Time. It’s a bastard, pace Proust, pace Wagner. How do you capture its mercurial, telescoping, objective, subjective, historical, anti-historical sense when making art, by which I mean a novel? Should one cling resolutely to the subjective time of the main character , the imaginary objective time of the omniscient narrator etc etc? Each ambit is, of course, false – we live in a simultaneous present which – a nod to Heidegger (hi Marty, thanks for joining) – contains the past, the present, the future. How to capture that in linear language, without boredom, without the repetition of thought which (in fact) is most of consciousness? (Stream of consciousness being, of course, a trope like any other – true stream of consciousness writing would, of course, be not only impossible, but anti-art).
I’m currently reading – as I tend to do when I am approaching a challenging writing task, The Flanders Road, by Claude Simon – a writer who seems to have been more or less forgotten (all he did was win the Nobel Prize!). Simon takes up the challenge of time through what I think of as the device of conflation – in order to represent ‘lived time’ as it is/can be represented in art, he imposes on the narrative voice the challenge of simultaneity – he forces it (through ellipses, parenthesis, run on sentences etc) to acknowledge, and battle with, its own temporality. No statement is allowed that doesn’t acknowledge its contingency, no event is narrated that doesn’t acknowledge its partiality.
Simon is questioning both consciousness (the job of a novel) and novels (the job of consciousness). By creating a knot of parallax narrative strands he challenges the reader – and as my ‘go to’ book whenever I’m feeling glib – he challenges me to not accept the simple appeal of a strong authorial voice – as this is a fiction, like any other.
Anyway, what he reckons about stuff is here.