time, the other for the tweet.

  • Then it checks the time on our server’s clock.

  • If the current minute matches a timestamp found in the “time” column of tweets.csv, it connects to the Twitter API with our credentials and tweets out the corresponding message.