- Time in Our TimeClune and Hägglund Debating at Stanford
This is a transcription of the discussion that followed the two talks by Michael W. Clune and Martin Hägglund, published in this issue of CR. The talks and discussion were part of an event devoted to Clune’s book Writing against Time (2013b) and Hägglund’s Dying for Time (2012). The event was organized and moderated by Mark McGurl and hosted by the Center for the Study of the Novel at Stanford University.
I think the most basic difference between our works is that, when you look at time from a deconstructive or philosophical perspective, certain things look impossible, whereas when you look at time from a neuroscientific perspective—from the perspective of what we know about how subjective time actually works in the brain—these things no longer [End Page 109] look so impossible. Let me give you an example. You have a wonderful critique of Bergson, which from the perspective of the account of time that Derrida had access to in the sixties and seventies makes perfect sense. Part of your claim is that each moment must leave a spatial trace, since as soon as the moment comes into being it is passing away. Subjective time does not really work that way though. What we know is that in short-term memory, when one first experiences something—and I place a lot of emphasis on this since it accords with my intuition of how time works in perception—when one first experiences something, subjective time has not yet gone to work on the experience, in the sense that the brain has not yet created a representation, has not yet grasped the form and encoded it in a manner that places it in long-term memory. Therefore, what one wants, what Keats, Proust, Nabokov, and these other writers want to target, is how we can expand and linger in the moment of short-term memory before the spatialized trace happens. That seems like a technical argument, but what it makes possible is a perspective from which you can see a number of things you would not see otherwise. The first is that to (as you say) intensify the experience of time, that actually does involve countering time. We ordinarily cannot retain the intensity of our experience of temporal phenomena because the mind is automating it. So the very desire to “linger” in time in fact already and intrinsically entails the desire to counter subjective time as it is operating in the mind.
Can I stop you there for a moment? I was trying to zone in on this issue toward the end of my talk and I think it encapsulates many of the significant differences between us. On the one hand, you describe perceptual experience as something that is first present in itself and then begins to pass away. On the other hand, you sometimes grant that perceptual experience starts to fade as soon as it comes into being. What I am trying to stress is that the latter—the experience of time passing away—is part of what animates perceptual experience from the beginning. The very desire to linger in the state you are describing would be inconceivable unless you already had the sense that the experience will not last. If the experience were just there, fully present—“untouched” by time—you would never be seized by the desire to try to linger in it, because there would be no sense of a passage of time that you have to resist. That’s why I would distinguish between a desire to “counter” [End Page 110] time and a desire to defeat or eliminate time. There is a desire to prolong and intensify the experience of time—to “linger” in it—but that desire depends on the immediate apprehension that the experience is passing away and that sense is part of what animates the desire. Otherwise I cannot see how the desire to linger even gets off the ground. There is a minimal temporality at work there, which requires—in...