Four Phases of Time and Literary Modernism

  • R. J. Quinones


“Isn’t time the essential dynamic of the West?” This was the rhetorical question put to me by a Rumanian sociologist in New York City a few years back. Having just completed a book whose subject was that very thesis, I could not disagree. And indeed it does seem that whenever there is a new stirring of this dynamic, time as a concept becomes extremely active in literature. In Jacqueline de Romilly’s Time in Greek Tragedy, the Sorbonne classicist argues that time and a sense of history emerged together and were integral to the great age of Greek tragedy.1 This book, incidentally, should be read in order to counter the hasty assumption that the Greek sense of time was uniformly cyclical. My own The Renaissance Discovery of Time shows the many ways that time entered quite specifically into the re-awakening and quickening of life among the European countries in the Renaissance, and retrospectively indicated how many of the Renaissance sources for their inspired addresses to time were from Roman literature.2 One notices the gap of the Middle Ages; this is not because I deplore that period of our cultural history — quite the contrary is true (although it might represent my ignorance of it) — but rather my scholarly belief, which has not yet been countered, that in the Middle Ages, this dynamic lay fallow and, as a consequence, the concept of time as we have later come to regard it was largely non-existent. And whenever in public gatherings I express this belief, medievalists immediately become angry, as if I am shortchanging their period. When asked, however, to cite some instances similar to those I show in the Renaissance, and even when given several days advance notice they normally can muster only two or three relatively minor and even disputable utterances. From the Renaissance, however, if one were called to such a presentation, within a few minutes one could cite some thirty major works where the sense of time is a central, vital and dynamic concept. When we come to Victorian society, a society on the move if there ever were, time was again something of an obsession, as Jerome Buckley’s The Triumph of Time attests.3 Time has been, and should be, treated as a major theme of Western literature; I can be more specific and refer to it as an indicator-theme, one that clearly points to and is even instrumental in the surges and sags of Western society.


Historical Continuity Essential Dynamic Greek Tragedy Public Gathering Bourgeois Society 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press 1968), p. 11.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press 1972).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press 1966).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    In addition to my study and its supporting bibliography, here is a recent, forceful statement by Jacques LeGoff: “Perhaps the most important way the urban bourgeoisie spread its culture was the revolution it effected in the mental categories of medieval man. The most spectacular of these revolutions, without a doubt, was the one that concerned the concept and measurement of time.” “The Town as an Agent of Civilization,” The Fontana Economic History of Europe: The Middle Ages, ed. Carlo Cipolla ( London: Collins 1972 ), p. 86.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    This double face of time can be called, on the one side, predictive, and on the other, innovative. “The sheer need for a more precise control of predictions thus might have helped to give birth to the notion of time as such.” (Quoted from the abstract of Masanao Toda’s paper at this conference of the International Society for the Study of Time; the sentence did not occur in the actual delivery.) The other side is given by R. Schlegel, “In a human culture in which there is active development of new knowledge and new ways of living there is perhaps concomitantly an emphasis on history and the role of time.” “Time and Entropy,” Time in Science and Philosophy, ed. Jiri Zeman ( Prague: Academia 1971 ), p. 29.Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    Time, Place and Idea: Essays on the Novel (Carbondale, Ill.: Southern Illinois University Press 1968), p. 43.Google Scholar
  7. 10.
    Revolt of the Masses [trans. anonymous], (New York: Norton 1932), pp. 32–33.Google Scholar
  8. 11.
    In The Birth of Tragedy and the Genealogy of Morals,trans. Francis Golffing (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday – Anchor 1956), p. 111.Google Scholar
  9. 12.
    In “Death in Venice” and Seven Other Stories,trans. H.T. Lowe-Porter (New York: Vintage 1957), p. 18.Google Scholar
  10. 13.
    In the essay, “The making of The Magic Mountain,” rpt. as an appendix to The Magic Moun- tain, trans. H.T. Lowe-Porter ( New York: Vintage 1969 ).Google Scholar
  11. 16.
    Ulysses(New York: The Modern Library 1934), p. 35.Google Scholar
  12. 17.
    Viking Press reprint 1960, p. 327.Google Scholar
  13. 19.
    Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press 1972), p. 139.Google Scholar
  14. 20.
    See John B. Vickery: The Literary Impact of “The Golden Bough” (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press 1973 ).Google Scholar
  15. 21.
    London Letter,“ The Dial,Sept. 1921. Quoted by A. Walton Litz: ”The Waste Land: Fifty Years After,“ in Eliot in His Time,ed. Litz (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press 1973).Google Scholar
  16. 23.
    See also the poem, “Parnell’s Funeral” from A Full Moon in March, in The Collected Poems ( New York: Macmillan 1951 ), p. 275.Google Scholar
  17. 24.
    From “Gerontion,” in The Complete Poems and Plays (New York: Harcourt, Brace 1952), p. 21.Google Scholar
  18. 26.
    The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell,edited by Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World 1968), IV, 489–90.Google Scholar
  19. 27.
    The phrase is taken from E.R. Curtius: “T.S. Eliot: 1”, in Kritische Essays zur europaischen Literatur, second edition (Bern: Francke 1950 ), p. 326.Google Scholar
  20. 28.
    Perspective is one of the component parts of reality,“ from ”The Doctrine of the Point of View,“ The Modern Theme,trans. James Cleugh (New York: Harper Torchbook 1961), p. 90.Google Scholar
  21. 29.
    Axel’s Castle (New York: Scribner’s 1931), p. 189. For Joyce see pp. 221–22: Eliot himself translated Charles Mauron’s “On Reading Einstein,” for The Criterion,X (1930), 27–8. See the valuable article by C.A. Patrides: “The Renascence of the Renaissance: T.S. Eliot and the Pattern of Time,” Michigan Quarterly Review,XII (1973), pp. 172–96.Google Scholar
  22. 30.
    From Eliot’s famous essay, “The Metaphysical Poets,” in Selected Essays ( New York: Har-court, Brace 1950 ), p. 247.Google Scholar
  23. 31.
    In Speculations,ed. Herbert Read (New York: Harcourt, Brace 1924), p. 1, from which the quotation from Goethe is taken, p. 54.Google Scholar
  24. 33.
    Mimesis,trans. Willard Trask (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday – Anchor 1953), p. 486.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York Inc. 1975

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. J. Quinones

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations