Perpetual Transition

49. “Sense of an ending, paradigm of apocalypse”

And of course we have it now, the sense of an ending. It has not diminished, and is as endemic to what we call modernism as apocalyptic utopianism is to political revolution. When we live in the mood of end-dominated crisis, certain now-familiar patterns of assumption become evident. Yeats will help me to illustrate them.

– Frank Kermode: ‘Sense of An Ending’, Oxford University Press, 1967

Indeed, Kermode argues that our apocalyptic views of disorder, of crisis and perpetual transition in the contemporary world are contemporary ways of making sense of the world, of giving it an intelligible order. They are variations on a paradigm of sense-making statements which are constant in human history.

– Leo Bersani: ‘Variations On a Paradigm’, New York Times, 11 June 1967


50. “Structure mere successiveness into patterns”

We need ends and kairoi and the pleroma, even now when the history of the world has so terribly and so untidily expanded its endless successiveness. We re-create the horizons we have abolished, the structures that have collapsed; and we do so in terms of the old patterns, adapting them to our new worlds. Ends, for example, become a matter of images, figures for what does not exist except humanly. Our stories must recognize mere successiveness but not be merely successive; Ulysses, for example, may be said to unite the irreducible chronos of Dublin with the irreducible kairoi of Homer. In the middest, we look for a fullness of time, for beginning, middle, and end in concord.

– Frank Kermode: ‘Sense of An Ending’, Oxford University Press, 1967

For if what Kermode persistently refers to as merely successive, “real” time were in itself but another fiction, then he would be committed only to a study of various orders of fiction rather than to a study of fictions as changing responses to a hypothetically changeless and formless reality. And fictions may be sense-depriving as well as sense-making.

– Leo Bersani: ‘Variations On a Paradigm’, New York Times, 11 June 1967

55. “Break through its own paradigms Reinvent cherishable world within prison of temporality”

The paradigm of the world is eternal; and his existence, as a paradigm, is that which is essential, and not accidental to him. But because he possesses the power of being a paradigm essentially, hence, as he is eternal, he will be eternally the paradigm of the world. If, however, an existence eternally is present with the paradigm, the image also will necessarily always exist; for a paradigm is a paradigm with reference to an image. But if the image was not when the paradigm was not, neither will the paradigm be when the image is not; since, in this case, it will no longer be a paradigm. For either it will not be a paradigm if the image is not, or it will not be the paradigm of the image. Of things, therefore, which are predicated with reference to each other, the one cannot exist if the other is not. Hence, if the paradigm of the world is eternally the paradigm of it, the world always is an image of an eternally existing paradigm.

– Proclus: ‘Argument the Second’ in Thomas Taylor: ‘Fragments that Remain of the Lost Writings of Proclus’, 1825

However, unless he would rather foist on Plato what he [Proclus] himself thought, just as he took over from Plato that the cosmos must be like the paradigm, so too must he show whether Plato wanted time to be infinite in both directions in order to infer the rest from Plato’s assertions in the following way: if the cosmos is like the paradigm in this way – by existing for all time just as the paradigm exists for all eternity, and if according to Plato is infinite in both directions. But in fact, since he is not able to show that this is Plato’s opinion, he assumes on his own without proof that time is infinite in both directions.

– Philoponus: ‘Against Proclus on the Eternity of the World 12-18’

But we never break free of our paradigms of order, and the new ones are always related to the older ones. Thus, when we speak of living in an age of perpetual transition, we are not abandoning the fiction of an end, but merely “registering the conviction that the end is immanent rather than imminent.”

– Leo Bersani: ‘Variations On a Paradigm’, New York Times, 11 June 1967