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  • Dealing with Time in Carmen Laforet’s Nada
  • Craig N. Bergeson

At the end of Carmen Laforet’s first novel, Nada, Andrea reflects on the year she spent in Barcelona:

Bajé la escalera despacio. Sentía una viva emoción. Recordaba la terrible esperanza, el anhelo de vida con que las había subido por primera vez. Me marchaba ahora sin haber conocido nada de lo que confusamente esperaba: la vida en su plenitud, la alegría, el interés profundo, el amor. De la casa de la calle de Aribau no me llevaba nada. Al menos, así creía yo entonces.


Why does she say “así creía yo entonces”? Does this mean, as Alison Tatum-Davis has argued, that, as Andrea is telling the story a few years after it occurred, she now realizes that she did indeed take something with her from her year in Barcelona, something such as the identity or the clearer sense of self she had sought? Or, as Ruth El Saffar and Barry Jordan maintain, was the younger Andrea right in thinking that she wasn’t taking away anything from that year, that she had not progressed, had not changed, and had not found the “self” she was looking for?

When Andrea arrives at the train station in Barcelona, at the beginning of her year there, she is looking forward to the future because of the fond memories she has of visiting her grandparents in this city when she was a child. She remembers the house as beautiful and cheerful, and she imagines that the city will be enchanting; however, her optimistic vision of the future begins to become blurry as soon as she enters the house. Instead of beautiful and cheerful, it is now ugly and gloomy. Why? What has brought about this drastic change? A hint, to begin to answer this question, can be found near the end of the first part of the novel, when Angustias, Andrea’s spinster aunt, prepares to leave the house to become a nun. Her rebelious brother Román says: “Me alegro de que se vaya Angustias porque [End Page 211] es un trozo viviente del pasado que estorba la marcha de las cosas” (107). Herein lies the problem, the reason the house and its inhabitants had fallen into decay: they are virtually living in the past, ignoring the present and the forever-forward movement of time.

This approach to reality – privileging the past over the present – can be addressed, in part, by Elizabeth Grosz’s recent studies of time. Grosz has been developing a philosophy of becoming by critiquing theories of temporality that privilege the future over the past and the present. One such theory is that of Henri Bergson, an early twentieth-century French philosopher for whom “the essence of time is that it goes by; time already gone by is the past, and we call the present the instant in which it goes by” (137), so my present “has one foot in my past and another in my future” (138). Bergson uses the visual image of an inverted cone to express his concept of time (see Fig. 1). The base of the cone, AB, is the past “or the totality of the recollections accumulated in my memory” (152); the summit, S, is the present; and the plane, P, through which the cone passes, is one’s actual representation of the universe. The body is always in the present, interacting with matter – moving, acting. So the present is action, and the past is that which no longer acts. In other words, the present is actual and the past is virtual. The actual is thus the realm of perception, of matter, of action, whereas the virtual is the realm of memory, of thought, of imagination.

As we attempt to access the past, we figuratively step out of the present, the realm of the actual, into the past, the realm of the virtual. Bergson states that, “whenever we are trying to recover a recollection, to call up some period of our history, we . . . detach ourselves from the present in order to replace ourselves . . .” (133). “To call up the past in the form of...


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pp. 211-218
Launched on MUSE
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