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Jeremy Tambling, On Anachronism.

Jeremy Tambling, On Anachronism, Manchester University Press, 2010, pp. viii + 184, 55 [pounds sterling].

Anachronism-literally 'being out of time'-is a tricky concept for scholars of Literature and History. We need sequence, periodization, narrative progression and a host of related devices to make much of our theory and most of our exegeses work. We like chronology and (however ambiguous) interpretative phrases like 'and then' Primary schools and museums are encouraged to draw time-lines down the corridor. Undergraduates are told that classicism has to be understood in advance of neo-classicism. Scholarly editions are constructed like geological strata. Elsewhere lies post-modernism, where (as Lyotard is quoted in On Anachronism) 'putting one event before another has problems' (p. 146).

Instead, as Jeremy Tambling joyfully reminds us, much of our raw material fails to co-operate. Theodor Adorno (following Walter Benjamin's adage that history needs to be written from the point of view of the vanquished and not the victors) is quoted to show how theory has 'to deal with cross-grained, opaque, unassimilated material, which as such admittedly has from the start an anachronistic quality, but is not wholly obsolete since it has outwitted the historical dynamic' (p. 147). Other theorists appealed to here include Roland Barthes, Maurice Blanchot, Harold Bloom, Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Derrida (for whom time is 'metaphysical' not 'chronological'), William Empson, Michel Foucault, Sigmund Freud, G. W. F. Hegel, Martin Heidegger, Julia Kristeva, Jacques Lacan and Emmanuel Levinas.

Tambling's substantive chapters all show major authors, from across the centuries, playing with time, sometimes to deadly effect. They are thus able to deal with human frailties like nostalgia, a sense of entitlement, jealousy, resentment and both certainties and uncertainties about identity. They are able to 'manage' permanent or temporary taboos and misconceptions about relationships (for example, homosexuality in the pre-modern era), periodisation (what, if anything was reborn in the Renaissance?), inheritance (including national or local), 'turning the clock back', inclusion and exclusion, Freudian repression and crime (especially murder). Tenses get jumbled, especially the future anterior ('what will have been'). Aporia, chance, contretemps, belatedness, delayed reactions, syncopation, prolepsis and analepsis and their like, are endemic. 'Writing erases the present' (p. 129), and as in Proust, 'memory makes impossible an agreed narrative of the past' (p. 52).

The principal artists moving through this space and discussed here are Jorge Luis Borges, Miguel de Cervantes, Franz Kafka, Gabriel Garcia Marquez (the 'death foretold'), Michelangelo, Friedrich Nietzsche, Marcel Proust (whose A la recherche du temps perdu is structured to profound effect around lives lived in the wrong place and the wrong order) and Shakespeare. The latter is present throughout-not just as a source of egregious examples (like the clock in Julius Caesar or the elaborate games in All's Well That Ends Well)-but also because of a profound series of meditations (directly through the sonnets, indirectly through a host of characters in the plays) on the concept of time (especially when 'out of joint').

Naturally, one of Tambling's favoured motifs is the palimpsest (writings, and hence readings, progressively superimposed on each other). Freudian and Lacanian 'traces' are similarly ubiquitous. In a summative set of 'last words', Gustav Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde, written in 1908, but first performed posthumously in 1911, is shown to juxtapose poems, parts of poems, musical ideas and what has been regarded as the composer's definitive 'farewell' in a way that anticipates the Holocaust: 'music which is not post-Auschwitz, but written before may be understood more, later, following that caesura' (p. 157). This final example exposes the modern/post-modernist dilemma. Is what is written and read always intended? Tambling's minute, rich and always entertaining readings suggest an answer in the affirmative. These great artists are playing with us and are almost always in control of the effects. Historians of ideas (Benjamin's 'historicists') will want to resist the temptation to agree.

http://dx.doi.org/10.7227/L&H.21.1.7

David Watson

Green Templeton College, Oxford
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Author:Watson, David
Publication:Literature & History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2012
Words:654
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