Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Austerlitz on time

A clock has always struck me as something ridiculous, a thoroughly mendacious object, perhaps because I have always resisted the power of time out of some internal compulsion which I myself have never understood, keeping myself apart from so-called current events in the hope, as I now think, said Austerlitz, that time will not pass away, has not passed away, that I can turn back and go behind it, and there I shall find everything as it once was, or more precisely I shall find that all moments of time have co-existed simultaneously, in which case none of what history tells us would be true, past events have not yet occurred but are waiting to do so at the moment when we think of them, although that, of course, opens up the bleak prospect of everlasting misery and never-ending anguish.

W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz. Trans. Anthea Bell (New York: Modern Library, 2001).
I picked up this novel because it is has been described as Proustian — and it is, though a scene in which a walk on uneven pavement brings back the past is, really, too overt an homage. (The precedent for that walk may be found in the final volume of In Search of Lost Time, Time Regained.) The sentence I’ve typed here is deeply Proustian, not only in its preoccupation with time and memory but also in the grim twist at its end. “If all time is eternally present / All time is unredeemable,” as someone once said.

[It was T.S. Eliot, in “Burnt Norton,” the first of the Four Quartets.]

comments: 0