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Modernist Temporalities

by

Charles Man Fong Tung

B.A. (Georgetown University) 1992


M.PHIL. (Oxford University) 1994

A dissertation submitted in partial satisfaction of the

requirements for the degree of

Doctor of Philosophy

in

English

in the

GRADUATE DIVISION

of the

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY

Committee in charge:

Professor Charles Altieri, Chair


Professor John Bishop
Professor Anthony Cascardi

Fall 2004
UMI Number: 3183869

Copyright 2004 by
Tung, Charles Man Fong

All rights reserved.

UMI Microform 3183869


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Modernist Temporalities

Copyright 2004

by

Charles Man Fong Tung


1
Abstract

Modernist Temporalities

by

Charles Man Fong Tung

Doctor of Philosophy in English

University of California, Berkeley

Professor Charles Altieri, Chair

This dissertation examines modernism’s attempts to “make it new” against the

backdrop of common critical characterizations of modernist innovation as a

reactionary turn toward eternity or a mythical past, a withdrawal from history to

spatial form, or a self-defeating celebration of perpetual change. Rather than rest with

these characterizations, I treat them as moments in a temporal problematic which

modernism negotiated its path through. Engaging both scientific construals and

subjective, mystical versions of time, the modernist writers I examine here move

carefully in relation to philosophies of time that they worried would mystify

emergence or originality; make the modern impossible by valorizing the timeless;

simply transpose the deterministic or aleatory river of time to the streams of

consciousness; immobilize time in idealism’s absolute; or turn what Ezra Pound called

“news that stays news” into mere moments of the “almanack.”

Since breaks and ruptures belong to punctual time’s very form, modernists

shifted their focus away from “blasting” out of objective temporal grammars, and

instead undertook projects “including history” that still allowed for “directing a
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certain fluid force against circumstance.” In my chapter on Eliot, I reread his

definition of tradition and history in order to revise the critical consensus on The

Waste Land that the poem is only about loss, failure, and nostalgia for an original

wholeness. The central figure of the poem is not the New Critics’ Philomela, nor the

historicists’ Sibyl/Tiresias, but rather the constructive activity and energies

exemplified by the poem itself, which Eliot contrasts with the terror of interminable

sequence, the boredom of cycles, and the nihilism of relativism or religion. In my

chapter on Joyce, I read Ulysses’s focus on repetition, throwaway-ness, and the

nightmarish historicity of the “everyday,” as Joyce’s attempt to temporalize history

rather than surrender to it. In the shifting of points of view of “Wandering Rocks,”

Joyce explores the randomness, fatefulness, and indifference of Dublin’s timings, in

order to ask how the times can be ours, despite their paralyzing spatialization. It is

only in the comprehensiveness and depth of identifications made possible by

temporality that anything could ever be ours – or news.


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TABLE OF CONTENTS

PREFACE
iii

CHAPTER ONE
“NEWS THAT STAYS NEWS”: TIME, HISTORY, AND MODERNISM
1

De Man and the Atemporalization of the Modern


7

Modernity without End: The Loss of the Eschaton


14

Revolutionary Ends: Time and History


19

The Arrested Instant: Bertrand Russell and Physics


31

Fluid Force Against Circumstance: Bergsonism


36

Husserl and the Specious Present


41

CHAPTER TWO
T.S. ELIOT AND THE CONTEMPORANEITY OF MODERNISM

Modernity, Tradition, Contemporaneity


53

The Waste Land


88
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CHAPTER THREE
SUB SPECIE TEMPORIS NOSTRI: TIME AND THE “OURS” IN JAMES JOYCE’S ULYSSES

Ulysses, The “Time-Book”


119

The Malady of History


132

Seeing Beyond the Timing: Points of View in “Wandering Rocks”


138

WORKS CITED
166
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PREFACE

In Robert Smithson’s sculpture Shift, a stack of bricks is falling over but frozen

in the trajectory of its toppling. Or, there is only a single brick in a kinetoscopic

representation of a spatio-temporal arc, a parody of the cinematographic analysis of

motion first conducted by Eadward Muybridge in 1877. Or, the sculpture is

punning on the concretization of a vision once rooted in Cartesian perspectivalism, in

which “the gaze ... arrests the flux of phenomena.”1 In such a solidification, the art

object materializes out of illusion, thickens on the canvas, falls out of the wall, and

begins to “degenerate” in its “preoccupation with time.”2 In this new theater of time,

“the duration of the [art] experience,” and the duration of the art itself, is a falling in,

and through, history.

If my dissertation could begin with a sculpture in place of an epigraph, I

would choose Shift. In each version of what it stages, there is an examination of

objective forms of time. If the sculpture presents an allegory about the movement

from modernism to a more historical and political theater of art, it also poses a

difficult question: what is the relationship between analytic versions of time and the

conceptions of temporality and history in which both modernism and

postmodernism have often come to a standstill? My dissertation takes up this

question and examines some of the philosophical and aesthetic answers given by

Bertrand Russell, Henri Bergson, Edmund Husserl, T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, Paul de

1
Martin Jay, “Scopic Regimes of Modernity,” Vision and Visuality, ed. Hal Foster (Seattle:
Bay Press, 1988) 7.
2
Michael Fried, “Art and Objecthood,” Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology, ed. Gregory
Battcock (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995) 141-47.
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Man, and Peter Osborne. I hope to continue this project beyond the dissertation,

and, in the fuller study, examine postmodern and contemporary American minority

writers.

The ideas that frame this project are not unfamiliar, but the ways in which

individual writers and thinkers have transformed the frame from the inside are

surprising. For me, the largest frame is generated by the story of modernity that

Anthony Cascardi analyzes in “History, Theory, (Post)Modernity” and elsewhere.3 In

his work, Cascardi recounts the problem of modernity as the emergence of the subject,

and the division between history and theory brought about by reason’s desire to begin

anew from itself. The modern moment, the moment of a self-founding that kicks

away from history conceived as a ground of value, propels itself into a situation that,

as Cascardi shows, is represented in Foucault’s thought as a space of radical

discontinuity and difference. In my study, this “space” is in fact an articulated

physical time of discrete moments. Assuming the objective form of this time, history

becomes a series of mysterious breaks that purloins from reason not only its claim to

“make it new,” but also its ability to bring about transformation or consequentiality

from one moment to the next.

In this narrative, history becomes the master of theory: the remorseless

passage of empty time, in what Cascardi calls “the positivist conception,” rises up at

3
For an extended and much more intricate version of this story and its implications, see
Cascardi’s The Subject of Modernity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992) and
Consequences of Enlightenment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).
v
4
the moment modernity refuses to resuscitate any image of a religious whole. History

rides roughshod over consciousness, as well as “the projective powers of the

imagination,” which might understand, critique, or revise it. Against this version of

modernity, Cascardi shows how the drive toward the new is not necessarily lost in the

medium of mere nexts, not adrift in an interminable history, nor afflicted with the

nostalgia for absolutes and origins. Modernism, in time, is neither the victor or

victim of what Ronald Schleifer has called theorized as a “logic of abundance,” nor

the successor or disinherited child of an eternity or mythical past.5

My study of several artists and thinkers who have engaged this frame from the

inside takes its inspiration from Charles Altieri’s work in and on this story. The

aspect of Altieri’s wide-ranging criticism most invigorating to this dissertation is the

emphasis, not on “exposing the gaps and fissures that open because of contradictory

regimes of representation,” but on seeking “within contradiction a generative power

4
Cascardi 36. On the Nietzschean refusal of an Hegelian organic whole that leads to sheer
difference, Cascardi cites Foucault’s stance in “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History”: “Nietzsche’s
criticism, beginning with the second of the Untimely Meditations, always questioned the form
of history that reintroduces (and always assumes) a suprahistorical perspective: a history
whose function is to compose the finally reduced diversity of time into a totality fully closed
upon itself; a history that always encourages subjective recognitions and attributes a form of
reconciliation to all the displacements of the past; a history whose perspective on all that
precedes it implies the end of time, a completed development” (153, qtd. in Cascardi 32).
5
In Modernism and Time: The Logic of Abundance in Literature, Science, and Culture, 1880-
1930 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), Schleifer describes modernism as
post-Enlightenment multiplicities dialectically answering Enlightenment emphases on
parsimony and simplicity. Tellingly, because he does not engage the aesthetic revision of
temporality as something other than proliferation, Schleifer’s modernist answer to
Newtonian, instrumental time remains haunted by the problems Cascardi analyzes in
Foucault.
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6
bearing dialectical force.” For him, modernism does not ignore history and the

passage of time that putatively undermines the creative act; rather, it asks whether or

not the framing moments of actions contain fully within themselves “the meaning of

what is done.”7 Modernism’s fight against the narrative historicism that lines up these

moments exposes this frame as a structure inadequate to its exploration of the

processes of retaining, intending, and projecting the times of its news and the

experiences of its nows.

John Bishop’s work on Joyce showed me both a modernism that cast history

and reason’s epistemologies as nightmares, and an alternative, non/extra-mimetic out-

of-synch-ness that could be defined, not just negatively as a transgression of sequence,

but also positively as new forms of generativity. While I could not take on the pure

other of nightmare history in Joyce’s book of the night, I was able to see all the

difference that a shared day can make. Bishop’s eye for “obliterature” helped me to

see that Ulysses was asking important questions about an obliterated temporality, both

overwritten by, and written in opposition to, objective time.

I wish to thank my director, Charles Altieri, and my readers, John Bishop and

Anthony Cascardi, for their kind help and their intellectual guidance. The force of

their work is present everywhere in this dissertation. When I expand this study, I

hope to make that force much more explicit. I also owe thanks to my friend and

Georgetown professor, John Hirsh, who gave me the confidence, and, I suspect, the

6
“Can We Be Historical Ever? Some Hopes For a Dialectical Model of Historical Self-
Consciousness” 45.
7
“Temporality and the Necessity for Dialectic: The Missing Dimension of Contemporary
Theory” 155.
vii
opportunity, to pursue a serious academic project in England; to my Oxford

professors, Jon Stallworthy, Christopher Butler, and John Kelly, who introduced me

to their different versions of the early twentieth century; to my mother, who worried

about giving me the education of which I often now worry about being worthy; to

my brother, who showed me in his person how belatedness is overcome; and to my

loving, patient, and supportive wife, who, toward the end of this long process, gave

me a grinning line that could serve as this entire preface: “It’s about time.”
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CHAPTER ONE

“NEWS THAT STAYS NEWS”: TIME, HISTORY, AND MODERNISM

The beast lives unhistorically; for it “goes into” the present, like a number,

without leaving any curious remainder. It cannot dissimulate, it conceals

nothing; at every moment it seems what it actually is ….

(Friedrich Nietzsche, The Use and Abuse of History)

And so, walking or quickening his pace, he goes his way, forever in search.

In search of what? … He is looking for that indefinable something we

may be allowed to call “modernity” … The aim for him is to extract from

fashion the poetry that resides in its historical envelope, to distil the eternal

from the transitory.

(Charles Baudelaire, “The Painter of Modern Life”)

Fashion is the eternal recurrence of the new.

(Walter Benjamin, “Central Park”)

Our lethargic modernity certainly knows how to “think historically,” but it

has long doubted that it lives in a meaningful history.

(Peter Sloterdijk, Critique of Cynical Reason)


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Whether one is, like Baudelaire, ‘weighed down, every moment, by the

conception and sensation of time’, or, like the Surrealists, energized and

uplifted by its transformative power, it has become increasingly hard to be

indifferent to either its simple passage or sudden ruptural force. Time

imposes itself as a problem … in the new twofold form of the problem of

history and the problem of death.

(Peter Osborne, The Politics of Time)

The way that we had come was all we could see

And it crept up on us, embarrassed

That there is so much to tell now, really now.

(John Ashbery, “As We Know”)

Why does modernism, by so many accounts, fail to be modern? And are such

accounts of failed modernism themselves failures to escape and understand fully the

temporal logic modernists questioned? Do such accounts miss the many ways

modernist artists reconceptualized time in their attempts to “make it new”? This

study seeks to answer these questions without at any point falling into standard

characterizations of modernist temporalities – as, for instance, a reactionary turn to a

mythical past, a withdrawal from history to spatial form, a genuflection toward

eternity, or as a revolutionary celebration of perpetual change, an imagistic arrest of

the instant, a narrative ordering of flux. Indeed, I understand these characterizations


3
1
as descriptions of what modernism negotiated its path through. In my chapters on

T.S. Eliot and James Joyce, my account of modernist engagements with temporal

concepts will allow us see their modernity unhurt by the rapids of the aleatory and

deterministic, or the subjective streams of consciousness. Their idea of the modern

also steers clear of idealism’s absolutes and realism’s frozen moments, or slices, of life.

This chapter focuses on my initial questions in order to establish the

conceptual background against which to see modernism’s formulation of the modern,

a background that is also the basis for our ability to understand and judge their

thinking. My examination of modernism’s abstraction – its drawing back to rethink

its time – will combine with a review of post-modern critique to make parts of this

chapter very dense. The reward for surviving my treatment of philosophy and critical

theory is, hopefully, a sense of aesthetic modernism, and its conception of the new, as

a specific engagement with, not a foundering on, the contradictions to which we have

tended to condemn it. The contradictions that we have made modernism exhibit are

usually traced aetiologically to a familiar list of tensions: vitalism and mechanism,

continuity and rupture, subject and object, movement and stasis. Being modern

required a way of thinking about time such that it would not fall helplessly into

aporia.

I will begin on the outside of modernism’s engagement with temporality – by

returning to Paul de Man – and slowly move inward. According to de Man in

“Literary History and Literary Modernity,” the “authentic spirit of modernity”

1
I hope the reader comes to see the dangling preposition as a sign of the dependence and
emergence crucial to my version of modernist conceptions of time.
4
attempted a Nietzschean forgetting of the past in order to blast its way into novelty,

only to flicker out in the medium of history and fashion. That spirit immediately saw

its creation of the original and new fade from “an incandescent point in time into a

reproducible cliché” (147). In a related and now standard story about modernism, as

soon as the “uniquely shaped flames of the fire” had been washed out by the flow of

time, this spirit turned in reaction either toward the past, or in on itself. Yet it is

rarely pointed out that the paradox of this story, whereby making it new produces

mere repetition, is generated by the very forms of time that many modernists resisted,

and that this resistance makes up the very core of modernism’s so-called “time

obsession.”2

I will show how an objective temporal grammar underwrites the tension

between the mirage of a specious present that reflects the mystification of the symbol,

and the unremitting time of allegory that remains once the illusion disappears. De

Man’s figures modernity as punctual and self-coincident, drawing on Nietzsche’s

characterization of the unhistorical animal as living in the present “without leaving

any curious remainder.” My task will be to seek a conception of time and the

modern that reconceives the present in such a way that the remainder does not matter,

whatever form this remainder might take as the superfluity of the coincidences. This

superfluity does not threaten the present, since, as I will show, the present is in fact

constituted by temporal “remains” and difference in the first place.

2
See C.A. Patrides, “Introduction: Time Past and Time Present,” Aspects of Time
(Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1976) 1-18; Wyndham Lewis, Time and Western
Man, ed. Paul Edwards (Santa Rosa: Black Sparrow Press, 1993).
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Before assuming this task immediately, I examine several other uses of the

punctual concept of time, in order to make visible what is at stake in reconceiving the

present in the face of deconstructionist admonitions. For the editors of Time and the

Literary, a collection of essays built around re-readings of de Man, the very category

of the literary as a form of agency – that is, as the ability to use the textual structuring

of durations to enable critique and re-readings – depends on a freezing of the

temporal point, and its extension and internal articulation to create the distance

necessary for critique. How the present of reading and re-reading can itself be

reconciled with the time in which it acts highlights the very irony de Man’s

framework produces.

Similarly, Matei Calinescu’s historical work on the sudden inability of

modernity to function as a periodizing concept pivots on the problem of punctuality.

Once time is conceived of as linear, directed, but untotalizable – that is, as

eschatological but without a Christian end that would complete it – no present is ever

possible, whether for period description, comparison, or critique. Peter Osborne tries

to remedy this problem, using Walter Benjamin, by re-temporalizing the moment for

its historical and political potential. On his view, we can give to the instant an

eschatological end without resurrecting teleology. This end draws time forward but is

not actual in itself, is not even realizable. The stalled and static instant, arrested and

shocked out of history by the revolutionary thinker, is thus jump-started by its

reinsertion in a new narrative that salvages the past of the oppressed and projects a

utopian future. But the present afforded by this new story is, at worst, as transient as
6
the unredeemed moment, and at best, indifferent to newness, since that quality is

immediately absorbed into other lines of continuity.

Because the objective structure of time is at the heart of the problem of

modernity, I turn briefly to Bertrand Russell and his scientization of time, change,

and duration. His theorization of time as real only to logic – and paradoxical to

experience – clarifies the fact that the aporia of this temporal grammar is dissipated

only at the cost of the intelligibility of change, novelty, and freedom. I turn, as briefly,

to Bergson as the typical opposition to the mathematicization of time. But his

vitalism, which I take as the source for Pound’s idea of vortical agency, could not

sustain a modernism trying to get free of mysticism as much as determinism, monism

as much as dualism, the irrational as much as the epistemic. I arrive finally at

Husserlian intentionality as the model that can hold the new in a present not

immediately lost to sheer regression. Husserl’s answer to the specious present and

what Shaun Gallagher calls “the cognitive paradox” provides an account of time-

consciousness in which perception does not need to freeze or spatialize in order to

know, and temporal images do not have to be present simultaneously in order to be a

unified duration. Stasis is no longer the condition for knowing; rather, retention and

protention become that which allows for the perception of duration, change, and the

appearance of the new.

Husserl’s phenomenology, as an engagement of the tensions between temporal

accounts of continuity and discontinuity, subjective and objective duration, prepares

the way for my discussion, in the second and third chapters, of Eliot’s and Joyce’s
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negotiation of this Scylla and Charybdis. Their paths allow us to rethink the

characterizations of modernism that result from the aporias of the objective temporal

grammar – characterizations of modernism as pastist and conservative, as punctual

and unhistorical, or as futural and forgetful. As with Husserl’s intentionality sub

specie temporis, the modernists’ temporalizations of innovation do not need to escape

or outstrip time itself. It is not necessary to tell a tragic narrative in which the drive

toward the modern dead-ends in the sudden awareness (or blindness) of being mired

within an unsurpassable time. It is sufficient to explore how the modernists’

obsession with time yielded ways of conceiving their news and experiencing their

nows.

De Man and the Atemporalization of the Modern

In his “Literary History and Literary Modernity,” de Man describes the aporia

of modernity – which for him is also the aporia of language itself, referred to as

“complication,” “ambivalence,” and “contradiction”3 – by examining Nietzsche’s

“The Use and Abuse of History” and Baudelaire’s “The Painter of Modern Life.” In

Nietzsche’s meditation, “life” is opposed to history, since it is conceived, as de Man

says, “in temporal terms as the ability to forget whatever precedes a present situation”

(146). To live in “genuine humanity” means paradoxically to live “unhistorically”

like the “animal,” which “coincides at all moments exactly with that which it is”

(146). This state of self-coincidence and presence, as “the condition for action” (147),

3
De Man refers to “aporia” (150), “ambivalence” and “contradiction” (162).
8
can be identified with modernity itself, whose impulse is likewise “to wipe out

whatever came earlier, in the hope of reaching at last a point that could be called a

true present, a point of origin that marks a new departure” (148).

However, the attempt to transcend history in forgetting and innovation, in the

creative moment of the present, founders on a paradox: “Considered as a principle of

life, modernity becomes a principle of origination and turns at once into a generative

power that is itself historical. It becomes impossible to overcome history in the name

of life or to forget the past in the name of modernity, because both are linked by a

temporal chain that gives them a common destiny” (150). This is to say that

modernity and history are two poles of the same “paradox that cannot be resolved” –

“beyond antithesis or opposition” – which deconstruction brings to light as the nature

of objective time itself (150, 151). Life, the new, the modern: these are only

conceivable on the basis of a time that “swallows” and “reintegrates” them “into a

regressive historical process,” just as conversely this figure of time as Saturn devouring

his children requires modernity for its very character as time, “for its duration and

renewal,” without which time would only be “sheer regression or paralysis” (151).

This “self-destroying union” (151) of history and modernity in the aporia of

time also characterizes the predicament that deconstruction finds in literature, indeed

in all language. It becomes, as it were, an allegory of the dominion of allegory. In

“The Rhetoric of Temporality,” de Man says that “allegory designates primarily a

distance in relation to its own origin, and, renouncing the nostalgia and the desire to

coincide [characteristic of the symbol], it establishes its language in the void of this
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temporal difference” (207). The division between before and after that defines the

seriality of time is the basis of what Barbara Johnson sees generalized as the “non-

coincidence in the structure of signs” informing the work of Saussure, Derrida, and

de Man (“Doing Time: Re-reading Paul de Man’s ‘Literary History and Literary

Modernity,’” 172). The sheer difference hidden in the structure of the sign and

exemplified by allegory, which “appears as a successive mode capable of engendering

duration as the illusion of continuity that it knows to be illusionary,” combines

nodally to turn any generative present into a specious one, a “mystification” (de Man,

“Temporality” 226). This mystification covers up the temporality that irony reveals

as “relating to its source only in terms of distance and difference and allow[ing] for no

end, for no totality” (222) – a temporality that the symbol makes static in its false

harmonizing of discrete moments, in the coincidence of image and substance.4

The symbol freezes image and substance into a “simultaneity, which, in truth,

is spatial in kind, and in which the intervention of time is merely a matter of

contingency” (207). On the other hand, allegory reveals that “time is the originary

constitutive category” at the heart of language itself (207). Literature

symptomatically shows this tension between stasis and the movement of belation,

4
In “The Rhetoric of Temporality,” de Man use of the concepts of “mystification” and
“demystification,” which has its roots in theology, targets versions of symbolism going back
to romanticism and reaching forward to an aesthetics de Man associates with Gadamer,
which “refuses to distinguish between experience and the representation of this
experience. … The subjectivity of experience is preserved when it is translated into language;
the world is then no longer seen as a configuration of entities that designate a plurality of
distinct and isolated meanings, but as a configuration of symbols ultimately leading to a total,
single, and universal meaning. This appeal to the infinity of a totality constitutes the main
attraction of the symbol as opposed to allegory, a sign that refers to one specific meaning and
thus exhausts its suggestive potentialities once it has been deciphered” (188).
10
between coincidence and articulation, described in “Literary History” as the

“ambivalence of writing … [which is] both an act and an interpretive process that

follows after an act with which it cannot coincide” (152). The literary act here is

identical to symbol in that it is de- or a-temporalizing – it “knows no past” (152) –

even while that act is paradoxically an historicizing, a recording of a process within a

process (language).

This is how de Man connects the atemporalization of action with the

forgetting that is constitutive of any modernization. The motionlessness in the

idealized act of unifying image and substance is the mystification of the unyielding

temporal movement at the core of language. Any attempt to make it new first

involves the delusion that one can stop time and clear the past. In such a

discontinuation and clearance is the very confirmation of the difference and

articulation between before and after that constitutes the seriality of time. Language

itself does not permit such stillness dreamt of in the coincidences of meaning. Stasis

always gives way to sequence; novelty, to repetition. Hence, assertions of

modernization get stuck in “paradoxical formulations, such as defining the modernity

of a literary period as the manner in which it discovers the impossibility of being

modern” (144). Literature is the embodiment of the contradiction between “the

historian and the agent”: “the appeal of modernity [that] haunts all literature … is

revealed in numberless images and emblems that appear at all periods – in the

obsession with a tabula rasa, with new beginnings” (152).


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This peculiar problem of modernity also informs de Man’s reading of

Baudelaire’s “Le peintre de la vie moderne.” In “Literary History,” de Man shows how

the “acute sense of the present as a constitutive element of all aesthetic experience”

gives way to paradoxes and ambivalences in Baudelaire’s essay on Constantin Guys,

such that “any evocation of the present” brings with it “perspectives of distance and

difference within the apparent uniqueness of the instant” (157). Guys, as the

“synthesis of a man of action (that is, a man of the moment, severed from past and

future) with an observer and recorder of moments” (157), is the aporetic point in

which the historian and agent are combined. Thus figured, the painter “represents

the present” by “freez[ing] what is most transient and ephemeral into a recorded

image” – an image which is in any case marked by its medium, which is itself already

marked by the positivistic version of temporality that de Man detects.5

The desire to capture the present is the active aspect of the pathos of being in

time. For de Man, the personification of this desire in the various subjects of

Baudelaire’s essay betrays an “attraction toward an action, a modernity, and an

autonomous meaning that would exist outside the realm of language” (159).

Presentation is the hope of getting beyond the realm of the text, the explosion

outward toward the world of fact, the “escape from the successive temporality, the

duration involved in writing” (159). But presentation is always already representation:

5
De Man 157. Baudelaire’s discussion of “la représentation du présent,” whose pleasures
derive not just from beauty but from “the essential ‘present-ness’ of the present” (qtd. in
“Literary History” 156) is the clue for de Man of Baudelaire’s Nietzschean conception of
modernity: “The paradox of the problem is potentially contained in the formula
‘représentation du présent,’ which combines a repetitive with an instantaneous pattern without
apparent awareness of the incompatibility” (156).
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“literature first moves away from itself [as writing] and then returns” – it returns to

the “literary mode of being … that knows itself to be mere repetition, mere fiction

and allegory, forever unable to participate in the spontaneity of action or modernity”

(160-61). This return is a fall back into passivity, into “the depths and complications

of an articulated time, an interdependence between past and future that prevents any

present from ever coming into being” (161, emphasis added).

The future and past, the agent and historian, the “modernity and literature

[that] turn out to be two poles of a non-coincidence that keeps both in existence”

(Johnson 177): these seem to end in a mix that is primarily “history.” De Man’s

textualism always dumps an overwhelming measure of time into his aporias, such that

only the most sterile of tragic successivities remain, themselves also aporetically

blended into a strange atemporal synchronism (163, 165). His concluding gesture

toward a conception of “literary history,” which “would imply a revision of the

notion of history and, beyond that, of the notion of time on which our idea of history

is based,” would leave us, in a perfect de-Manian irony, with a history, time, and

modernity shorn of all generative possibility:

It would imply, for instance, abandoning the pre-assumed concept of history

as a generative process that we found operative in Nietzsche’s text – although

this text also began to rebel against it – of history as a temporal hierarchy that

resembles a parental structure in which the past is like an ancestor begetting, in

a moment of unmediated presence, a future capable of repeating in its turn the

same generative process. (164)


13
Jonathan Arac calls such an abandonment a “skeptical challenge to traditional

history,” since it shows us that “history must not be written in a comprehensive,

continuous mode” because such narratives ignore the ambivalences beyond the ken of

positivism and structuralism.6 Barbara Johnson finds in “Literary History” a

Derridean textualism that replaces diachronic narratives, construed as true historical

fact, with a ubiquitous self-problematizing literary interpretation.7 Both these

readings engage de Man’s deconstructionist view of the construction of history in

language – of history “in relation to the allegoric process that confers a semblance of

duration on a contradictory moment” (Arac 135); of history as an indeterminate

textual mode that “diachronic narratives can only plot out metaphorically as

sequential” (Johnson 178). But neither says what de Man’s “revision of the notion of

history” would amount to; and, beyond that, neither specifies “the notion of time on

which our idea of history is based.” As I have suggested, such revisions, in an attempt

to escape filiality and belatedness, produce sequence without connection, completely

discrete seriality with no possibility of generation, let alone “influence,” Bloomian or

6
Arac, “Re-reading ‘Literary History and Literary Modernity’: Paul de Man’s Ambivalence,”
136, 126. On the de-Manian poststructuralist space opened in the paradox or aporia, he
writes: “De Man rejects positivism, because by appealing to facts it historicizes literature
only in terms of what it is not (for literature is not fiction); he also rejects structure, because
its principle of binary decidability ignores ambivalence” (135).
7
As Johnson writes, “If history is not fiction, it is something other than a diachronic
narrative” (“Doing Time: Re-reading Paul de Man’s ‘Literary History and Literary
Modernity’” 178). On the pervasive “structure” in which the writer is attracted to “an
autonomous meaning that would exist outside the realm of language” because he or she find
the paradoxical space of literature “unbearable” or “too tranquil,” she says: “The much
misused sentence by Derrida – il n’y a pas de hors-texte – refers to this structure. … The
text has no ‘inside’ that has not been constituted through the attempt to get outside: and
there is no outside of that. There is no attempt to get outside that is not a repetition of the
structure one is attempting to escape” (176).
14
otherwise. The unhappy de-Manian irony is that history is just interpretation

(“literary interpretation … is in fact literary history,” de Man 165), and history’s form,

nothing more than objective time, no more than the “interdependence between past

and future that prevents any present from ever coming into being” (161).

Modernity without End: The Loss of the Eschaton

In Time and the Literary, the recent collection of essays in which Arac’s and

Johnson’s essays flank a reprinting of de Man’s “Literary History,” the editors

admirably take issue with the disappearance of time “in the supposed simultaneity of

electronic communication, instant messaging, and information retrieval” (1). By

examining “the literary,” not as a formal category that separates literature from other

writing, but “as a mode of action in the present” (3), the concept of time re-enters

critical discourse as an answer to “the recent concentration on space in literary and

cultural studies” (6). Appropriately, Fredric Jameson’s description of the postmodern

is invoked: “our daily life, our psychic experiences, our cultural languages, are today

dominated by categories of space rather than by categories of time.”8 But what sort of

time returns to counter the obliteration of time by postmodern information culture?

The editors put forward the sort of time that “the literary often structures,” linking

“immediacy and the instantaneous with their opposite, duration and critique” (1). In

8
Qtd. in Clayton, Hirsch, and Newman 6. Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or, the Cultural
Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham: Duke University Press, 1991) 16.
15
9
a modification of Ezra Pound’s remark that “literature is news that STAYS news,”

they write:

If the literary is the information that resists its status as information, that

which escapes the progression, ossification, and erasure of temporal progress,

then it necessitates a re-reading of the present. In relation to the literary, the

present extends beyond the fleetingness of the instantaneous to create a critical

distance within itself. The literary stops time to expand the present and in so

doing it complicates all traditional conceptions of temporal marking, such as

periodization and contextualization. (5)

The agency of the literary – the “act of reading and re-reading” – stops time to

create a critical present, a duration that is the possibility of critique and the

interruption of the flow of fleeting instants. One could not agree more with the

project of literary-critical temporalization, but how can this be effected by a mere

“extension” beyond the fleetingness of the instantaneous? More importantly, in light

of the re-readings of de Man that form the core of this volume, how can this extended

present keep from falling off into “a regressive historical process”? How is now to be

distinguished, on this model, from next? What turns an instant into a present? The

process of a better historical contextualization that fattens the moment by pressing

more and more contingencies into it? Or, the act of re-reading that calls “into

question the by now predictable and ubiquitous move toward contextualization in

literary study” by a returning that understands itself to have already passed beyond

9
Ezra Pound, ABC of Reading (1934) 29.
16
10
“the present of production and the present of consumption”? To return to Pound’s

parlance, how does the news that would stay news keep from falling off into fashion,

into what Pound called the “almanack”?11 How is the temporalization of innovation

possible in the first place?

To answer these questions on a “literary mode of being” that resists and

extends beyond repetition and allegory, and that can engender the possibility of

novelty, including critique, let us reread, once again, the concept of time informing

de Man’s concept of modernity, this time through Matei Calinescu’s Five Faces of

Modernity. There, modernity arises not as a mode of being but an historically new

way of engaging the conflict between the past and the present, history and modernity.

For Calinescu, the idea of modernity is originally situated in the framework of

Christian eschatology, which eventually loses its eschaton but retains its character as

linear, irreversible, and inexorable (13). In this secular guise, the time-concept that

gives rise to modernity becomes an “historical time,” a “temporal-sequential concept

of history” (13). As in de Man’s version of temporality, the present is thus located on

the revolutionary arrowhead of a continuously extending line, where one temporal

modality is constantly being overturned into another. Out of and against this seriality

– the bourgeois idea borne of science and progress, “a measurable time, a time that

can be bought and sold and therefore has, like any other commodity, a calculable

10
See Jay Clayton, Marianne Hirsch, and Karen Newman, Introduction, “Re-reading the
Present”: “At best, contextualization introduces a space of critique into the present. At
worst, it reifies a moment, setting it off from others in a move that rests on an unquestioning
belief in the explanatory power of history, of marking time” (5).
11
Pound, Preface to Spirit of Romance 6.
17
equivalent in money” (41) – comes Baudelaire’s modernité, the aesthetic concept

opposed to both a normative, timeless tradition and a debased middle-class

sequentiality.

Calinescu’s Baudelaire allows him to show how modernity loses “its usual

descriptive function,” that is, its meaning as a “periodizing label”: “it can no longer

serve as a criterion for cutting out from the historical process a segment that might be

convincingly designated as the present and, in that capacity, be compared to the past”

(49). This is so because the value of the present has given way to an instantaneity

whose moments are totally unrelated. Such a “turning point in the history of

modernity as an idea” (49), based on the concept of an extensive time, produces

another “face” of modernity, namely postmodernism and its Foucauldian versions of

history, in which discontinuity eclipses the idea of intelligible change, or at least some

version of emergence. In the tension between extensive seriality and Baudelaire’s

aesthetic modernity, modernist innovation appears aporetic, “defined as the

paradoxical possibility of going beyond the flow of history through the consciousness of

historicity in its most concrete immediacy, in its presentness” (50). In other words,

understanding historical time, the empiricist mode of temporality, destroys the

periodizing ability of history to hold onto any duration or interval, but then affords

the artist the opportunity to behold the epiphanic, “the present in its ‘presentness,’ in

its purely instantaneous quality” (49).

It is because of the reading of this paradox into modernity that Calinescu,

though he does not follow de Man in his “general conclusions regarding the essence
18
of literature,” nevertheless maintains “the suggested opposition between modernity

and historical time,” with the same attendant dilemma that both may be “linked by a

temporal chain that gives them a common destiny.”12 And yet this opposition is

meant to illustrate “the revolt of the present against the past – of the fleeting instant

against the steadiness of memory, of difference against repetition” (52). The

“modernity” of art that can actively grasp and stop a moment out of the flow of time

pits itself against an ossified past or eternity, while also affirming a temporal grammar

that does not allow for periodizing, much less the kind of original action de Man

ascribes to the modern. Thus, how can the present rebel against the past, if, on the

one hand, “there is no link between these individual entities [the variety of successive

modernities that now comprise history] and, therefore, no comparison is actually

possible” (49)? On the other hand, how can difference revolt against repetition, when

such a view of temporal succession only confirms the difference of repetition, of a

seriality in which “it becomes impossible to overcome history in the name of life or to

forget the past in the name of modernity” (de Man, “Literary History” 150)? Indeed,

if modernity comes to stand for “presentness, in its fleeting distinctiveness”

(Calinescu, “Modernity” 2), if modernity means the loss of comparison because of

either a radical discontinuity between moments or the levelling march of those

moments, then no talk of the present is really possible at all. The present becomes no

more than the freezing of an instant, which inexorably will melt away into the not-

12
Five Faces 51, 52; De Man, “Literary History” 150. Specifically, Calinescu objects to de
Man’s unhistorical deconstructive view by asserting that modernity is an aspect “of time
consciousness that has not remained the same throughout history” (51), and that “all the
problems of history are transferred to the plane of language and ecriture” (52).
19
now or add itself immediately to “a past hardened in frozen traditions” (Calinescu,

Faces 48). In fact, all three temporal ecstases are washed away in the flow of this type

of punctual succession. Past, present, and future, as qualitative temporal dimensions,

disappear entirely.

Revolutionary Ends: Time and History

The “literary,” which enables critique, and which complicates but also makes

possible historical contextualization by stopping time to expand the present, seems

subject to the very time of obliteration it would resist. Calinescu’s de Man and

Baudelaire, it seems, fare no better. Let us look in detail at a third, more recent, and

most ambitious, examination of the aporia between the temporality of modernity and

the time of history, Peter Osborne’s excellent study, The Politics of Time: Modernity

and Avant-Garde. There modernism might be seen as a legitimate temporalization of

innovation that perhaps has finessed the de Manian irony of an all-consuming

historical time, since such a temporalization is the foundation for a social time and

any history that matters.

Osborne begins with a point of view quite different from de Man’s: a

perspective that sees in modernity the possibility of the constitution and

temporalization of history, rather than the surrender to it.13 But he accepts the

characterization of modernity as the “valorization of the new as the product of a

13
One of the many ways Osborne formulates his aim appears in his preface as a simple
question: “If Aristotle sought to understand time through change, since it is first
encountered in entities that change, might we not reverse the procedure, and seek to
comprehend change through time?” (viii).
20
constantly self-negating temporal dynamic” – and the predicament in which it

“produc[es] the old as remorselessly as it produces the new” – while also maintaining

that it is “open to a variety of competing articulations” (xii). The specific way that

Osborne himself construes modernity’s valorization of the new is one in which the

“freez[ing] what is most transient and ephemeral” is not a reactionary way of

retreating from history into a cloistered temporality. Rather, the stoppage of time in

the mode of critique or in the ecstatic distillations of art is a revolutionary way of

constituting history.

Beginning with the variety of competing articulations, Osborne discusses the

views of modernity as an historical period category, as a quality of social experience,

and as an incomplete project. The reason it can be any of these three is because of its

temporal structure, its dynamic of endless movement from present to past which

allows us describe it both as having happened and yet as still happening. Again, the

paradox or aporia is generated by the conjunction of the form of objective time and

the self-reflexivity whereby modernity is defined by “the time of its utterance,

whenever the question of change within the present is at issue” (4). The disagreement

between Marshall Berman’s celebration of constant change in All That is Solid Melts

into Air and Perry Anderson’s Marxian critique in “Modernity and Revolution”

comes to stand as an example of how this objectivist temporal logic is the

battleground between historical sociology’s need to specify distinct periods and modes

of production, and a phenomenological approach that focuses on the ceaseless


21
14
happening of novelty (rather than, say, its construction or emergence). According to

Osborne, neither of these positions examines sufficiently the logic of modernity that

informs historical periodization of the modern, so that Berman exemplifies an

incessant “process of temporal differentiation” (8), while Anderson only confirms the

problem of modernity with his Althusserian “conjunctures” that rely on a differential

time of discontinuities while also repressing it in a privileging of the present.

Osborne is not concerned to replace this logic, because his main investments

lie in how history is temporalized. And yet, he differs from most theorists of history

in that he at least sees the need for a conceptual relationship between any historically-

redemptive politics and “the phenomenological structure of the living present … if

the experience [of the image of history] is to have any practical significance” (152).

Radical praxis, for Osborne, can in fact be executed unaporetically over pure

interruption and discontinuity, but only if one builds a “conceptual bridge back … to

a new narrativity, such that [the historicization of the now’s] disjunctive power might

have a transformative effect on modes of identification and action” (156). Such a

bridge spans from Ricoeur, Heidegger, Hegel, Lacan, Gadamer, and Levinas to

Walter Benjamin.15

14
See Osborne 4-9. Marshall Berman, All That is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of
Modernity (London: Verso, 1983); Perry Anderson, “Modernity and Revolution,” New Left
Review 144 (March/April 1984): 96-113.
15
Charles Turner criticizes Osborne for “a list of the non-Marxist thinkers which an
increasingly confused left political culture now takes seriously” (“Benjamin’s Heirs” 140).
There are two reasons to ignore such a criticism: one is that Osborne’s range should be
taken as a sign of the methodology derived from his study, a modified Benjaminian montage
that opens up possibility and political action; the second is that the constellation of thinkers
represents an attempt to take theoretical contemporaneity seriously, such that hard lineages
(say, as descending from Marx) are no longer exclusively important.
22
While I cannot do justice here to the many intricate analyses in Osborne’s

book, I must still try to draw a basic map of his course through several of these major

thinkers in order to make sense of the importance to his project of Benjamin’s

“revolutionary” concept of messianic interruption, as well as Baudelaire’s linkage of

novelty to eternity. Ricoeur’s work in his three-volume Time and Narrative provides

Osborne with “philosophical sustenance to the claim for the unity of time, and

thereby, not merely to the possibility but to the necessity of historical totalization”

(45). Ricoeur resolves the “aporia of the dual perspective,” the conflict between

phenomenological temporality and naturalistic time, by a poetics of narrative and the

“historical time” it produces through a reinscription of lived time onto cosmic time.

But in Ricoeur’s own scheme of three-fold mimesis, totalization fails because of the

time of initiative, which is returned to us by narrative’s refiguration of lived time for

the “reader”: “It is this openness to action – or time of initiative – characteristic of

the fundamental futurity of phenomenological temporality, which ruptures the

process of historical totalization: ‘Doing means that reality is not totalizable’” (TN

3.231, qtd. in Osborne 53). Totalization formally requires an end to achieve closure

and coherence, so Osborne turns to Heidegger’s being-toward-death as a way of

pursuing the ontological structure of being-toward-the-end-of-history (61) and the

promise of historical temporalization.

In order to avoid the “reduction to the eternal present of the Hegelian absolute

– and hence the accusation of the assumption of a teleological end to history” (53),

Osborne shows that the homology of the structure of history to the anticipation of
23
death allows us to think of “the end to history” not in terms of teleological fulfillment

but eschatological exteriority. The end is not something arrived at, but something

that we project as outside of time. In other words, history is constituted by the

positing of an absolute exteriority, which, like death in the temporalization of

temporality, does not actually exist as an event inside or outside the dynamic. The

end is rather a productive limit that unifies the structure. According to Osborne, this

unrepresentable end in its very liminality, rather than creating an individualizing

“mineness,” as well as a distinction between authentic temporality and inauthentic

ordinary time (as it does in Heidegger’s thought) can instead be linked with the

constitution of self-consciousness through the social other in the Hegelian dialectic of

recognition. Osborne’s concern here is to show that this death, this constitutive end,

is not only natural – preventing the constituted temporality produced by this process

from transcending the objective time of an exterior nature – but fundamentally social:

If temporality derives, existentially, from the anticipation of death

(Heidegger’s argument), and death comes from the other (Hegel’s argument),

so, it follows, does time. Existential temporality comes from the other. It is

recognition which ‘temporalizes’ time. It is only self-consciousness for which

death has a meaning – for which death ‘is’, in Heidegger’s sense – and self-

consciousness is always socially mediated. (80)

Osborne argues that the end is no longer to be considered an immanent

moment that solidifies a totality, but an anticipated, unrepresentable outside toward

which an already social temporality continually and imperfectly unfolds. Time is


24
temporalized not solely on the basis of a constitutive subjectivity; ordinary, everyday,

“inauthentic” time can be temporalized by the positing of a timeless end, which is

both natural and social in nature. In his analogical thinking, eternity, death, the

unconscious, and nature are all figures of “timelessness, and each becomes a metaphor

for the others” (113). Timelessness and exteriority are not to be thought of

theologically, but merely as conditions for the temporalization of history, and vice-

versa, the historicization of temporality.16 In this almost-but-not-quite-theological way

of maintaining the secular historicity of experience, Benjamin’s work enters as

Osborne’s support for a rethinking of objective time as the medium of a history that

has yet the possibility of redemption and innovative action.

Benjamin’s attraction to Baudelaire lies in the latter’s connection of “the

ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent” to the eternal.17 But Baudelaire’s desire “to

distil the eternal from the transitory” ultimately makes it impossible for him to save

the new from “the conformism which threatens to overpower all forms of historical

consciousness within modernity, returning them to the complacency of tradition”

(142). As in de Man’s argument, history, here in the form of tradition, swallows all

incipience, now refigured as historical consciousness itself. Thus, “Baudelaire’s

modernism rejoins the indifferent, contemplative temporality of historicism as

‘heritage’” (142). How then does Benjamin re-read Baudelaire? By revising

16
“This purely anticipatory, timeless end … we have argued, temporalizes historical time
(historicizes temporality) in the same way that the anticipation of death temporalizes time in
general” (Osborne 113).
17
The translation of this famous phrase in other parts of the present essay comes from P.E.
Charvet’s Penguin edition. Osborne uses Jonathan Mayne’s translation in The Painter of
Modern Life and Other Essays (New York: Phaidon, 1964).
25
Baudelaire’s “extraction” and “distillation” as messianic redemption, a salvaging

“which would not be merely backward-looking, but would contain within itself the

seeds of a new futurity” (142). The eternal-as-tradition is transformed as the

timelessness that gives the aspect of totality to the frozen moment or image. As

Osborne puts it:

in the experience of the repetitive succession of identical instants – abstractly

projected onto history by historicism as the blank chronologism of

‘homogeneous empty time’ – we are returned, structurally, to the cosmological

time of nature as an ‘eternal and total passing away’ …. The very indifference

of the new as the ever-always-the-same that is the basis for the quantification

of time in historicism, becomes, for Benjamin, the ground for a quite different,

qualitative experience of the ‘now’ as an historical present. (143)

The experience of the instantaneous as historical is achieved by relocating the

end from the linearity of time to the individual unit, so that this unit “is seen to

contain within its static, monadic structure the equivalent to a Messianic ‘cessation of

happening’, combined with a ‘recurrence’, a ‘yet once again’, which can only be

understood as a new form of remembrance” (143). Whereas historicism would take

the abstract, objective form of time and regulate its discontinuous seriality by

projecting it onto history (creating a narrative of continuous progress), Benjamin

creates a way to remember the past by showing how its condition is a redemption, an

eternity, already reflected in each interruptive instant. Strangely then, even

paradoxically, Benjamin’s interruptive present “contract[s] the present into the stasis
26
of its point-like source and expand[s] its historical content to infinity, in an enormous

abridgement’ of ‘the entire history of humanity.’”18 This means, confusingly, that the

now is neither and both “the blankly identical Aristotelian or cosmological instant”

and “the time of the extended, durational, phenomenological present” (145), because

of the inclusion of the perspective of its end.

Osborne himself immediately asks, “But how can this work, if history is not

yet over, if the future has yet to occur? How can history present itself as a whole in

the time of the now, outside the ultimately time-denying eternal present of

Hegelianism?” (145). The answer is that this disruptive now does not create “a linear

unidirectional series of successive instants,” nor “a three-dimensional temporal

spectrum,” but in its structure of “the ‘then’ and the ‘now’” reflects “the structure of

history as a whole, viewed from the standpoint of its end” (145). To clarify, the

relationship of the then and the now in Benjamin’s thought is not causal, not to be

told in the manner of the historicist as “the sequence of events like the beads of a

rosary” (Benjamin, 263). Rather it is the relationship of the “constellation” – the way

things fit or hang together. The fact of the constitution of the now reflects or images

the fact of the eventual constitution of history. Thus, the historical materialist arrests

a moment and thereof looks back beyond that particular instant to a whole array of

other, past moments, seeing that history has been constructed, and therefore that

neglected times may be redeemed. As Benjamin himself puts it in Thesis XVII:

18
Osborne 145. Osborne is quoting from Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of
History,” Thesis XVIII, Illuminations (New York: Schoken, 1969) 263.
27
Materialistic historiography … is based on a constructive principle. Thinking

involves not only the flow of thoughts, but their arrest as well. Where thinking

suddenly stops in a configuration pregnant with tensions, it gives that

configuration a shock, by which it crystallizes into a monad. … In this

structure he recognizes the sign of a Messianic cessation of happening, or, put

differently, a revolutionary chance in the fight for the oppressed past. (262-63)

There are several questions begged in this process, which I believe Osborne

acknowledges in his identification of the “paradoxical structure of

completeness/incompleteness that is the key to Benjamin’s politics of the image”

(147). The will to political action comes from the hint of as-yet-unrealized messianic

redemption within the moment of the dialectical image. The Messiah and eternity

themselves are actually impossible, unrealizable: “only if the Messianic remains

exterior to history can it provide the perspective of a completed whole (without the

predetermination of a teleological end), from which the present may appear in its

essential transience, as radically incomplete” (147). However, if the temporalization

of history is made possible by the positing of the whole, but the moment’s reflection

of that whole is of a figure of incompletion and impossibility, then could we not say

that the temporalization of history has failed? Is it not a temporal mystery how one

could step into an arrested instant and yet also see beyond its monadic limits, much

less the relationships between monads that would constitute a configuration or

constellation per se? Is not the image of the redemptive totality shining in the
28
metonym more an article of faith than the “constructive principle” that can crystallize

the moment, temporalize it, or redeem it?

Benjamin’s work of turning “Neuzeit into Jetztzeit, new-time into now-time,”

his influence on historiography “away from narrative forms of historical totalization

to montage: from story to image,” is powerful and appealing (115). So is Osborne’s

use of this work as a way of temporalizing history for critique and political action. It

is obvious how this account could be used to understand Anglo-American aesthetic

modernism. Barrett Watten, one of the only critics to review The Politics of Time in

detail, provides at least two reasons: first, since “interruption … becomes the basis of

historicity,” Osborne’s work places “the avant-garde precisely at the center of

modernism’s relation to modernity”; and second, “now-time thus becomes a form of

defamiliarization that permits the construction of other forms of historically self-

conscious continuity: forms of modernist literature and art, not only the modern epic,

seen as historical in their construction of a politics of time” (291, emphasis added).

But conceptually, left here, the task of converting the de-Manian time of obliteration,

via eschatology, into the possibility of critical remembrance, the time of action,

history itself, and what we discussed above as the “literary,” is still aporetic. The

transformation of a static moment reflecting a utopian whole into an infinite,

temporalized, always-incomplete history that is the basis for political action is easier

to believe in than to show.

Osborne cannot leave the present articulated as “a purely interruptive

conception,” since then it would be seen merely as “an exit from history into an
29
essentially mystical space of experience” (152). The messianic timelessness of the

image must be shown to react “back on the phenomenological present which it

interrupts, imbricating itself into its narrative structure” (152). Without this return

to phenomenology, nothing salvaged in the interruption can be given to living

concern. The truly messianic would be “inverted ‘progress’” (149) – the view from

beyond the end of time. Even the perspective of the Angelus Novus, who “sees one

single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of

his feet” is not the valorized point of view for Osborne – “not (as is usually supposed)

that of the materialist critic or historian.”19 The angel of history, though it can see

what is valuable in the blowing storm, is “powerless to intervene,” whereas the

materialist is “always located inside a specific historical present” (149). This

materialist, however, while able to intervene, may well be blind to value, both in and

of the past, and more crucially, the new. As Osborne himself admits, Benjamin’s

present, “for all its suspension of immanent temporal succession … is ultimately as

transient, and hence as incomplete, as any other” (149). Like modernism itself, in its

quest to endure, Osborne would find a way to extend the momentary resonance of

avant-garde experience – what has been described above as the Baudelairean “child-

like” experience of the new, brought about by the disruption of the “linear time-

consciousness of progress” (150).

The rotating, childish theater of forgetting as the auditorium for the new

signals how close we are to the de-Manian arena of perpetual echoes, as does the

19
Benjamin, Thesis IX, “Theses” 257-58. Quoted partially in Osborne 149.
30
concern for remembering without at least some concept of a constitutive past. The

common figure of the gerontion, burdened but also animated by memory in Anglo-

American modernism, juxtaposed with the value of the image, is often seen as a major

set piece of this stage, rather than as a way of working through the temporal

problematic. Osborne, brilliantly, tries to recast the new-become-now as itself a

moment of mediation in the structure linking the phenomenological present with

cosmological time, a structure which turns on the role of narrative to transfigure alien

times as human. In order that new resist getting lost immediately in the rush of

succeeding moments, “we need to distinguish internally to the present moment …

the three temporal ecstases which constitute its living, phenomenological unity: the

specific past presented by the image (‘then’); the extended present which is

interrupted by its ‘now’; and the futurity which it produces” (152).

But instead moving toward a more supple phenomenological model, we are

returned to Ricoeur and narrative. Narrativity, the “narrative schemata of the

productive imagination,” allows us to understand time as having a beginning, middle,

and end (TN I, 3; qtd. in Osborne 47). But, as Osborne himself asks, how can now-

time be the bridge between the present and the instant “if it has been ‘blasted’ out of

all forms of narrative continuity?” (155). Moreover, “this bridge back to narrativity is

blocked within Benjamin’s own thought by the depiction of modernity in terms of

the social eclipse of narrative as communicable experience” (156). Keeping his

commitment to totalization without synchrony, Osborne replies that the so-called

death of narrative is merely a modification of narrative, and that the interruptive


31
now-time – avant-garde now-being – gives a new articulation to narrative continuity

by showing how the end that structurally closes a story need not be located within the

story as a completion. It is the belief in the revolutionary yet static moment’s

projection of the historical exterior or death (which links us by way of otherness to

the social) that produces a non-transcendental narrativity. This narrativity, consisting

in “only the historically specific variety of social forms of memorative

communication” (133) and not in any transcendental form underlying historical

experience, confirms for the now-time a unity without teleological directedness,

continuity without completion.

The Arrested Instant: Bertrand Russell and Physics

In Osborne’s framework, what has happened to modernism as the creation

and experience of the new as such (rather than as the resurrection of hidden lines of

history)? Although he would preserve the negation of tradition and the valorization

of the new, his emphasis on historicization lets innovation get snapped up by other

kinds of narrative continuity, whatever those might be. The intrusion of history can

produce new lines of continuity, but in doing so it absorbs the new, if not into the

heaviness of the past of tradition, then into the light divarications of redemptive

histories that fork off from empty time like flashes of lightning. Thus Osborne’s

attempt to “go into the present,” against a Nietzschean forgetting as well as an over-

burdensome tradition, leaves the skeleton of objective time buried under its being-

towards-death. Time threatens the historical materialist as menacingly as history does


32
the literary, even if the materialist tries to ward off harm with a futurity constitutive

of his present and not merely contingently next to it. While this talisman might give

to modernism’s epiphanies a local habitation and political name, and bestow an

historical and narrative aura to the moments that putatively were left stranded in the

abstract time of the world or subject, it does not register how those disruptions of

progress and refusals of empiricist versions of time become articulations of the new

that refused to confirm, and get consigned to, the very form of time they question.

This problem of the duration of the new that then threatens the very status of

the new is generated by the empiricist version of time and the epistemic framework

based a representational model of knowledge, which Charles Taylor simply calls

“epistemology.”20 From the perspective interested in securing truths as images of fact,

the emergence of the new is construed empirically as the arrival of an instant locatable

objectively at the head of a line of previous instants. Its punctuality secures its

difference from other instants, which then makes possible the determination of its

relations to other points in what can now be called a series. These relations are

earlier/later, before/after, an ordering of instants easily graphable in the structure of

narrativity as beginning, middle, and end. The position of the instant is independent

of the position of the measurer, and can thus be represented without any subjective

distortion. The placing of the instant is the identification and knowledge of it – this

is why Osborne’s political temporalization turns on an arrested moment and redeems

20
Taylor also calls it “modern rationalism.” See, e.g., his first essay “Overcoming
Epistemology,” and the fourth essay, “Lichtung or Lebensform: Parallels between Heidegger
and Wittgenstein” in his collection, Philosophical Arguments (Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 1995).
33
suppressed histories by bringing them into line with the image. The image can then

again become part of a represented movement pulled forward by a static futurity or

absolutely exterior eternity.

In this objective framework, how does the new perdure over time? The

introduction of the agent or measurer does not extend the instant but only gives it the

status of “now.” In this “scientific” conception of time, “now” is not the sign of any

temporalization whatsoever but merely the situation of the point in immediate

relation to the position of the measurer. According to Bertrand Russell, the

philosopher who is modernity’s perfector of a time concept whose earlier theorists are

Aristotle and Newton, the measurer’s perspective here registers the “eternity of the

fact as opposed to the transiency of the event” (Theory of Knowledge 107). The

theorization of time from the point of view of physics, because it is interested in the

eternality of universals and logical necessity, must configure the now as an

anonymous position. The now sub specie aeternitatis, in order to be always true in its

logical relations of earlier/later than, must be static.21

Physical time – which, as Russell says, “is to be understood as meaning ‘what is

dealt with by physics’” (“Relation of Sense-Data to Physics” 145) – does not itself

move, which removes the question of the experience of the new altogether. The

tensed movement from future to present to past that would be registered in the now of

21
For an excellent account of Russell and a “Cambridge philosophy of time” with respect to
modernism, and specifically Virginia Woolf, see Ann Banfield’s “Tragic Time: The Problem
of the Future in Cambridge Philosophy and To the Lighthouse,” Modernism/Modernity 7.1
(2000): 43-75; The Phantom Table: Woolf, Fry, Russell and the Epistemology of Modernism
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000); and “Time Passes,” Poetics Today 24.3
(Fall 2003): 471-516.
34
the new, the now of surprise and defamiliarization, was thought to be definitive of

temporality, but, as McTaggart argued in “The Unreality of Time,” ultimately leads

to contradiction. Briefly summarized, his argument is that an event in time is always

truthfully represented by propositions that place them in the past, present, and future,

but the event cannot logically have incompatible determinations. In order for the

event to be temporal, it would have to pass through true and false descriptions. Thus,

what McTaggart called the “A series” of past, present, and future are unreal: a fact

does not have a tense.22 We are then left with the “B series” – the purely objective

relations of earlier- and later-than. But the mathematical reduction of time to

discrete instants destroys continuity. Hence, there are things in the world but no

change to speak of, and no time.

For Russell, the problem lies precisely in how we speak of change. Tense is

purely a function of deictics and does not really belong to time itself. Logic, however,

can reduce the A series to the B series, and counter-intuitively, preserve the reality and

temporality of an essentially static time. Change and continuity do exist, but they are

no longer under the charge of experience, that is, no longer determinable by deictic or

shifting tense, but by a strange, unintuited movement through positions in a

mathematical series of frozen points. Experience treats this as paradox, but

mathematics simply construes this as “compactness” in its theory of continuity: “A

series is called ‘compact’ when no two terms are consecutive, but between any two

22
See McTaggart’s “The Unreality of Time,” Mind 18 (1908): 457-84. The distinction
between “tensed” and “tenseless” views of time comes from D.H. Mellor’s reading of
McTaggart, discussed in Banfield, “Tragic Time” 47.
35
23
there are others.” This is Zeno’s paradox rendered a legitimate description of

movement, which, like the “cinematograph in which there are an infinite number of

pictures, and in which there is never a next picture because an infinite number come

between any two … perfectly represent[s] a continuous motion” (Russell, History of

Western Philosophy 804).

On this view, a view not given to any experience, change takes place

mysteriously between moments, in some timeless place. The instant in which we may

actually see a change of position brings an explosive shift. In opposition to this spatial

“cinematographic” version of change, Henri Bergson argues, as Russell dryly

summarizes it,

that no series of states can represent what is continuous, and that in change a

thing is never in any state at all. … True change can only be explained by

true duration; it involves an interpenetration of past and present, not a

mathematical succession of static states. This is what is called a “dynamic”

instead of a “static” view of the world. (History 804)

For Russell, the reality of Zeno’s arrow and its movement are not in tension, as they

are for the Eleatics, who “said there was an arrow, but no flight,” and “Heraclitus and

Bergson,” who claim “there was a flight but no arrow” (History 805). Rather, the

arrow really is passing through a static series, whose analytic identity as a series is a

temporal (and spatial) change.

23
Russell, Our Knowledge of the External World (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1914)
138, qtd. in Banfield, “Time Passes” 484.
36
The dualism between experience and logic, knowledge by acquaintance and

knowledge by description, opens a chasm into which falls the most important

questions animating aesthetic modernism. The contingency necessary to “make it

new,” which comes with the openness of futurity and that is a condition for

existential temporality, is missing in Russellian science. In its place is an odd

determinism that is the result of the eternity of relations in the world of universals,

which Newton formulated as the “’uniformity of nature,’ i.e., ‘the principle of the

permanence of laws’”; and, with respect to the future, an “agnosticism” – the inability

to know the future now – which is absurdly the only source of freedom.24

The Benjaminian arrested moment that Osborne attempts to temporalize

resembles the static, punctual instant whose borders hide a timelessness where change

paradoxically takes place. The qualitatively new can no more easily emerge out of a

ground of scientific seriality than it can out of a frozen image, blasted out of old

narratives in order to then become the center of a new story whose end is an

unrealizable utopia, and whose beginnings are the unnarrated repressed. In both the

inexperienceable truth of physics and the temporalization by way of eternity, which,

in spite of its own materialism, according to Watten, “sends us back to modernism’s

mythic orders” (290), the modern remains a question.

Fluid Force Against Circumstance: Bergsonism

24
Russell, Mysticism and Logic (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1917, repr. 1957) 190, qtd.
in Banfield, “Tragic Time” 51.
37
The inability of logical atomism and positivist constructions of logical series to

ground a being-modern accounts for the (at least initial) appeal of Bergson and the

necessity of some version of phenomenology in an account of modernism. As in

Osborne’s study, being modern requires the attempt “to comprehend change through

time” (rather than the Aristotelian project of understanding time through change),

but without the imperative of uptaking back into narrative the changes that emerge

incomprehensible to narrative. As Watten argues in “Nonnarrative and the

Construction of History,” whereas the interruptive articulation of the now – the

discontinuity of motion – often is “just the guarantee of narrative” (218),

nonnarrative presentations ought to be seen as forms of temporal organization in their

own right. But while Watten wants nonnarrativity to escape its merely negative

relation to narrative’s unifying form of beginning-middle-end by embodying

difference itself, I want to ask how such difference can be temporalized to enable both

determinate duration and novelty.25

Pound’s shift from imagism to vorticism provides a good example of how

Bergson’s vitalism animated aesthetic resistance to the empiricist and epistemological

frameworks that made temporal extension and action aporetic. If the image is “that

which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time,” the

25
Watten quotes Jerome McGann’s distinction in “Contemporary Poetry, Alternate Routes,”
Politics and Poetic Value, ed. Robert von Hallberg (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1987) 253-76, between “antinarratives,” which are merely ironic, and nonnarratives, which
“embody in themselves some form of cultural difference” (221). I agree largely with Watten,
but his celebrations of alternate temporal organizations are descriptions of avant-garde work
rather than a philosophical treatment of how such alternatives are possible and resist
becoming passé in ways other than the “comprehensively imagined program based in codes of
an alternative set of solidarities” (McGann, qtd. in “Nonnarrative” 222).
38
vortex, as “radiant node or cluster,” which cannot be mistaken for imagery or static

scenes, focuses on the vital energy of the act itself.26 In BLAST “Vortex,” Pound gives

us the difference between a nineteenth-century naturalism and a modernist alternative:

You may think of a man as that towards which perception moves. You

may think of him as the TOY of circumstance, as the plastic substance

RECEIVING impressions.

Or you may think of him as DIRECTING a certain fluid force against

circumstance, as CONCEIVING instead of merely observing and reflecting.

(153)

The dynamism that Russell dismissed with characteristic lucidity is precisely what will

enable modernity as novelty achieved, rather than modernity as ceaseless happening.

Despite the well-known modernist allergy to Romanticism and the shift in

regard for Bergson, Pound’s emphasis here on activity against passivity is in direct

conversation with the Bergsonian opposition of vitalism to positivistic mechanism

and atomistic psychology. Before T.E. Hulme and Wyndham Lewis turned against

the humanistic celebrations of “life” that Bergsonism inspired, Hulme, as Sanford

Schwartz has pointed out, “expressed a widespread sentiment when he stated that

Bergson brought ‘relief’ to an entire generation by dispelling ‘the nightmare of

determinism.’”27 Whereas “scientific humanism … perpetuated the rationalist ideals

26
Ezra Pound, Literary Essays 4; Gaudier-Bzeska 92.
27
“Bergson and the Politics of Vitalism,” The Crisis in Modernism: Bergson and the Vitalist
Controversy, ed. Frederick Burwick and Paul Douglas (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1992) 288. T.E. Hulme, Speculations: Essays on Humanism and the Philosophy of Art
(London: Kegan Paul, 1936, orig. 1924) 173.
39
of the Enlightenment” by preparing “the day when the methods of modern science

would provide a definitive explanation not only of the physical world, but also of

human experience and activity,” Bergson’s Time and Free Will posited a “pure

duration [which] is the form which the succession of our conscious states assumes

when our ego lets itself live, when it refrains from separating its present state from its

former states.”28 Durée, Bergson continues, “need not be entirely absorbed into the

passing sensation or idea; for then it would no longer endure. Nor need it forget its

former states: it is enough that, in recalling the states, it does not set them alongside

another, but forms both the past and present states into an organic whole” (100,

emphasis added).

Bergson’s refusal of discrete states in “interpenetrated” duration, along with his

resistance to the pure passage and forgetting imputed to the present, resonates in

Pound’s nonrepresentational vortex:

All experience rushes into this vortex. All the energized past, all the past that is

living and worthy to live. … All the past that is vital, all the past that is

capable of living into the future, is pregnant in the vortex, NOW. (BLAST

1.153)

This conception of artistic agency becomes the foundation for his and T.S. Eliot’s

notion of modernism-as-tradition, the new via the classical, which I explore in detail

in chapter two. It is ironic that one of the reasons why Eliot eventually rejects

Bergson is that, as he writes in a college paper on the philosopher, “nothing essentially

28
Schwartz 279; Bergson 100. Time and Free Will is the English title of Bergson’s Essai sur
les données immédiates de la conscience (1910).
40
new can ever happen; the absolute, as Bradley says, bears buds and flowers and fruit at

once … A is so completely B, and B so completely A that there is nothing to say

about either.”29 But Bergson’s fight against the ordinary view of time, wherein change

can be analyzed as a sequence or series of mental states, and his opposition to the

dualism of objects and their representations in the mind, was a model for relating

agency and temporality in such a way that the new can and must be made, not merely

inherited passively.30

Bergsonism was not the exclusive philosophical ground for aesthetic

modernism because of its perceived irrationalism, its putative monism barren of

novelty, and its over-emphasized celebration of spontaneity (picked up by Georges

Sorel’s Syndicalism as a support for the disruptive power of strikes). But clearly, its

anti-Enlightenment desire to dimensionalize (rather than analyze) time was attractive

to a modernism searching to both temporalize the new, the act, and theorize the

enduring identity of the modern. What Bergsonism could not do, phenomenology

would provide.

29
Manuscript 26, qtd. in M.A.R. Habib, Early T.S. Eliot and Western Philosophy (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1999) 53.
30
By contrast, Lewis’s more spatial version of the same “blast” of change, and his anti-vitalist
emphasis on “deadness [as] the first condition of art” (Tarr 299), lead him to formulations of
the modern that are troubled by the de-Manian aporia with which we began: “Our vortex is
not afraid of the Past: it has forgotten its existence … Life is the Past and Future. / The
Present is Art” (Blast 1.147).
For a discussion of Bergson’s attack on dualism and atomism, see F.C.T. Moore’s Bergson:
Thinking Backwards: “In place of the traditional dichotomy between objects or things, and
ideas or representations of those things, we have images, but images which can exist without
being perceived” (5). These images are “Bergson’s way of correcting or avoiding not only
Cartesian dualism, with pure unextended ideas on the one hand being representations of
pure extended objects on the other, but all ‘dog-legged’ theories of perception which say that
our awareness of an object when we perceive it necessarily goes via an intermediary which
would be a representation of it” (25).
41

Husserl and the Specious Present

In the chapters on Eliot and Joyce that follow, I argue that formal

fragmentation and techniques such as the “stream of consciousness” – as well as the

general insistence on situating all narrativity “sub specie durationis”31 – are more than

negative expressions, whether critical or symptomatic, of what Jameson sees as an

underlying and determinative “social fragmentation and monadisation of late

capitalist society, the intensifying privatisation and isolation of its subjects” (“Ulysses

in History” 157). I also argue that they are not merely the signs of an escape into

mere subjectivity, that “cherished theme and experience of classical or high

modernism, namely … temporality, ‘durée,’ lived time” (146). Rather, they, and the

abstraction they require, may be seen as positive engagements with problem of the

modern, not only in respect to the unremitting movement of history, the static

instants of time, and the coherent structures of narrative, but also to the deep selves of

a spiritual and humanist tradition, and the various types of escape imputed to

revisions of agency.

Which philosophical framework allows us to see modernism as a positive

engagement? What conceptual account of temporality temporalizes innovation in

such a way that the new is not lost to de Man’s “sheer regression”? Is there a

philosophy of temporal experience that reconfigures the spontaneous, self-fathering

31
Henri Bergson, “La Perception du Changement,” talk given at Oxford in May, 1911, in
Henri Bergson: Oeuvres (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1959) 1392, qtd. in Banfield,
“Tragic Time” 55.
42
fons et origo, which otherwise could not hold together its own powers and the object

of its experience against the flow of time, into a temporal process that is still

mappable in history? The thinker that comes closest to satisfying this need is Husserl,

who, like Bergson, contra Russell, believed that duration, succession, and emergence

was real and fundamentally given to experience, rather than something reserved solely

for an unseeing logical reason.

Husserl’s phenomenology accounted for what was commonly called the

“specious present” – specious, because experience deludes itself into thinking that it

has a handle on what continually slips its grasp. William James, who used the image

of the “stream of consciousness” to combat the disjointed, atomistic version of

experience,32 recognized the need to temporalize experience, but ignored what Shaun

Gallagher calls “the cognitive paradox” (Inordinance of Time 21). The

modernity/history aporia we have been discussing is a species of this paradox, which

involves the “problem of objective synthesis” (how we can perceive a duration if the

present immediately becomes the past) and the “problem of personal identity” (what

ties together the experience of the temporal flow).33 The problem of the new staying

new without becoming an eternal present might benefit from an examination of the

clash between the two assumptions involved in the paradox: first, in order to perceive

something that endures, a “momentary and indivisible, and therefore durationless act

32
“Such words as ‘chain’ or ‘train do not describe [consciousness] fitly as it presents itself in
the first instance. It is nothing jointed; it flows. A ‘river’ or a ‘stream’ are the metaphors by
which it is most naturally described. In talking of it hereafter, let us call it the stream of
thought, of consciousness, or of subjective life” (Principles of Psychology 233).
33
For a detailed discussion of these problems and the “cognitive paradox,” see Gallagher 8-72.
43
of consciousness” (4) is required; and second, in order to perceive the duration, the

succession of images or sensations must all be momentarily simultaneous.34 James

attempted to solve this aporia, not by challenging these assumptions, but by arguing

that the punctual acts of consciousness can perceive duration because of “fading brain

processes.” On his account, brain activity opened up a specious present whose

“nucleus is probably the dozen seconds or less that have just elapsed” (Principles of

Psychology 613, qtd. in Gallagher 18). But, as Gallagher points out, “his appeal to

brain processes in no way dissipates the problem. Even if scientifically credible, it

would at best indicate the mechanism for the paradoxical experience of succession as

simultaneous” (23).

Husserl felt that the specious present did not explain the phenomenon of an

instantaneous act of consciousness perceiving a duration, but was itself the very thing

in need of explanation. How was it even possible for us to have a present, specious or

otherwise, wherein we have experiences of temporal objects? Only if we have a

temporality in which perceiving is itself extended can there be an account of a

specious present as a perception of a duration of the contents of sensation.35 Husserl

realized that we need in the first place a temporal account of the perceiving that

34
Gallagher points out that Augustine’s model of temporal experience already articulates an
early version of this paradox. Augustine reduces the “past (by way of memory) and future
(by way of expectation) to the present,” such that the present must have “extension
[distentio] .… Yet he also contends that ‘the present has no extension whatever … for if it
did have extension it could be divided and at some point one part of it would be past and
another future” (6). The resolution by way of a distentio animi, which remembers the past in
the present and which projects a future from the present, does not itself answer how the past
and future are marked as past and future within a present impression (7).
35
For an excellent account of Husserl’s use of William Stern’s notion of “Präzenzzeit” as a
counterpoint to James’s work on the specious present, see Gallagher, Ch. 3, “Husserl and the
Specious Present.”
44
structures experience” (36), which itself is stretched out in time. Analogously, for our

purposes, modernity, as an historical, specious present, and the modern, as news that

stay news, could only have been possible by conceiving of an intentionality that is not

removed from time but always in the process of constituting and living within it.

Instead of seeing the problem as that of sand continually eluding the

momentary and punctual grasp, Husserl sought to account for a grasp that itself was a

temporally-extended event, and that itself was expiring. How can we even have

experience in the first place, if both subject and object are continuously passing away?

The answer lay in intentionality and the type of relation between subjects and objects.

If one questioned the possibility of knowing only what is punctually present, that is, if

one problematized the very idea of a now-time as such, then one would have to

formulate intentionality such that stasis is not the impossible condition for the

unmediated experience and knowledge that subjects have. Even as ever-moving

beings, we really do experience the present as more than the last twelve seconds and

understand temporally-extended objects as more than the analytic construction of

timeless elements.36

36
Understanding is a better model than truth or knowledge for literature and the arts,
especially with regard to change within an individual work, as well as across a history of
objects. Abstraction itself, as the movement of drawing away from the thematizable and
figurable, attests to modernism’s conscious attempt to challenge the epistemological models
dominating Western culture. As David Wood remarks in The Deconstruction of Time,
understanding may be possible where knowledge falters. Understanding proceeds by
explication of what is being ‘lived through.’ It is appropriate for self-understanding,
for existential reflection, for historical understanding at one level, and for exploring
the wealth of our taken-for-granted world. But it does not set itself certainty as a
standard. That is not to say that it treats accuracy and correctness with disdain, but
rather that it recognizes the inapplicability of the subject-object schema to which
certainty as a standard belongs.” (58)
45
The intentionality that can perceive the present, even if it thinks it specious, is

consciousness of something, of a thing itself, and not a frozen representation of the

thing. This is Husserl’s critique of Brentano’s account of time-consciousness as an

aggregation: if we must rely on memory as the faculty that allows us to remember

sensations that immediately become absent, then the perception of succession would

require the constant re-presentation of images of the past. For instance, we would

never be able to hear a melody, because each succeeding note would be re-presented

in isolation, and as a now- present (re-presented) moment, would not even be

identifiable as part of a succession at all. As David Wood puts it, “I would just have a

simultaneous plurality of sound” (Deconstruction of Time 63). As Bergson says in his

discussion of the “two possible conceptions of time, the one free from all alloy, the

other surreptitiously bringing in the idea of space,” duration does not set past and

present “alongside another, but forms both the past and present states into an organic

whole, as happens when we recall the notes of a tune, melting, so to speak, into one

another” (100).

Talk of organic wholes is perhaps too Romantic, but the key idea here is that

the pastness of the past must in some way be built into the presentness of the present.

Husserl’s concept of retention does this without having to represent the just-past

object as a separate image in consciousness. The experience of succession is not a

perceived difference in objects or hyletic contents, but rather an intentional sense of


46
37
the past, “a function or a performance of consciousness.” In hearing a tune, we

retain a complex of layered enfoldings in which are contained previous retentions in a

continuum that includes the primal sensation. Instead of recollecting many

individual notes as “a set of simultaneous sense-data,” we intend, and intentionally

retain, the current primal impression and a thickening continuum of imbricated

retentional tails and indeterminate protentions.38 Thus, as Gallagher writes,

it would not be correct to describe the specious present … as “an instant

flanked by intervals of ‘retention’ and ‘protention’” …. The specious present,

as the intuited duration, contains no retentions or protentions; rather it is

made possible by the retentional-protentional performance of the acts of

consciousness. (52)

37
Gallagher 48. Retention “is part of the structure of an act of consciousness, or more
precisely, part of the structure of a phase of the act of consciousness. … Actually it would be
better to say that the word ‘retention’ signifies a function or a performance of consciousness
rather than a phase, part, or structure of consciousness. … Rententioning performs as a
direct intentional intuition of the past, rather than as an apprehension of a real sensation or
memory-image of the past. … The retentional performance of consciousness allows it to
carry within itself an intentional sense or meaning of the past, but not a real sensation of it”
(48).
38
Gallagher 51. For a clearer diagram of “double intentionality” than the famous one
Husserl offers, see Gallagher’s modification of J. Brough’s diagram on p. 50.
47
Husserl’s phenomenology, especially after 1908, demystifies what Russell

thought was pure mysticism in Bergson.39 It argues for the direct experience of

duration, and hence succession, change, and emergence, without hiding the

phenomenon deep in the mental images of subjectivity. Rather, our perception of

temporality is the immediate and determinate grasp of how retention and protention

structure experience, such that any object of that experience is not duplicated in

idealist shadows. The new appears, then, not instantaneously outside of experience,

in Russell’s eyeless realm of reason, but temporally within experience and as

experience.

While it is a familiar deconstructionist criticism that imputes a “blindness” to

Husserl’s account of the dimensions of temporality, his conception of the now is

actually quite hospitable to deconstructionist concerns. Whereas Derrida points out

that Husserl’s intentional present is forever prevented from coming into being

because of the différance, the absence, and the public nature of language that he must

39
From 1904-1906, Husserl tried to use Stern’s Präzenzzeit to show how a noetic act
animated its contents. “Yet on this account,” as Nicolas de Warren writes, “sense contents
must be both present and absent simultaneously in consciousness if we need to explain how
an act of consciousness integrates its own (temporal) activity into the flow of time. But how
can immanent content be ‘animated’ – constituted as temporally present – by an animating
act that is itself temporally present?” (213). But in 1908, Husserl formulated his concept of
retention: “sense contents are now re-classified as reell (and not ‘real’ in any measurable
sense) contents of consciousness that are retentionally modified qua reell contents; that is, the
retentional modification of immanent content describes an original form of absence that
originally presents qua absence the immediate just-now quality of the present” (213).
48
40
ignore, we can see Husserl’s efforts as building différance into the now in such a way

that the de-Manian time of language as the source of speciousness is itself unthinkable

without a Husserlian now. As John Brough remarks, “the Husserlian now is

inherently connected to its others, to past and future; its integrity is seen to be

relational and not hermetic. The now is not a self-enclosed and perfectly discrete

instant. It is rather a way of appearing” (514). This mode of appearing shows an

interdependence between past and future that is the condition for any present coming

into being. The new that emerges is the sign of the finite openness of the future as it

dovetails with retained layerings of the past. While presence may be privileged from

this perspective, it is not transcendent and is not derived from repetition, as Derrida

so charges.41 And while, as Gallagher argues, Husserlian intentionality does not take

into account pre-noetic factors, say, historical factors prior to consciousness,42 there is

nothing in principle that prevents us from bringing those factors to bear as frames by

which we can see ever thicker layers of continua. They can even be seen as

40
See Derrida’s La voix et le phénomène (1967), translated as Speech and Phenomena, and
Other Essays on Husserl’s Theory of Signs by David Allison (Evanston: Northwestern
University Press, 1973). For an extended discussion of Derrida on Husserl, see David Wood,
especially chapter three of part two, “Derrida’s Reading of Husserl” (111-36), and part four,
“Time Beyond Deconstruction” (267-361).
41
Speech and Phenomena 51: “The presence-of-the-present is derived from repetition and not
vice-versa.”
42
De Warren points out how this is in fact not the case, since the focus of Husserl’s research
in the 1920s was “Genetic Phenomenology”: “Gallagher suggests that more emphasis must
be placed on how content gives rise to intentional form and how content is already ‘in-
formed’ by sense prior to any explicit ‘animation’ on the part of noetic activity. But arguably,
one of the most important changes in Husserl’s thinking after the Ideen I (1913) consisted in
precisely this insight. On this reading, rather than begin with the noetic-noematic
correlation, as in the Ideen, Husserl comes to understand noetic activity as already constituted
by prenoetic conditions, as developed in the genealogical register of Husserl’s Analysis of
Passive Synthesis (1920s)” (215).
49
indications of times well beyond the grasp of intentionality, making us “the toy of

circumstance,” but then this backdrop only dramatizes the attempts at

“DIRECTING a certain fluid force against circumstance, as CONCEIVING instead

of merely observing.”

I make no claim that Pound or any other Anglo-American modernist was

directly Husserlian, although Eliot did read the philosopher in 1914 and incorporated

Husserl’s ideas into the philosophical amalgam at the heart of his own conception of

modernity.43 But it is certain that the writers and philosophers of the early twentieth

century were focused on the concept of time and the possibility of being modern.

They explored, either in artistic exemplification and expression, or in explicit

philosophical formulations, the problem of continuity and rupture, of lived

experience and atomistic logic, of vitalism and Darwinistic mechanism. This list of

tensions is familiar. And rather than say that they were merely split down the middle

by what many have discussed as the contradictions of modernity, I am arguing that

the modernists actively engaged these contradictions. Modernism did not

43
In a letter to the Harvard philosophy department, Eliot wrote: “I have been plugging away
at Husserl, and find it terribly hard, but very interesting; and I like very much what I think I
understand of it” (Letter from a private collection at the Regenstein Library, University of
Chicago, qtd. in Schwartz 223 n.9). For a brief discussion of Eliot’s link to Husserl,
especially with regard to Husserl’s “objektive Korrelat” in his Logical Investigations (1900),
see Schwartz 166-67.
50
symptomatically show “dualistic opposition and radical polarities,” but negotiated an

intricate path through its changing times.44

In the chapters that follow, I make a case for seeing the fragment, the image,

the impression, and the epiphany as parts of a larger stylistic and formal attempt to

think through, rather than simply reflect, the historicism of the nineteenth century,

the science of Russell, and the subjectivism of Bergson. Because of my perspective on

modernism as an engagement with these problems, I could not leave unruffled the

standard characterizations of its conceptions of the new and the now. Those

characterizations often rest too easily with emphases on the return to a mythical past,

the narrative/historiographical ordering of chaotic flux, the futurist celebration of the

sheer rate of change, the imagistic arrest of the instant, or the retreat into ahistorical

spatial form and eternity. Rather than merely transpose the deterministic or aleatory

river of time to the streams of consciousness, or immobilize time in idealism’s

absolute and realism’s snapshots, Eliot’s and Joyce’s ways of making it new exemplify

ways of addressing the temporal grammars within which such emphases make sense,

but then fail to provide a framework for the new.

In Chapter Two, “T.S. Eliot and the Contemporaneity of Modernism,” I

reexamine Eliot’s definition of tradition and history. Since breaking with scientific

and objective conceptions of time proved impossible, as breaks and ruptures belong to

punctual time’s very form, Eliot and Pound shifted their focus away from BLASTs

44
The phrase is Michael Levenson’s, who, in his excellent Genealogy of Modernism: A Study of
English Literary Doctrine, 1908-1922, fills in “the suppressed transitions which unite all
contrasts” and “attempts to recover some of the intricacy of the period” (ix-x).
51
and sculptural hardness to projects “including history” that still allowed for “directing

a certain fluid force against circumstance.” Against the standard accounts that

privilege the saintly narrative describing Eliot’s ascension from the suppliant fall

toward the permanent and the classically past to his 1927 Anglo-Catholic emphasis

on timelessness and eternity, I return to his famous essay “Tradition and the

Individual Talent” and the complementary London Arts League lecture “Modern

Tendencies in Poetry,” in order to highlight Eliot’s concept of contemporaneity.

This trifold temporality Eliot defines as “life turned toward creation” (“Modern

Tendencies” 12). Using the idea of contemporaneity, I revise the critical consensus

on The Waste Land that the poem is only about loss, failure, and nostalgia for an

original wholeness and eternity. In my argument, the main figure of the poem is not

the New Critics’ Philomela, whose violation stands for the secularization of the world,

nor the historicists’ Sibyl/Tiresias, who stands as a unifying witness before the

wreckage of history, but rather the constructive activity and energies exemplified by

the poem itself, the quest or experience (Erfahren) that Eliot contrasts with the terror

of interminable sequence, the boredom of perpetual cycles, and the nihilism of total

relativism or religion. This constructive experience, which I show derives from his

modification of F.H. Bradley’s idealism, models a way of being in time that does not

have to repudiate it ironically.

In Chapter Three, “Sub Specie Temporis Nostri: Time and the ‘Ours’ in James

Joyce’s Ulysses,” I argue that Joyce responds to Stephen’s nightmare of history by

valorizing the full, complex time of Ulysses, a figure he called “the most human in
52
world literature.” Neither a retreat from history nor an easy embrace of it, this

complex temporality is embodied in the very shifting of points of view of “Wandering

Rocks,” the episode most often characterized as spatial, mechanical, and determined

by extensive time. In this chapter, I see Joyce exploring the timings of the city – their

randomness, their fatefulness, and their neutral indifference – in order to ask how

times can be “ours” despite their paralyzing spatialization. Time must be ours in

some way before the new can appear at all, and before time can belong to any

significant history. The spaces marked by church and state divide and immobilize the

city, such that Joyce’s cubistic form has been seen as a representation of Dublin’s

throwaway-ness, its interpellative parataxis, and its nightmarish historicity. In my

reading, Joyce’s cubism, in contrast to alienating contingency and inescapable

determinations, produces the parallactic difference that is the condition for

understanding history sub specie temporis nostri. The more movement in and among

perspectives, the wider and more human the understanding that can be claimed. This

movement of seeing is experience itself, a temporality that retains and protends the

widest range of identifications in the present. In Ulysses’s so-called “odyssey of style,”

the end of such experience is not merely the celebration of multiplicity and

contingency, the measurement of modernism’s distance from a “narrative norm,” or

the rage for historiographical order over the chaotic panorama of an anarchic time. It

is rather the comprehensiveness and depth of identifications made possible by a

temporality without which nothing could ever be ours – or news.


53
CHAPTER TWO

T.S. ELIOT AND THE CONTEMPORANEITY OF MODERNISM

Modernity, Tradition, Contemporaneity

“’Modern’ or ‘modernity’ are the words that have come literally to stink: every

intelligent man today stops his nose and ears when somebody approaches him with

them on his lips” (Time and Western Man 130). By the mid-1920s, Wyndham Lewis

had already prefigured the post-modern response to modernism’s obsession with time.

For a critic such as Fredric Jameson, Lewis’s reaction to the offending halitus of the

“Time Cult” exemplifies the “reflex of the reification of late capitalist social relations”

(Fables of Aggression 13). In Jameson’s view, the modernist retreat from a history gone

bad into their utopic “sealed realms or psychic compartments” only confirms the

prison “of an alienated social life” (14). Diagnosing and resisting modern

fragmentation, at the end of the day, only “reflects and reinforces” the fundamental

division generated by modernity: that “between the subject and the object” (14).

Applied to modernism from the high space and long view of history, this

common account passes too quickly over the modernists’ intricate construction of the

meaning of the modern, and particularly the force of their thinking on temporality.

For T.S. Eliot, whose philosophical training focused precisely on those ways of

thinking that dissociated subject from object, the concept of modernity was not so

much an aporia that offended the senses as a crux that demanded attention. If critics

have found it easy to treat Eliot’s work as reactionary and “pastist,” as a saintly and
54
ironic repudiation of the temporal, or as merely symptomatic of his times, they have

also overlooked the ways in which he addresses the complex positions on time

involved in the definition of the modern and, indeed, in perspectives like Jameson’s.

Even though he has been seen primarily as a partisan of the timelessness of

eternity, spatial form, or the past, the early Eliot was very much preoccupied with

questions of time and contemporaneity. Whereas Lewis repudiated the modern as a

celebration of Bergsonian flux, Eliot grappled with the philosophies of Henri Bergson,

F.H. Bradley, and Bertrand Russell, in an attempt to establish: (1) a model of

temporal being that would not fall into contradiction or get trapped in solipsism, as

Jameson describes; and (2) a way of “making it new” that could resist the forms of

objective time bequeathed by nineteenth-century historicism and formalized by early

twentieth-century science. In what follows, I examine one of Eliot’s most significant

critical statements, “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” and the lesser known

“Modern Tendencies in Poetry,” in light of his engagement with prevailing

philosophies of time, in order to revise the concepts of impersonality and tradition as

a resistance to, rather than a reflection and reinforcement of, rationalist and

subjectivist construals of time and experience. By focusing on his idea of

contemporaneity, I am able, in the last part of this chapter, to approach The Waste

Land from a new angle. I read Eliot’s poem, in Ezra Pound’s words, as

“DIRECTING a certain fluid force against circumstance, CONCEIVING instead of

merely reflecting and observing” (BLAST 153), and not in the usual terms of

despondent fragmentation and nostalgic epiphany.


55

One of Pound’s earliest impressions of Eliot involved the young philosophy

student’s understanding of the modern. Soon after reading “The Love Song of J.

Alfred Prufrock,” composed in Paris during the term Eliot had attended the lectures

of Bergson (1910-11), Pound wrote to Harriet Monroe, the editor of Poetry, that

Eliot had “actually trained himself and modernized himself on his own. … It is such a

comfort to meet a man and not have to tell him to wash his face, wipe his feet, and

remember the date (1914) on the calendar” (Letters 80). Pound’s recommendation is

the first account of Eliot’s sense of the modern, and, as many have observed, an

intimation of their joint program in “classicism.” The idea of classicist training to be

modern has always seemed a contradiction, in which the drive toward novelty, which

“the age demanded” (“Mauberly” II), would have to be paved by self-instruction in

what Eliot himself would sometimes call the “timeless.” Without the appeal to a

history of the permanent, the new would simply fall off into a history of “tawdry

cheapness” (“Mauberly” III). Such an engagement with the times would seem to

require, therefore, not only the “American” self-discipline involved in “making a new

start,” a kind of bootstrapping (Donoghue 33), but also a submission or surrender to

the “dead poets, his ancestors,” “the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer.”45

45
Eliot, “Tradition” 48, 49. As I will show, this version of bootstrapping is more like the
concept Charles Altieri identifies in J.L. Mackie’s version than the regionalist or nationalist
account where one simply makes do with what is present, and without any resource in/of the
past. Altieri remarks that we could “use the concept to project the ideal of showing how the
social claims we propose for our work emerge from and partially fulfill the version of history
we are trying to tell. This makes historical analysis the work of self-consciously taking on the
burden of completing or resisting what we show we inherit” (“Can We Be Historical Ever?
Some Hopes for a Dialectical Model of Historical Self-Consciousness” 54).
56
This apparent paradox, which Eliot seemed to exploit, has become for us the

contradiction to which he was condemned. If he could only be modern by training

himself in the classics, then his modernism could never be modern. His predicament

epitomizes the so-called “impasse of modernism,” a temporal aporia writ large.46 The

problem, simply put, is this: how can one “make it new” when novelty is at odds

with the history in which it finds itself? As Paul de Man argued, any conjunction of

modernity and history produces “paradoxical formulations, such as defining the

modernity of a literary period as the manner in which it discovers the impossibility of

being modern” (“Literary History” 144). For him and many others, modernism was

the attempt to ruthlessly forget or extinguish the past in its goal of fashioning a point

of origin. Yet the inevitable fate of this moment of modernism – of the “authentic

spirit of modernity,” the blind repression of anteriority – was to flicker out into

“fashion (mode),” having “changed from being an incandescent point in time into a

reproducible cliché” (147).47 In this view, we must tragically admit, and/or heroically

affirm, an inexorable and extensive time – a structure that dispels the illusion of

originality, the myth that the “flames of the fire” do not contain in themselves the

process that history is made of, that they will not be doused by the flow of time.48

46
The phrase is ubiquitous and has many synonyms. It signifies the dead-ending of the
concept of the modern in a binary or dualism. See, for example, Michael North, “Eliot,
Lukács, and the Politics of Modernism” 177.
47
A forgetful etymologizing always seems to provide lamp and shovel for the undermining of
modernism. For the moment, it suffices merely to note how the modern is here linked to
“mode” (fashion), rather than uses of “modernus” that are not necessarily grounded in “the
Judeo-Christian eschatological view of history,” pace Matei Calinescu, Five Faces of Modernity
13.
48
“Fashion is like the ashes left behind by the uniquely shaped flames of the fire, the trace
alone revealing that a fire actually took place” (de Man 147).
57
But Eliot’s idea of the modern could not be more different than the one de

Man ascribes to Nietzsche and to Baudelaire. His does not founder or become

unusable on such a paradox; his modernism does not abet, or even desire to

accommodate, the fact of constant change or the drive for perpetual innovation.49 If

his modernism is not about forgetting, neither is it about a facile restoration of the

past. It is not simply reactionary, although his 1927 religious conversion and his

politics have had the unfortunate effect of making it easy to indict his concept of

modernism as a positive program for elitism, anti-Semitism, and Christian/Platonic

valorizations of the timeless – that is, to the charge of being nothing more than an

extension or instrument of his Anglo-Catholicism and his royalism. Eliot’s prejudices

cannot be dismissed, but neither can they be seen to doom his concept of the modern

post hoc.50 Leaving aside the relationship of cultural politics to his later over-simplified

versions of history, I submit that Eliot’s modernism defines itself by the elliptical

refusals of the ex-tensive forms of time mentioned above, from the paradox they

generate to their determination of the modern as a chronological concept. His

positive engagement with the temporal, in which Pound’s first impression pairs the

49
The social modernity that such an historical temporality underwrites – the putative “other”
of modernism against which the modern is supposed to have constituted itself – is thus of
incidental concern to early Eliot’s modernism, even when it bristles beside them with arch
opprobrium.
50
Even such a time-oriented critic as Frank Kermode cannot help but admit that Eliot, with
his commitments to the bewildering minutes of submission and surrender, “would almost
necessarily be drawn to a religion, an ethic, a politics that accorded with such convictions.”
(Introduction, The Selected Prose of T.S. Eliot 19, emphasis added). Eliot’s infamous
pronouncement that his “general point of view may be described as classicist in literature,
royalist in politics, and anglo-catholic in religion” has obfuscated his thinking about time
(Preface, For Lancelot Andrewes 7). Even if he surrendered deplorably to the prejudice “of
the times,” there has not been anyone more self-conscious than Eliot of what that phrase
might mean, and of the difficulties, responsibilities, and resistances it entails.
58
date and one’s ownness of time, transforms both the historical time Nietzsche opposed

to “life” – the “duration ‘in vain,’ without end or aim” (Will to Power 55) – and the

specious present “severed from past and future” (de Man 157), “the transitory, the

fugitive, the contingent” of Baudelaire’s “Painter of Modern Life” (403).

In his lecture to the Arts League of London that was meant to complement

“Tradition and the Individual Talent,” Eliot asks:

what is meant by “modern” poetry … among the variety of currents

and eddies … as distinguished from mere novelties. How are we to

decide what is really new? In what sense must a poet be “of his time”

to be a really good poet?51

These questions seem to indicate concerns divergent from what critical opinion

regularly attributes to “Tradition” and to Eliot’s thought as a whole. Even when they

see more than simple “pastism,” most critics identify his concept of tradition with “a

simultaneous order defying temporality.”52 For Joseph Frank, who declared Pound’s

image as the modernist model par excellence, Eliot’s work evinces “Spatial Form in

Modern Literature”: it “undermines the inherent consecutiveness of language,” such

that past and present are “locked in a timeless unity,” which “eliminates any feeling of

51
“Modern Tendencies in Poetry” 9. Eliot published this lecture (hereafter M) in an Indian
journal Shama’a I, 1 (April 1920). For evidence that this lecture was meant to be a
companion to “Tradition” (hereafter T), see Ronald Bush, “’Turned Toward Creation’: T.S.
Eliot, 1988” in Laura Cowan, ed., T.S. Eliot: Man and Poet 43.
52
Harold Bloom, Vessels 20. Though I use the term “pastism” in a general way, Pound had a
more specific definition: “At no time I the world has great art been exactly like the great art
of any other time. A belief that great art will always be like the art of 1850 in ‘Pastism,’ a
belief that great art will always be like the art of 1911 is ‘Futurism.’ One hopes that one is
not afflicted by either of these diseases” (“Wyndham Lewis” 234).
59
53
sequence by the very act of juxtaposition.” More recently, M.A.R. Habib remarks

that “in Eliot’s view of tradition, the notion of time hereby invoked is a static one

whereby present and past are united in an eternal stasis” (200). But Eliot’s sense of

the past is not at all simultaneous, spatial, or static, nor is it separable from the

questions raised about modernity. Both essays emphasize (and indeed conclude with)

“what is already living” (T 59), the modern poet’s “contemporaneity” (M 18).

What exactly is this contemporaneity? Eliot defines this being-with/in-time

very reconditely, taking a kind of via negativa in “Tradition” toward his famous

theory of impersonality. The essay opens with a refusal of the chronological

definition of modernism by its examination of the usual application of the term

“traditional.” In both its approbative and disapprobative use, the adjective applauds

or censures art for being old. Traditionality, according to this ordinary view of time,

blinds us to our own present, our “critical habits” and the “creative genius” of our

time (47). In order to locate and define our present, we call on the absolute

difference between before and after, “the poet’s difference from his predecessors” (48).

But as Eliot says in a striking and well-known reversal, the originality of a poet may

be found in “those [parts] in which the dead poets, his ancestors, assert their

immortality most vigorously” (48). This reversal does not affirm paradox but defuses

it: the old is not dead, alien, or opposite to the present, but instead is so imbricated

with it that, as he says quite plainly in “Modern Tendencies,” “it is only in relation to

53
Widening Gyre 10, 59. Pound defined the image as “that which presents an intellectual
and emotional complex in an instant of time” (“A Few Don’ts” 4).
60
the past that anything is new” (10). The relation is constitutive. The past is a part of

the difficulty involved in becoming contemporary.

The view that the past is an integral dimension of the present accounts for

Eliot’s use of a developmental model in fleshing out the differences between the

common understanding of time and his idea of temporality. He represents the

former as adolescent, marked by rebellion and the anxiety of influence, whereas the

latter he calls “the period of full maturity” (T 48), in which the present has overcome

both “the burden of anxiety,” which Harold Bloom has called “a constituent of

every … version of temporality,” and the myth of pure origination (Vessels 18). The

adolescent moment is obsessed with the revolutionary break from or repression of the

past, and the establishment of its own self-sufficiency, which found expression in the

anti-humanist negation or “deadness” articulated by Lewis, and the Futurists’

“fantasy … of being born by an act of self-generation,” of “pure origin, as

uncontaminated by tradition.”54 The mature present is, by contrast, a “development,

refinement perhaps, complication certainly,” whereby “art never improves” but rather

reflects on, earns, and takes responsibility for its constitutive retentions, and in so

doing, emerges as truly modern (T 51).

The emphasis on complication is an important theoretical move in the essay,

since it establishes the way “the conscious present,” as tradition, is a futural

54
Nicholls 85f. See, for instance, Tarr’s “deadness is the first condition of art” (Lewis 299;
qtd. in Nicholls 269). “The second is the absence of soul in the sentimental human sense”
(original emphases). These two he contrasts with D.H. Lawrence’s “restless, quick flame-like
ego” which he says is not the inside of a statue. “The lines and masses of the statue are its
soul. ... It has no inside” (300).
61
contemporaneity rather than a backward primitivism (52). Complication stands

opposed to (1) linear progress and meliorative histories inspired by Darwinism, which

Eliot felt had fused with Bergsonist vitalism; (2) the movement generated by random

selection, natural accident, and the lines of scientific temporalization, regardless of

how fine the divarication of branches; and (3) the primitivist “return to origins,”

which, as Jean-Michel Rabaté says of Pound’s use of the past, “entails a

simplification” (214). Eschewing parsimonious reduction, contemporaneity therefore

involves a kind of vortical synthesis, which Pound, pace Rabaté, described as “radiant

node or cluster … from which, and through which, and into which ideas are

constantly rushing” (Gaudier-Brzeska 92). If Eliot’s temporality is not quite so

anarchic, it is nevertheless as excrescent. This synthetic integration and expansive

folding-together Eliot calls the “historical sense” (49).

The accent of the historical sense falls, therefore, on activity rather than passive

historicism, on “great labour” and “sweat” rather than “blind or timid adherence” to

the past (49, 52, 48). On this model, the new is not simply the “next,” as in the

structure of the commodity or fashion, nor the filial afterwards, but an always more

capacious emergence from the conditions of one’s inheritance.55 As Eliot writes, the

“conscious present is an awareness of the past in a way and to an extent which the

55
For example, see Walter Benjamin’s “Fashion is the eternal recurrence of the new”
(“Central Park” 49, qtd. in Osborne 137) and Peter Osborne’s discussion of his idea of
modernity in The Politics of Time: “The modern and the new become synonymous.
Furthermore, as a result of the accelerating temporal rhythm, the new itself appears as the
ever-always-the-same: ‘the ever-always-the-same-within the new’. It is the pure temporal
logic of this new social form (the commodity as fetish), the modern ‘measure of time’, that
Benjamin detects in fashion (mode)” (137).
62
past’s awareness of itself cannot show,” because the present is that past “which we

know,” finds that past already in its bones.56 The ordinary view of history sees the

relation between present and past as the simple difference in the articulation of

physical time. If tradition in this view is not totally alien and inaccessible (except by

the most penetrating fictive imaginations), it appears as that which is handed over by

default, an inheritance as easy and mysterious as the passage from one moment to the

next. But the historical sense does not simply wait, make up versions of the past in its

absence, or abandon the past as totally other. On the contrary, traditionality-

contemporaneity means seeing what is still living. It does not negate the new but is

its basis.

For Eliot, this situated, constructive historical sense is in fact the explanation

for the experience of continuity itself and for the very possibility of meaning. As he

says in “Modern Tendencies,”

If you imagine yourself suddenly deprived of your personal present, of

all possibility of action, reduced in consciousness to the memories of

everything up to the present, these memories, this existence which

would be merely the totality of memories, would be meaningless and

flat, even if it could continue to exist. If suddenly all power of

producing more poetry were withdrawn from the race, if we knew that

for poetry we should have to turn always to what already existed, I

56
T 52. For commentary on the difference between this immanent strategy and Pound’s
more ad hoc “gathering from the air a live tradition,” see Rabate 214-16.
63
think that past poetry would become meaningless. … Life is always

turned toward creation; the present only, keeps the past alive. (12)

The creative and vitalizing present in the philosophical and literary examples stands as

a corrective to long-held opinion that Eliot was a morbid pastist or a bloodless

proponent of timeless. As a condition of possibility of meaning and continuity, life

turned toward creation transforms modernist classicism from the interest in “only

mummified stuff from a museum,” as he remarks in “Ulysses, Order and Myth,” into

a constructive “doing the best one can with the material at hand.”57 As Eliot asked,

with regard to James Joyce’s “mythical method”: “the question … is: how much

living material does he deal with, and how does he deal with it: deal with, not as a

legislator or exhorter, but as an artist?” (SP 176-77, emphasis added).

Against the poiesis of artistic temporality, critics have called attention to Eliot’s

requirement that the poet write “with a feeling that the whole of literature of Europe

from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a

simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order” (T 49).

Notwithstanding the virtual as-if, the “with a feeling that,” Habib focuses on such

phrases as “the timeless,” “the dead,” “the permanent,” and “the writer’s process of

maturing,” in order to make the familiar argument that the “historical sense here is

anything but historical, depending as it does on a repression of time and indeed, of

57
Cf. Eliot’s hyperbolic description of “The Method of Mr. Pound”: Most poets grasp their
own time, the life of the world as it stirs before their eyes, at one convulsion or not at all.
But they have no method for closing in upon it. ... As the present is no more than ... the
present significance of the entire past, Mr. Pound proceeds by acquiring the entire past; and
when the entire past is acquired, the constituents fall into place and the present is revealed”
(review of Quia Pauper Amavi, Aetheneum, 24 Oct 1919, 1065).
64
novelty” (166). In the “conservatism of this approach [which] lies in its coercion of

tradition into an unassailable uniformity which ever expands to subsume even those

elements which may initially have presumed to subvert it” (164), “Eliot’s treatment of

time embodies a reaction against Bergson’s notion of real time or durée. History itself,

as for Bradley, becomes a static and ideal construct, eternally present” (166). As in

Frank’s spatial perspective, whose “ultimate value, like that of Plato, was an existence

wrenched free from all submission to the flux of the temporal,” the standard view of

Eliot’s tradition sees only atemporal stasis, or the “unassailable uniformity” belonging

to a voracious objective time, a Saturn devouring his children.58

Yet Eliot warns us quite explicitly not to treat the past “as a lump, an

indiscriminate bolus” (T 51). The bolus symbolizes both the totality of a static

structure and the discrete, discontinuous moment – Bradley’s Absolute and those

spatialized points that “are identical or external to one another,” against which

Bergson’s durée, “being essentially heterogeneous, continuous, and with no analogy to

number,” defined itself (Time and Free Will 120). The aspects of Bradley’s

philosophy affirmed in Eliot’s ideal of contemporaneity are not the strange “notion of

Time remaining encapsulated in a timeless universe” and the absolute monism, but

rather the anti-empiricist attack on the “specious present,” the anti-dualist version of

experience, and a less Hegelian version of synthesis (Wollheim 231, 205). And contra

Habib, Eliot’s ultimate rejection of Bergson’s philosophy is not ascribable to his

“conservatism,” since he associated Bergsonism not with “the notion of time as

58
Frank 58. Specifically, he is agreeing with Ernst Robert Curtius’s characterization of
Proust.
65
irreversible and generating complete novelty” (Habib 172), but with the very opposite

– the lumpish and bolar inability, as it were, to generate the new. In the conclusion

to his Harvard paper on the French vitalist’s philosophy, Eliot associates Bergson with

Bradley because in both “nothing essentially new can ever happen; the absolute, as

Bradley says, bears buds and flowers and fruit at once…. A is already so completely B,

and B so completely A that there is nothing to say about either” (Manuscript 26; qtd.

in Habib 53).

If, as Habib argues, Bergson’s durée “entails that states of consciousness are not

mutually external and measurable but permeate one another to form organic wholes

where the past continues to influence the present” (43), and Eliot’s college paper on

Bergson shows that Eliot rejected the dualistic distinction between the “relle” world of

mind and the unreal world of number, of spatialized, extrinsically-related things, then

the reaction against Bergson in “Tradition” is by no means a simple negation.59

Furthermore, since Eliot’s view participates in Bradley’s attack on the “specious

present” (Wollheim 205ff), since the dynamic temporality Eliot discusses in the two

essays follows Bradley’s anti-associationist and anti-empiricist view of experience

while remaining “on the doorstep of the Absolute,” then it is not the case that Eliot’s

59
Eliot, “Draft of a Paper on Bergson,” Houghton Library, Harvard University Eliot
Collection, MS, 1910-11, discussed in Habib’s second chapter, “Bergson resartus and T.S.
Eliot’s manuscript” 39-60. Habib feels Eliot’s position rejects Bergson because he apparently
associates Bergson with the “notion of time as irreversible and generating complete novelty”
(172), rather than with, say, interpenetration, situated creativity, anti-punctual flux,
qualitative and irreducible transformation.
66
60
temporality here affirms “timelessness.” Eliot’s “being conscious of the main

current” is quite the opposite of Bradley’s figure for the specious present, which

Bradley likens to being

in total darkness hung over a stream and looking down on it. The stream has

no banks, and its current is covered and filled continuously with floating

things. Right under our faces is a bright illumined spot on the water, which

ceaselessly widens and narrows its area, and shows us what passes away on the

current. (Logic 54-56, qtd. in Wollheim 206)

Habib does provide an escape for the early Eliot from charges of positivism,

simplistic classicism, and complicity with the commodifying “ideals and effects of

bourgeois society,” but only by allowing him to slide too easily to the right (187).

“Tradition is Eliot’s aestheticised substitute for Providence,” he writes; “Eliot’s call for

myth … [re-establishes] the temporal connections between present and past within

the very texture of the creative process itself. Yet, as in Eliot’s view of tradition, the

notion of time hereby invoked is a static one whereby present and past are united in

an eternal stasis.”61 Notice how close this sounds to Joseph Frank’s famous “Spatial

Form in Modern Literature” (1945), which defined modernist experiment as

“undermin[ing] the inherent consecutiveness of language,” such that past and present
60
At least not in any ordinary (or religious) sense. There is a way in which Eliot does talk
about timelessness, which has to do with his understanding of Bradleyan idealism, and to
which Wollheim “cannot attach the slightest significance ... the notion of Time remaining
encapsulated in a timeless universe” (231).
61
Habib 196, 200. Compare this also with Harold Bloom’s criticism of Eliot’s tradition as
“a simultaneous order defying temporality” (Vessels 20). For an interesting description that
plays on the figure of a hungry Saturn, see Habib’s characterization of the historical sense as
a “supreme and transcendent” point of view “always devouring the present in its eternal
stasis” (167).
67
are “locked in a timeless unity [which] … eliminates any feeling of sequence by the

very act of juxtaposition” (Widening Gyre 10, 59).

Naturally, for Frank, it was Pound’s “image” that stood as the modernist

model par excellence – “of fundamental importance for any discussion of modern

literary form” (9). “[T]hat which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in

an instant of time” (LE 4) serves as a convenient portmanteau for those techniques,

effects, and ambitions of an art purportedly “based on a space-logic” (Frank 13): 1)

fragmentation and juxtaposition, which “dislocated the temporality of language,” viz.

“sequence as such” (13); 2) instantaneity and simultaneity,62 which disrupts

“traditional narrative syntax”; 3) and the desire for holism and unity, which Frank

finds formulated in Eliot’s essay on the “Metaphysical Poets” (“in the mind of the

poet these [disparate] experiences are always forming new wholes” [287]). Frank,

then, sees spatialization as a way of defeating objective time and “causal progression”

(59). As he remarks on Proust, “his ultimate value, like that of Plato, was an existence

wrenched free from all submission to the flux of the temporal.”63

Like Habib, Frank gets the enemy right but the confuses the weapons and

movements of the battle.64 The reduction of Eliot’s complicated temporality to a

voracious determination and inexorability, or to a static eternity, allows only for


62
See Jeffrey Smitten and Ann Daghistany’s Spatial Form in Narrative, who concur with
Frank that spatial form “call[s] attention to the departures from pure temporality, from pure
causal/temporal sequence” (20).
63
Frank 58. Specifically, he is agreeing with Ernst Robert Curtius’s characterization of
Proust.
64
“As modern life has become more and more rationalized, mechanized, and industrialized,
art has been driven into a more and more frenzied and violent assault on a world in which
the total dimension of the spirit has been reduced to a stifling the materialistic utilitarianism”
(Frank 158).
68
ironic negation – either by mimicking the time of the almanac, fashion, the

oppressive conventionality of the everyday, or by escaping it via epiphany.65 As Habib

says of Eliot and “heterological thinkers,” who were “deeply ironic”:

They were struggling hopelessly against a world whose materialistic, pragmatic,

utilitarian and scientistic foundations had already been laid since the

Enlightenment and the French Revolution. Their only recourse was to an

ironic vision which insisted that reality is not confined to the here and now

but embraces the past or is located in a Platonic ideal realm. Such a vision was

inevitably abstract, unable to be realised, and remained imprisoned in the

status of negation. (6)

Likewise, Frank, in his “Answer” to Philip Rahv, whose “commitment to ‘history’ [is]

clearly derived from his residual Marxism,” and in his reply to Frank Kermode, who

would have time redeemed by meaning-bestowing endings, agrees that spatial

modernists could be “as involved in historicism as most contemporary writers

sensitive to ‘the modern situation,’ but in their case the form it takes is negative”

(“Answer to Critics” 239-46).

However, as I am arguing, Eliot’s idea of contemporaneity is a positive

engagement with the temporal, and the constructive activity it requires models an

alternative to “the time of the world,” which is not a turn toward the timeless –

whether that timelessness be the permanence of the past or the stasis of an eternity –

and an alternative to tirelessly pedestrian sequence, which is not a flight into space.

65
As I will explain below, stasis and linear inexorability are joined in Russell’s version of
physical time.
69
Why, then, after he anticipates the objections that his “doctrine requires a ridiculous

amount of erudition (pedantry)” (T 52) and that any sense of modernity, of the

process of temporal complication and emergence, will be deadened by history, does

Eliot wind down the first section by introducing the concept of impersonality? Why

is the second section of “Tradition” dominated by scientific metaphors that seem

inimical to his sense of temporality? The answer is that Eliot’s alternative to the bolus

is his famous catalytic process, the transformative impersonal reaction in which the

substance is not itself consumed.

This seems counter-intuitive. According to Richard Shusterman, for instance,

“Eliot’s need to associate poetic objectivity with scientific objectivity is made

pathetically obvious by his grotesque comparison of poetic creation to ‘the action

which takes place when a bit of finely filiated platinum is introduced into a chamber

containing oxygen and sulphur dioxide.’”66 But is Eliot’s move against Pater’s

idealization of music – the “continual self-sacrifice,” the “process of

depersonalization,” that is said “to approach the condition of science” – truly a mark of,

say, Russellian science (53, emphasis added)? Is impersonality finally a scientific

version of aestheticism’s “narrow chamber of the individual mind,” passively

registering “impressions, unstable, flickering, inconsistent” (Pater, 156)? Does it


66
Philosophy of Criticism, 62; hereafter, POC. To be fair, Shusterman argues throughout his
book against “the conventional view of Eliot’s critical theory as strict scientistic objectivism,”
and he defends Eliot’s career as on the whole “a non-realist hermeneutical perspective
emphasizing the historicity and holistic nature of human understanding.” However, he
locates “Tradition” squarely in Eliot’s phase of “analytic and objectivist criticism,” heavily
influenced by Russell’s logical atomism (11, 17). This period, according to Shusterman,
runs from “1916 with the completion of his doctoral thesis” and “seems to have run its
course by 1927, the year of his conversion” (19). Throughout his study, he calls this phase
Eliot’s “early” and “juvenile” objectivism.
70
contradict Eliot’s resistance to the specious present, which William James claimed was

comprised of “the dozen seconds or less that have just elapsed” (613), and which

Bradley likened to the bright spot under our faces while we hang in darkness over a

stream? To answer these questions, as well as those about the type of experience and

synthesis being proposed, we have to return to “Tradition”’s elaboration of the

“Impersonal theory of poetry” (53). Then we can clarify what science signified to

Eliot, what it meant to Russell, and how Eliot’s escape was in fact different from

Russell’s road out of “the stifling solipsistic dream world of nineteenth-century

idealism” (Shusterman, POC 63).

Eliot begins the second section of the essay by elaborating “this Impersonal

theory of poetry,” which is a shift from “the relation of the poem to other poems” (a

“living whole”) to “the relation of the poem to its author” (T 53). He again invokes

the model of maturity, which here is in tension with literary-historical equivalent of

young rebellion or filial anxiety – romantic expressivity. The “mature poet” is “a

more finely perfected medium in which special, or very varied, feelings are at liberty

to enter into new combinations” (53-54). Poetry is not, as Wordsworth had it, “the

spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” (1802 Preface , Lyrical Ballads 266), an

effusion out of the depths of personal feeling, a cri de coeur, but the expression of this

“particular medium [the mature poet’s mind], which is only a medium and not a

personality,” “a receptacle for seizing and storing up numberless feelings, phrases,

images” (56, 55). In opposition to Wordsworth’s “inexact formula” by which poetry


71
67
equals “emotion recollected in tranquillity,” Eliot emphasizes the act and intensity of

the expression of this medium’s “new combinations”:

it is not the ‘greatness,’ the intensity, of the emotions, the components, but

the intensity of the artistic process, the pressure, so to speak, under which the

fusion takes places, that counts.” (55)

After proposing that a theory of poetry as this process of combination,

concentration, and complication allows for “an escape from emotion,” and constitutes

an “attack … [on the] metaphysical theory of the substantial unity of the soul” (56),

Eliot brings the essay to an end with a short and perfunctory third section. The last

lines of this single-paragraph section, and of the essay, remind us that impersonality

cannot be attained without the complication of the historical sense, and that

emergence – the really new – depends upon the sense of contemporaneity which the

historical sense builds:

The poet cannot reach this impersonality without surrendering himself wholly

to the work to be done. And he is not likely to know what is to be done unless

he lives in what is not merely the present, but the present moment of the past,

unless he is conscious, not of what is dead, but of what is already living. (59)

If Eliot is concerned to temporalize history and abjure the thin scientific

relations of before and after, according to which fashion continually crowns the

67
Eliot’s attribution of this “equation” is, of course, not entirely fair, considering that
Wordsworth does not say in this passage that poetry is the emotion as such, but that it “takes
its origin from” a recollection of an emotion which eventually comes to “actually exist in the
mind.” However, Eliot is reacting to the backwardness, as it were, of creativity, as well as the
subjectivism.
72
individual and new, why does he use the language of science to do it? Why elaborate

it in terms of a chemistry experiment? Does the scientific register not contradict the

temporal grammar that would allow novelty to emerge in a way fundamentally

different from that of fashion? Does the “escape from emotion” mean that the poet

aspires to the condition of an instrument recording sensations in “a passive attending

upon the event” (58)? These questions have misled many readers and are largely the

ones Eliot was trying to address in “Modern Tendencies.” Even Richard Shusterman,

for instance, who argues against “the conventional view of Eliot’s critical theory as

strict scientistic objectivism,” and who defends Eliot’s career as on the whole “a non-

realist hermeneutical perspective emphasizing the historicity and holistic nature of

human understanding,” locates “Tradition” squarely in Eliot’s phase of “analytic and

objectivist criticism,” heavily influenced by Russell’s logical atomism.68 The reason

Shusterman gives for the turn toward “analytic empiricist realism” is quite compelling:

Eliot and Russell “both were reacting against the solipsism of late-nineteenth-century

idealism” (63). But does Eliot’s “escape from emotion” take Russell’s route out of

subjectivism, if the road out of the nineteenth century was, as Foucault observed, a

“double advance, on the one hand towards formalism in thought [mathematicization]

and on the other towards discovery of unconscious [interpretation] – towards Russell

68
Philosophy of Criticism 11, 17. This period, according to Shusterman, runs from “1916
with the completion of his doctoral thesis” and “seems to have run its course by 1927, the
year of his conversion” (Philosophy of Criticism 19). Throughout his book, Shusterman calls
this phase the period of Eliot’s “early” and “juvenile” objectivism. See also, for instance,
POC 157.
73
and Freud” (Order of Things 299)? Does the “scientism” of this essay indicate that the

version of temporality proposed must be the objectivist time of physics?

In “Modern Tendencies,” Eliot is very explicit as to why science is a salutary

model in his quest for “what is really new.” First, to say that poetry is a science is

simply “to say that poetry is a serious study, a life-time’s work” (M 10). Since poetry

has become associated with “the mere ebullition of a personality,” extempore, “the

contemporary poet is advised that he ought to make wider appeal, that he ought not

to require of his public, erudition – that is, trained sensibility or subtlety of feeling –

that is, concentrated attention” (10, 9). But in opposition to “romantic” versions of

creativity, Eliot reiterates that poetry is “steady toil,” rather than “youth and youthful

inspiration” (10). The “erudition” here is synonymous with the scientist’s

competency in his or her discipline, an aptitude which is the result of studying “the

history of his science, and what has been accomplished up to date” (10). Being

scientific, therefore, is being “mature,” where one becomes “conscious” (as opposed to

anxious) “of the works of his predecessors,” without which one’s own work “would

not be possible” (10). And though the “great scientist submerges himself in what he

has to do, forgets himself ... if he is a great scientist there will be ... a cachet of the

man all over it” (10).

Instead of being a negation of temporality, science stands for the very process

of the historical sense and its rewards. Erudition is not deadening pastism but the

quickening consciousness of the past. Likewise, the impersonality, which Habib

notes “might be defined precisely as ‘the historical sense’,” “a projection of tradition”


74
69
(165), does not destroy the subject but redefines it. Its mode is “surrender” and

“absorption” rather than individuation.70 The “extinction of personality” occurs

because the narrow chambers of personality and biography cannot contain the

phenomenological “dimensioning” or “horizoning” of time that overflows the

subjectivist framework. Furthermore, this absorption (one figure of which is

vorticization, in contrast to the image) allows for the kind of cultural

representativeness that the modernists desired, without requiring them to succumb to

the objectivities of deracinated punctuality, teleological necessity, and conventional

personality. Instead of representativeness based upon the lowest common

denominator, we have a standing-for that goes beyond the mimesis of the moment,

the sharing of narrativized goals, or the correspondence with common personality

traits. Eliot’s chemistry experiment provides a model for a much more abstract

identification than that required by realist-representational art – one based on

identifying with the historicizing, intense fusion, and projection of the artistic process

69
Habib says that this is a “salient but overlooked feature” of “Tradition and the Individual
Talent,” and he is right, but then he is wrong about Eliot’s historical sense and tradition.
70
“When you study the life’s work of a great scientist, if you have enough knowledge of the
subject to study it at all, you recognise that the man accomplished what he did not through a
desire to express his personality, but by a complete surrender of himself to the work in which
he was absorbed” (10).
75
71
itself. The impersonality of the conscious present, which “depends on the audience

as well” (9) in realizing the state of expansion, is not a scientific objectivism, but is, as

he would later say in his Introduction to Paul Valery’s Le Serpent,

impersonal in the sense that personal emotion, personal experience, is

extended and completed in something impersonal – not in the sense of

something divorced from personal experience and passion. No good poetry is

the latter; indeed, the virtue, the marvel of Lucretius is the passionate act by

which he annihilates himself in a system and unites himself with it, gaining

something greater than himself. (14)

In contrast, Russell’s answer to solipsism and personality is not expansion and

integration, but a realist’s externalization. He escapes “the stuffiness involved in

supposing that time and space were only in my mind” by positing them as

“physical”72 – which “is to be understood as meaning ‘what is dealt with by physics’”

(“Relation of Sense-Data to Physics” 145). Whereas Eliot makes science stand for the

very opposite of narrow, reductive analyticism, in order to affirm the complex and

71
Altieri shows how the abstraction of modernist art in general made use of this type of
identification, whereby the reader/viewer is called to inhabit an “imaginative site” (rather
than to look through a realist’s window). This site is created by the “syntactic activity of a
work of art,” which undoes “thematic expectation, psychological identifications, and
interpretive logics that have bound, or ‘interpellated,’ an audience within the specific
ideological involvements organized by Postrenaissance representational art” (Painterly
Abstraction 56, 57). “The logic of the ‘imaginative site’ substitutes formal elements for scenic
features, and establishes their significance by making the composing energies exemplify possible
dispositions of mind with which an audience is invited to identify” (395-96; original emphasis).
72
The break from “the stifling solipsistic dream world of … idealism” was, as Russell
recounts, “a great liberation, as if I had escaped from a hothouse on to a windswept headland.
I hated the stuffiness involved in supposing that space and time were only in my mind” (My
Philosophical Development [New York: Simon and Schuster, 1959] 61f, qtd. in Shusterman,
POC 63, n. 33).
76
expansive temporality laid out in “Tradition,” Russell believes that “a certain

emancipation from slavery to time is essential to philosophic thought,” if our

knowledge of the external world is to be built upon the permanence of logical form,

rather than the fugitive phantasms of mere experience, or common sense gained by

“acquaintance” (Our Knowledge of the External World 171). In opposition to Paterian

aestheticism’s temporal ecstasy of the “hard, gemlike flame” of “impressions, unstable,

flickering, inconsistent, which burn and are extinguished” Renaissance 235-36), as

Ann Banfield points out,

Russell conceives – contra Bergson, who wishes to consider all things “sub

specie durationis” – another freedom, the freedom from time: ‘The free

intellect will see as God might see, without a here and a now.’ ‘Physics views

space-time impartially, as God might be supposed to view it.’73

What is the nature of this time without a here and now, time seen sub specie

aeternitatis? Bergson’s durée emphasized the non-discreteness and interpenetration of

the flow of time, which Russell felt too mystical and interior. Because Bergsonian

“real time” is identified with movement, any conceptualization of it as a parataxis of

successive instants is a spatialization of time, and thus a negation of its very temporal

quality. As Bergson writes in Time and Free Will:

There are ... two possible conceptions of time, the one free from all alloy, the

other surreptitiously bringing in the idea of space. Pure duration is the form

73
Banfield, “Tragic Time” 55. She is quoting from Russell’s Problems of Philosophy (1912;
London: Oxford University Press, 1956) 160. I am indebted to Ann Banfield for my
understanding of the relationship between Russell’s philosophy and modernist conceptions
of time.
77
which the succession of our conscious states assumes when our ego lets itself

live, when it refrains from separating its present state from its former states ...

it need not be entirely absorbed into the passing sensation or idea; for then, on

the contrary, it would no longer endure. Nor need it forget its former states: it

is enough that, in recalling the states, it does not set them alongside another,

but forms both the past and present states into an organic whole, as happens

when we recall the notes of a tune, melting, so to speak, into one another.

(100)

Russell’s time is very deliberately “spatialized,” spread out thinly in “a compact series

of infinitely divisible units ... with certain logical and mathematical properties,” a

reduction of what J.M. McTaggart called the A series (the subjectively-referential past,

present, and future) to “tenseless” logical relations. Russell’s impersonality is a way of

seeing sub specie aeternitatis the realm of being and logical necessity, the literary mode

of which is tragedy.74 Freedom from subjectivist impressionism becomes an escape

altogether from the world of existence. Not only can there be no such thing as

traditionality in physics, but the very idea of a creative force or change is moot.

Contemporaneity would be reduced to timeless certainty or statistical probability.

One need only characterize briefly the theory of “Cambridge changes” in order

to bring into stark relief the differences between Russell’s analytic objectivism and

74
“Tragedy is the literary expression of this view of time. The key text is the [Cambridge]
Apostle F.L. Lucas’s Tragedy in Relation to Aristotle’s Poetics .... Tragedy, according to Lucas,
yields physics’ god-like omniscience of past and future” (Banfield, “Tragic Time” 61).
78
75
Eliot’s synthetic modernism. In this strange theory, the reality of time comes not

from undifferentiated flux or movement, or from the tensed A series, which “don’t

belong to time per se, but only in relation to a knowing subject” (Nature of Existence

2:14). It is not in any way troubled by mathematicization. Time is real, but “is never

moving”: “in some miraculous way the change of position [of Zeno’s arrow] has to

occur between the instants, that is to say, not at any time whatever” (Russell, Our

Knowledge 179).76 We cannot directly observe change or continuity between two

points or appearances, because, according to the mathematical explanation of

continuity, “however near together we take the two positions and the two instants,

there are an infinite number of positions still nearer together” (142). In defiance of

the negation of change in Zeno’s paradox and the negation of the arrow in Bergson

and Heraclitus, Russell’s “moving body never jumps from one position to another,

but always passes by a gradual transition through an infinite number of

intermediaries” (142).77

But this gradual transition is never observable – it is only thinkable by what

Banfield calls the “logical imagination.” Logic does not find any perplexity in pairing

the fact of change with the fact that, according to Russell, science requires

75
Peter Geach’s term “Cambridge changes” refers to the belief all the Cambridge
philosophers shared at this time. Truth, Love, and Immortality: An Introduction to
McTaggart’s Philosophy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979) 90, qtd. in Banfield
48, 72 n33.
76
See Banfield, Phantom Table 102-06.
77
Russell says “Heraclitus and Bergson said that there were changes but no things,” “a flight
but no arrow.” Bradley and McTaggart are Eleatics: “there were things but no changes,”
“an arrow but no flight.” Russell is “the unfortunate man who stands in the middle and
maintains that there is both the arrow and its flight … pierced, like St. Sebastian, by the
arrow from one side and by its flight from the other” (Phantom Table 104).
79
homogenous, static, and sensibly unreachable instants. The movement from one

moment to another occurs mysteriously in the in-between. And even though

temporal passage is mathematically continuous, the arrival at the next moment will

seem an upheaval. Quoting Lukács’s “The Metaphysics of Tragedy” – “everything

changes in a flash” – Banfield regards this change as both revolutionary and

providential. “The flash, the unforeseen change,” she says, “hardens into what can

never be otherwise. ... It is omnitemporal necessity, governed by the law of the

uniformity of nature” (“Tragic Time” 68).

Given that the form of Eliot’s temporality has been seen not only as punctual

but also as divine, the link to Russell comes as no surprise. “Tradition,” as Habib

writes, “is Eliot’s aestheticised substitute for Providence”; “in Eliot’s view of tradition,

the notion of time hereby invoked is a static one whereby present and past are united

in an eternal stasis” (196, 200). I doubt anyone would characterize tradition as

revolutionary, but undoubtedly Eliot’s thinking contains, as Michael Levenson writes

in “The End of Tradition and the Beginning of History,” “a rival strain of emphasis

[to the one on the past], an emphasis on the constitutive and generative powers of the

present tense” (161). Indeed, as I have argued, these rivals are not even in opposition,

since Eliot’s past and present are not isolated temporal ecstases or moments, but are

integral dimensions, mutually inclusive and conditioning.

The desire for significant emergence – for change that is made, rather than

change that merely happens – is what allowed Eliot to see how Russell’s realism lived

in the same camp as Bradley’s absolute idealism and Bergson’s vitalism. For Eliot, in
80
all three “nothing essentially new can ever happen.” As he continues in his college

paper on the French vitalist: “the absolute, as Bradley says, bears buds and flowers

and fruit at once … A is already so completely B, and B so completely A that there is

nothing to say about either” (Manuscript 26; qtd. in Habib 53). Among the ironies

generated by aligning the undifferentiated durée of a “weakling mysticism” (MS 22)

and the “continuous mass” of absolute idealism is the running aground of Bergson’s

“Motion is reality” upon Bradley’s monism.78 Then both stand in collapsing

opposition to Russell’s pluralism, which makes A thoroughly independent of B, but

consequently cannot observe the passage from one to the other, but can only

mathematically and fatefully explain it. In Bergson and Bradley, the world was too

monistically unified. In the former, successive states were already too fused together;

in the latter, “immediate experience” and the absolute were a kind of viscid mass in

which all appearances were one. Eliot would have to modify the sense of experience

necessary for contemporaneity to steer clear of the Charybdis of the radically

contingent world of existence, and the Scylla of the static realm of universals.

Of course Eliot undoubtedly wanted a temporal grammar that allowed for

durability and “permanence.”79 But it would also have to account for the emergence

of the new, and in a way that did not wrest change away from the grasp of the

temporal and constructive. It is worth reiterating Eliot’s belief in “Modern

78
Habib 131: “In his essay ‘Association and Thought’ Bradley rejects the starting point of
empiricism, asserting that what is given in experience is not distinct objects but ‘a continuous
mass.’” Bradley, Principles of Logic (London: Oxford University Press, 1950) 56; CE 207,
209.
79
For Eliot’s use of the term “permanent,” see, for example, his essay “The Possibility of a
Poetic Drama,” SW, 60-70.
81
Tendencies” that continuity depends on change (and not the other way around); that

“life is always turned toward creation; the present only keeps the past alive” (12); and

further, that Eliot’s scientist-poet, instead of forgetting – which de Man says enables

action yet must be negated by the “more extended awareness of time” inevitably

involved in giving the moment its “sense of totality and completeness” (157) – must

remember and undertake “the great difficulties and responsibilities” of historicizing,

in order to know and create what is truly new and modern (50). The scientist-poet is

as much the “man of the world,” the “man of action,” and the “recorder of

moments,” as Baudelaire’s Constantin Guys, but without the tension between the

punctual and the synthetic.80 The agency that sustains the past and opens up the new

must not reduplicate the difficulties of an atemporal, static, or purely sequential time.

The struggle for the new and the enduring in Eliot is such that, in a modification of

the popular John Heywood proverb, one would have one’s world and agent too.

Eliot’s navigation of a lumpish monism and logical dualism has been

characterized generally by Jewel Spears Brooker as “a revolt against dualism.”

Between the “knowing-and-being-in-one which precedes subjects and objects” (309)

and the fractured world divided into the psychological and epistemological, between

Oxford idealism and Cambridge realism, falls Eliot’s impersonal process of excrescing

“points of view.” Adapting Bradley’s “finite centres,” monadic fundaments of

experience, and taking up Russell’s anti-subjectivism and Bergson’s commitment to

80
See Charles Baudelaire, “The Painter of Modern Life,” 396; and “Literary History” for de
Man’s characterizations of Baudelaire’s artist as the “curious synthesis of a man of action
(that is, a man of the moment, severed from past and future) with an observer and recorder
of moments that are necessarily combined within a larger totality” (157).
82
life sub specie temporis, Eliot counters the stasis of eternity and the weightlessness of

space with dynamic “feeling” and intensive “transcendence.” Feeling is not

psychology or sensation, but experience that is already “always partially objective: the

emotion is really part of the object, and is ultimately just as objective. Hence when

the object, or complex of objects, is recalled, the pleasure is recalled in the same way”

(KE 80). Transcendence is not a passive assumption into presence or eternity, but as

Eliot says in his dissertation the “painful task of unifying … jarring and incompatible

[worlds], and passing, when possible, from two or more discordant viewpoints to a

higher which shall somehow include and transmute them” (147-48).

The combination of feeling and transcendence yields a process of objective-

correlation, as Eliot’s definition of emotion suggests, a weaving-together of the

dualist’s world of subject and object. In manipulating “the emotional or feeling co-

efficients,” the poet can treat of “any or all of the ingredients in the modern world,

scientific, historical, political, philosophical” (M 15). If such correlation were merely

personal sentimentalism, the result in poetry would be a telling rather than an

enactment: “instead of making the cry make everything afraid, he tells you that it

does” (M 16; original emphasis). And if one were to try to be too dispassionate, the

result would be “a method so austerely sensationalistic as to obscure ... the fact that

there was any emotion to be presented at all” (16). Realism would yield “mere data,”

which is in fact, by Eliot’s estimation, “unscientific ... not a scientific interest at all,

and in the end, if we pursue only sensation, we shall cease to have even sensation”
83
81
(17). Feeling is Eliot’s way of finessing both ephemerality and stasis, history’s

material and theology’s forms.

In like manner, Eliot’s version of transcendence is located resolutely in the

middle realm of “life,” so much so that Walter Benn Michaels calls it pragmatic.

Transcendent experience is not what Brooker says is “a return of sorts to the

wholeness and unity of immediate experience” (316), since Eliot believes “there is no

absolute point of view” (KE 18), no lordly God’s-eye perspective, no totality-eternity

in which everything can be seen at once. Eliot’s position on the multiplicity of ways

of seeing makes it seem, writes Michaels, as if he is “resigned to relativism and

condemned, some readers have felt, to solipsism,” since “knowledge is grounded

neither in the absolute nor in an ‘external solid reality to which our presentations …

conform’” (189). Indeed, Michael North, in defending Eliot against the

oversimplifying charge of being reactionary and “philosophically totalitarian,”82 ends

81
In the terms of an earlier article, “Reflections on Contemporary Poetry,” Egoist 4 (Sept.
1917), the Romantic Georgians follow Wordsworth in dwelling on a “trivial” object “for its
own sake, not because of the association with passions specifically human,” while Americans
follow Dostoevski in naturalistically overemphasizing the properties of an object, which
thereby “replace the emotion which gave them their importance” (118).
82
See Terry Eagleton’s Criticism and Ideology 145-51. In Ronald Bush’s summary, Eagleton
“shaped the Marxist commonplaces of today when he argued that The Waste Land, though it
mimes the experience of cultural disintegration, in fact silently alludes by its ‘totalising
mythological forms’ to a ‘transcendence of such collapse.’ By means of its ‘elaborate display
of esoteric allusion’ and its ‘closed, coherent, authoritative discourse,’ the poem, Eagleton
asserted, produces ‘an ideology of cultural knowledge’ consonant with the ‘authoritarian
cultural ideology’ espoused by Eliot’s prose.” “T.S. Eliot and Modernism at the Present
Time,” Modernist in History 197.
84
83
up finding in his poetry evidence of a “relativist” – a position clearly in opposition to

a dreaded “eternity born out of repetition, an all-encompassing whole,” a position

that he compares with Lukács’s but from the opposite direction, critical of

modernity’s “economic and political fragmentation,” and forsaking of the present for

another time (179, 178, 173).84 Against North’s argument, Michaels maintains

Eliot’s “pragmatism is not the link which joins the relative with the absolute .... The

Jamesian primitive, steeped in sensation, and the Roycean cartographer of

transcendence give way; only the practical remains” (200).

But lest this praxis, the realm of the present, harden into some grid resembling

the absolute or reified container of “the times,” and our attention turn toward the

issue of consensus and how we arrive at some empirical now, Eliot’s arduous poetic

“pragmatism” – in which the “practical” is actually the anti-foundational “ideality” of

points of view,85 their imbrication, and “the intensity of the artistic process” – must

emphasize the process of “transcendence,” which in spite of his frequent language of

submission and surrender does not mean passive assumption into or abandonment of

the present. Instead, as Michaels points out, it is “something like what Eliot means

83
North, “Eliot, Lukács, and the Politics of Modernism” 179: “Eliot often sounds like an
absolutist, but in the application always reveals himself as a relativist.” See also Donald
Childs, who criticizes North’s The Political Aesthetic, 74: “North quotes ‘The Interpretation
of Primitive Ritual’ and the dissertation in his argument that Eliot arrived early at a
thoroughgoing cultural relativism: ‘Like Bradley, Eliot did not flinch from the realization
that local, racial, and temporal particularism made atemporal standards and values
impossible’” (From Philosophy to Poetry 45).
84
“[T]he ideal that conservatives locate in the past is located instead in the future by socialists,
but the two groups have in common both their opposition to modern society …” (“Eliot,
Lukács, and the Politics of Modernism” 174).
85
Eliot’s idealism does not entail the dualism between forms and the real. Very simply, “the
ideal is that which intends” and the real is “that which is intended” (Habib 138).
85
when, for example, he speaks of ‘self-transcendence’ as the ‘painful task of unifying …

jarring and incompatible (worlds) [sic], and passing, when possible, from two or more

discordant viewpoints to a higher which shall somehow include and transmute them”

(187). This process of reconciling and changing aspects must be distinguished from

the more pragmatic emphasis on “unconscious” context, toward which Shusterman

sometimes also leans when he invokes Wittgenstein, Gadamer, and Bourdieu, to

argue that tradition is “not the narrowly aesthetic and transcendent set of artistic

monuments … [but] that full-bodied and immanent matrix in which we move and

which we have grasped or imbibed largely unconsciously, but which prestructures our

activity, experience, and understanding of the world.”86 Idealism’s desire is for

86
Shusterman, “Reactionary Meets Radical Critique: Eliot and Contemporary Culture
Criticism” 371. Of course his ultimate aim is to prevent us from mistaking Eliot’s idea of
tradition for some unattainable and elite ideal or for a determining lump, so I add that
Shusterman also constantly emphasizes the circularity and dependence involved in tradition.
For instance, in a footnote of Philosophy of Criticism 187, Shusterman remarks on the
similarity of Eliot’s tradition and Bourdieu’s habitus, since he borrows Bourdieu’s
terminology of “structured and structuring structure”:
Traditions are structured in that they are the ordered consequences of past efforts of
social and cultural organization, and are inherited or transmitted through such
organization. Traditions are structuring because they provide formative categories of
our thought and action and largely determine the direction of our interests and
inquiry, and the vocabularies with which we may pursue them. Traditions are
structures because they contain a variety of ordered and classifiable activities or
features coherently organized into meaningful interrelations and profitable
interaction.
He also says this: “Eliot’s critical theory … was essentially of this pragmatic variety, neither
advocating nor employing any fixed and uniformly applicable method or formulable
principle, but rather reacting to changing circumstances and needs and motivated chiefly by
aims of improving practice rather than theoretically reflecting the existent ‘truth’ about it”
(Philosophy of Criticism 9).
86
complete transcendence in the Absolute; realism’s desire is to lay facts side by side like

bricks; for Eliot there is only the constant intentional enlarging constantly striving to

fold over upon itself, the combination and transmutation of feelings, ways of seeing.

This process, which exceeds the narrow personality that recollects the overly

conventional ways of feeling (sometimes called “emotions” by Eliot), and which

exceeds the specious present put in place by a parsimonious temporal grammar, is, as

I have argued, contemporaneity, a being-with-time. Such being could obviously

never be indeterminate for Eliot, and such “times” never defined by order of sheer

chronology or the thin, even if eternal, relations of earlier and later. The former

would be, in the terms of “Ulysses, Order, and Myth,” “futility and anarchy,” while

the latter would be merely “history.”87 Rather, contemporaneity is the constant

adjustment in the field of significant pressures, and the expansive creativity of the

present that is both conditioned by and sustenant of a living past. Eternal and

ephemeral instants, between which lie an infinity of other instants, and the mystery of

Beyond acknowledging the ironic circularity and historicity of human understanding, as


Charles Altieri has remarked, Eliot’s poetic methods and critical injunctions also force the
audience to construct, to go “beyond conditions of immediate response so that [we] will
reflect on [our] own positioning within history, and hence compose a site beyond the
immediate event” (“Eliot’s Impact” 200). And we would miss the constructivism for mere
irony, if we concentrated solely on the themes of the absolute, redemption, or the
recognition of culture’s always-already.
87
Eliot is speaking of Joyce’s “mythic method” which is “a way of controlling, of ordering, of
giving a shape and a significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is
contemporary history.” This famous formulation is often read too much from the point of
view of the past, which must be imposed upon a formless present. Note however Eliot’s
qualifications on the idea of classicism which immediately precede this quotation: “One can
be ‘classical’, in a sense, by … selecting only mummified stuff from a museum …. Or one
can be classical in tendency by doing the best one can with the material at hand. …. The
question, then, about Mr. Joyce is: how much living material does he deal with, and how
does he deal with it: deal with, not as a legislator or exhorter, but as an artist?” (The Dial,
November 1923; rpt. in SP 176-77, emphasis added).
87
change are all obviated by Eliot’s emphasis on process in and as time – on constructive

fusion and transmutation, absorption and then change in our ways of seeing. Eliot

uses science, not to suggest the austere worlds of the logical, but to promote the

resistance against romantic treatments of the self and the moment as fons et origo, by

stressing a non-reductive historicizing that complicates and enlarges the horizon in

which a new discovery may be made, and by offering an alternative constructivist

expressivity. The impersonality that follows naturally from this is not the self sub

specie aeternitatis – a reified self, an objective register in logical space, or a lordly

external position – but a situated self-transcending.

Even if his focus finally does shift to timelessness and eternity, it is not at all

the case that the pre-conversion Eliot was driven solely, or even primarily, by an

ironic, “saintly” repudiation of the temporal world. At the very least, as “there is a

rival strain of emphasis … on the constitutive and generative powers of the present

tense” (161). As I hope I have shown, these are not even “rivals,” since Eliot’s present

is not an isolated moment, but includes, is conditioned by, and also alters the past.

His idea of the modern as contemporaneity, with its emphases on full temporality

(maturity), impersonality, and the creative process of catalyzing and building up ways

of seeing (experience), ought to change significantly the way we read his poetry. It

might even shed new light on his turn to the Anglican Church, since Eliot, as early as

fourteen, spoke of “a sudden conversion,” after reading the Rubaiyat, in these terms:

“the world appeared anew, painted with bright, delicious and painful colours” (qtd. in

Habib 161).
88

The Waste Land

Most of the recent readings of Eliot’s greatest poem are about loss. In this

they resemble most of the old readings. Edmund Wilson’s 1922 review of The Waste

Land was one of the first to characterize the work positively as “poetry of drouth”

(140). From that early assessment to more recent evaluations of Eliot’s poem as an

exercise in “the negative way,” The Waste Land has been seen, as James Longenbach

so clearly puts it, as “a poem of failure, a poem of fragments that articulates a painful

nostalgia for a wholeness that is no longer possible” (201). The rewards for reading

the poem solely as “a statement of cultural despair” (233) – as an expression of the

painful sense of being too late, too far descended past some original fathering totality

– can be and have been quite satisfying: not only do we get to relish the dread and

pathos of the heroic facing of the “withdrawal of Being,” which the themes announce

as a condition of not-being-in-line-with-the-past, but we are conveniently positioned

for Eliot’s 1927 conversion and for a conclusively Christian reading of Four

Quartets.88

Longenbach, for one, has tried admirably to remedy this trend by emphasizing

the wholeness that the poem in fact accomplishes, rather than mourns or importunes.

This wholeness must be different, not only from the implied-through-its-absence

88
For Eliot the English historian, the past here would mean pre-seventeenth century, while
for Eliot the Anglican it would mean after the Fall.
89
89
wholeness, but also from totalizing narratives – from “New Critical readings of The

Waste Land that impose a spurious grail legend plot on the poem,” and that

emphasize the ordering power of forms of the past, of myth.90 Wholeness, as he

argues, is achieved by a unification of “so many individual consciousnesses … that the

voice intoning the poem often seems to be the voice of history itself, an expression of

the ‘entire past’ woven into the texture of the present” (208).

History here is that which represents the totality of time past, the “melting”

together of a myriad points of view, which yields a visionary moment (210-37). But

unlike Heidegger’s authentic present (der Augenblick) – the resolute moment of vision

in which one sees the possibilities of one’s situation – Longenbach’s unification

ultimately points to an atemporal power, since “it was beyond the capability of a

merely human consciousness to create this vision of wholeness” (210). The rest of his

chapter on The Waste Land discusses the poem in the light of religion and mystical

experience, over-anticipating the later Eliot’s desire for temporal and spiritual

redemption, famously summarized in the line from “Burnt Norton”: “Only through

time time is conquered” (BN 2.173). In the end, despite his desire to break free of a

tragic reading of The Waste Land, Longenbach falls back into the impasse of

modernism: Eliot’s work, like Pound’s “poem including history,” depends “upon the

idea of an eternal mind that makes the entire past available in the present,” a present

89
The etymology of “whole” rather conveniently indicates both the health and holiness that
are sought after. “Whole,” “health,” “heal,” and “holy” all share the same Germanic root, hãl.
90
Longenbach 202.
90
91
which is, in any case, already “nothing more than the sum of the entire past.” And

so, “even with the divine assistance Eliot believed was necessary to realize ‘the whole

truth,’ he knew that his attempt to express this whole must ultimately fail” (236-37).

If we are to see more – or something else – in The Waste Land than the

“intolerable tragedy at the heart of the trivial or the sordid” (Wylie 146), the loss that

leads to a desperate religion or re-binding with the absent and no-longer, then we

must remember the sense of time and history Eliot formulated in this period, not

with an emphasis on wholeness as an ossified totality but as integrative, imbricative

experience, whose meaning German idealism filled out as “to fare, journey, explore”

(Erfahren), from Latin’s more positivist desire “to try, or put to the test” (experiri).

Instead of getting stuck, like so many of its characters, in the poem’s series of

contrasts and parallels,92 I focus on contemporaneity in order to elucidate Eliot’s

refusals of both endless dialectic and the extemporaneous stay against such confusion,

of both the perenniality of cycles and timelessness, the bad eternity of everlasting time

and the religious eternity beyond it. The hero of this reading, therefore, is not the

New Critics’ Philomela, whose violation stood for the post-lapsarian scientization and

secularization of the world, nor the historicists’ Tiresias, whose bisexuality and vision

make him the ultimate historical witness, but rather a process and force more abstract,

91
Longenbach 11. A “poem including history” is Pound’s description of epic and the Cantos,
in ABC of Reading 46.
92
Cleanth Brooks once summarized the contrasts thus: “The Waste Land is built on a major
contrast – a device which is a favorite of Eliot’s .... The contrast is between two kinds of life
and two kinds of death. Life devoid of meaning is death; sacrifice, even the sacrificial death,
may be life-giving, an awaking to life. The poem occupies itself to a great extent with this
paradox, and with a number of variations on it” (“The Waste Land” 186).
91
with which the poem calls us to identify.

The Waste Land rethinks Prufrock’s problem with time – his belatedness, his

temporal impotence – and pushes it to an extreme. Prufrock’s indecision, his failure

to pose his overwhelming question and to sing his love, are shown to be symptoms of

the form of time in which the desire for youth runs defiantly against the

remorselessness of aging, snapping the present in two. The “silent seas” that might

bring relief from currents and counter-currents of time turn out to be like the one

that, in his allusion, figures in Hamlet’s overwhelming question:

To be or not to be: that is the question:

Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles

And by opposing end them. (3.1.56-60)

Prufrock understands but cannot quite admit the ontological force of the question:

the “whips and scorns of time” that threaten to reverse all his “decisions and

revisions” make him wish merely to be “a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the

floors of silent seas” (Hamlet 3.1.70; “Prufrock” 48, 73-74). That synecdochic figure

is as much (or as little) an anachronous peripeteia for Prufrock as for Polonius, when

Hamlet taunts him: “you yourself, sir, should be as old as I am if, like a crab, you

could go backwards” (2.2.203-5, emphasis added).

The time in which one is irrevocably too late, marked by the ever-increasing

distance from a mythic origin, is the same time in which Prufrock does not know
92
how to begin. The puzzling and crippling “enchainment of past and future,” which

does not give world or time enough for love, is the anxious sequence in which

memory is only regret and desire nothing more than the doubts about how to realize

it (BN 2.79). When this time “sleeps so peacefully” or “malingers,” Prufrock enjoys a

brief fantasy of “the strength to force the moment to its crisis” (75, 77, 80). But try

as he might to resist or skew the strange contiguities, similes, and metaphors in which

he finds (or puts) himself – in spite of all the allusions, for instance, he is not “Prince

Hamlet, nor was meant to be” – Prufrock’s evening ends as it began (111, emphasis

added). His qualitative “moment” is spread out against an indifferent sky, “Like a

patient etherised upon a table” (111, 3) – a figure which Pound filled out much later

in his Guide to Kulchur: “We do not know the past in chronological sequence. It

may be convenient to lay it out anesthetized on the table with dates pasted on here

and there, but what we know we know by ripples and spirals eddying out from us and

from our time” (60).

In worse shape than the unconscious and dissectible patient is The Waste

Land’s first “personage” – the Cumaean Sibyl of the epigraph. She is a more extreme

figure for the same malady. Her desire for eternal youth is the paralyzed Prufrock’s

hope to turn back the clock gone so wrong that this embodiment of belatedness is no

longer a body nor merely late: having been granted as many years as there were grains

of sand by Apollo in exchange for love, but having failed to specify them as continued

youth, the Sibyl has become nothing but dust, living in a never-present but

perpetually lengthening history. She hangs in her jar at the beginning of the poem as
93
a figure for the horror of infinite repetition, whose mode of being is one-half

historical witness, and one-half a consequent boredom and automatism. When

Trimalchio encounters her in this state of total desiccation, she says, “I wish to die.”

Joining the title of the first section, “The Burial of the Dead,” with this desire

to end what Nietzsche called an “uninterrupted having-been” (88), the opening of the

poem tempts us with the question of escape from the endless seriality in which

Prufrock found himself unable to act or begin, paralyzed by the “oppressive temporal

conviction of belatedness” and, in Bloom’s personification of the past, by the

“precursor’s strength [that] is the illness of The Waste Land” (Introduction 6). For a

critic such as Bloom, this question invites as a possible answer, according to Gregory

Jay, the “romantic quest for a victory over belatedness,” which “presupposes a

logocentric poetic history wherein poets struggle for the single position of self-

fathering Divinity,” creating “a narrative of the Fall from sublimity and the ephebe’s

struggle to regain Paradise” (70-71). “The transumptive troping of inherited figures

aims to defeat time …. Like Eliot’s, Bloom’s anxiety … leads him to espouse a

‘religious’ poetics as a defense” (72). But is death in The Waste Land a means to an

eternity beyond the turning world? Does the poem showcase a nihilistic desire for a

final burial of a time in which going-back, exemplified by allusion, is at best a

Prufrockian fantasy, at worst a morbid pastism that resurrects and keeps alive the

dead? Or is death simply a violent means of restoring the cycle of seasonal change,

Russell’s mysterious in-between of a worldly time in one of its most “primitive” forms?
94
Eternity, nihilism, and cyclicality – all three appear in the poem, but each as

an instance of the very view of time that oppresses the land. All three dramatize

different ways of being in time, none of which, I argue, exemplify Eliot’s sense of

contemporaneity. For the Eliot who emphasized, as we saw, “life turned toward

creation,” death does allow for a relief from a time flattened into an ontologically

indifferent sequence, but not because it is a moment of relief in stasis, or an escape

into any atemporal realm. In The Waste Land, death is also that non-thematized limit,

the anticipation of which, as Peter Osborne says in his explication of Heidegger,

“’temporalizes temporality’ by constituting Dasein as a finite being or Being-towards-

the-end,” and without which there would be “no ‘experience’ of time” (58). The

“anticipation of death … opens up the future as possibility and structures that

possibility through an active taking up of the past within the present into which, as a

finite being, Dasein is ‘thrown’” (58, emphasis added). And at the same time, it

affords temporality a virtual wholeness – the unity and integrality of the three ecstases,

which exist together as “the difference, the constant differentiation, at its heart which

defines temporality as something that is ‘outside-of-itself’” (59).

So while the sibyl desires death for obvious reasons – because she is, from John

Bowen’s point of view, like Benjamin’s “angel of history, who ‘sees one single

catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his

feet,’” and is “swept backwards towards the future” – the desire for death also

functions in the poem, not to end history, but to enable the experience of time.93

93
Bowen 48. He is quoting Walter Benjamin, Illuminations 257.
95
This is why the poem also begins with the allusions to a journey, experience. In

contrast to a backward angel, there is also, as William Spanos says, “the perceiving

agent,” who “‘progresses’ temporally from the ‘beginning’ to the ‘end.’” “The poem,”

he continues, “in fact, is not … a rejection of historical existence for some sort of

subjective spatial essence,” but “constitutes an explorative seeking (periplus) … to

emphasize the ontological priority of temporality.”94

The difference between this explorative seeking and The Waste Land’s “living

death” emerges initially both in the references to pilgrimage (e.g., the ironic reference

to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales), and in the compound meaning of the waste land itself.

The poem’s title refers us to the search for rebirth and renewal, the quest for the holy

grail, and the conversion of St. Augustine, and yet any hope in these particular

odysseys will turn out to be perversely disappointed, not because the land is beyond

salvation, but because these particular journeys offer no real alternative to the form of

time that afflicts the world of the poem. Eliot’s very combination of these different

domains of reference, suggested by his “Notes” on the “incidental symbolism of the

poem” (76), presents the conflict between fatalism and the temporality outlined in

the essays. The ancient fertility rites, taken from Sir James Frazer’s “Study of Magic

and Religion” and from Jessie Weston’s derivative study of their relationship to the

later Grail legends and Christian motifs, evince a “primitive” belief that one’s actions

94
Spanos 242. Cf. Pound’s periplum, a first-person, non-teleological experience “not as land
looks on a map / but as sea bord seen by men sailing” (Canto 59.324).
96
95
can and do have a “magical” effect in one’s world. But such rituals come not only to

describe natural eventuation but to assume total responsibility for bringing about

natural occurrences. For instance, “The man-god must be killed as soon as he shows

symptoms that his powers are beginning to fail,” in order that “his worshippers

could ... make sure of catching his soul as it escaped and transferring it to a suitable

successor” (Frazer 32, emphasis added).

When this over-emphasis on ritual’s con-sequential powers is placed side by

side with Christianity, which Weston says “did no more than take over, and adapt to

its own use, a symbolism already endowed with a deeply rooted prestige” (38), the

succession of a primitive world by religious one seems a glorious demystification of

misplaced causal powers and mistaken involvement:

In the course of time, the slow advance of knowledge, which has dispelled so

many cherished illusions, convinced at least the more thoughtful portion of

mankind that the alternations of summer and winter, of spring and autumn,

were not merely the result of their own magical rites, but that of some deeper

cause, some mightier power, was at work behind the shifting scenes of nature.

(Frazer 33)

For Frazer, the revelation of determining deities led on finally to the scientific mode

of thought (one example of which is anthropology, or at least the detachment of its

95
“A Study of Magic and Religion” is the subtitle of The Golden Bough. With regard to
Weston, by “derivative” I do not the pejorative “unoriginal.” I only wish to call attention to
another interesting example of succession which the poem presents to us. Part of the point
of my discussion here is that the earlier is valued over the later, as when Weston is described
primarily as “a disciple of Frazer” (Lucas 196).
97
long view and hindsight). But for Eliot, the progression from vegetation ceremonies

to Grail myths comes to St. Augustine’s Confessions, who, in recounting his life of sin

before conversion, wrote “I fell away from thee, O my God, and in my youth I

wandered too far from thee, my true support. And I became to myself a wasteland”

(2.10). Rather than read this third moment purely as a recapitulation of the religious

desire for redemption (in contrast to the reductive naturalism of the scientific

moment), we might also see Augustine’s statement as the moment of self-

consciousness in the movement from sin to sainthood. His confession is the

assumption of responsibility for a past, coupled with a sense of the necessary turn

from excesses of a private soul to the privations of the holy, in contrast to the

anthropologist’s third-person description.

Augustine’s wandering was the source of his desolation; and his memory – the

epitome of “distentio anime” that is “enacted in narrative”96 – was the means to his

salvation, in that it “functions as a resemblance in the midst of time of the standing

present of eternity,” as Genevieve Lloyd writes (15). “In the position of the

protagonist in the narrative, Augustine sees his life only in a confused way. His past is

continually reshaped by the addition of new experience and by expectations of the

future which are continually revised in the light of that experience. ... In the position

of the narrator, in contrast, he presents himself as seeing each event in a fixed relation

to a past which has achieved its final form” (15). But for us, it is the former

96
“Distension of the soul” – in Genevieve Lloyd’s summary, Augustine’s temporality, in
contradistinction to “time as an ‘objective’ feature of the world”: “The mind stretches itself
out, as it were, embracing past and future in a mental act of attention and regulating the flow
of future into the past” (14).
98
description of Augustine’s confusion that is most important, his self-reflective

wandering, the error (from the Latin, errare) which Pound came to find inseparable

from his paradiso. The conversion enacted by the poem is not the turning to a higher,

unturning position, but, as experienced in Eliot’s childhood, the renewal of the

appearances of the world, the shift of aspects.

The very confusion that surrounds the poem’s changing voices and points of

view is, from the start, an index of the emphasis on the questing, the wandering the

very means to a converting. Confusion slowly gives way as we synthesize the

movement from perspective to perspective, never abandoning the temporal point of

view for that of an omniscient narrator, but also never over-psychologizing such a

point of view into a personality. The Waste Land, then, will not turn out to be “A

Sphinx without a Secret,” as Maud Ellman calls it, but rather the journey both to

pose the overwhelming, healing, and self-reflexive question, “What aileth thee?” and

to answer the riddle of the sphinx, “What is it that walks on four legs in the morning,

on two at noon, and on three in the evening?” To this last question, Oedipus, of

course, answered “Anthropos,” and it is to the realm of the temporality of the human

that the poem addresses itself – a realm Eliot differentiates from that of religion, even

after his conversion.97 In this poem, the religious view is a consequence of the

terrifying and mysterious cycle of necessary usurpation and succession that weighs

heavily on the unhealthy present, of which Frazer’s description of the king of the

sacred wood in Nemi, Italy is a pertinent dramatization:

97
See, for instance, his “Second Thoughts About Humanism,” SE 481-91.
99
In his hand he carried a drawn sword, and he kept peering warily about him as

if at every instant he expected to be set upon by an enemy. He was a priest

and a murderer; and the man for whom he looked was sooner or later to

murder him and hold the priesthood in his stead. (29)

Coming to power, succession, making new the decadent – all can be effected

then by violence and death, but is this the way endorsed by the poem? As I have

suggested, there is another way, where the old is not slain but taken up, and the

religious desire to stop time’s happening-over-and-over never arises: by questing,

questioning, and temporalization. The poem’s opening presents us with the former

and familiar way of succession via death, explicit in the point of view of someone

buried (Levenson 172). Yet, it is not at all clear that birth is the real answer to death.

The first section opens the question as to whether the eternal cycle of birth and death,

and the resulting desire for a timeless eternity, might not be reconsidered entirely,

since already there is something deeply wrong with the seasons and the appetite for

epiphany. The sacrificed god, the murdered past, from the very beginning, cannot

give birth to new life, which the fertility rites and Anglican burial service intend, but

lead only to a ghastly awakening of the dead in this cruellest of Aprils. And this state

of being “neither / Living nor dead” is what leads to the place where “I knew nothing,

/ Looking into the heart of light, the silence” (39-41) – ironically, another garden

suggesting death and rebirth (Hyacinth). Such “moments” are born of failure and

open only onto desolation (“Oed’ und leer das Meer” [42]).
100
The life-restoring “spring rain,” the vital water that the waste land requires,

has already fallen by line 4, initiating the travesty of redemptive resurrection and the

limbo of incompletion, punctuated by the ironic participial endings of the lines

(breeding, mixing, stirring, covering, feeding). Here the confusion of desire (what

would be) and memory (what was) changes into a mere Bergsonian flaneur the hero

of Charles Louis Philippe’s Bubu de Monteparnasse:

A man who walks carries all the things of his life and turns them in his mind.

One sight arouses them, another excites them. Our flesh has kept all our

memories, we mix them with our desires. We wander through the present

time with our baggage, we move forward complete at any instant. (qtd. in

Rabate 213)

Such a mixing does not yield an integration but only a viscid soup of parts, a

rubblization of the temporal ecstases in “the Bergsonian ‘stream of consciousness,’”

which Rabate says “might be the cornerstone of Eliot’s theory of tradition”: the

“’heap of broken images’ ... is precisely what Eliot means by a ‘tradition’” (213). But

as I have argued, Eliot’s tradition is precisely the opposite of what he presents here as

a parody of a classicism concerned primarily with “mummified stuff from a museum”

(“Ulysses” 177).

The themes of the first section are fairly obvious: the desire for and fear of

water; the failure of rain to end the sterility and barrenness; the evocation of the

“Great War” in Countess Marie Larisch’s expression of descent (in all senses of the

word); the failure of love as yet one more instance of cruel mixing, both static and
101
fractured; the failure of speech, vision, and knowledge; and the possibility of

transformation in death, which is destroyed by the closing refrain that burials yield

only monstrous shams of resurrection and fertility. However, the formal movement

from one point of view to another, the gathering together of this chorus of failure and

loss, manifests a force in utter contrast to the “aboulie” that afflicts the inhabitants of

The Waste Land, including even the indifferent reader, indicted in the final line

(Baudelaire’s “You! hypocrite lecteur! – mon semblable, – mon frère!” [76]) as one

who digs up the allusions in the manner of Stetson’s dog.

Rather than interrupting the process of emergence in the poem, we ought to

see how the poem makes vital and integral use of its “fragments.” Notice, for example,

how the Countess’ memoirs are entitled My Past and are ironized by Eliot’s

highlighting of a childhood sled, which suggests her anxiety about lineage and the

decline of Europe (“And down we went” [16]). This point of view yields the voice of

God from Ezekiel (19-30), who sub specie aeternitatis supposes that we “know only /

A heap of broken images” (22), and who shows us the soldier who “goes west”98

(“something different from either / Your shadow at morning striding behind you / Or

your shadow at evening rising to meet you” [27-29]). The poem then shows us how

this fearful mortality, like the sibyl, as the echo from Job suggests, is “but of yesterday,

and know[s] nothing, because our days upon earth are a shadow” (Job viii, 9, qtd. in

Jain 155). Then, the wind of tragic love from Tristan und Isolde quickly becomes

Zephyrus, who kills Hyacinthus because he prefers Apollo to him; Hyacinthus

98
World-War-One slang for dying.
102
becomes “the hyacinth girl,” whose flowers symbolize the risen god but whose lover

responds only with nihilism. The failures of vision and the gender-shifting get picked

up by the caricature of the “famous clairvoyante,” Madame Sosostris (her source in a

male character from Aldous Huxley’s Chrome Yellow who dresses in drag as the

fortune-telling gypsy “Sesostris”), the double entendre on the cosmetic poison

Belladonna, and her sudden Shakespearean exclamation “Those are pearls that were

his eyes. Look!” (48). The poem’s ironizing of foresight, of transformation in death,

and of the role of gender in the vicissitudes of fertility, love, and fortune, all echo the

picture of the sibyl and prefigure Tiresias.99 The poem thereby distributes

responsibility for the current state of the land to all those “bound upon the Wheel,”

whom “death had undone,” and not just to desolate and degenerate women. All

those who bear responsibility become the “unhappy spirits” on their way to London

offices at nine o’clock (60-76), a sign of their implication in a whole zombifying,

time-confused culture, whose wars are fought for largely for commerce (hence Mylae,

the site of the first sea encounter between Carthage and Rome), and whose

productivities are perhaps underwritten by sinister plots (the murder hidden in

Stetson’s garden).

If the first section focuses on the liminal moment of death, while also

exemplifying a quest that methodically moves in contrast to the thematized one that

desires to keep pedalling time’s cycle, the second section, “A Game of Chess,” raises

the question of love as a unifying force and possible alternative to ritual killing in the

99
The constant shifts in gender alone make it much more difficult to blame Eliot for
representing women as solely responsible for the infertility of the Waste Land.
103
attempt to restore health to the wasted land. Yet here, in the presentation of

seduction’s moves and counter-moves, we encounter only sexual violence, marital

unhappiness, and, oxymoronically, abortive fertility. The story of Philomela, who

appears in the “sylvan scene” among the Cleopatran woman’s collection of purple

figures of love (“a golden Cupidon,” “a carvèd dolphin” [80, 96]) and in the décor of

tragic passion (the “lacquearia” of Dido who was abandoned by Aeneas [92f]),

illustrates the perversion of love, thereby becoming, for social diagnosticians and

tragedians, the very crux of the poem. For instance, in his recapitulation of John

Crowe Ransom’s argument, New Critic Cleanth Brooks sees Philomela’s rape and

mutilation by her brother-in-law King Tereus as a criticism “our scientific attitude …

our complete secularization” (193). Using one of Weston’s readings of the Grail

manuscripts, Brooks defines this secularization, of which “the violation of woman

makes a very good symbol,” as the process in which “the older mysteries which were

probably once celebrated openly” are “violated” and “forced underground into

secrecy” (193). Against, but also by, this expropriative type of “progress” – the

process of laying waste to a tradition – there is the figure of redemption: “The raped

woman becomes transformed through suffering into the nightingale; through the

violation comes the ‘inviolable voice’” (193).

Is the poem really using Philomela, and in general, the representation of

women in this way – both as necessarily violated and thereby as productive, creative?

Recent criticism thinks so, though from a more demystifying point of view. Harriet
104
Davidson, in her “The Logic of Desire: The Lacanian Subject of The Waste Land,”

writes:

Women in the symbolic systems of the culture of The Waste Land are

associated with generation, but in this poem desire results mostly in the

violence of rape or suicide, in ennui, or in frustration. Woman is both the

longed for reunion with the plenitude of the mother (the Phallic mother) and

also the constant reminder of human lack in woman’s association with

generation, with the fluid unstructured world of liquids, smells, and the open

body. (71)

Certainly, in this section that mocks love, the nervously ill woman and Lil of the

London pub are versions of Philomela without inviolable voice, the “bird” with only a

vulgar “Jug Jug.” And all are also versions of the Sibyl, victims of their relationships,

trapped in a deadening existence, even losing teeth and looking “so antique” (156).

But the poem, the quest (1) displays in the figure of Philomel no desire to reunify or

redeem; and (2) moves through every figure on its way to an omnisexual,

omnigendered Tiresias, “the most important personage … uniting all the rest,” in

whom, at the very least, the men show themselves with equal inadequacy (Eliot’s note

to 208).

Philomela is first of all not the true figure of the artist. She is not

“transformed through suffering into the nightingale”; she does not gain her voice

“through the violation” per se. She is simply one of the “other withered stumps of

time” that are pinned and wriggling on the Cleopatran lady’s walls (105). There we
105
see, “As though a window gave upon the sylvan scene / The change of Philomel” (98f)

– her transformation coming by way of the gods and their pity for her. Her song,

because her tongue was cut out, is merely a desperate chattering, which the pub scene

makes dramatic. Furthermore, Philomela’s art, in contrast to Eliot’s, is necessarily

representational: in order to send a message to her sister from the fortress in which

she is imprisoned, Philomela weaves her story into a tapestry. Procne receives the

message, and in revenge, murders her own son to deprive Tereus of an heir. Here

love is replaced by violence, which must be conveyed by a realism that yields only

more violence – a violence that represents the fatal (and paradoxically interminable)

disconnection of the waste land’s present.

In utter contrast to these scenes is the ability of the poem to move like an

action painting. The “intensity of the artistic process” – in which the allusive sounds

of the present come together with the voices of the past to condemn a temporal order

which cannot support such unions – adds to and alters the meaning of the explicit

content. Love does not result in the birth of the new, and if it could, would only

contribute to the cycle whose refrain rings out the end of this section: “HURRY UP

PLEASE ITS TIME” (168f). But the poem, on the other hand, yields fresh

concatenations, putting together stilted diction and love emblems of the opening with

horrifically unsuccessful affairs. It combines the self-referential deflations (“O O O O

that Shakespeherian Rag” [128]) with allusions to Hamlet’s last words and Ophelia’s,

which signify “death by water” and close out the section (“Good night, ladies, good

night, sweet ladies, good night, good night” [172]). A drowning woman’s words are
106
paired brilliantly with the startling opening image of “The Fire Sermon” – “the last

fingers of leaf / Clutch and sink into the wet bank” (173f). The spooky opulence of

the Cleopatran lady’s “barge” stands in meaningful contrast with the complete

emptiness of the Thames in Eliot’s anti-pastoral, where the celebration of love,

marriage and natural fertility is negated by the figures of sordid city life – the

scavenging rat, the prostitutes, the solicitous Smyrna merchant, and the office

automatons sitting “like a taxi throbbing waiting” (217). And the “sound of horns

and motors” (197) echo with a bawdy war song (the Mrs. Porter ballad), the Actaeon-

Diana myth, Philomel’s song, and Mr. Eugenides’s proposition to the compound

ghost Cleopatra/Philomela/Ophelia, which resonates ironically against the meaning of

his name (“well-born”) and the generative desires of the poem.100

From Philomela, the poem moves to Tiresias, the “most important

personage,” who appears in the poem in order to present yet another failure of love –

the famous after-work liaison between the typist and the young man carbuncular –

narrated (thanks to Pound) in the collapsed quatrains of incomplete sonnets. As the

victim of nature’s and the gods’ inexplicable whim – getting transformed into a

woman after killing a mating snake, getting blinded by Juno for siding with Jove

about women’s greater sexual pleasure, and getting compensated by Jove with

foresight – Tiresias is himself/herself perhaps the waste land’s most symptomatic


100
I am aware that many critics have felt Mr. Eugenides’s overture to be a homosexual one.
This then opens the poem up to the criticism that Eliot is using homosexual love as an
example of unnatural production, alongside violated women and vulgar middle-class
industry. However, there is no reason to suppose that the speaking voice is male here – in
fact, Philomela’s “twit twit twit” immediately before the Eugenides section would suggest
quite the opposite. In any case, the appearance of Tiresias could confirm either reading
while simultaneously making the issue moot.
107
character rather than just “a mere spectator.” Nevertheless he/she has often stood as

either a positive or negative example in a reading that hopes for the detachment from

passions enjoined in Buddha’s “Fire Sermon,” the redemptive “plucking” from the

“cauldron of unholy loves” (Augustine 3.1.1). In the positive case, Tiresias is a figure

of wholeness, a counterpoint to the “heap of broken images” he/she has witnessed and

is currently seeing. Not only is it the case that the prophet is the hermaphroditic “old

man with wrinkled dugs, who has “foresuffered all / Enacted on this same divan or

bed” (228, 243f), but also, as Cleo McNelly Kearns puts it, “Eliot tells us that what

Tiresias ‘sees’ is the ‘substance’ of the poem, a pronouncement that has led to

attempts to establish him as the poem’s sole point of view” (206). She cites G.N. Rao,

who argues that Tiresias is the “Witness or Seer … the figure of Prajapati, an

androgynous visionary who is said to be the narrator or visionary consciousness

behind the Upanishads,” and who is therefore a “deep self” spectating “from a highly

detached and reflective point of view what Paul Elmer More called ‘the weariness of

ceaseless change and unresting desires.’”101 North also reports such cases of “Tiresias

[as] an image of reconciliation” in which a critic such as “Grover Smith … has

Tiresias chatting with the Countess Marie at the very outset of the poem” (Political

Aesthetic 97). Even for Levenson, it is Tiresias who “can serve the function of ‘uniting

all the rest,’” who symbolizes “the struggled-for emergence of a more encompassing

point of view,” even if he/she is not the “presiding consciousness” and unitary voice

of the poem (Genealogy 191-92). In the negative case, Tiresias “is instead the

101
Kearns 206, 207. G.N. Rao, “The Upanishad in The Waste Land,” Asian Response to
American Literature, ed. C.D. Narasimhaiah (Delhi: Vikas, 1972): 84-91.
108
incarnation of the failure of reconcilation, a mere juxtaposition of part and whole that

dramatizes the gulf between them” (North, Political Aesthetic 100). The negative

Tiresias “is he who has lost the sense of other people as inviolably other, and who is

capable neither of pity nor terror” (Kenner 168); he is “a dead mind, alienated from

the immediacy of feeling and passion, and hence merely objective about it” (Moody,

Eliot 88).102

Both of these views seem partly right: Tiresias is a figure of totality, as Eliot

says he is, with complete vision and complete foresuffering of both the violated but

indifferent typist (whose line of work symbolizes a literature exhausted by its own

reproductivity103) and the jejune but sinister “small house agent’s clerk,” of Elizabeth

and Leicester on the royal barge, and a decidely less regal though equally doomed

couple in the “narrow canoe” (295), of all the fruitless attempts to restore fertility,

whether by love or violence, grail or spear. And it is precisely because of this

experience of history as endless repetition, of life as history, to be witnessed infinitely

instead of finitely lived, of time as Russell’s tragic B series, that Tiresias is painfully

bored, “capable neither of pity nor terror.” Whatever terror the detached individual,

who “can connect / Nothing with nothing,” might have had(301f), has “melted” into

the single all-encompassing view of a prophet whom Dante placed in hell, amongst

other “augurs and diviners who ... have their faces turned so that they can only go

102
Both the Kenner and the Moody are cited in Kearns 207.
103
Cf. Eliot’s opinion on “automatic” writing: “I have no good word to say for the
cultivation of automatic writing as the model of literary composition; I doubt whether these
moments can be cultivated by the writer; but he to whom this happens assuredly has the
sensation of being a vehicle rather than a maker” (Pensées of Pascal, 405).
109
backwards, because looking forward was denied to them” (Jain 175). For Tiresias, as

for the other inhabitants of The Waste Land, this punishment is the same as the crime,

since he who knows that what is to come will be the same thing as that which has

already happened has no future horizon. As the poet Craig Raine contends, in one of

the few arguments with a view of Tiresias similar to mine, The Waste Land “is about

ennui because it is a Buddhist [sic] poem about reincarnation,” and, strikingly,

“Tiresias is not impersonating people, he is those people” (“The Waste Land as a

Buddhist Poem” 503, 504). Notwithstanding the possible confusion of Hinduism

and Buddhism, and his interpretation of every single character as an incarnation of

poor Tiresias,104 Raine’s recognition that “renewal is, in fact, repetition,” that this

repetition is suffering, and that it is neither redeeming nor redeemed, even when

performed by the god, at least shows why Tiresias, the historical witness of passions,

and the desire for freedom from the burning cycle of passions and rebirth (Buddha’s

Fire Sermon), are not the remedies for, but examples of, the malady. Both the circles

which people are “walking round in” (and which Phlebas in the next section is

whirled in), and the water/rivers (“the traditional emblem of the infinite flux” [Raine

504]) that flow through the poem without imparting vitality, are symbols, not

counter-symbols, of The Waste Land.

104
For the minor controversy that this confusion stirred up in the pages of the TLS, see
Jayanta Padmanabha’s letter to the editor, Times Literary Supplement (18 May 1973): 556,
and P. Malekin’s, Times Literary Supplement (25 May 1973): 587. I am grateful to John
Hirsh for calling my attention to Raine’s article and the amusing academic spat concerning
the difference between Buddhism and Hinduism. In The Waste Land, I don’t think the
difference matters, since endless reincarnation and Buddha’s transcendence of it are both
symptoms, although one could make a case for Buddha’s refusal of enlightenment, because
of his compassion for the world, as the poem’s ideal.
110
Again, none of this entails taking a tragic view. No image, instant, character,

or narrative offers salvation, yet the poem does project a vital questing with which the

reader is called to identify. The final section, “What the Thunder Said” (V),

explicitly thematizes the quests which lead always back to the waste land, while

simultaneously performing the quest that models contemporaneity. After the

exploration of death as a necessary event to bring about the next, after the search in

gardens for the birth that would answer this death, after the research of agonies of

love required for that birth, the question of subjective and objective witnessing as

forms of being in time and escaping time, the poem presents “the journey to Emmaus,

the approach of the Chapel Perilous … and the present decay of eastern Europe” (WL

25n). It is easy to see how the first two are failures. Picking up on the eastern and

western aestheticism of section III, and the “Death by Water” dramatized in section

IV – in which Phlebas can “forget” but also goes backward past “the stages of his age

and youth (317), while time’s “current under sea / Picked his bones in whispers”

[315f]) – the Passion of Jesus leaves the “we” of the waste land in a limbo of

anticipation that ends in a desperate delusion. After the crucifixion, Eliot aligns the

return of the god, as the fulfillment of prophesy in accordance with the divine

narrative (see Luke 24: 13-31), with Shackleton’s Antarctic expeditions, in which “the

party of explorers, at the extremity of their strength, had the constant delusion that

there was one more member than could actually be counted” (WL 25n). The

“thunder of spring” (327) that would bring relief only claps “dry sterile thunder

without rain” (342); the height of the mountain from which the sounds issue is Lil’s
111
and the sibyl’s “Dead mountain mouth of carious teeth that cannot spit” (339). That

mouth in turn becomes “the empty chapel”; and its voice, its promise of the grail,

becomes a Boschian version of the nightingale’s – “voices singing out of empty

cisterns and exhausted wells” (389, 385).

“The present decay of eastern Europe” is also an example of failure, not just

because it refers to the Russian Revolution and the world war that precipitated it, but

because revolutionary time is the time of the waste land simply writ social. Violent

succession, the explosive new, and the levelled time being tolled by the bells in the

upside-down towers, are instances in their form of the time of vegetative cycles, as

well as of religious totalization and its desire for transcendence. “The hooded hordes

swarming / Over endless plains,” causing the fall of civilizations to “go west” (from

Jerusalem to London), are in fact the figures of the revolutionary and redemptive

Christ and Tiresias, “wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded / I do not know whether a

man or a woman” (369f, 364f). Linked to this time is the method which seeks “an

arrest at the object in view” (cf. Russell), for if Eliot cites Herman Hesse’s Blick ins

Chaos in order to evoke, in the “Downfall of Europe,” a Dostoevskyan “returning

home to the mother … [which] will necessarily lead, like every death on earth, to a

new birth” and “the rejection of every strongly held Ethic and Moral in favor of a

comprehensive laissez-faire” (qtd. in North, WL 61), then we should remember what

Eliot associated with Dostoevsky in his 1917 “Reflections on Contemporary Poetry”:

a “fastening upon accidental properties of a critical situation, and letting these in turn
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fasten upon the attention to such an extent as to replace the emotion which gave

them their importance.”105

All roads seem to lead to dead-ends. When the thunder speak its “primordial

Indo-European root”-syllable “DA,” the voice from within the waste land can

seemingly only meet Prajapati’s injunctions with counterexamples that have already

occurred. “Datta” (“give”) prompts the speaker’s question, “what have we given?”

and recalls all the scenes of forcible taking in the poem (402). “Dayadhvam”

(“sympathize”) seems negated by the allusion to Ugolino’s imprisonment in the tower,

and by the (misleading) suggestion of solipsism in Eliot’s note from Bradley: “my

experience falls within my own circle, a circle closed on the outside ...” (WL 26n).

“Damyata” (“self-control”) contrasts with the control of a boat and lover, recalling

perhaps the barge and canoe scenes of section III, where self-restraint was absent.

But where there is negation (certainly at the thematic level), there is also surely

another type of movement. For instance, Prajapati’s instruction “DA” is being

interpreted differently by each group of his offspring – gods, men, and demons – each

of which is an aspect of the human.106 Giving is taken out of the framework of

charity/avarice and transformed: the imperative becomes one of existing through

daring experience, which cannot be restrained by “an age of prudence” nor

105
“Reflections” 118. Eliot attributed this “curious trick” to American writers, who were just
as bad as the Wordsworthian Georgian poets, fixating on trivial objects “not because of
association with passions specifically human.” “[W]ith the Russian the emotion dissolves
into a mass of sensational detail, and ... with Wordsworth the emotion is of the object and
not of human life” (118).
106
See the note by Swami Nikhilananda, tr., The Upanishads, 4 vols. (New York: Harper,
1949-59), rpt. in North 63.
113
represented by retrospective histories like “obituaries,” “memories,” or solicitor’s

documents (404-09). Even while these lines indubitably remind us of the terrible

scenes of “surrender,” they also suggest the positive impersonal surrender necessary for

the achievement of contemporaneity. As Eliot remarked in an illuminating letter to

Stephen Spender,

You don’t really criticize any author to whom you have never surrendered

yourself. ... Even just the bewildering moment counts; you have to give

yourself up, and then recover yourself, and the third moment is having

something to say, before you have wholly forgotten both surrender and

recovery. Of course the self recovered is never the same as the self before it

was given. (Qtd. in Kermode, Introduction 13)

Likewise, where there is loneliness and exile remembered in the call for

compassion to the demons, there is also evoked the anti-foundational gathering

required by his theory of points of view. Bradley’s passage on solipsism in Eliot’s note

is “a statement he is, in fact, making only to refute” (Kearns 223). Since Eliot refuses

to ground his finite centers in an Bradleyan Absolute, then “there is no absolute point

of view from which real and ideal can be finally separated and labelled. All of our

terms turn out to be unreal abstractions; but we can defend them, and give them a

kind of reality and validity (the only validity which they can possess or can need) by

showing that they express the theory of knowledge which is implicit in all our

practical activity” (KE 18). And this “pragmatism,” eschewing both a given external

world and a solipsistic subjectivism, points to the fundamental “widening” of our


114
perspective, the “move from one point of view to another” (KE 91), which is required

for the construction of reality, and, as Michaels writes, “the already public character

of the individual self ... the situated character of the individual self. ... ‘Common

reference’ is thus a function of what Eliot calls a ‘community of meaning,’ a

community which he conceives not as a collection of individuals but as a point of

view, a context” (190).

Finally, “Damyata,” by becoming an order to order, surpasses its negation in

earlier images of control and the pathetic subjunctive memory that yields again to

own desire for domination (“your heart would have responded / Gaily, when invited,

beating obedient / To controlling hands” [421-23]). Here the injunction becomes

not so much about control and subordination as about performing an alternative

virtue: the marshalling of the manic energies of the ending.107 So while “Shall I at

least set my lands in order?” is undeniably the resigned voice of the “solitary lyric self”

of the Fisher King (Svarny 204), symptomatic of his wasted land as are the

fragmented moments he has shored against his ruins, it is also the quester’s own

response to his question, “What aileth thee?” and his own challenge to his answer,

“Anthropos.” The answer to the problem of the deathly time of The Waste Land is not

rebirth, nothingness, nor timelessness, but “life turned toward creation.” Whereas

“London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down” (427), the poem is

building to a crescendo:

107
In order that my own language avoid hints of domination, I call upon the etymology of
word “marshal” – marhaz (horse) and skalkaz (servant), which together suggest “groom” –
rather than the association to military offices.
115
Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina

Quando fiam uti chelidon – O swallow swallow

Le Prince d’Aquitaine à la tour abolie

These fragments I have shored against my ruins

Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo’s mad againe.

Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.

Shantih shantih shantih

In the apocalyptic time of the last section, before leaping into a refining fire,

Dante’s Arnaut Daniel enjoins us to “be mindful in time” of his pain by the virtue

that leads us to the “top of the staircase” – a figure that much better represents the

self-conscious process of laborious intentional expansion than Levenson’s Tiresias.

This plea, as Kearns points out, “is the one that in the Parsival story the ailing king

cannot himself make, the plea for the gesture of compassion implicit in the saving

question ‘What ails you; why are you suffering?’” (225). If the way of being in time

of the desiccated zombies, the wretched escapists, and the mechanical automatons has

anything to do with it, the next line from the Pervigilium Veneris offers another plea

which opens up the future not as something to be divined but hoped for, and

demands the articulation of suffering. Its refrain is: “Let who never loved, love

tomorrow, / Let whoever has loved, love tomorrow” (qtd. in Jain 192). The irony

that the line “When shall I be as the swallow,” generates by its resonance with fertility

and love themes, including specifically the Philomela story, is set in contrast to the

power of the poem to use the Latin version of Philomela as the swallow, in order to
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turn the tragic apostrophe, “O swallow swallow,” into a comic, punning injunction.

Not only is the poem telling Tereus to eat his own son, whom Procne kills and serves

to him for dinner in retaliation for her sister’s rape, but it is mocking the Latin poet

who desires an inviolable voice. It links this voice to the exilic tower of “El

Desdichado,” the tower Ugolino recalls in Dante’s Inferno, wherein he ate his own

children before starving to death, and generally to all phallic attempts to bring about

the new. The poem then teases the reader with a self-reflexive presentation of itself as

ruins, and immediately avails itself in the voice of Hieronymo: “Why then Ile fit

you.” We shall see the poem as fragments shored up against ruins and shorn from

their original contexts, only if we have remained an hypocrite lecteur, murderers of his

son whom he’ll “fit.” The reiteration of the thunder’s injunctions and the “formal

ending to an Upanishad,” “Shantih,” heightens the sense of failure, should we not be

able to identify with the energies that have just peaked. The absence of the syllable

“Om” from Prajapati’s lesson (signifying our understanding), as well as its

conspicuous omission in the indented space preceding the “Shantih,” only matters if

we have failed to follow the poem in its building to a mantra, and indeed, if we have

failed to participate in its power to transport.

This reading of the poem is not a search for a “happy ending.” But it is an

acknowledgement that The Waste Land is saying one thing, while doing another.

And what it does is not a negation of theme so much as the performance of an

alternative, which in thematic terms comes to be a solution to the malaise of the land.

The use of fragments of the past was never meant to reproduce a prelapsarian past or
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inspire atavistic celebration. When Eliot reviewed Stravinsky’s ballet Le Sacre du

Printemps, he criticized the difference between the music and the dancing thus:

To me the music ... struck me as possessing a quality of modernity which I

missed from the ballet which accompanied it. The effect was like Ulysses with

illustrations by the best contemporary illustrator. ... The spirit of the music

was modern, and the spirit of the ballet was primitive ceremony. ... In

everything in the Sacre du Printemps, except in the music, one missed the sense

of the present. (“London Letter” 132, emphasis added)

Where the ballet simply mimicked the past and was “hardly more than interesting,”

the music was “a revelation of that vanished mind of which our mind is a

continuation” (132). Being “interesting” is the best that a rehearsal of the past can do,

an object to meet, as Kenner once said, Tiresias’s “fascination, spuriously related to

compassion, which is merely the twentieth century’s special mutation of indifference”

(168). On the other hand, the music’s “spirit” – not an aspect of content (the

cacophony of horns and motors) but the energies projected by the way in which the

content is formally wielded – is “modern,” gives “the sense of the present.” That

present is, therefore, difficult, abstract, and intense; and it is in opposition to the

automatic bitterness and the desolation-by-default that, as Richards once reminded us,

are superficial aspects of his poetry. There are those who think that [Eliot]

merely takes his readers into the Waste Land and leaves them there, that in his

last poem he confesses his impotence to release the healing waters. The reply

is that some readers find in his poetry not only a clearer, fuller realisation of
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their plight, the plight of a whole generation, than they find elsewhere, but

also through the very energies set free in that realisation a return of the saving

passion.108

108
“The Poetry of T.S. Eliot,” Principles of Literary Criticism, in North, WL 173.
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CHAPTER THREE

SUB SPECIE TEMPORIS NOSTRI: TIME AND THE “OURS” IN JAMES JOYCE’S ULYSSES

The “Time-Book”

In order to illustrate that James Joyce subscribed to no single aesthetic creed,

Frank Budgen cites “the multiplicity of technical devices” in Ulysses and recalls the

following funny story: “In Zurich I wanted to learn Italian and, as a reading exercise,

Joyce lent me Boccioni’s book on futurism. I quoted to him one full-sounding phrase

I had learned: ‘Noi futuristi italiani siamo senza passato.’ [We Italian futurists are

without a past.] ‘E senza avvenire’, said Joyce. [And without a future.]” (193-94).

He goes on to draw the lesson, rightly, that any one doctrine or movement by itself

would have limited Joyce’s representation of “the stream of actual life” (194), and yet

at the same time Budgen seems unstruck by the joke’s most interesting punch: that

futurism cannot succeed because of its conception of time.

From the 1920s to the present, many critics of Ulysses have levelled the same

criticism at Joyce’s own understanding of time. The literary project that follows from

this understanding – the move away from linearity and plot, the interest in the

texture of appearances rather than the deep, hidden laws governing the physical and

social world, the care for the full trifold temporality of his characters – betrays what
120
109
Terry Eagleton once called “a retreat from a history in crisis.” Judgments on Joyce,

and indeed on modernism generally, have relied on quite confused understandings of

time and of the stances taken toward it. In the case of Ulysses, the theme of time has

been taken to mean a withdrawal from the socio-historical world and a flight into

timelessness or subjectivism; or a manifestation of the mechanistic world measured by

empirical instants; or a symptom of a reifying capitalism in which temporality is

commodified; or, most recently, a celebration of relativism, contingency, multiplicity,

and everydayness. The difference between censure and approbation simply turns on

whether Joyce betrays or exposes these meanings.

Of the forms of time explored in Ulysses, is there a temporality that Joyce

values and sanctions? Within a single paragraph in a letter to Carlo Linati, he

describes his book variously as “a little story of a day (life),” as “the epic of two races

(Israel-Ireland),” as “the cycle of the human body,” and as “a kind of encyclopaedia”

(Letters, 21 September 1920, 270). Is this extensive variety like the novel’s internal

colligation of “every hour, every organ, every art” – “interconnected,” as he says, “and

interrelated in the somatic scheme of the whole”? Joyce goes on to say that he renders

myth “sub specie temporis nostri” (270). “Under the aspect of our time” – what

precisely does this mean? How does it square with the different ways of viewing the

109
Criticism 157. For a good summary of early historical-materialist reaction to Joyce, see
Jeremy Hawthorn’s “Ulysses, Modernism, and Marxist Criticism,” Benstock, Critical Essays
264-76. He reminds us of Georg Lukács’s argument that “the modernist novelist’s retreat
from plot is a retreat from the social world and historical context. Many Marxist critics have
felt that in the absence of an order imposed by this ‘discipline of the real,’ Joyce has injected
a purely formal, artificial literary order into Ulysses, an order which makes no real contact
with the experiences and inner lives of its characters” (266).
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novel? Why does Joyce add the first-person plural genitive to this Latin expression,

which, under normal circumstances, would simply rule out a relation to eternity?

One of the easiest ways to answer these questions has been to stand Eagleton

on his head. Upside-down, the retreat from history becomes an embrace of history, a

celebration of the everyday. In other words, Joyce’s “our” gathers to itself the

fundamental Irishness of his historical perspective; instead of surrendering to a mythic

timelessness, it takes possession of the irreducibly historical quality of a Dublin day in

1904, and of every succeeding day from which Joyce looked backward to recreate

June 16. The accent here falls on the meaning of Joyce’s tempus as history, which

itself includes both large-scale cultural and political history, and the ephemeral history

of the everyday. Thus, history comes to mean multi-temporality – the simple fact

that there are many times, the flipside of the Marxist argument that the temporal

multiplicity of Ulysses is a reflection of, and the means by which to criticize, the

fractured, colonized, commodified, and contingent times in which the characters find

themselves.

Reading Joyce’s tempus as more than a stage-setting into which he transposed

the myth of Homer, and as a condition for the very possibility of history, I will argue

that the phrase “sub specie temporis nostri” provides a significant clue to Joyce’s

understanding of time, and to the related questions of point of view, voice, and style

which frame a novel that ends, so famously, with interior monologue. I do not wish

to deny the historicity of Ulysses, however ambiguously defined, but I do not think it

can tell the whole story about Joyce’s exploration of situated temporality, or how
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history itself is both conditioned by and constructed out of temporality. Historical

accounts can show how the novel opens onto the infinitude of the topical and

empirical, but they cannot fully account for (if they even desired to do so) the force of

the modernist comprehensiveness that he exemplifies in his book. Joyce’s “our” does

not signify simply the fact of a shared world, just as his “time” does not mean

primarily the reified and reifying clock, however multiple the frames of reference.

Instead, as I will show, the genitive signifies the very condition of sharability, and

time proves its importance to the formation of this ourness less as chronos or Frank

Kermode’s narrative kairos, than as the temporality that allows for the projection,

identification, and memory that “Wandering Rocks” performs and invites.110 By

examining “Wandering Rocks,” the episode most concerned with timing, I will show

how Joyce makes the first-person possessive an inextricable part of his navigation of

the Scylla of the objective time and the Charybdis of mere subjectivism.

Early in the history of its reception, Ulysses was characterized as a book

preoccupied with time, but the meaning of its focus was debated. According to the

standard reading of T.S. Eliot’s 1922 essay, “Ulysses, Order, and Myth,” Joyce was a

classicist who scaffolded the present with the strength of the mythical and

eschatological past. For Wyndham Lewis, in his 1927 Time and Western Man, Joyce’s

novel presented only “the Time-view, the flux. It asks us to see everything sub specie

110
Chronos designates an anonymous, scientific, and endless sequence. In The Sense of an
Ending, Kermode defines kairos as the opposite. It is rather “the season, a point in time filled
with significance, charged with a meaning derived from its relation to the end” (47). I will
explore an alternative, meaningful time that does not require structurally a narrative end.
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temporis” (xix). He saw “Mr. Joyce … [as] very strictly of the school of Bergson-

Einstein, Stein-Proust” (87); therefore, Ulysses, as a “time-book,” was to be

condemned for promoting the “inner meaning of the time-philosophy” – “the doctrine

of a mechanistic universe; periodic; timeless, or nothing but ‘time,’ whichever you

prefer; and above all, essentially dead” (91). Consigning Ulysses to the “time-cult” of

modernism with Bergson’s vitalism, Einstein’s relativity, Stein’s “continuous present,”

and Proust’s memory, was only the beginning of a long critical tradition of seeing the

forest while completely misunderstanding the nature of its trees, or, at least, of

confusing the presentation of particular views of time for their justification.

In the fierce confusion typical of Lewis, Ulysses was nothing more than a

“mechanical heaping up of detail,” “a dense mass of dead stuff” (73, 89); its

“naturalistic method” no more than “an immense nature-morte” (88, 89); and its

temporal flows, “a record diarrhoea” (89). Nothing held together, in Lewis’s

estimation, and nothing lived. Even Joyce’s characters suffered the rigor mortis of the

time-cult’s artifice: they were played by “a stage Jew … a stage Irishman … a stage

Anglo-Saxon,” and worst of all, the “cliché,” “the really wooden figure,” Stephen

Dedalus (94, 95). The chronicle of a single day, the epic, the bodily cycle, the

encyclopedia: they overload the novel; they are more than the book can bear. If

Ulysses only presents, but cannot meaningfully contain, the blooming, buzzing

multiplicity of time, how can the question of ourness – of the nostri – even be posed?

From a more appreciative standpoint two years later, Marcel Brion found that

this excessiveness of time was precisely the point of Joyce’s novel: “we can easily
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imagine that Ulysses might have been ten times as long, a hundred times as long,

extended to infinity, that one of Bloom’s minutes might have filled a library. This,”

Brion declared in 1929, “is the mystery of the relativity of time” (Exagmination 28).

His celebration of Joyce comes from one of many views of time that Lewis finds

condemnable – “the idea of time being essentially that of the dissociation of

moments” (Brion 28). The relativism here comes from the difference in

measurement-domain and in the rate of change: “some live at high speed, others at

reduced speed; and they are separated, inexorably most often, by these different

cadences” (Brion 28).

To see Brion’s piece in Exagmination must have pleased Lewis and confirmed

his suspicions. The conception of time that Lewis reproved in Ulysses, and that he

attributed to all thinkers interested in the subject, is above all objective and scientific.

And the form of scientific time, which Bertrand Russell, contra Henri Bergson,

referred to as “physical time,” is not fundamentally altered in Einstein’s physics. 111

Even there, perhaps especially there, in a plurality of systems of coordinate axes, time

remains spatial – discrete, dissociated, and punctual. As Alan J. Friedman makes clear

in “Ulysses and Modern Science,” “the marvellous structure that Einstein created is

just as causal, just as deterministic, just as reliable as the structure of Newton’s

111
Physical, that is, “to be understood as meaning ‘what is dealt with by physics’” (“Relation
of Sense-Data to Physics” 145).
125
112
universe.” Neither quantitative relativity vis-à-vis a measuring entity or “clock,” nor

the vitalization of the particulars remorselessly flowing from future to past, could save

this time from Lewis’s complaint.

The question to put to Lewis is: does Joyce’s presentation of the physical

world –sub specie temporis merely – constitute a valorization of it? If the answer is yes,

then the portrayal of a “world in such a state of flux and movement,” as Alan Perlis

remarks, is a representation of “the post-Newtonian mechanical world turned into a

nightmare,” where “human meaning is not only slighted but indistinguishable” (195).

This would confirm Lewis’s critique, and, in Perlis’s argument, turn the novel’s

characters into raw-data-registers – versions of some Lockean “’white paper’ mind”

which “lack[s] the memory that inscribes an associative network for perception.”113

Appropriately, the catalogues, the lists, what Karl Radek once called “a heap of

dung … photographed by a cinema apparatus through a microscope” (122), become

the privileged format for the “unfiltered fact,” “the mass of details,” “the powerful

threat of objects” in a world terrifyingly independent of people (Perlis, 195).

The similarity between Radek’s 1930s Marxist judgment and Lewis’s reproof

underscores the bearing of the scientific conception of time on Marxism’s

112
Benstock, Seventh 195. He continues: “Einstein did not say that ‘everything is relative,’
or that truth itself was now uncertain. Different observers may record different numbers to
describe some phenomena, but those numbers can all be successfully predicted, and all are
rigidly linked, by Einstein’s new equations.”
Perlis and Friedman are two of the clearest accounts of the presence and meaning of
science in Joyce’s work. Their articles were presented at the panel on “Joyce and the Gnosis
of Modern Science” and are collected in Benstock’s Seventh.
113
“Newtonian Nightmare” 195. For a recent version of Joyce’s characters as pure
perception or semiotic constructs, see Lorraine Weir’s Writing Joyce: A Semiotics of the Joyce
System, in which Bloom, for instance, becomes the “’LB’ perceptual paradigm.”
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understanding of Joyce. Whatever temporality Ulysses might place against objective

time and against the overheating of human being to the point of “mathematico-

astronomico-physico-mechanico-geometrico-chemico sublimation,”114 Marxism

anyhow consigned to the dung-heap of a-history as mere petty-bourgeois

subjectivism.115 From the earlier Marxist perspective, if Joyce’s aim was not “to

uncover the deeper, hidden, mediated not immediately perceptible network of

relationships that go to make up society,” then any alternative he proposed to the

remorseless passing of objective time, any counter-pressure to the slings and arrows of

outrageous fortune, could only be a retreat to the complicities of a private self, or a

record(er) or “reflex of the reification of late capitalist social relations.”116

More recent Marxists, such as Eagleton and Fredric Jameson, do not handle

time in Ulysses any better. In “Nationalism: Irony and Commitment,” Eagleton

seems to revise his early judgment of Ulysses as a retreat from history and tries to make

sense of its “ironic overtotalization” (36). “All oppositional politics,” he says, “move

114
Joyce’s description of the “aridities of Ithaca” in a letter to Claud W. Sykes, spring 1921,
Letters 1:164. For more of Joyce’s attitude toward the “baldest coldest” style of Ithaca, recall
also the letter to Frank Budgen, 28 February 1921: “I am writing Ithaca in the form of a
mathematical catechism. All events are resolved into their cosmic physical, psychical etc.
equivalents, e.g. Bloom jumping down the area, drawing water from the tap, the micturition
in the garden, the cone of incense, lighted candle and statue so that not only will the reader
know everything and know it in the baldest coldest way, but Bloom and Stephen thereby
become heavenly bodies, wanderers like the stars at which they gaze” (Letters 1:159-60,
Selected Letters 278).
115
Hilariously, Peter Hitchcock remarks on the possibility that the dung-heap was where
First Soviet Writers’ Congress shovelled all things modernist, and that no one there may have
actually read Ulysses: “As the writer Sergei Tretyakov pointed out at the Congress,
“Vishnevskii says [Joyce] is wonderful; Radeck says he is vile. We are quite prepared to argue,
but who has read the book? After all, [Ulysses] has not been translated or published” (60).
116
Georg Lukács, “Realism in the Balance” 38. This passage is quoted in both Jeremy
Hawthorn’s “Ulysses, Modernism, and Marxist Criticism” 265, and Peter Hitchcock’s
“Answering as Authoring: or, Marxism’s Joyce” 59. Jameson, Fables of Aggression 13.
127
under the sign of irony, knowing themselves ineluctably parasitic on their

antagonists” (26). The host here is of course capitalism, which, “unable to remember

the past … is bound compulsively to repeat it in that ceaseless sameness-within-

difference that is commodity exchange” (27). The irony, “the paradox or aporia of

any transformative politics is that it demands, to be successful, a ‘centered,’ resolute,

self-confident agent, but would not be necessary in the first place if such self-

confidence were genuinely possible” (37). With regard to Ulysses, this means that

themes of possibility and change, made available by having a past and projecting a

future, must always be overwhelmed by objective time, the time of fashion and

commodity, and therefore are always repackaged as chance and contingency.

Furthermore, in Eagleton’s view, the future can never really be brought about

or integrated into the present as a dimension. He does say that genuine futurity must

avoid near-sightedness and “’the subjunctive mood’ of ‘bad’ or premature utopianism

[that] grabs instantly for a future” (25); but, if the future cannot be anything other

than an instant, how can one have anything but bad utopianism? One must attend to

the “fault lines within the present,” and “trace within the present that secret lack of

identity with itself which is the spot where a feasible future might germinate” (25),

but the present that is there cannot be “there” now – it is always fleeting, endlessly

dividing, thinning the future down to the very next moment. Rather than an

emergence from a present that is its past and its endemic possibilities, we can only

hope for the “germination” of the future in the place of secret articulation and

disjuncture. This view of time is very much like Russell’s, in that change occurs
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unobservably, rupturally, in between moments: “in some miraculous way the change

of position [of time’s arrow] has to occur between the instants.”117 However, whereas

Russell resolves his paradoxes with the theory of mathematical continuity, Eagleton

must remain ambivalent.

Thus, Ulysses is placed in a curious position, one hardly better than the flight

from history: a stance with one foot rooted in the pile of particulars, and the other

chasing “the rootless conditions of an international monopoly capitalism, whose

abstractly universalist forms are mimed by modernism’s own progressively abstract

techniques” (35). Unable to accept a possibility excluded by his ironies, Eagleton

shows a novel split over space, particularly national(ist) space. And again even here,

“since Ireland, from the standpoint of the advanced societies, is already a kind of

nonplace and nonidentity,” and therefore lends itself to “cosmopolitan modernism

for which all places and identities are becoming progressively interchangeable,” Ulysses

both “celebrates and undermines the Irish national formation at a stroke, deploying

the full battery of cosmopolitan modernist techniques to re-create it while suggesting

with its every breath just how easily it could have done the same for Bradford or the

Bronx” (35, 36).

It is no surprise that Joyce’s resistance to naturalist time does not register with

Eagleton: for him, the primary aim of Ulysses seems to be (perhaps must be) summed

117
Knowledge 179. Of course Russell resolves the paradox, both Zeno’s and Eagleton’s, via
the theory of mathematical continuity. For a good discussion of Russell’s view of time, see
Banfield’s Phantom Table 102-106, 142-46. Incidentally, Bergson repudiated this view of
time as “the cinematographic representation of reality” – all we would need to do is replace
Radek’s dung-heap with a dust-bin, and we could easily see Marxism’s complaints turned
back on itself.
129
up by the anecdote in which Joyce claimed “to give a picture of Dublin so complete

that if the city one day suddenly disappeared from the earth it could be reconstructed

from out of my book” (Budgen 67f ). But more than this, the large-scale model of

time employed at the level of social analysis is unapologetically spatial and external.

Indeed, historicity rarely means more than that something has happened, and cannot be

reversed. Such happenings become significant merely by their amenability to topical

interest. In order to keep history from the timelessness of “the mythic ideal or

mirage,” critics such as Jameson would retemporalize history, and yet such

retemporalizing somehow must exclude, as a part of a-historical myth, the “cherished

theme and experience of classical or high modernism, namely that of temporality,

‘durée,’ lived time, the passage of time” (“History” 146).

I have just cited Jameson’s well-known “Ulysses in History” – there too, as in

Lewis’s critique of the time-school, one can see a lumping-together of dimensional or

ecstatic temporality with durée (itself variously understood as mystical, evolutionary,

or static) and with “the passage of time.” Jameson, in this essay, puts all time aside –

as if Ulysses were not a thorough examination of the differences between these forms

of time – in order to focus on the more public, if “boring,” location of modern

fragmentation. “The more arid places in the novel” will furnish the clue to the real

quandary – “the historical reasons for that modernist crisis, that dissociation of the

existent and the meaningful, that intense experience of contingency” (145, 148).

This split underlies the major irony for Jameson – “how can the city be meaningless?”
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(148) – since the highest product of human labor still cannot manage to bring

together the objective world and the world of significances.

Of course, in good Marxist fashion, the problem lies “in the work process itself,

whose organisation does not allow the producers to grasp their relationship to the

final product” – a process in which subject and object are split, and an achievement of

human making, like a city, becomes “absurd or contingent” (149, 148). To place the

novel “in history” means to read it for symptoms of reification. Thus, Joyce’s own

attempt to think through this modernist crisis – by following (indeed, by being) his

subjects in the object world for a day, by raising style and tone as modes of being in

that world, by showing memory and desire pressing back against the pressure of

reality – can be disregarded as mere modernist retreats to privacy. Jameson looks

instead to “the two most boring chapters of Ulysses” (156) – “Eumaeus” and “Ithaca”

– since our weariness in these sections is an index of how alienated we ourselves are.

As consumers, we are both unengaged and threatened by Joyce’s inclusion of

“dereification” – by those fault lines in the present where we see for a moment that

“everything seemingly material and solid in Dublin itself can presumably be dissolved

back into the underlying reality of human relations and human praxis” (154). If we

just pay attention to the historical, then any phenomenology of time in Ulysses, any

theme of human interest or celebrated experiment in, say, point of view, will be

exposed as “the quasi-material expression of a fundamental social development itself,

namely the increasing social fragmentation and monadisation of late capitalist society,

the intensifying privatisation and isolation of its subjects” (157). Joyce, in spite of his
131
representation of experience, at least gives us a catechistic deconcealment of “the

whole dead grid of the object world of greater Dublin” as well, from its waterworks to

its plumbing (158).

In Jameson’s reading, to see Ulysses in history means to see how Joyce presents

spatial form and the image, “the ultimate terminus of reification,” dereifying under

the weight of historical eventfulness (154). It is to see that “the price” – not a writerly

strategy – is “radical depersonalization” (154). The true achievement of Ulysses is the

instructive display of the destruction of character, the reduction of life and point of

view to an underlying materiality, and an “autistic textualization” – “the production

of sentences in a void” (156). And finally, it is to suppose that the novel ends after

“Ithaca” – Jameson admits he has “little to say here about Molly’s monologue” (145)

– and that June 16th is, in the end, simply another day, even for the characters who

are traumatized by it. “[T]ransforming it [the day] in other words into an Event”

(145), or seeing some significance in Joyce’s use of the Odyssey parallel, is a failure of

interpretation to detect “the fundamental experience of the modern or of modernity

in terms of something like a dissociation between meaning and existence,” to grasp

the radical contingency of everydayness.118

Reading Ulysses in history, for more recent critics such as Garry Leonard,

means celebrating precisely this everydayness in Joyce. Distinguishing himself from

Jameson, who “stigmatizes contemporary experience by making it analogous with

118
“Ulysses in History” 145, 147. Jameson here quotes Barthes’s “L’Effet de reel” to
underscore his point about the experience of contingency and about the “bankruptcy of the
symbolic in literature.”
132
psychosis because he sees it as irredeemably ahistorical” (17), Leonard says that “Joyce

is presenting the history of the everyday, the significance of ephemera, the memorable

quality of the forgotten experience, and the … haunting permanence of anything that

has disappeared before being historicized” (19). The multiplicity of ephemera, of the

form of temporal passage per se, is “operating beneath, beyond, and in between the

stern and spurious monocausality of historical narrative” (22). But what makes it

“memorable”? What is condition for the mechanism of retention (and protention

and intention)? Leonard moves to a consideration of “history as momentary: the

epiphany” (22). The epiphany structures as momentary the “real” history that

suddenly no longer rests below Jameson’s “history as a discourse that speaks ‘the

truth’ from a position of unassailable authority” (17), and it begins to address the

issue of memorability. But then Leonard argues that, in the epiphanic moment, “the

subject is completely passive” (22). With an empiricist and associationist model now

in place, it is no surprise to find that Joyce’s moments and epiphanic objects are

“despite Stephen’s refusal to see it in these terms – a commodity” (24).

The Malady of History

History, famously, is the nightmare from which Stephen is trying to awake.

In Joyce studies, history has become one of those big words that makes us all too

happy too quickly. When Ulysses was found to overlook industrial workers,
133
119
productive activity, and social development, critics held out hope that the novel

might yet evince as historical Joyce’s “modern method,” his casting of the “light of

day” into every crevice of the totality of life.120 In turn, by stressing “materiality,” the

newly-illumined everydayness – the everythingness of everydayness – might then

expose, as Derek Attridge puts it, how “all versions of history are made in language

and are, by virtue of that fact, ideological constructions” (Joyce Effects 80). In other

words, the historical point of view on Ulysses saw a hypernaturalism that uncovered

heterogeneous plurality; and this plurality betrayed a reifying system, whose ideas

cover up or dissimulate a social reality.121

However, between the materialist order and what Jameson sees as modernism’s

“personal styles and private languages” falls a good deal of territory, or rather,

temporality – the full range of times sub specie temporis nostri, free from the shadows

119
See Alick West, Crisis and Criticism (London: Gollancz, 1937) 169, qtd. in Hawthorn
266. Jameson refrains from comdemning the class of Joyce’s characters for only one reason:
“Joyce’s characters are all resolutely petty-bourgeois: what gives this apparent limitation its
representative value and its strength is the colonial situation itself. Whatever his hostility to
Irish cultural nationalism, Joyce’s is the epic of the metropolis under imperialism” (“History”
153).
120
See Joyce’s Stephen Hero: “The ancient spirit accepted phenomena with a bad grace. The
ancient method investigated law with the lantern of justice, morality with the latern of
revelation, art with the lantern of tradition. But all these lanterns have magical properties:
the transform and disfigure. The modern method examines its territory by the light of day”
(190).
121
“Historical study,” writes Robert Spoo, in his review of current historicist scholarship, is
nothing so naïve as “uncovering pre-existing data,” but rather the “engaged, contentious
probing of cultural discourses as they are reproduced in and resisted by literary texts” – an
enterprise fuelled by “a theory-driven eagerness to equate the problem of history with the
demon of ideology” (“Question of History” 427). The “most prominent contributions” to
“the new cultural criticism” in Spoo’s opinion are Cheryl Herr’s Joyce’s Anatomy of Culture,
Jennifer Wicke’s Advertising Fictions, R.B. Kershner’s Joyce, Bakhtin, and Popular Culture,
and Stephen Watt’s Joyce, O’Casey, and the Irish Popular Theater.
134
122
cast by eternity. History, even if redefined to fit this mundane middle ground,

seemed less important to Joyce than the condition for there being a history that we

can have. Joyce, in other words, is more concerned with todayness than with

everydayness, with the ways in which we are connected to, and bind ourselves to, a

day in history than with either blind necessity, pure chance, or inexorable change per

se. Fate, accident, irreversibility: Joyce himself saw these aspects of a scientific

temporal order as symptoms of “what Nietzsche called ‘the malady of history’” – to

which, as Robert Spoo argues, Ulysses is in fact a response (Language of History 6).

“History, or the denial of reality … they are two names for one thing,” as Joyce

remarked in his lecture on “James Clarence Mangan” (CW 81). “Dedalus’s

nightmare” was that large system of socio-political power governing, paralyzing, or

dissimulating the world of appearances with the force of necessity: the “teleological

master narratives” of imperialism, religion, and nationalism, as well as “the cultural

obsession with the past and with the explanatory power of historiography.”123

The nineteenth-century historicism that Nietzsche railed against was the same

creature as the scientific form of time that underlay the shape of Mr. Deasy’s linear

eschatology, as well as the structure of dailiness that determines succession. This is

why the latter could not be a good alternative to the goal-driven, kairetic narrative;

succession was not even a good alternative to the stasis of spatial form, since, as

Russell showed, physical sequence is the timeless parataxis of instants. Let me clarify

122
For one of the best responses to Jameson’s article on Ulysses, see Denis Donoghue’s essay,
“Is There a Case Against Ulysses?” Cheng and Martin 19-39.
123
Language of History 6. “Dedalus’s Nightmare” is the subtitle of Spoo’s book.
135
this by looking at Spoo’s argument in more detail. In his excellent study James Joyce

and the Language of History, Spoo shows how “Joyce’s whole career might be viewed

as a crusade against the historical Devourer” (7). The past that, like Saturn,

ceaselessly consumes the now, is part of the same temporal model as the futural,

progressive spirit of history. The nets of the past – Haines’s fatalistic and morally-

distanced “It seems history is to blame” (1.649) – and the illusions of the providential

future – Deasy’s religious and nationalist “All human history moves toward one great

goal, the manifestation of God” (U 2.380-81) – are both remorseless sequence, which

can only be escaped by a Nietzschean forgetting, a modernism willing to make the

now punctual so that it could resist the oppressive forms of extension over time. But

punctuality is itself also an essential part of the extensive model of time, the “malady

of history.”

Spoo’s diligence in avoiding any vitalist subjectivity on the one hand, and

anything that smacks of Joseph Frank’s “spatial form” on the other, steers him

strangely into both. Since there is ultimately no escape from the nightmare of

pastism, he must locate Joyce’s resistance to history only in “the ceaseless effort to

awake” by “the weaving and reweaving of alternative [texts of history]” (13). By these

Penelopean efforts, Hegelian “historiographic hypotaxis” gives way to a Protean

“verbal parataxis”; progression to succession; “developmental, teleological patterns” to

“the fluid succession of narrative presents” (72-73). Ulysses is a counterteleological,

Paterian “openness to the flux of experience,” culminating for Spoo in Molly’s


136
monologue, which represents “a movement toward the infinite expandability of

narrative, the nonstop anecdote, the verbal world without end” (106-7, 88).

Remarking on change as sequences of “one damned thing after another,” “or

what Stephen calls ‘the Nacheinander,’” Spoo claims that “Proteus, not Hegel,

presides over Joyce’s fictive enterprise.”124 And yet, giving parataxis a vital,

transformative status or power begs the question of how the spirit of history, turned

into a ghoulish corpse (a trope of which he makes a good deal), can be, if not

reanimated, ours ontologically. While Spoo valiantly fights off the fetters of

timelessness, the past, and teleological narratives, he is outflanked by sheer historicity,

pure successiveness. History is simply replaced with history, a lower-case time

beheaded of its “one great goal.” Stephen’s reply to Deasy’s teleology – “That is

God. … A shout in the street” (U 2.383, 386) – is for Spoo the relocation of the

ends of history from timeless eternity to “the sheer randomness, the disjecta membra,

of a day like this June day” (70).

We should note, however, that, while Stephen’s response to Deasy promises to

rescue the repressed and sacrificial “other” of Progress – Jews, “faithless” women, and

the poor who cannot “pay their own way” (33-35) – it also reminds us that the

dizzying hockey of the streets is not substantially different in its temporal form from

providence, Christian, Hegelian, or otherwise. The force of Stephen’s reply is drawn

from this identification as much as it is from the negation of the headmaster: as Spoo

lays out so clearly Stephen’s completion of the syllogism, “(1) history is the

124
Spoo, Language of History 73. I do not know whether Henry Ford, Twain, or Churchill
should get credit for Spoo’s quotation, but it begs to be reappropriated ad infinitum.
137
manifestation of God; (2) a shout in the street occurs as part of history; (3) therefore,

a shout in the street is a manifestation of God” (70). One of Joyce’s own notes

confirms this reading of “Nestor”: “history: for schoolboys = algebra, hokuspokus.”125

In Stephen’s classroom-episode, Joyce shows us the hokuspokus of the End

and the Beginning being traded for a variable arithmetic of everyday always-alreadys

or relativistic not-at-alls. Little can be said about the change that is achieved or

valued, as opposed to the change merely suffered, or how the characters grapple with

the Proteus of appearances. In the next episode “Proteus,” Stephen’s walk along the

strand parodies the similarity between the narrative version of history, the paratactic

version, and the time in which it is paradoxical or inexorable that one should get from

one moment to the next: “I am, a stride at a time.… Am I walking into eternity

along Sandymount strand?” (U 3.11, 18). And in “Scylla,” in a comic attempt to get

out of the responsibility of paying Russell back, Stephen thinks: “Wait. Five months.

Molecules all change. I am other I now. Other I got pound.” (189). Because he is

not yet free of this temporal grammar, Stephen is faced with the ancient problem of

how to “Hold to the now,” the time of action, “the here, through which all future

plunges to the past” (186), and how to deal with a past that haunts him – how to

change from a Hamlet, whom Joyce called “a human being … but a son only,” to a

Ulysses. For Joyce, the marginalized of History suffer false marginalization, not

simply because the lines are drawn incorrectly by Deasy or, say, the Citizen, but

because they are not recognized as temporal beings, whose entelechial self-realizations

125
Joyce’s “Ulysses” Notesheets in the British Museum, ed. Phillip F. Herring (Charlottesville:
University Press of Virginia, 1972) 121, qtd. in Spoo 69.
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include avowings that require the retention of sequences, but are not so easily

reducible to them.

Seeing Beyond the Timing: Points of View in “Wandering Rocks”

Bergson claimed that the objective form of time spatialized temporality,

because it turned duration into a discontinuous series of discrete nows. But one does

not have to be a Bergsonian in order to see how Spoo’s Nacheinander is not quite

opposite Frank’s Nebeneinander. What McTaggart called the B-series – of one

moment relating to another either before or after – resembles in structure the

juxtaposition that Frank favors over sequence. Irony presides over both, since in both,

moments are discontinuous and can only strike up comparative, extrinsic

relationships. Such time is merely a dimension of the physical space that can be

analyzed and articulated into comparable parts. Put another way, the idea of space is

that which allows us to think of time as “the time the movement takes” (U 13.989).

The relationship between supposed rivals – between objectified time, history as pure

sequence, and history as teleology, between Kermode’s chronological “tick-tick” and

his narrativized “tick-tock” (44-46) – is much stronger than any differentiating

tension. Joyce constantly explores how these ways of thinking about time slide into

one another, and, against these nightmares, he poses the temporality that allows for

an ourness, not derived, but constructed out of the ability to become involved in

other phenomenal perspectives. This ourness is not a representation but a necessary


139
condition of reading, where the future – desires, hopes, projections – exists as a

dimension of the trifold structure of temporality.

Instead of turning to one of the more “subjective” episodes to find Joyce’s

alternatives to these maladies of time and history, let us look in particular at a chapter

that critics have always found to exemplify spatial form, to employ the method of

timing, and to imply that ourness is determined by the intersection of politics and

religion. “Wandering Rocks” is located at the heart of Ulysses, and corresponds in the

Gilbert schema to the “organ” of “blood” and the “art” of “mechanics” (30). Critics

have been misguided by the schema, taking even the figure of circulating blood to be

an entirely corpuscular one. In the panoramic episode’s nineteen separate sections,

disjointed by some thirty-one scenic transitions or “interpolations” that often indicate

a simultaneous event elsewhere, readers have seen a strange, automated machine,

signifying Dublin, “the city as a whole,” a spatialized “picture of Dublin seen as a

whole,” the city itself as “the major character.”126 The apparent linking of mechanics

to space and spatialized time, the cold refusal to privilege main characters over the

large number of minor ones, has led Roy Gottfried to criticize the episode as “one of

the most arbitrarily ordered chapters” (45), Fritz Senn to call it “the most

ostentatiously shallow episode in the whole book” (34), and Clive Hart to actually

walk the course of each character in order to clock his or her wandering.

126
Trevor Williams, “’Conmeeism’ and the Universe of Discourse in ‘Wandering Rocks’”
267; Frank, Widening Gyre 17; Daniel Schwarz, Reading Joyce’s Ulysses 153. See also Ellman:
Joyce “decided to add an episode not in Homer, the Wandering Rocks, based upon the
voyage of the Argonauts; his purpose was to bring the city of Dublin even more fully into the
book by focusing upon it rather than upon Bloom or Stephen” (452).
140
In addition to arbitrariness, shallowness, and perfect timing, the episode has

also seemed to suggest an extra-narrative, atemporal position: it exists outside of the

narrative of the Odyssey, since Odysseus never chose to go the way of the wandering

rocks, sailing instead in between Scylla and Charybdis. While conceiving of the

chapter, Joyce himself called it an “Entr’acte … with absolutely no relation to what

precedes or follows like a pause in the action of a play.”127 Hart, despite his

measurements of realistic rates of movement, still called Joyce’s “panoramic view of

Dublin itself” “a relatively static moment” (186). Its apparent temporal isolation, its

synchronisms, and its emphasis on place, have all rhymed nicely with Budgen’s

general opinion that Joyce’s “view of life is that of a painter surveying a still scene

rather than that of a musician following a development through time” (153), and

Frank’s belief that Joyce “aimed at attaining the same unified impact [as Flaubert],

the same sense of simultaneous activitity occurring in different places” (17).

Unsurprisingly then, the most common themes grounded in these views are, of course,

“The Hostile Environment,” the dangers of the Church and State or their “Groups of

Citizens,” the aimless wandering or purposelessness brought on by the subjection to

two masters and a third, poverty.128 Whatever temporal readings can be raised with

regard to space will therefore usually rely on extensive time rather than on history as

ourness.

The episode is rich in symbols of time, but it is easy to see how they would

only abet the critical fascination with, if not valorization of, extensivity. For instance,

127
Letter to Budgen, 24 October 1920, SL 273.
128
See the Linati schema in Ellman, Ulysses on the Liffey (New York, 1972), Appendix, 186ff.
141
“Wandering Rocks” is the episode in which, for the first time in the novel, we find

out the full date: in the brief scene with Boylan’s secretary, we see Miss Dunne type

out “16 June 1904” (U 10.376), as if to accentuate the connection between Jameson’s

“autistic textualization” and temporal extensivity. The tenth episode also contains

two historians: the Catholic Fr. Conmee, who wrote “Old Times in the Barony,” and

is thinking of writing a history of “jesuit houses and of Mary Rochfort … first

countess of Belvedere” (10.162-63); and the Anglican Rev. Hugh C. Love, who is

writing a history of the Fitzgeralds, an Anglo-Irish family of earls and dukes. Lastly,

the chapter is full of clocks and other figures that tell time in some way: bells, old

posters, wheelspokes, a horse race on the circular track, a University bicycle race, the

Viceregal Cavalcade, and generally, all the physical movements over distances that

allow us to measure the time.

Thematically, this time is cut across, like the city and the episode, by the spaces

and intineraries of the two institutions of Church and State, and therefore is

usually understood as (1) as providence or historical fate; (2) as absurd

randomness; and (3) as a neutral medium in which coincidence may occur. As

different as these may seem, they all belong to the same extensive model. Neutral

time as a container is spatial or an aspect of space, and it is the shared condition

for both (1) and (2). The coincidences or simultaneities, highlighted by the

chapter and evinced in its most prominent technical feature, the thirty-one
142
129
interpolations, can be defined either as the fact that things happen at the same

time within the same spatial frame and are significant by virtue of some over-

arching plan, or, as the fact that things happen at the same time but have no

significance whatsoever – in Jameson’s argument, because of the type of space, the

city, the locus modernus of human production, where chance and meaningless

coincidence are ironically the inevitable symptoms of Ireland’s colonised capital.

However, “Wandering Rocks” is also the only chapter to grant minor

characters a point of view. Even Blazes Boylan gets one here, if only for an

unflattering moment. This general fact by itself is not enough to prove that the

episode is not purely about “mechanics,” or that the primary significance of its

“organ” – “blood” – is not just circulation and aimless wandering (Gilbert schema).

So let us look more closely at the episode to see whether or not Joyce, the “engineer at

work with compass and slide-rule,” who “calculated to a minute the time necessary

for his characters to cover a given distance of the city,” presents only the spatial

determination of his characters, whose wanderings bring them together as “isolated

masses of matter moving through space” (Budgen 121, 123, 124). My argument is

not that there is no plotting out of the city and its citizens, but that this is less

important than what is implied in both the shifts in points of view and the granting

of them. The well-timed coincidences – whether in space (the collisions), in writing

129
The interpolations or “intrusions” give clues as to the time when each scene is occuring.
They indicate, in Kathleen McCormick’s words, “simultaneity between various actions,
actions that could only be observed by someone who was able to see all of Dublin at once”
(10). Like Budgen, she feels that the sudden synchronous shifting in point of view “makes it
clear that the narrator has a bird’s-eye view of Dublin” (10).
143
(homonymy), or in sounds (homophony) – are important only to the extent that they

highlight parallactic difference, the difference among points of view and fields of vision,

especially between those that belong to people and those that are sub specie aeternitatis.

Ultimately the difference suggests not a fractured but once unitary space, but rather

the condition for the possibility of ourness, the temporal being we must have in order

to identify with the way others have found significance in a day.

Significantly, the resetting of a watch is the first act of “Wandering Rocks.”

On his way to help place Patrick Dignam’s now fatherless son in an orphanage in

Artane, Fr. Conmee is about to begin a blinkered version of Baudelaire’s flânerie. Just

before the episode begins, he checks his watch – it is “Five to three” (U 10.2-3) – and

then, descending the presbytery steps, Conmee “reset his smooth watch in his interior

pocket” (U 10.1-2). This first action is also the first of many coincidences, here in

the form of a homophone. Conmee does not adjust the time on his watch, but puts it

back into his interior pocket. The misleading double entendre might suggest either

Jameson’s modernist dissociation or the unbounded proliferation of meanings in

defiance of a monocausal historiography, but it also signals the possibility,

significance, and pathos generated by seeing through different frames, a capacity

Conmee himself does not have. The “resetting” of his watch, as the section bears out,

represents his nostalgic pastism, against which Joyce pits the parallax between his

religious fatalism and the other perspectives created by the text.

Hart called these puzzles “traps,” perhaps after the pitfall-penalty fields in the

board game Labyrinth, which Joyce was playing with his daughter at the time of the
144
episode’s composition. They are a kind of optical illusion, like the threatening

movement itself of the Symplegades, caused by the currents of the Black Sea.130 As we

travel through Dublin with Conmee, we face the dangers of his mis-seeing. Whereas

perceiving his misperceptions generates the hypocrisy we attribute to him, perceiving

our own perception of aspect-shiftings implies the inadequacy, perhaps falseness, of

any objective pure perception, and also suggests the irreducibility of phenomenal

perspectives in the construction of a world. Conmee’s view is circumscribed by his

anachronism, the time of the state through which he walks, and the canonical hours

whose Nones he is about to say. Joyce aligns Conmee’s chronodoxy with a mode of

seeing both sub specie aeternitatis and through “times of yore” (U 10.174). The

priest’s complacently fateful sense of time, of “the providence of the Creator”

(10.104), allows him to accept all states of affairs as preordained – a version of

Deasy’s history, not with a paranoia about the end of time that must come off

properly, but with a smug justification of things as they are. When he encounters his

first co-incident, the vagrant “onelegged sailor,” Conmee gives him nothing but a

blessing, thinking of “cardinal Wolsey’s words – If I had served my God as I have served

my king He would not have abandoned me in my old days” (10.14-16). The inscrutable

justice of God allows him to remain blind to the sailor’s situation, as well as to his

own purposes. Indeed, he scarcely knows why he is going to Artane in the first place:

“What was that boy’s name again? Dignam, yes. Vere dignum et justum est” (10.3-4).

130
For more on this mirage, see McCormick 19-20.
145
The “truly fitting and just” view in which Conmee trusts is juxtaposed, rather

than conflated, with the so-called cubist rendition of Conmee’s tram-boarding, the

stylistic highlight of the section that putatively accentuates the extensive nature of the

hostile environment. When Conmee passes Grogan’s tobacco shop, he sees the

newsboards of the “dreadful catastrophe in New York,” in which over a thousand

people burned to death on a steamer. His reaction to such unanticipated death is to

think that “still, [with] an act of perfection contrition,” the victims could have been

cleansed of their sin with the sacrament of extreme unction.131 After passing Bergin’s

pub, where he perceives two unemployed and possibly drunk men “lounging” as

“unlabouring men” who “salute” him, he sees a “bargeman with a hat of dirty straw,”

who inspires the reflection that God “had made turf to be in bogs whence men might

dig it out and bring it to town and hamlet to make fires in the houses of poor people”

(10.93-94, 102, 105-06). Conmee’s divinely-willed history justifies all news as “the

best news” without enough particular, parallactic observation and identification, and

Joyce continually ironizes the tunnel vision that conveniently, meretriciously, and

131
U 90-92. The irony here is that the victims of the General Slocum fire were almost all
members of St. Mark’s German Lutheran Church and therefore, like the Rev. T.R. Greene
B.A., whom he thinks about a few paces earlier, “invincibly ignorant” (10.71).
146
132
comically improves or misperceives all appearances. The history that is seen from

the point of view of eternity is always the history that had inexorably to be. It is also

the history that is rendered benign and ever-present. This explains why Conmee, a

half an hour after 2:55 p.m., has travelled almost imperceptibly into “old worldish

days, loyal times in joyous townlands, old times in the barony” (10.159), and into the

blandest reverie of his mild “reign” as rector of Clongowes Wood College (10.184-

88).

Against Conmee’s providentialism, Joyce sets the most explicitly cubist passage

in “Joyce’s most cubist chapter” (McCormick 89):

On Newcomen bridge the very reverend John Conmee S.J. of

saint Francis Xavier’s church, upper Gardiner street, stepped on to an

outward bound tram.

Off an inward bound tram stepped the reverend Nicholas

Dudley C.C. of saint Agatha’s church, north William street, on to

Newcomen bridge.

132
For example, Conmee sees the famous sermonist Fr. Bernard Vaughan as well-bred and
Welsh (10.36-38), and the pawnbroker Mrs. M’Guinness as possessing a “queenly mien”
(10.67). Furthermore, even though his view on the Catholic missions to “black and brown
and yellow men” is liberal, it is only because “those were millions of human souls created by
God in His Own likeness to whom the faith had not (D.V.) been brought” (D.V., “Deo
Volente,” Latin for “God Willing”; 10.148-50). When he thinks of the “tyrannous
incontinence” of sex, it becomes yet another example of providence, “needed however for
man’s race on earth” (10.171). And upon Conmee’s reading of the Hebrew letter Sin, which
heads the section of Psalm 119 in his breviary, Lynch the “flushed young man” in the bushes
with his daisy-holding girlfriend with a twig clinging to her skirt, become hilarious instances
of original sin (10.199-204).
147
At Newcomen bridge Father Conmee stepped into an outward

bound tram for he disliked to traverse on foot the dingy way past Mud

Island. (10.107-14)

This scene, perhaps like Cubism itself, ought not to be theorized in terms of

“objective” perspectives – views epitomized in the episode by Conmee’s insipid

thoughts which the text represents as “dummy” constructions such as “It was a

peaceful day” (10.122), and “It was a charming day” (10.179). JoAnna Isaak

describes Joyce’s cubism in “Wandering Rocks” as a world in which “the fixed and

the absolute are replaced by the indeterminate and relative” (36). Instead of vision

rooted in Cartesian perspectivalism, whose linearity symbolizes, in Martin Jay’s words,

“a harmony between the mathematical regularities in optics and God’s will” (5-6),

Isaak alerts us to “the variations of scale and angle of vision” (36). But is this

moment simply an example of the fact that, as Budgen observed of “Cyclops,” “every

event is a many-sided object” (153)? Or does the parallax between the position “on

Newcomen bridge” and “at Newcomen bridge,” and the shifts between stepping

“on,” “off,” and “into” “an” (indefinite) tram evince something about seeing (rather

than the seen)?

Conmee’s bland third-person views and his pastism merge easily with both

absolute objectivism and a relativistic, mechanistic orthoscopy. In both,

“the gaze … arrests the flux of phenomena, contemplates the visual field from a

vantage-point outside the mobility of duration” (Norman Bryson, qtd. in Jay 7). But,

in contrast to the dangers of Dublin – the paralyzing stasis of religious eternity and
148
the spatialized instant calculated in a kind of Russellian constructivism – the shifts in

aspect, scale, and angle both invite and stand for a kind of seeing that is flexible and

self-reflexive enough to register its own parallax and its imbrication with other points

of view. In order to demonstrate this, we must move through more negative

examples of objectivity and extensivity as the chapter’s biggest reader-trap, and more

examples of parallactic differences between fateful, aleatory, and human temporalities.

Budgen reports that Joyce wrote “Wandering Rocks” with “a map of Dublin

before him …. He calculated to a minute the time necessary for his characters to

cover a given distance of the city” (122-23). Indeed, in the next few sections, having

established a reference measurement of the time it takes to traverse a section of space,

the text does introduce events in other parts of the city by returning to the moment of

Conmee’s tram-boarding – a sort of milestone marking 3:15 p.m. At this time,

Corny Kelleher is watching Conmee from H.J. O’Neill’s funeral home, ironically

casting the theme of death over Conmee’s time. Kelleher then spits “a silent jet of

hayjuice arching from his mouth while a generous white arm from a window in

Eccles street flung forth a coin” (10.221-23). But these parallel arcs are no more a

physics lesson than Conmee’s tram-boarding is an Einsteinian twin paradox. The

inevitability of the undertaker’s arc and Molly’s generosity to the begging sailor serve

poignantly to introduce the most pathetic figures of the episode, the indigent, hungry

Dedalus girls. Sliding forward to 3:25, signposted by Conmee’s memory of

Clongowes, so externalized that it can serve as a marker for an event in the city, the

text presents Katey, Boody, and Maggy Dedalus. They are reassembled in their
149
kitchen, after they have tried to pawn Stephen’s books for food money. Maggy has

managed to beg some peasoup from Sister Mary Patrick, and the report of this

procurement to her sisters is simultaneous with a lacquey’s bell, “Barang!” (10.282).

As we find out later in section eleven, this bell is rung at Dillon’s auction rooms

where Dilly Dedalus is likewise trying to get food money from her father Simon

Dedalus, who may have just sold their house-curtains for five shillings. This moment

also coincides with the “Bang of the last lap bell” of the Dublin University Half-Mile

Bicycle Handicap (10.651). Seconds later, Joyce introduces one of his most famous

figures for chance and coincidence – the “crumpled throwaway,” which appears three

times in this episode, floating down the Liffey (10.294), cast into the river by Bloom

in “Lestrygonians.” This sailing paper Argo evokes another race that has just taken

place: the Gold Cup, whose recent outcome signifies the culmination of a series of

accidents that began around 10:00 a.m. with Bantam Lyon’s misunderstanding of

Bloom’s utterance “throwaway.”133

The synchronizations, time-reversals, and fast-forwards, along with the

dehumanizing indefinite articles (“an outward bound tram,” “a generous white arm”),

133
Peter Francis Mackey, in “Chaos Theory and the Heroism of Leopold Bloom,” calls this a
“seven-hour chain reaction,” and summarizes the process that begins with the
misunderstanding: “Next, Lenehan spontaneously visits Lynam’s to check the odds on the
race. There, Lenehan meets Lyons, who is placing his own bet on none other than
‘throwaway.’ This chance encounter provides Lenehan with the crucial misinformation
about Bloom that he later spreads at Kiernan’s. Further, Lenehan finds time to gossip
erroneously about Bloom at the pub only because Bloom departs it to fulfill an obligation –
to find Cunningham – made on his way to Dignam’s funeral hours earlier. Similarly, the
drunken Citizen who finally attacks Bloom is treated to his drinks by Hynes, who can be so
sporting only because Bloom, seeking repayment for a loan, reminded Hynes earlier, at the
Freeman’s Journal, that the cashier was still open (U, 7.113). In the end, Bloom finds his
loan to Hynes repaid in the form of the Citizen’s insults” (59).
150
customarily suggests to critics that: (1) the narrating consciousness does not possess

memory; and that a memory would be pointless anyway, since (2) Dublin is a

deterministic, reified time-grid, locked in an objectified time that Ann Banfield has

described as a “timeless vision in which the future is determined” (“Tragic Time” 51).

“There is no reason, except brute fact,” as Bertrand Russell has remarked of this time,

“why we should not remember the future as well as the past,” since the future is just

as fated as the past: “if you happen to know the future – e.g. in the case of a

forthcoming eclipse – it is just as useless to wish it different as to wish the past

different” (CPBR 9.262; ML 195). The hostile environment, which Joyce once called

“the centre of paralysis,” admits no dimensioning of its rigid seriality (SL 83).

Regarding the first point, even John Rickard, who sees Ulysses wholly as Joyce’s

Book of Memory and who does attribute a memory and intentional depth to the

narrator of “Wandering Rocks,” says that this narrator “represents the passivist view of

memory and displays the weaknesses of voluntary memory by ‘forgetting’ the very

facts he seems so obsessed with” (76; my emphasis). Rickard defines passivist

memory as the empiricist model of mind in which discrete impressions are registered

atomistically. Thus the narrator’s parataxis here indicates “the refusal to concede

relation and causality between moments in time” (76). It is unclear how he can say

this and still register the significances and pathos of the episode’s orchestration of

“colliding” presents. Even if some of the characters do strike one another like billiard

balls, a reader who produces so fine a reading as Rickard does cannot also miss the

significant encounters in the text that are generated by the “narrator” and realized by
151
the reader. I will say more about this later, especially with regard to the narrator’s

capacity to take on the perspectives of his characters.

In respect of the second point, there are, to be sure, clocks everywhere around

Joyce’s characters, ringing the time and marking the synchronism of city events. The

interpolations themselves serve as clocks that can move us backward and forward in

time, and establish the significant simultaneities that Stephen Kern sees as the main

feature of the chapter (76-81). In his Culture of Time and Space, Kern shows that the

condition for such synchronization is the late-nineteenth-century standardization of

time (11-12). Temporal uniformalization allows for “the principle of simultaneous

events happening to different people in different parts of the same place,” which,

according to Enda Duffy, is “the key strategy of the novel to represent the national

space … [the] key to Ulysses” (Subaltern Ulysses 19; my emphasis). Indeed, bearing out

Duffy’s postcolonial reading, in which Ulysses presents a “derealization of space” to

show how “capitalist controlled space tends to be abstracted space,” the national time

of Dublin is also substandard, literally “behind the times” (“Disappearing Dublin” 37,

42). As we learn in section nine, Dublin is on Dunsink time, which is 25 minutes

behind Greenwich Mean Time. Adding this lag to the speed of information, M’Coy

reads 3:13 on O’Neill’s clock (the tea merchant’s clock and not the mortuary’s), and

knows that, although the Gold Cup has already taken place at 3:08 GMT (2:43

Dunsink), he can still place a bet on a horse, since the news of the outcome will not

be telegraphed to Dublin until 4:00.


152
But this is only part of the point of “Wandering Rocks.” To focus solely on

objective time would be to fall, in Hart’s words, into “a disingenuous fraud, a

deliberate trap” (189). All the bells, races, and clocks bring into sharp relief the

Dedalus sisters, Stephen, and Bloom. The cubist angles of narration are intentional

vectors reaching out to the world with memory and desire, in contrast to the imperial

surveillance of the viceregal cavalcade that has just begun its traversal of the city (3:14

p.m.). Even Boylan, who we learn in this chapter is wearing “socks with skyblue

clocks,” is afforded a point of view.134 After ostentatiously checking his gold watch in

Thornton’s, he reveals how limited that view is by directing it salaciously at the cut of

the shop-girl’s blouse (10.312, 327). This shallow encounter serves as a contrast with

the following section (vi), in which Stephen meets with the music teacher, Almidano

Artifoni. The snippet of Artifoni’s advice that we catch symbolizes the mature

opposition to the nets of the labyrinth: “Anch’io ho avuto di queste idee … quand’ ero

giovine come Lei. Eppoi mi sono convinto che il mondo è una bestia. È peccato. Perchè

la sua voce…. [I too had the same idea … when I was young as you. Then, I thought

that the world is a pigsty. It’s too bad. Because your voice ….].135 When the two

finish talking, Artifoni’s “heavy hand took Stephen’s firmly. Human eyes,” thinks

Stephen (10.356).

In Stephen’s section of “Wandering Rocks” (xiii), which takes place about

eight minutes later at 3:30, Joyce shows how the objective chronodoxy can

134
Molly cannot remember, or at least does not say, what Boylan has on his socks. She
recalls him “in that blue suit he had on and stylish tie and socks with the skyblue silk things
on them” (U 18.421).
135
U 10.344-46. Translation in Don Gifford 266.
153
overwhelm immature opposition. Haunted by the past and knocked down by the

present, Stephen is the figure for the victimization of spatio-temporal determinism,

which he desires to annihilate. Still trapped in history’s nightmare and his heretical

resistance to it, he watches “through the webbed window the lapidary’s fingers prove a

timedulled chain” (10.800f). Melodramatically, mortality becomes tragedy rather

than finitude: the gems in Thomas Russell’s become “lights shining in the darkness,”

Miltonic emblems of our fallenness from heaven to “the dark wormy earth” where

“muddy swinesnouts, hands, root and root, gripe and wrest them” (10.804-06).

Stephen adds to this scene a dancer with a ruby on her gyrating belly, which recalls

his thoughts in “Proteus” on Eden, Eve’s “belly without blemish,” death and change:

“Orient and immortal wheat standing from everlasting to everlasting.”136 Moments

later, at the Dublin Corporation Electric Light and Power Station, Stephen’s

terrifying sense of everlastingness ironically hears only powerlessness in the “hum of

dynamos” (10.821). The “Throb always without you and the throb always within”

echoes with the climax of James Allen’s Mettle of the Pasture, in which the hero’s

mother says,

Our wills may indeed reach the length of our arms or as far as our

voices can penetrate space; but without us and within us moves one

universe that saves us or ruins us only for its own purposes; and we are

136
The line is from Thomas Traherne’s vision of Eden in Centuries of Meditations (Gifford
47). See “Proteus” 42, 43.
154
no more free amid its laws than the leaves of the forest are free to

decide their own shapes and season of unfolding.137

Against this remorseless naturalism, the text places the poignancy of human

desire. Passing William Walsh’s clock-making shop, with which he rhymes the

“clacking [of his ashplant] against his shoulderblade,” Stephen runs into his sister

Dilly, who has used some of Simon’s money to purchase a book instead of food.

Even though Stephen’s Icarian flight has landed him back in the nets of Dublin,

Dilly’s persistent desire for escape indicates pangs sharper than hunger. In contrast to

Stephen’s view of her as a drowning drag on him is Dilly’s ability to abstract a vision

from the movement of the cavalcade, a vision in which she sees the carriage as

“sunshades spanned and wheelspokes spinning in the glare” (10.1228f). Time as a

ruthless devouring of the new, as a drowning of possibility, is pitted against the power

of Dilly’s seeing, and our capacity to identify with it.

If a young girl’s visit to the book-cart and her epiphany may be too innocent

of the memories of the past, and a young man’s desire, in Gregory Castle’s words, “to

affirm an alternative [‘against the imposition of historical subjectivity’]” cannot yet

find a way “which would not annihilate subjectivity altogether,” then a man such as

Bloom, as Castle says, “comes much closer to affirming … a radical alternative to

traditional historical values” (“Ousted Possibilities” 312, 314). For Spoo, this

alternative would be the counterteleological repressed of history that Bloom is, the

anti-hypotactic, protean successivity that Bloom represents (LH 104-05, 111-12).

137
Allen 125, qtd. in Gifford 276.
155
However, while Bloom seems to be the figure most conscious of a thoroughgoing

contingency, he is also the one most conscious of fate. In “Wandering Rocks,” his

association with the throwaway suggests both the pure chance of the seven-hour chain

reaction of coincidences related to the dark horse Throwaway, and the promise that

“Elijah is coming” (10.294), the prophesied return of the Messiah. In section ten of

the chapter, we see Bloom at the book hawker’s cart engaged in a kind of sortes

pornographicae, a practice in which he “read where his finger opened” from the book

Sweets of Sin. But randomly selecting a passage then becomes prophetic or revelatory

of Boylan’s usurpation of his bed. Here as elsewhere in Ulysses, Bloom seems the

character most resigned to the flow and reification of time. Of his first meeting with

Molly during musical chairs, he remembers, “Fate. After her. Fate. Round and

round slow” (11.726-27). Of the “destiny” of his daughter Milly’s sexual maturation,

he anxiously thinks, “Will happen, yes. Prevent. Useless: can’t move” (4.430, 448).

And in “Nausicaa,” echoing Tom Kernan’s apological view of “retrospective

arrangement” while walking from the sundial, Bloom makes pathetic sense of his own

watch’s malfunction during Molly’s infidelity:

Very strange about my watch. … Wonder is there any magnetic

influence between the person because that was about the time he. …

Back of everything magnetism. Earth for instance pulling this and

being pulled. That causes movement. And time, well that’s the time
156
the movement takes. Then if one thing stopped the whole ghesabo

would stop bit by bit. Because it’s all arranged.138

Bloom’s alternative to the nightmare of history is finally not the endlessness of

accidents that he ponders, nor the necessity of fate that he suffers. His identity

cannot be summed up entirely by the descriptions of him as “a passive, merely

perceiving consciousness, a mere eye, ear, nose, and mouth, a sensory nerve exposed

without choice or check to the roaring, chaotic, lunatic cataract of psychic and

physical happenings” (Jung, 9). Rather, his resistance to the oppression of history

and “narrative authority” is his temporal being itself, reflected in the “composite

asymmetrical image” of him as “a solitary (ipsorelative) mutable (aliorelative) man.”139

This temporality – contained, ecstatic, and differential – is the condition for what

Castle sees as Bloom’s “radical alternative”: his ability to entertain “multiple and even

contradictory historical perspectives [… reflecting] the perspectivism at work at large

in Ulysses.”140 This ability or “tolerance,” however, is not merely some extensive open-

endedness, but experience itself, a journeying – Erfahrung – through points of view,

framed and constituted by both his memory and his desire for the new (“Returning

not the same. … The new I want” [13.1105]). The human point of view testifies to a

138
U 10.783. Kernan thinks of the past and the patriot Jonah Barrington from his “west
Briton” viewpoint.
139
U 17.1350. In “Ithaca,” Bloom has an “interchange of looks” between three objects on
his mantelpiece: a clock, a dwarf tree, and an embalmed owl. But, as Mary King points out,
“the third object, the stopped clock, is missing from the reflective interchange. In its stead, Bloom
sees” the image of himself in the mirror (344).
140
“Ousted Possibilities” 315. For another good article on Bloom’s “power of affirmation,”
his reconsideration of “the eternal recurrence as something other than a futile and vain
repetition,” see Castle’s “’I am almosting it’: History, Nature, and the Will to Power in
‘Proteus.’”
157
temporality that is the basis for projection and identification, for Bloom’s hopefulness

and his humor.

Likewise, the text of “Wandering Rocks” itself exemplifies the opening of lines

of projection and identification. Like Bloom and indeed all of Ulysses, the episode

offers with modernist comprehensiveness myriad points of view, including many

strange “ousted possibilities” that “Time has branded … and fettered” (3.50). The

rich, imaginative life of Bloom, his humanity, no more proves Jameson’s case on the

“privatisation and isolation” of capitalism’s lonely subjects, than it makes Poldy a

manic representative of mechanistic, object-to-object relations, or, in Fritz Senn’s apt

phrasing, “a superhuman recording agency” (“History” 49). Rather, Bloom’s

temporal and temporalizing intentionality, in its confirmation of a multiplicity of

aspects of both world and self, creates the “possibility of the actual as actual,” just as

the “presentation” of various angles of vision conditions the shareability of the

“actuality of the possible as possible” (U 2.67). So too, the text’s perspectivism is not

about Dublin as object, “a picture,” as Frank wrote, “of Dublin seen as a whole” (17),

but about the constitution of a shareable city by the imbrication of points of view.

This is why, in an episode purportedly about Dublin, place, and space, the narration

of the novel is not really objective and detached at all, but, as Hugh Kenner’s “Uncle

Charles principle” shows, always “tinged” with its characters’ idioms. The fact that

“the narrative idiom need not be the narrator’s” means not that Joyce was merely

miming his characters’ voices ironically, but that he was listening to them, and more
158
than that, demonstrating the very kind of identification with them that he shows

comprises ourness (Joyce’s Voices 16-18).141

Karen Lawrence has argued that, in Ulysses’ “odyssey of style,” the changes in

“mode of presentation” shatter the containment of Frank’s spatial form.142 But, for

her, the novel’s exemplification of transformation is not itself a bearer of Joyce’s

experiment in character, the primacy of which, Lawrence says, is advanced by the

“narrative norm” of the first half of the book. Instead, the stylistic shifts only signal

that “somewhere in the middle of Ulysses, style goes ‘public,’ as language is flooded by

the memory of its prior use” (8). “Wandering Rocks” seems “as if a writing machine,

rather than a human imagination, produced it” (85). “This narrative mind exhibits

what I would call a ‘lateral’ or paratactic imagination: it catalogues facts without

synthesizing them” (83). But is the proliferation of different perspectives simply a

result of the tendency toward anti-hypotactic parataxis and lists? Does the episode’s

perspectivism raise only the question that Tony Thwaites says the list – the figure of

asyndeton – presents: “what is the connection between any two contiguous entries? Is

it just a collocation, a disjunct set of elements whose only property in common is that

they are members of the set?” (Joycean Temporalities 48).

141
It has always been unclear to me how much can really be gained by positing an “arranger,”
as David Hayman has done. The arranger is that figure “who can be identified neither with
the author nor with his narrators, but who exercises an increasing degree of overt control
over his increasingly challenging materials” (70). Weldon Thornton also feels that “between
Joyce, the implied author, and the primary narrative … there is often no substantial
difference” (24).
142
Lawrence 4-6, 43.
159
The end of the chapter poses precisely these questions in tension with the one

that lies at the heart of both Lawrence’s and Kenner’s studies – to what or whom do

these voices belong? The coda of “Wandering Rocks” reprises everyone’s point of view

in relation to the public, paratactic, and “empty gaze from the carriage” of the

Viceroy William Humble, Earl of Dudley (Thwaites 44). As one of the hazardous

Symplegades, the counterpart to Conmee and the Church, the viceregal cavalcade is

often thought to bind together all the colliding aspects of Dublin, whose views are

being controlled by the panoptic carriage. As Thwaites puts it, “What links

everything together in this last section is a subjectless, empty, and purely fortuitous

trajectory” (44). To use some of Duffy’s terminology, “the observations of the roving

eyes of pedestrians” in this “flâneur text” are inevitably in thrall to the various

ideologies that have interpellated [them]” (“Dublin” 47). The perspective of the

viceregal procession may indeed come closest to an objective, affectless one, and be as

bland and blind as Conmee’s, but the characters’ points of view, in all their

differences, stand rather in sharp contrast to the cavalcade’s. Instead of casting the

characters as Dubliners because they live in, and are interpellated by, Dublin, we are

invited to invert this process and see all the overlapping points of view as, first of all,

belonging to someone, and second, in our assumption of each one of them, as

comprising temporis nostri. The ourness of the times constructed out of the mineness

of temporality is what presses back against what we might call the Dublinization of

the Dubliners. Each phenomenal perspective testifies to a temporality that directs the

fanning out of intentional rays, and conditions the identification with others’ views.
160
The imbrication and splaying of each horizon is a phenomenality that resists

Stephen’s nightmare history and the empty, uniform, or eternal spaces occupied by

Church and State.

The cavalcade creates the longest string of coincident lookings and

misperceptions, encompassing virtually the whole episode from about 3:14 to 3:57.

Like Conmee, the viceroy’s procession takes in obsequious salutes – social reflections

as substitutes for what Spoo, following Stephen, calls “entelechial self-realization,”

“the self traversing itself in order to become itself.”143 And like Conmee’s un-self-

reflective traversing, the cavalcade does not itself register any parallactic differences,

but only the next display of deference. Starting out from lodge at Phoenix Park, the

carriages and the text pass from Kingsbridge, Bloody bridge, Queen’s, Whitworth,

Richmond, to Grattan bridge, and on to the Mirus bazaar. But where the earl of

Dudley is merely looking, from each moment to the next, to be “cordially greeted on

his way through the metroplis” (10.1182f), the text is entering into the point of view

of the subjects, taking on their idiom, and moving via semantic bridges.

Whereas the viceroy is only crossing bridges and measuring his progress by

salutes, the text itself is creating linkages and showing us what it means to take on

others’ positions. Since bridges number among the false clues and sites of aspect-

143
Language of History 71. As Stephen says in “Scylla,” in a manner that still swirls around
the Platonic Charybdis he is trying to evade: “But I, entelechy, form of forms, am I by
memory because under everchanging forms.” Gifford explains Aristotle uses entelechy, “(1)
to mean form-giving cause or energy, as contrasted with mere potential existence; (2) to
mean, in relation to the phenomena of living and mental existences, form-giving cause
realized in a more or less perfect actuality, as in plants, animals, and men” (206). Memory
does not need to be beneath experience. Husserl, e.g., builds retention and protention into
the present.
161
144
shifting early in the episode, the final section uses them to evince the more abstract

bridging required for the mineness and ourness that are not entirely occupied by

Christ and Caesar. Moving from the Early of Dudley’s “third-person” thought –

“The viceroy was most cordially greeted on his way through the metropolis” – and

from Mr. Thomas Kernan’s “vain” vantage-point at Bloody bridge, the text connects

to another Dudley, “Mr Dudley White, B.L., M.A.” (10.1182f ; 10.1185f ).

Entering deeply into his preoccupied and unsaluting point of view between Queen’s

and Whitworth bridges, the text retrieves and brings to its surface a White

“undecided whether he should arrive at Phibsborough more quickly by a triple

change of tram or by hailing a car or on foot through Smithfield, Consitution hill and

Broadstone terminus” (10.1187-89). Picking up on White’s comparison of

technologies of movement, those modes of transport that clock distances divided by

time, the section moves “past Richmond bridge” to an eery view of “an elderly female

[who] changed her plan and retracing her steps by King’s windows smiled

credulously” (10.1194f). The old woman’s strange reversal of course suggests

Dublin’s anachronism – its “behindness” with respect to the British Empire’s time,

represented most conspicously by the Dunsink clock and the “faded 1860 print of

Heenan boxing Sayers” that Stephen contemplates (10.831f). It also recalls the

hostile environment of the board game Labyrinth, in which back-tracking is simply a

way of circumventing the traps that detain players for one or two rounds.

144
See, for instance, Conmee’s tram scene at Newcomen bridge, or Kernan’s reference to
O’Connell bridge as “Carlisle bridge,” its previous name and signifier of an older political
order.
162
On Grattan bridge, after passing Cahill’s corner where the text takes on the

Hugh C. Love’s “historical” idiom to describe his “obeisance unperceived, mindful of

the lord deputies whose hands benignant had held of yore rich advowsons,” the

section shows Lenehan’s and M’Coy’s “taking leave from each other” (10.1203f;

10.1205). This scene of two atoms parting ways overlaps with Gerty McDowell’s

turgid and meandering point of view, in which ironically “she couldn’t see what Her

Excellency had on because the tram and Spring’s big yellow furniture van had to stop

in front of her on account of its being the lord lieutenant” (10.1208-10). And

Gerty’s obfuscation is followed by a scene behind “the shaded door of Kavanagh’s

winerooms [where] John Wyse Nolan smiled with unseen coldness towards the lord

lieutenantgeneral” (10.1211f).

Against these instances of unseeing, the text performs its exploration of

perspectives, and offers figures and scenes of sight. Tom Rochford sees “the eyes of

lady Dudley fixed on him,” and Mulligan and Haines “gazed down on the viceregale

equipage” (10.1218; 1224f). John Parnall “looked intently” at the chessboard in the

D.B.C.; Dilly Dedalus, “straining her sight upward from Chardenal’s first French

primer, saw sunshades spanned and wheelspokes spinning in the glare”; and Master

Patrick Aloysius Dignam “saw salutes being given” (10.1226; 1227-29; 1266). Even

as the chief symbol of British rule passes by these figures of its domination – Charles

Stewart Parnell’s brother, Stephen’s starving sister, and a son who is slowly coming to

realize that he will “Never see him again. … Pa is dead” (10.1169) – the chapter is

passing through each figure’s point of view, and attesting to the past, present, and
163
future integral to each. Such an itinerary shows not that each character’s perspective

is constrained by the nets of Dublin, or limited by the “centeredness” of character,

but that the movement of the imagination can pervade the positions of others, and

even the strange vantage-points of objects, such as the two midwives’ “eleven cockles

[which] rolled to view with wonder [the cavalcade],” and Artifoni’s trousers, which

salute the viceregal procession and narrowly escape the symplegadish doors that close

the episode (10.1276; 1282).

My argument might seem to resemble, in implication, Shari and Bernard

Benstock’s in “The Benstock Principle,” which states that Ulysses’ free indirect

narration serves to “establish the contextual supremacy of subject matter” in a kind of

cultural version of Kenner’s Uncle Charles principle.145 Their enemy is the

omniscient narrator, “the artist, like the God of the creation … refined out of

existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails” (Joyce, PA 215). The Benstocks see

Joyce’s narrative deriving from contexts or confining itself to “the limited

consciousness of the ‘centered’ character” (Narrative Con/Texts 31-32). In my reading

of “Wandering Rocks,” however, the narrator performs his identifications in

opposition to the derivations of place, the narrowness of a single personality, and the

omniscient position sub specie aeternitatis. While I have referred to “the text” in

arguing for this performance of a temporal and temporalizing intentionality, I would

145
Stated fully, the “Benstock principle” is: “Fictional texts that exploit free indirect speech
(the narrational mode most common to Ulysses) establish the contextual primacy of subject
matter, which influences the direction, tone, place, point of view, and method of narration”
(18).
164
now like to bring “Joyce” back as the crucial term. By this, I mean “Joyce” as the

temporal self-traversal exemplified by his writing – “not as a psychological cogito,” to

use Charles Altieri’s words, “but as constituted by the capacity to assume as wide a

variety of attitudes and roles as a person can master imaginatively” (Act and Quality

330).

In this sense, it is Joyce himself who shows us how history can be other than

empirical, scientific, spatial, and objective. In his desire to forge an uncreated

conscience “that speaks for what cannot be accommodated within representation”

(Brivic 552), it is not the case that, as Christine van Boheemen-Saaf writes, “Joyce

occupies the empty subject-position of the God of his creation” (Trauma of History

96). Rather, Joyce inhabits as many temporal perspectives on Dublin as possible,

including the perspectives of objects, and invites us to see that the ability to take on

points of view is what allows for ourness. As the humanist Morton Levitt says of

Joyce’s use of point of view, “the way of viewing the world in the novel becomes the

worldview, not, as in the Victorian novel, in order to assume mastery over a

comprehensible world … but to endeavor to live within [the world], in fiction, a life

as meaningful, as dignified, as human as circumstance will allow” (178). For Joyce,

the history generated by expansive and temporal seeing – as against the sort that

Donoghue has quipped makes Marxist critics unable “to avoid the snobbery of

thinking that their soliloquies are fine but that mine are sordid functions of late
165
capitalism” (23) – could only be represented by Ulysses, whom he called “the most

human in world literature,” “a complete man … a good man.” 146

Budgen asked Joyce what he meant by a complete man, saying, “if a sculptor

makes a figure of a man then that man is all-round, three-dimensional, but not

necessary complete in the sense of being ideal. All human bodies are imperfect,

limited in some way” (17). Joyce responded by making two points: first, he said “I

see him from all sides, and therefore he is all-round in the sense of your sculptor’s

figure” (17); and second, he explained that “Hamlet is a human being, but he is a son

only. Ulysses is son to Laertes, but he is father to Telemachus, husband to Penelope,

lover of Calypso, companion in arms of the Greek warriors around Try and King of

Ithaca” (16). Remembering that Ulysses is not just the masculine character of myth,

but the title for the whole of Joyce’s novel, we may say also that Ulysses, the most

human, is also the name for the experiencing sub specie temporis nostri made available

to us by the book.147

146
Emphasis added. Ellman 416, 436.
147
On literary experience, compare C.S. Lewis’s remark in An Experiment in Criticism: “in
reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky
in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in
love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than
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