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Antinomies of Temporal and Corporeal Affect: Interrogating Jamesonian Realism in Julian Barnes’s ‘The Sense of an Ending’

Arka Chattopadhyay
University of West Sydney


‘History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation’ (Barnes, 2011, p.17). Adrian, one of the characters in Julian Barnes’s 2011 novel The Sense of an Ending (ibid.) attributes this indictment of historical veracity to a fictitious French historian, Patrick Lagrange. The false-citation marks the double-aporia in this already aporetic vision of history as a locus where truth can only remain in a state of suspension. What interests me here is a question of time, not space. As we shall see, the novel reiterates the modernist trope of unreliable memory in attempting to reconstitute the past in the light of the present. It begins with a catalogue of six random images thrown up by free-associative memory and immediately develops what the first-person narrator, Tony, calls ‘time’s malleability’ (p.3). The affective images of memory jettison chronological time by turning it into something as malleable as the affects themselves. Tony elaborates, ‘Some emotions speed it [time] up, others slow it down; occasionally it seems to go missing— until the eventual point when it really does go missing, never to return’ (ibid.). The novel takes its title from Frank Kermode’s eponymous book of literary criticism published in 1966. Barnes responds to Kermode’s central questions of time and literary realism: Barnes, much like Kermode, unsettles the temporal linearity of the Aristotelian beginning, middle and end by suggesting what the latter calls a ‘world without end or beginning’ (Kermode, 2000, p.67).

The time which abandons chronos is a time replete with what is lost forever. Instead of being able to recollect the past, the subjective history formed by the jigsaw pieces of memory can only arrive at a lacking point where time itself gets dissolved. There is no time in this eternity, and memory can only yield the emotions of the present in the present. As Tony states, ‘I must stress that this is my reading now of what happened then. Or rather, my memory now of my reading then of what was happening at the time’ (p.41). The past is dissolved as soon as it is invoked in this telling, and we are left with the present of this ‘now’ which can only fall back upon itself. There is a hesitation here regarding the time of reading: is Tony reading in the present of this ‘now’ alongside the reader or has he already done his reading in the past? Can his present alter or reconfigure the past or does the past remain dead and buried? These questions regarding narrative temporality are of great interest to Fredric Jameson’s 2013 book The Antinomies of Realism, which in my view is not simply a literary defence of the nineteenth-century realistic novel but a philosophical revitalization of literary and novelistic realism mediating through the dialectical conditions of modernity and postmodernity. I will read the complex and aporetic temporality of the Barnes novel in the light of Jameson’s thoughts on a new historical time of the present in the aforementioned book. Though I will problematize the neatness of Jameson’s identifications at various points before going beyond them to propose a Lacanian supplement, I consider this analysis to be in Jameson’s spirit in holding up the figure of antinomy as the auto-deconstructive hinge for his notion of realism.

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The Oxford Philosopher Speaks to… Luis de Miranda

kjhuhForty-four-year-old philosopher, author, and film director Luis de Miranda is no stranger to the philosophical (nor the literary) community, and I was lucky enough to catch him between the flurries of his many ongoing projects at the University of Edinburgh. The Portuguese-born polymath discusses ‘crealism,’ a movement he began in 2007 and continues to ventilate through his ever-expanding bibliography.

Much of your work revolves around the central concept of ‘Creal.’ What exactly is ‘Creal’ and your understanding of ‘crealism’? You’re now dedicating your PhD to the notion of esprit de corps. Should we assume there’s a connection here? In both French and English, espirit de corps refers to a sense of loyalty and respect between a group of individuals, but you give it greater significance. In your own words, what exactly is it?

My novel Paridaiza, published in 2008, first contained the concept of Créel (‘Creal’ in English) as a liberating keyword, a snag within a totalitarian regime. Creal is obviously a portmanteau compound of created-real. At the same time, I elaborated on the concept in an essay on Deleuze (Is a New Life Possible?). A philosophical concept answers a question and Creal is my answer to the question What is more real than the Real? The Real is a prominent concept in the history of philosophy since Plato. The last few centuries in particular have obsessed over the idea of reality, with its materialistic ubiquity (materialism) or, conversely, its disappearance (the loss of the Real in Baudrillard for example, or the absolute and impossible Real of Lacan). I proposed to puncture the idea that the Real is more than reality as we practice it, produce it, or believe it. If I’m to describe a more authentic realm, as a condition of possibility of the Real, I’ll call it Creal. This not only describes a Protagorean world where humans would be the measure and creators of all things: it’s an ethical cosmology. The Creal is an ethical absolute (that would ideally have to be agreed upon by social contract) proposed in order to avoid any form of totalitarian absolute, because I’m convinced that human societies need at least one ultimate value to function properly. Creation as an absolute is, in my view, the only absolute that constantly self-destroys, which therefore could avoid any form of totalitarianism, on one hand, and indifferent chaos on the other. However, I’m not a pure social constructionist, because I’m reluctant to use building metaphors, which are a bit too technical, and also because I find it difficult to believe in a pure anthropocentrism of creation. There are other forms of crealism around, which insist on an exaggerated human creative power. Mine is the idea that we constantly edit, filter and organize the infinite propositions of the Creal, which is such stuff as the cosmos is made of, the immanent creative flow of possibilities and impossibilities, the mysterious and invisible ‘dark energy’ of the cosmologists, if you will: at most, we co-create. Within this frame, my interest for the universal concept of esprit de corps expresses the view that human co-creation is always a collective process of ordering, naming, and valuing. Loyalty, togetherness, and repetition (of daily rituals or beliefs) create a slow epic that is the spiritual fuel of social change. That’s why, when I started my PhD on esprit de corps at the University of Edinburgh last year, I simultaneously founded the Creation of Reality Research Group (The Crag). Esprit de corps is a subset of creation of reality. It’s a concept that covers a process that can be positive or negative: groups can help individuals become sublime, but they can also smother.

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