The Unexpected: Narrative Temporality and the Philosophy of Surprise

By Mark Currie | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
What Will Have Happened: Writing
and the Future Perfect

‘I cannot predict what is going to happen’, Bergson says, ‘but I foresee that I am going to have known it.’ This empty foresight offers a grammatical form, the future perfect, which links together the structure of an existential moment, the engagement with a fictional plot, and contemporary epochal self-consciousness. In 1977, Robert Champigny published a philosophical study of mystery stories titled What Will Have Happened, a tense form that creates a conjunction between a prospective present and the retrospective future. Speaking of the investigative sequence of a mystery story or detective fiction, what makes aesthetic sense for Champigny ‘is that an investigative sequence can turn the opposition between narrative questions and answers into a tighter tension or complementarity between narrative progression and retrogression’:

This is implied in the phrase ‘what will have happened’. Otherwise, the
interplay between prospective and retrospective outlooks, predetermination
and postdetermination would concern the reading process only. (Champigny
1977, 59)

This is an intriguing claim, partly because it seems to want to locate the interplay between narrative progression and retrogression not only in the temporality of a reading, but in the investigation itself: the structure of what will have happened is not only the structure of general future orientation, in reading or in life, but a particular kind of narrative – the investigative sequence – capable of binding prospect and retrospect together in an unusual complementarity. This is of interest not only because it repeats what Todorov famously claimed about the double time of detective fiction in 1966, but because it is otherwise surrounded by occasions, not generally well known, and of which Champigny’s argument seems to know nothing, of invocations of the future perfect as a tense for our times: there is, for example, a strange flash of interest, in 1978, in the future perfect as a postmodern tense and temporal

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