Tag Archives: literary time

Modernity: Beyond the Chains of Time and Space

“The rushing after lost time, the frantic quest for the present, the rage to be “contemporaries of all mankind” (as Octavio Paz put it) — all these things are typical of the search for a way to enter literary time and thereby attain artistic salvation.”

Casanova, Pascale. “The World Republic of Letters”. transl. M. B. Devoise. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1999. pp. 91.

This passage portrays modernity in a peculiar way. The term “artistic salvation” is intriguing in the way that it captures the intentions of so many authors across time. Salvation means that the work will be preserved from being harmed or lost, thus placing the work in a realm outside of time and space, free from the changing trends and modes of literature. Of course, we can consider this to be what happens to a book when it becomes a classic, but Casanova uses this to point out the contradictions of being “modern.” If a classic, a book that has been preserved, is beyond the chains of time, then the quest for being modern is also the quest for writing something outside of time (“literary time”), not the quest to be “connect[ed] with fashion” (91).

Local writing v. global influence

“This specifically literary form of time is perceptible only by those writers on the peripheries of the world of letters who, in their openness to international experience, seek to end what they see as their exile from literature. “National” writers, by contrast, whether they live in central or outlying countries, are united in ignoring world competition (and therefore literary time) and in considering only the local norms and limits assigned to literary practice by their homelands.”

Casanova, Pascale. “The World Republic of Letters”. transl. M. B. Devoise. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1999. pp. 94.

Does Casanova argue that writers should aspire past the localness that flavor their writings to build on literary time that’s established by the international literary space?


Literary time

“Paz’s realization that he lived in a place outside real time and history (this present was “somewhere else”) was succeeded by a sudden awareness of a schism in the world, which let to him to set out in search of the present: “The search for the present is not the pursuit of an earthly paradise or of a timeless eternity ; it is the search for reality…  we had to go and look for it and bring t back home” This quest was an attempt to find a way out of from the “fictitious time” reserved for national space into which he had been born and to gain entry into the real time of international life.””

Pascale Casanova, The World Republic Of Letters, translated by M.B. DeBevoise. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2007, p93.

Casanova’s example of Octavio Paz’s realization of the literary schism  highlights  the difficulty to be modern, to belong and participate to the international literary life for an outsider of the international time because of the backwardness and remoteness he suffers- not to mention that he has to be aware of those facts in order to achieve it.