About Time: Narrative, Fiction and the Philosophy of Time

About Time: Narrative, Fiction and the Philosophy of Time

About Time: Narrative, Fiction and the Philosophy of Time

About Time: Narrative, Fiction and the Philosophy of Time

Synopsis

About Time brings together ideas about time from narrative theory and philosophy. It argues that literary criticism and narratology have approached narrative primarily as a form of retrospect, and demonstrates through a series of arguments and readings that anticipation and other forms ofprojection into the future offer new analytical perspectives to narrative criticism and theory.The book offers an account of 'prolepsis' or 'flashforward' in the contemporary novel which retrieves it from the realm of experimentation and places it at the heart of a contemporary mode of being, both personal and collective, which experiences the present as the object of a future memory. Withreference to some of the most important recent developments in the philosophy of time, it aims to define a set of questions about tense and temporal reference in narrative which make it possible to reconsider the function of stories in contemporary culture. It also reopens traditional questionsabout the difference between literature and philosophy in relation to knowledge of time. In the context of these questions, the book offers analyses of a range of contemporary fiction by writers such as Ali Smith, Ian McEwan, Martin Amis and Graham Swift.

Excerpt

My title both chastises me for the tardiness and congratulates me for the timeliness of my book. In 1989, David Wood predicted that ‘our centurylong “linguistic turn” will be followed by a spiralling return to time as the focus and horizon of all our thought and experience’ (David Wood 2001: xxxv), and it is about time that this prediction about time came true. The need as I see it is partly as Wood described it: the need for a ‘programme for the analysis of temporal structures and representations of time’ (xxxvi). Alongside such a programme, there is also a need for a theoretical account of time which might rescue the analysis of temporal structures from some of the vagueness of new historicism, cultural history, Derridean hauntology, the uncanny and the cultural theory of postmodernism. It is particularly in relation to fiction, to the strange temporal structures that have developed in the novel in recent decades, that a clear framework for the analysis of time seems necessary. But there is also a need to revisit the relation of fiction and philosophy because of these strange temporal structures, to ask what domain of understanding or knowledge might be occupied by the contemporary novel on the subject of time, or what effects these structures might exert in the world.

The word about has turned out to have a resonance for my topic that I didn’t fully anticipate. If primarily it means ‘on the subject of’, it carries within it a set of general problems about the content of language and, for my purposes, a specific question about fiction: what does it mean to say that a fictional narrative is ‘on the subject of’ time? Many who have written on this topic have chosen to focus on novels which are manifestly, perhaps intentionally, about time. Commonly this involves detailed readings of novels which are addressed unmistakably to the question of time at the level of theme and content. It is also reasonably common to find a less content-based, more formalist sense of ‘about’, according to which experimental narrative forms and techniques are seen to place time at the forefront of a novel’s thematic concerns. Such novels are about time in . . .

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