Tag Archives: time

Ann Banfield – Remembrance and Tense Past (from C. Comp. 2007)

Distinguishes between two tense involved in novelistic discourse: the narrative sentence that recounts events independent of a subject, and free indirect discourse, or represented thought, representing third person subjectivity (51). Subjectivity, in a novel like Dalloway, is represented as a “now in the past.” This division is possible only in the novel, because it is the only genre that distances itself from the structure of spoken communication.

Joyce’s phrase “aorist preterite proposition” characterizes this “objective” time outside of the subject. It is apparent in Ithaca, but also in the bracketed sections in Time Passes section of To the Lighthouse. According to Banfield, “Modernit experimentation strips away everything superfluous to the measuring of time’s passing” (52). The urban becomes a refuge for the “now in the past” of the subject: they stand in for point-of-view: the multiplication of points of “time-space.” Thus in the opening scene of Dalloway, we see the time of Clarissa contrasting with the time of Big Ben, the pause before the sounding of the clock registering subjective time as pure freedom. Clarissa’s “now in the past” can also include memory itself (she is simultaneously Clarissa of that moment and Clarissa as a little girl). Jacob Room limits to subject impression of the moment: Dalloway and Lighthouse limit to impressions that include the past itself. This connects to the famous “cave” metaphor that Woolf uses to describe modes of characterization: digging out the inner lives of characters to the extent that those caves create a network of connections.

Banfield believes that represented thought in the past is able to convey the moment in which history could have been otherwise just as it is congealing into history.





Sir Walter Scott – Waverly (1814)

Important as, in many ways, the frist historical novel. It tells the story of Edward Waverly, a rich, quixotic Englishman who finds himself involved in the failed Scottish uprising of 1745. The subtitle, “tis sixty years since” pins down the specific time and place of the story, which toggles between ROMANCE AND HISTORY. Late in the novel, after the Scottish forces attempting to restore Charles Edward to the throne are virtually vanquished, Waverly reflects, “with a sigh, that the romance of his life was ended, and that its real history had now commenced” (414 Penguin). The play between romance and history is crucial, and Scott is self-conscious about the creation of a literary artifact that positions itself as a Romantic intervention into a history that has already been told, officially. Despite the radical possibilities of imagining history otherwise, the romance of Scottish Highlanders is represented in the text as a representation, a painting that Waverly treat as a health sublimation of passion that he can dis-identify with even while drawing from it as a resource for his life as rich, vaguely conservative Englishman.

This isn’t to say that Scott is entirely conservative, or an English nationalist. Throughout, he portrays a gallantry and chivalry that transcends the disputes separating the Hanoverian and Stuart interests. Waverly can recognize in Colonel Talbot a physiognomy of nobel bearing even though he is his enemy.

Towards the end of the novel, Scott will rather clumsily insert his theory of narrative development, arguing for the novel’s great powers of characterological description. Scott will typically pair up characters similar enough to evoke their differences. Thus two small town officials–the politician Melville and the clergyman Morton–are both shown to be sympathetic, well-meaning interpreters of the law, but one is pessimistic while the other is more optimistic with regard to intention and human nature.

Charles Waverly can be connected to the long line of quixotic protagonists, from Quixote himself, to Crusoe, Catherine Morland, all the way up to Lord Jim. The chapter called “castle-building” is a good place to start conversations about architecture in relationship to imagination and history.

Further, one could say that the whole novel si a way of making it possible for Waverly not to be held accountable for his experiences. The sheer amount of luck, money and political maneuvering that allows him to be both Scottish and English, rebel and conservative, beings to point to the moneyed foundations of aesthetic experience tout court (connecting all the way with Forster’s “islands of money” on which the Schlegel sisters sit).

Read Scott in contrast to Austen. The former came to be considered a somewhat sloppy entertainer, while the latter was exalted as paragon of formal control. The former is more content, fact-based, while the latter was psychological, critical. in the former, there is a proliferation of languages and styles, while in the latter there is just Austen’s steady and refined free indirect discourse. But both can be seen as critics of Romanticism in certain ways: Scott levies a pretty serious critique of individualism along with social and political uprising. This pairs with Austen’s critique of sensibility in the character of Marianne Dashwood, etc.

T.S. Eliot – The Four Quartets (1936-41)

Ongoing post:

Frist the title–each poem is a quartet, but the whole thing is also a quartet of sorts. If the whole thing is a quartet, then the “four” is tautologous. Throughout the poem, Eliot will play with tautology, equivalence and difference: ends are beginnings, etc. Also, the “quartets” have five parts each, like the Waste Land. Could the think of the larger four as subsuming the individual fives: from synthesis and progress, to symmetry and order, etc.

Burnt Norton

“All time is unredeemable”: what “might have been” can only be registered as an echo in the rose garden–the past, present and future are one solid whole, which we cannot comprehend, but that nevertheless determines our existence. Past and Future press so hard one on the other that there is room “for little consciousness.” The presentness has a spatial analog–the stillness in the midst of a swirling world. This limited epistemological envelop comprises the limits of our language: poetry, for Eliot, is always too late, and words, once established, will never stay. Art, in other words, is subject to the processes of life and decay that our bodies are subject to.

East Coker

A more earthy section, that talks about seasons while trying out various styles of poetry (Olde English, Vorticists) before admitting that these are all just attempts that always fail. Living “entre les deux-geurres,” Eliot claims that every attempt at poety is a new and fresh attempt bereft of former accomplishments–“a raid on the inarticulate with shabby equipment.” Curious, given the resonance of  The Waste Land throughout. The past, even if does not stay put as a tool for use, reamins that from which we cannot escape even as we continue to lose it.

The Dry Salvages

Draws attention to the changes of the human–not the same when they leave the station, etc. Focuses on image sof water and the sea. Despite being composed while being bombed, the poem is surprisingly hopeful. Connect imagery of boat and drowning to the the “Death by Water” section (the poem that wasn’t written), but also to the image of the boat guided by the craftsman at the end of the Waste Land.

Little Gidding

Circularity and fire are brought together in this final poem, that connects with imagery from Burnt Norton. The image of stillness in the middle of a circulating world is born out as paradigmatic poetic practice. it maintains the tension that runs throughout the poem: between time utterly lost and time redeemed, etc.


humility of thought (cf. Heidegger)

stillness in circle (cf. Yeats)

circular exploration (cf. Molloy)

inter-penetration of the seasons (cf. The Waste Land)

experimental nature of all language (M-P, Ulysses, early modernism)

the little space for consciousness (between past and present)



Henri Bergson – Creative Evolution (1907, trans 1911)

Page numbers refer to Dover edition (1988)

Wants to bring together a theory of knowledge with a theory of life. The book reads like a polemic against interpeters of evolution that reduce that process to a mechanical chain ending in man as currently understood. Spencer’s thoery of evolution is wrong precisely because it interprets “evolution” from the standpoint of man as the finished product. There are “other forms of consciousness” that are eccentric to that narrative, and that exist in a register invisible to modes of understanding (dividing, solid, etc.), but nevertheless form “the luminous nucleus that we call the intellect” (xii). [Connect this with Woolf’s metaphor in Modern Fiction). The first chapter “tries on the ready-made  garments of mechanism and finality,” which neatly describe the explanations of Hume and Kant [Stage this conversation–talk about how Bergson’s solution is different.

The opening discussion of duration explains how stasis itself is change: every state of being is nothing other than the change from one state to another. “For a conscious being, to exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to on creating oneself endlessly” (7). But this creative process is paired with Time’s incessant “gnawing,” an accumulative snowballing process that threatens to overwhelm the subject, it seems.

Here is Bergson’s project: “Can we say that life, like conscious activity, is invention, is unceasing creation” (23)? My question: is Bergson articulating the subject that Marxism never could?

Radical mechanism is rejected, but finalist (teleology) is maintained in altered form. basically, Bergson wants to distinguish from assigning finite ends to particular objects, buts wants to maintain a sense of order that is defined precisely by its tendency to change. This rises above mechanism and finalism, because it renders the “variations” of nature non-accidental. It renders accident as somehow necessary….This converges with bergson’s thoughts on repetition: there is never repetition, only repetition with a difference (the accidental is therefore immanent to persistence of identity over time).The WILL is precisely that which does not counterfeit the intellectual modes of thought that abstract life as mere repetition, but partakes in evolution as such.

Another way to differ Bergson from, say, Kant, is that their ideas of how life proceeds to a particular goal are divergent. Bergson writes, “Life does not proceed by the association and addition of elements, but by disassociation and division.” Work out this in terms of Darwin, perhaps. ??? (89)

Bergson also has some curious stuff on the artist. Before we are willing, creative artists fashioning unforeseeable things, we are artisans that merely organize things within the boundaries of repetition. (45)

The next chapter is a critique of other philosophies of nature: Aristotle in particular, but Hegel is implied. The mistake is to see in vegetative torpor, animalistic instinct, and intelligence the very same tendency. Bergson says: no. They are three divergent directions of evolution they are successively disassociated. They are not a difference of intensity, but of kind (135). But they are interrelated. Consciousness (intelligence) is strictly negative: it measures the difference between the potential and the actual, between idea and act. It marks the deficit of instinct that gives rise to consciousness, which is in turn the starting point of instinct itself (145). He will say it otherwise: instinct is knowledge of matter, while intellect is knowledge of a form. Or, put yet another way: intelligence looks for things that it cannot find without instinct. Instinct alone can find these things, but it will not look (151). [Recapitulation of Schiller] Instinct/Intuition and intelligence comprise the ultimate tension within evolution as a whole (185).

The next chapter opens with a revision of Kant. The transcendental aesthetic spatializes all experience–Bergson claims that Kant gives an inadequate account of experience, describing instead what the intellect has already chopped up into intelligible chunks. Bergons will identify this as one of two processes that constitute life in general and distinguishes evolution from mere accident. Creative action, in fact, is nothing other than the “instantaneous cut” on a flux (249). Thus art can attain a sort of “perfect order” (223) that can “transcend finality” like creative evolution as such (224). In different terms, it will explicate this dialectic in terms of a global economy of energy: “a gradual accumulation of energy” and “an elastic canalization of this energy in variable and indeterminable directions, at the end of which are free acts” (255), or “explosive actions” as he says elsewhere, connecting him in interesting ways to Bataille (256). The chapter ends on a very Hegelian note, bringing together subject and substance, thought and life, etc. (Parmenedies, etc.):

Finally, consciousness is essentially free; it is freedom itself; but it cannot pass through matter without settling on it, without adapting itself to it: this adaptation is what we call intellectuality; and the intellect, turning itself back toward active, that is to say, free consciousness, naturally makes it enter into the conceptual forms into which it is accustomed to see matter fit. it will therefore always see freedom as necessity; it will always neglect the part of novelty or creation inherent in the free act. (270)

And the next chapter gets really Hegelian, claiming that we need to pay more attention to the “nought,” which is the secret motor of philosophical thought. The difference is that Bergson has intuition do a lot of the work that self-consciousness would do in Hegel, but still, a little fn. on Hegel would be nice. For Bergson, experience confronts us as becoming, which we then convert into something more static–“the mind seeks something that defies change” (314). This turns into a critique of Kant’s spatializing of experience. He cannot account for time spread out in space and real substantial duration (360). He can account for things that are sprung, but not grasp their “springing forth” (361). Thus Kant conflates sensuous experience with the cognitive faculty, both of which impose a form on external phenomena. Bergson asks, isn’t there a space for life? In Kant, perhaps, it is only the feeling of Life.





Virginia Woolf – Mrs. Dalloway (1925)

The opening declarative sentence: “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” The question remains, “to whom did she say this?” From the beginning, performance of the self is highlighted, how we comport ourselves within restricted fields to determinate others. Also, after the lark and the plunge (exaltation of larks is the term of venery…connect with Yeats discourse on birds), the field of phenomena is presented by way of clauses separated by semi-colons, a formal feature characteristic of Woolf. Think of the semi-colon as somewhere between the (Joycean) colon and the more traditional comma—granting relative autonomy to clauses, but binding them into some sort of narrative that makes the part more than the whole. Bring together with Hulmean-Bergsonian reflections on stasis and movement—how to render movement in an instant..-to render becoming more fundamental than being, etc. Further, a good example of what she calls the cotton-wool of daily life, how the myriad impressions (along with certain social roles such as wife, host, etc.) become constitutive of the self. Clarissa actually feels herself becoming “invisible, unseen; unknown” (11).

THE URBAN IN WOOLF: as opposed to Joyce, in which Bloom sifts and sorts through a barrage of commodities and advertisements, the Woolfean character sees the reflected back in the objects that we confront in our daily rounds: So while Clarissa might “slice like a knife through everything,” opening up an absence consonant with her subjective shrinkage, she also recognizes in “the ebb and flow of things,” the survival of a history she has already brought into being. CRUCIAL: the temporal present of everyday experience is punctuated by a history that is never suppressed by habit; rather, it is disclosed through habit. At times, the self seems to dissolve: individuals are united into loose collectivities when they see the figure aristocratic god passing in the carriage, or the new god of advertising appearing in the sky–much like in Wandering Rocks. This points forward to the experiments with the multiple self in The Waves.

Contextualize this reading of the ordinary within her distinction of being and non-being in “Sketch of the Past.” It is somehow as if non-being is exactly those trivial facts of life that we always overlook, but which fiction must labor to unveil. How this intersects with her notion of the trivial in “Modern Fiction” is up for debate. One can at least say that the play between being and non-being is not immediately conscripted into Hegelian becoming, but non-being seems able to exist as an autonomous field. Relate this to the Time Passes section in To the Lighthouse. Also, worth contrasting the various modes of habit that characterize Proust, Beckett, Beckett on Proust, and Woolf. For Beckett, habit makes like possible…but it also circumscribes life within its tight loop of repetition. For Woolf (and for Proust, too), habit is precisely that which evades representation because it is so close to the very mechanism of memory itself. Elucidating habit, outside of the scope of habit, is precisely the task they set for themselves.

And then contrast Dalloway’s phenomenology with that of Septimus Harding, who is, in some sense, a too perfect reader of modernist literature (“susceptibility to impressions had been his undoing”)…that is, his psyche has undergone the same forms of fragmentation that lead to the arbitrary collection “anarchy and futility” of daily life. He is not capable of making new wholes, in the Eliotic sense. Rather, he finds beauty in the advertisement in the sky, “

bestowing upon him in their inexhaustible clarity and laughing goodness one shape after another of unimaginable beauty and signaling their intention to provide him, for nothing, for ever, for looking merely, with beauty, more beauty! Tears ran down his cheeks. (22)

Can relate this to Benjamin’s theory of aura and the commodity. In some sense, he has understood too exactly the mechanism of the modern artwork. But Clarissa is attuned to the social coordinates that are in fact ordering this fragmentation. Like the viceregal calvalcade in Wandering Rocks, the carriage draws together and orders the perceptual fields of the myriad characters in the opening passage. But even them, Clarissa must stand in front of mirror to constitute to herself a coherence of the self. Talk about this mirror in terms of the many other mirrors: the cracked looking glass in Wilde and Stephen’s Telemachus chapter; the pool in Nausicaa; deKoven in Rich and Strange; Mill on the Floss; Lady of Shallot; etc. Peter also has his own idea of beauty, on that inheres within the furniture of drawing rooms, piano, gramophone and corridor, the glimpse of the social as it is revealed in the sudden moment of seeing a dinner party through a window (163)

The not entirely arbitrary imposition of unity in the form of the bell tolling from Big Ben: Contrast this with the Eliot-Joyce mythical method. Also contrast with the bell ringing in Murphy, how Murphy’s “internal” clock is impossibly aligned with such tolling. Such devices are common, present even in Gabriel Oak’ watch that has a minute hand but no hour hand. Talk about Bergson. Spetimus has a different relationship to Time: it engulfs him, its splits it husk, poured its riches over him (cf. Baudelaire: “Le Temps m’engloutit minute par minute”). SO TIME: on the one hand,  can become overwhelming if not ordered, if it becomes overly subjective (as in the case of Septimus), but it’s overly objective ordering (in the form of Big Ben) can be equally harmful. 

Sally Seton and the kiss. Established as an alternative pre-history. In general, talk about how the past punctuates the present. Contrast the shock of the past in Septimus, to the healthy sublimation of the past in someone like Clarissa. Also crucial spatial aspect: her memory is located in the pastoral countryside, while Spetimus’ memory is dislocated from that landscape…on the battlefield (Evans appears with frightening immediacy).

Peter, at the end, feels ecstasy and terror (much like “terrible beauty” of “Easter 1916”) at the “presenting” of Clarissa Dalloway. Read Peter as a Prufrock of sorts, an educated professional class on longer valued in terms of land, blood and money, but in terms of functional work within the system of Imperialism. Compare to Cecil in Passage to India…the product of an England that has dissolved (in contrast to Whitbread, Bradshaw, Richard Dalloway, etc.)

Samuel Beckett – Molloy (1951)

First of the trilogy is divided in two chapters, both extended monologues. The first is from the vagrant Molloy’s perspective, broken into two paragraphs, one about 1.5 pages long, the second about 75. He is at his mother’s house. From there, he narrates his journey to that house…journey on road, runs off Madame Lousse’s dog with a bike, goes to Lousse’s house to convalesce, leaves, goes to forest without bike, encounters shepherd, gets lost in forest, kills someone, but eventually sees the light of day once gain. The second monologue is from Jacques Moran’s perspective. He is a detective who goes with his son to look for Molloy, a mission given to whom by Youdi via the messenger Gaber. They set off one evening for Bally (Molloy’s country), pitcha  tent in the forest, Moran’s knee starts hurting, sends his son to get a bike, kills a man while his son is away, son returns with bike and they make it to city, son deserts him, he wanders but eventually follows orders to go back home and write a report. He gets there and writes the first lines of the account.

Narrative frame and time: both stories foreground the retrospective narration. Moran’s narrative begins with “It is midnight. The rain is beating on the window,” and ends with the same two sentences with the coda “It was not midnight. It was not raining.” This comes just after he claims to be better understanding “the language” of the voice that comes to him from apparently nowhere >> the point is that the time (And action) of narration is a real and present counterfactual to the time and action of the plot. The final “It was” plays on the indeterminate past tesne: does it refer to the time of writing or the time of the plot? Past and present are thereby unhinged from their normal coordination with plot vs. writing. Compare with The Good Soldier and Lord Jim, for example, where that sort of temporal ordering is confusing but nevertheless stable. Molloy comments on this early on: “It is so easy to speak in the present tense, when speaking of the past. It is the mythological present.” Curious to see the sort of equivalence of all identity and things and time, etc. as achieving some sort of epic or mythic status in this novel….” Contrast to Joyce and Eliot.

Identity: Identity is bound up with power relations and, relatedly, territory and possessions. Not to mention the relation between Molloy and Moran (strangely similar life experiences), each of these characters have unstable ego-boundaries which they are obsessed with marking out the contours of. “here’s my beginning,” says Molloy, and it is as if marking out the contours of his story somehow doubles the process of forging a cohesive identity. he fails on both ends. This is of course related to the Cartesianism that Beckett would play with in Murphy, but whereas as that remains a more or less negative approach to philosophy attempting to divide mind and body, here we see Beckett showing how characters (and readers, too) begin to build up identities through the material and social worlds. This often takes the form of life as decomposition itself (Molly seems to melt into the garden at Lousse’s house; as Moran’s body breaks down, is limbs become detached and he has a moment of clarity abotu who he is). Molly says, “To decompose is to live, too” (25). Moran calls the world “slow and massive,” something that must be joined along with the “ponderous oxen.” But it also a move not emphasize the stable contours of Cartesian ego, but instead to emphasize its plasticity as it extends in various ways in the world. Molloy actually calls the mind a “lump of melting wax,” which combines these ideas of decay with that of plasticity.

Passages to remember:

The sucking stones passage: think of as basic units of property that expand and contract without any recognition. Their circulation is also arbitrary. Further, it is one of the many scenes that Deleuze would identify as “exhaustion,” thus connecting it to the biscuits in Murphy and the iteration of mothers and fathers, etc. in Watt.

When Moran talks about the stories he would tell, of “Murphy, Watt, Mercier, etc.” which positions Moran as an author of sorts. “A gallery of moribunds,” he calls them.

To get out of the forest, having heard that men accidentally walk in circles, Molloy decides to walk (or crawl) in circles in order to walk in a straight line out of the forest. It eventually works. Connect this to the logic of the narrative. But also to Finnegan’s Wake opening and ending, as well as the opening of The Cantos. They somehow begin mid-cricle. Also, perhaps, the Four Quartets (the end is our beginning, knowing it for the first time, etc.)

Molloy calls the asshole the “true portal of our being” and the “symbol of all those passed over in silence” (80).

Thomas Hardy – Far from the Madding Crowd (1874)

Gabriel Oak’s dog chases his herd of sheep off the side of a cliff. Oak goes on the road and happens to pass by a huge fire in hay-field. He helps and asks the owner if he can comeone as a shepherd. It happens to be the farm of Bathsheba Everdene, to whom Gabriel had proposed marriage before he lost his sheep. She hires him.  Meanwhile, Boldwood tries to court her, but she rebuffs his advances. When Oak chastises her for this, she fires him, but rehires him when she needs his help saving her flock from “the bloat.” The seducer Sergeant Troy comes to town and beings to court Bathsheba, who falls in love with him despite her better judgment. It turns out that he actually loved her old servant Fanny Robbins, to whom he had proposed marriage but through a mix-up she had stood him up at the altar. He doesn’t accept her apologies. Troy and Bathsheba fin her on the road, and Troy gives her money, promising more in a couple days. She barely makes it to town, with the help of a dog. She dies. Bathsheba suspects Troy (Oak knows about everything all along) and keeps the coffin, which contains Fanny and her infant, in her house. Troy returns and tells Bathsheba that he will never love her. He leaves. Bathsheba promises to marry Boldwood in six years of Troy does not appear, but on the eve of the promise’s consummation, Troy returns to interrupt Boldwood’s Christmas party. He shoots Troy and tries to kill himself, but is prevented. He is saved from hanging by his friends, and is just imprisoned. Gabriel tenders his resignation, but then decides to stay, proposes marriage to Bathsheba, and they marry.

Preliminary notes

Time: Hardy frequently contrasts rustic time with city time, granting the peasant a “Present” which can encompass “three-or-four-score years”: “The citizen’s Then is the Rustic’s Now” (127). Also, Gabriel’s watch is able to mark the minutes with precision, while the hour hand slips around. There is thus a middle zone between exactitude of a time that would extract a labor down to the second [see EP Thompson on time and labor], but also a radical relativity of those minutes in relation to the entirety of the day. [Can also see in this an adumbration of Murphy’s internal sense of time…the hour striking between 20 and 30, for example.] How can we also see this as a potential solution to the problems of timing in Hardy’s novels? At the same time, perhaps, such inattention is the condition for their emergence.

Labor vs. pleasure: The terms used for describing the “substantial” relationship between Gabriel and Bathsheba:

Theirs was that substantial affection which arises (if any arises at all) when the two who are thrown together begin first by knowing the rougher sides of each other’s character, and not the best till further on, the romance growing up in the interstices of a mass of hard prosaic reality, (348)

Curious when read in light of “realism” more generally, since the novel itself verges on the board of realism and fantasy. The melodramatic ending turns the novel into a thriller more than some “naturalist” or even Eliotic portrayal of authentic psyches. But it is also another moment in which manner and matter becomes a problematized binary.

The little Valentine: one of the many “weird scenes” in this novel. Bathsheba finds a post card and just randomly sends it to Boldwood without thinking: the tragedy ensures. Another weird scene is when Fanny is dragged to town on the back of a dog. Relate to te weirdness of the boots in Tess, or in the barn with the bull in Casterbridge.