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Dying for Time

Dying for Time: Proust, Woolf, Nabokov

Martin Hägglund
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Dying for Time
    Book Description:

    Novels by Proust, Woolf, and Nabokov have been read as expressions of a desire to transcend time. Hägglund gives them another reading entirely: fear of time and death is generated by investment in temporal life. Engaging with Freud and Lacan, he opens a new way of reading the dramas of desire as they are staged in both philosophy and literature.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-06784-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. Introduction: Of Chronolibido
    (pp. 1-19)

    The debate between philosophy and literature begins over the question of desire. In Plato’s Republic, Socrates’ main charge against Homer is that his poetry leaves us in the grip of the desire for mortal life.¹ The dramatic pathos in the Iliad is generated when the heroes cling to what they will lose and cannot accept the death that awaits them. Even the bravest heroes, such as Hector and Achilles, lament the fact that their lives will have been so short. When this pathos is transferred to the audience, it opens a channel that allows the spectators to come into contact...

  4. CHAPTER 1 Memory: Proust
    (pp. 20-55)

    More than a year after her funeral, he understands that she is dead. During the past year, he has often spoken and thought of her; he has even supposedly mourned her. But he has not understood that she is dead. Then, one evening as he bends down to take off his boots, he is seized by the visceral memory of how she once assisted him in the same task. The repetition of the physical sensation not only recalls the past event but also resuscitates the self he was at the time—the one who sought refuge in her and who...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Trauma: Woolf
    (pp. 56-78)

    On a winter afternoon in the alpine region of Norway, a man begins to read Virginia Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse. He is seized by how she manages to convey the smallest movements of thought, sensation, and everyday life. Woolf’s writing makes him think about the very activity of thinking, sense the very texture of sensation, and his life opens itself to him with a new depth. As he proceeds to the second part of To the Lighthouse, however, everything changes. A major character such as Mrs. Ramsay, whose life he previously could follow second by second over the space...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Writing: Nabokov
    (pp. 79-109)

    When the phone rings, it will have been seventeen years since he heard her voice. It is July 14, 1922, and he has been driving all night to meet her at the hotel where they parted in 1905. He has aged, time has been lost, and faced with the prospect of seeing her again, he finds himself in a state of “exhilaration, exhaustion, expectancy, and panic.”¹ He does not know who they have become to one another and which possibilities remain. Yet her voice on the phone cuts through his anxiety and resuscitates the past in spite of all the...

  7. CHAPTER 4 Reading: Freud, Lacan, Derrida
    (pp. 110-145)

    In his essay “On Transience,” Freud recounts a summer walk through the countryside with a famous poet. The scenery is resplendent, but the poet is haunted by the sense that all the beauty will be destroyed by the passage of time. Everything that may be desired as beautiful bears its own destruction within itself because it is temporal and begins to pass away as soon as it comes to be. The poet’s conclusion is that such temporal finitude deprives beauty of its value. As Freud explains: “All that he would otherwise have loved and admired seemed to him shorn of...

  8. Conclusion: Binding Desire
    (pp. 146-168)

    The music has stopped. During the performance of the sonata, the little phrase they cherished as the national anthem of their love has held him spellbound. With the violin rising to a series of high notes—“holding on to them in a prolonged expectancy, in the exaltation of already seeing the object of its expectation approaching, and with a desperate effort to try to endure until it arrived, to welcome it before expiring, to keep the way open for it another moment” (1:358/1:339)—it was as if she had entered the room. And not only she but also the very...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 169-188)
  10. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 189-192)
  11. Index
    (pp. 193-197)