terror and beauty

a review of Dying for Time: Proust, Woolf, Nabokov by Martin Hägglund
To make modernism committedly mortal, despite its apparent desire to be otherwise: this is Hägglund’s aim in Dying for Time. Even when we seek to transcend time, we do so because our time-bound lives can be lost. Our finitude is the foundation for all our desires, and all our fears. In Proust’s novel, Hägglund writes, memories of life are always also memories of loss. Even the most ecstatic recollection returns us to a world in which the remembered object is no more. Moreover, this is as true of our memories of ourselves as it is of our memories of others. Our lifetimes, too, are traversed by “nothingness,” since every moment we live through “must extinguish itself as soon as it comes.” Time is always passing away, each successive second negating the one before, such that “the present itself can come into being only by ceasing to be.” In this sense, “extinction is at work in survival itself.” Thus the epiphanies we find in Proust do not transcend time. Rather, these memories retrieve the ambivalent rhythms of persistence and disappearance that animate actual life. Proust’s real revelation is not that memory makes us immortal, but that life is at all times destructible.

read the rest at the Los Angeles Review of Books

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