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ZACHARY TAVLIN University of Washington “Ravel Out Into Time”: Phenomenology and Temporality in As I Lay Dying THE PROLIFERATION OF TEMPORAL EXPERIMENTATION IN THE LITERATURE of the modernist period, as extensive as it was, cannot be contained within the media of poetry and prose. Accompanying high modernist literature in this regard were revolutionary attempts at temporalizing traditionally spatial forms in the plastic arts—cubist painting was one style that allowed the spatial properties of its objects, still lives in principle, to synchronize according to a temporal progression. Coupled with the cubist breakthrough historically was the novelty of Edmund Husserl’s phenomenological reductions, which included a theory of time-consciousness that many critics have found remarkably similar to the temporal insights contained in cubist rearrangements on canvas.1 In both cases, so the story goes, time for the transcendental subject is not an atomized series of moments, but a deeply structural experience of a present that’s extended into both the (rather immediate) past and future—operations that Husserl called “protention” and “retention.” But Husserl provides merely one way of representing inner time-consciousness aesthetically. If space is temporal, time is spatial, and I will argue that, despite a small industry of literary critics engaging in a running debate on the cubism inherent in the novel, William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying conceives of a time whose function is one of confrontation with and contamination of the phenomenological structure of time-consciousness and its presupposed relation to space. 1 This case has been made thoroughly outside of the circle of literary critics I am dealing with here, and indeed outside of literary criticism (and even art criticism) in general. For example, Slavoj Žižek has opposed the structure of existential and political acts to visual arts that produce “a temporality irreducible to space”: “What is cubism in painting . . . where the object is depicted simultaneously from different points of view, if not an attempt to translate the temporal succession of the gaze circulating around the object into spatial coexistence of different perspectives within the synchronous unity of a picture?” (64). Žižek’s non-intuitive, throwaway appeal to this structure of cubist composition demonstrates, if nothing else, the sense in which this sort of claim has been taken for granted. 84 Zachary Tavlin Several commentators have reductively linked protentional and retentionaloperationstotheformalcompositionalstrategiesofthecubist painters. While the novel’s characterization, formal structure, and imagery are deeply related to temporal experimentation in the visual arts, I will claim that its relation to phenomenological theories typically associated with movements like cubism is an ambivalent one. While Faulkner’s text marks a radical break from pre-cubistic forms of perception, the spatial progress of the narrative engages with the past and the impossible future of death, the latter a form of non-being that is structured not according to a self-present temporality but by an event that is always to come. Looking at Martin Heidegger’s theory of time and its complication of Husserlian time-consciousness, where at the level of gear (like Cash’s tools, Jewel’s horse, even Vardaman’s fish) objects are not primarily encountered in a series of one-sided perspectives and within an extended present, I hope to locate a productive temporalspatial relationship in Faulkner where the unity of space and time is topologically complex, regional, and not reducibly “object-ive.” By articulating the value of Heidegger’s concepts for a reading of the novel, I will make a case for moving away from the cubistic reading, which ultimately serves as a stand-in, on the subject of space and time, for a Husserlian hermeneutic. Husserl’s Coffin Husserl’sinnertime-consciousnessreliesupontwophenomenological operations that, together, extend (or impregnate) the subject’s present experience. Retention is the immediate gathering into the present of what was perceived directly prior to the particular intentional act, and protention is the immediate anticipation of what will be perceived directly posterior to the act. For the subject, these structures do not suggest a constant association between perception and a related memory or premonition, insofar as those terms suggest a hermeneutically constitutive distance between the immediate perception itself and the feature of past or present perception. When an object...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2689-517X
Print ISSN
0026-637X
Pages
pp. 83-100
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-27
Open Access
No
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