Stories

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

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59. “One “retracts””

Each one (retracts) within the time of the utterance of his fellow.

– The Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin

Reality no longer sustains the values necessary to the creation of Snow White…, or the witch or the dwarfs; it lacks the floor under the imagination, the ingredients of possible aspiration, the hunger for simulated fate, to create “stories” of any kind. There is therefore no happy ending to this Snow White, no denouement except one that mocks the original’s, no satisfaction to be obtained from a clear, completed arc of fictional experience. Fiction, Barthelme is saying, has lost its power to transform and convince and substitute, just as reality has lost, perhaps only temporarily (but that is not the concern of the imagination), its need and capacity to sustain fictions of this kind…. [The] book makes its way by dealing steadily with the problems of language. One “retracts” what the written world has been composed of not by ignoring it, by writing new language, but by discrediting it as the answer to one’s own contemporary needs.

– Richard Gilman: ‘Donald Barthelme’ reprinted Random House in ‘The Confusion of Realms’ in 1969