Suggestions for November 13
I've tried here to link where we've been to where we might go, rather than elucidate particular readings:
At the conclusion to Remembrance of Time Past, Proust plays deftly upon the various exigencies of time and space, making metaphoric exchange between these:
I understood now why it was that the Duc de Guermantes, who to my surprise, when I had seen him sitting on a chair, had seemed to me so little aged although he had so many more years beneath him than I had, had presently, when he rose to his feet and tried to stand firm upon them, swayed backwards and forwards upon legs as tottery as those of some old archbishop with nothing solid about his person but his metal crucifix, to whose support here rushes a mob of sturdy young seminarists, and had advanced with difficulty, trembling like a leaf, upon the almost unmanageable summit of his eighty-three years, as though men spend their lives perched upon living stilts which never cease to grow until sometimes they become taller than church steeples, making it in the end both difficult and perilous for them to walk and raising them to an eminence from which suddenly they fall. And I was terrified by the thought that the stilts beneath my own feet might already have reached that height; it seemed to me that quite soon now I might be too weak to maintain my hold upon a past which already went down so far.
Similarly, Benjamin, in drawing a conclusion to his study of the German Trauerspiel as allegory, resorts to architectural metaphor:
In the ruins of great buildings, the idea of the plan speaks more impressively than in lesser buildings, however well preserved they are; and for this reason the German Trauerspiel merits interpretation. In the spirit of allegory it is conceived from the outset as a ruin, a fragment. Others may shine resplendently as on the first day; this form preserves the image of beauty to the very last.
Allegory, of course, is enacted temporally as narrative, both in the German Trauerspiel, Shakespeare's Hamlet (Benjamin's example of this "mourning drama" in the English tradition) and Proust's allegory of aging. I am curious, however, about this strategic resort to architectural metaphor: what does it figure? a plenum, a fullness? a seeming suspension of time what does it mean to spatialize time?
It seems that those models of memory grounded in temporality describe in that particular axis of human experience the fundamental experience of loss, as the narrative of trauma or "wound", exile, mourning, etc., explicitly recognizes. At its most critical, that question of the past is tendered between two unsupportable conditions: we might fail to remember; or remembering, find it intolerable. Moreover, the possibility of such radical epistemological failure belies even the theory of the substitute, "We must naturally expect to find that this material reproduces the unknown material of the scene in some distorted form, perhaps even distorted into its opposite." (Freud, From the History of an Infantile Neurosis, 408; italics mine)
But in exfoliating these models variously, as we have, it seems that there is some latent disposition to modeling time as space: in Freud's sense of a present deformed and disfigured by the past, in which the past is everywhere present; in an Augustinian infolding of past and future into present or perhaps a suspension of time in a kairotic "present" indifferent to chronological time; in Menocal's syncretic presentation of history as palimsest, as "thick reading" of imbricated narratives in which experience becomes simultaneous and multiple.; in the recursions of lyric which resituate the past in the present.
What is accomplished by this refiguring of time as space? Is there a difference between the literal inscription or marking of the landscape in memorial, or the imaging, the figure of such, in narrative? Do we mark our estrangement from place, its "strangeness" to us in our "passing through" (why does Wordsworth then write "A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey. . .? is this explicit recognition of the failure to be able to recuperate experience? of the substitue of poetry?) Is this architectural metaphor the "substitute" of which Freud speaks? Is this an attempt to secure in space what is lost in time? Is it an anodyne to such loss? An attempt to return to it its sensuous and expressive character as lived experience?
And why is it always "ruin" or "fragment"? Is the attempt to inscribe a plenum, a fullness through the spatial metaphor marked by this anxiety of its own necessary incompleteness as narrative as it exfoliates in time?