Interesting little essay here from one Duncan Stuart, a new name at Blue Labyrinths, which I will cite at length:
[Sylvain] Lazarus takes seriously the work of French historian Marc Bloch, who argues in his 1949 book The Historians Craft, that the past is given and the future contingent. Lazarus demonstrates that for Bloch the past and the present are fundamentally linked, and this linkage means that the present becomes a given as well. In doing so Bloch’s thought closes off the present from the possible. Yet to say that only the future contains the possible is in fact to say that the possible will never arrive. The future is always to come, and when it comes it is the present, which is then given as it is fundamentally linked with the past.
Lazarus finds no way through these problems as long as we maintain a conception of time. In order to preserve the idea of the possible for politics, he must either abolish time or make the present the realm of the possible. Yet if the present becomes the realm of the possible, then so too does the past and all three tenses of time – past, present, future – lose their analytic distinction. To attach the notion of the possible to the present, then, is to abolish time. Making room for the possible requires the abolishment of time itself.
Literature too is about the possible. Not always and not necessarily. It does not always exploit this potential. Yet the ease with which literature does away with the conventions of time, the ease with which it demonstrates different forms of life and different worlds shows that more than being about unreality, being about the fictive, it is about the possible. It is about fashioning a different reality. Likewise, there is always the potential for politics and the abolition of time, but this does not necessarily happen. Reality, or at the very least political and social reality, is always primed with its own conditions of dissolution and abolishment.
To say that literature can abolish time because it is fictive is to say that it is fundamentally an exercise in daydreaming. To say that it can abolish time because it is concerned with the possible is to reimbue it with political and radical potential. If there is one thing I know about this world – past, future and present – it is that another world is possible.
I’m clipping this because it comes at an issue in which I’m interested—namely temporality and utopia—from a rather different theoretical point of origin. The argument excerpted above seemed to me to be something of a parallel to Genevieve Lively’s (2017) case for (post)modernist narratological strategies as a literary training ground for approaching futurity with a greater sense of the possible. Lively frames this idea within the anticipations/’futures literacy’ concept-bundle (with which I have some lingering issues, not all of which are purely scholarly in origin), and of course the enduring gotcha (which applies to most arguments about fictional forms as tools for futuring-with-publics) is that the readership for prose-fiction-as-entertainment is pretty small, and diminished still further once we factor in a tolerance for Joycean narratological trickery. However, applying those narrative strategies to other media and to other purposes, while far from suggesting a panacea, has surely got to be worth trying.
- Liveley, G. (2017). “Anticipation and Narratology”. In R. Poli (Ed.), Handbook of Anticipation (pp. 1–20). Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-31737-3_7-1