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la jetée in starbucks, lukács on durée

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Lukács in The Theory of the Novel:

The greatest discrepancy between idea and reality [in the novel of romantic disillusionment] is time: the process of time as duration. The most profound and most humiliating impotence of subjectivity consists not so much in its hopeless struggle against the lack of idea in social forms and their human representatives, as in the fact that it cannot resist the sluggish, yet constant process of time; that it must slip down, slowly yet inexorably, from the peaks it has laboriously scaled; that time – that ungraspable, invisibly moving substance – gradually robs subjectivity of all its possessions and imperceptibly forces alien contents into it. That is why only the novel, the literary form of the transcendent homelessness of the idea, includes real time – Bergson’s durée – among its constitutive principles.

In Starbucks again, just about the same time as yesterday when I posted. There are American kids sitting across from me, Americans on their collegiate trip to Europe. He is trying to repair his rolling suitcase; the handle has come off and he’s bought some electrical tape.

The approximation of manhood, of male adulthood, that is taping a handle back to the place where it belongs, weaving the tape in and out into a silver X on a black bag, around and around and then giving it a strong tug to see if it will hold…. this is familiar. On our first trip to Europe, 1996, the key broke off in my luggage lock. We were staying in a shitty hotel on Rue Monsieur Le Prince, and I couldn’t think of the French word for hammer. Un mallet madame? Il faut que je utilise un mallet pour ouvrir le…. mon sac. She ignored us; I found a large stone in the Jardin du Luxembourg the next day and bashed the fucker open.

On our last trip to Europe before we had children, was it 2003, the wheel broke off my rolling bag as we made our way to the Earls Court Tube on our way to a flight to Ireland. My wife was to give a paper at a conference on television; I was to stalk around the city for several days and I did! But first, I had to purchase a new and incredibly expensive bag at the Left Luggage stall at Waterloo Station, a Left Luggage stall that I now see all the time while I stand around under the clock, waiting for my nights out to start.

What Lukács means to say, ultimately, maybe, is that you start by breaking your bag and then fixing it in Europe and you end by taking pictures of American kids whose bags are broken and then fixed. That’s just the sort of electrical tape that holds the thing together as a form. It’s bourgeois and subsumed with the melancholy of that class, its temporal dysfunction. And as such, like all bourgeois forms, especially the melancholic ones, it potentially repurposeable but only with great care and difficulty.

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July 30, 2009 at 11:55 am

Posted in novel, temporality

7 Responses

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  1. Because I can’t resist: I am very fond of Lukacs (more fond by far than the slew of Marxian exegetes who prove their bona fides by duly/dully hacking away at Gyorgy in their introductions) but his certainty that what was missing was time is, if not just wrong, at least misbegotten. Had he recognized equally that was was missing was structuration, or the ability to coordinate the complexities of the situation into an organized account, he probably would have a) been able to read the modern novel, and b) been able to read poetry. So what we have in that passage isn’t so much a claim as it is an auto-diagnosis of his shortcomings as a reader. Alas.


    July 30, 2009 at 3:42 pm

  2. Wait – he’s not saying that time is missing, he’s saying that it’s the only form that’s full of time. I don’t follow…


    July 31, 2009 at 2:31 pm

  3. Sorry, bad conversion of the problem of “discrepancy.” That he takes this discrepancy as the fundamental one, as the object of study…the point stands.


    July 31, 2009 at 2:45 pm

  4. Ok. But when has there ever been a structured, organized account of the sort of thing that the novel does? If you ask me, the problem only gets worse – comes to the fore – with modernism, and then you end up with things like circular novels (FW) or “Time Passes” (VW) or a ginormous prolongation of “A une passante” (U). Modernism, to me, exacerbates the issue. Have to be careful talking about the poetry, but there you get fragments shor’d, but certain no terminal idea for all the time that’s passed.

    I think, in other words, GL is OK here.


    July 31, 2009 at 11:22 pm

  5. Well, right or wrong I haven’t made myself intelligible so…onward!

    [That “fragments “shor’d” deal really isn’t decisive about modern poetry except for the sub-sub-branch that’s struggling with the end of the British Empire. My point is that poetry isn’t — in its distinction — about time, so that laying so much on that dimension just makes you unable to read poetry very well — ]


    August 2, 2009 at 1:02 am

  6. for the sub-sub-branch that’s struggling with the end of the British Empire.

    Ha! That’s nicely scalpeled. Oh, but it was a bit catchier than that. Pound took it up from TSE, and Pound didn’t care about the FoftheBE.

    I am sure poetry is just as much “about” time as any other temporal form has to be. Saying poetry isn’t about time is like saying baseball’s not about circling the bases, making it home or not. One can come up with whatever other abstracting reading of the thing – baseball is about psychology, urban pastoralism, drug abuse, race relations – but in the end, it’s about touching home or not. If there’s one prerequisite to the reading and the writing of the stuff, it’s a sense of what it means to put one thing after another, what it means to start here and end there.

    I don’t think this is the reason Lukács couldn’t or didn’t read poetry. After all, in a sense, the New Critics think just about the same thing as the paragraph above. Might not like what they come up with, but they’re were blind before the form…


    August 2, 2009 at 7:08 am

  7. Ads! Here we must part ways, as much as I like a good baseball analogy. But soccer and baseball aren’t “about” the same thing are they? They are as similar in kind as fiction and poetry.

    I assume you mean TSE took it up from Pound. And, uh, you rilly think The Cantos, a desperate attempt to restore the epic so as preserve some grand sense of historical continuity from empire to empire begun exactly in “the vortex” of hegemonic chaos, wasn’t precipitated by imperial collapse and disorder? Dear boy you are mad as a hatter.


    August 2, 2009 at 2:51 pm

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