Writing Against Time


For centuries, a central goal of art has been to make us see the world with new eyes. Thinkers from Edmund Burke to Elaine Scarry have understood this effort as the attempt to create new forms. But as anyone who has ever worn out a song by repeated listening knows, artistic form is hardly immune to sensation-killing habit. Some of our most ambitious writers—Keats, Proust, Nabokov, Ashbery—have been obsessed by this problem. Attempting to create an image that never gets old, they experiment with virtual, ideal forms. Poems and novels become workshops, as fragments of the real world are scrutinized for insights and the shape of an ideal artwork is pieced together. These writers, voracious in their appetite for any knowledge that will further their goal, find help in unlikely places. The logic of totalitarian regimes, the phenomenology of music, the pathology of addiction, and global commodity exchange furnish them with tools and models for arresting neurobiological time. Reading central works of the past two centuries in light of their shared ambition, Clune produces a revisionary understanding of some of our most important literature.

Music inspired by Michael Clune's Writing Against Time. Recorded live on May 1, 2014 at ISSUE Project Room as part of Yarn/Wire/Currents.

Stanford University Press

Stanford University Press

"Michael W. Clune's book is about how artists have found ways to stop the mind in its tracks, to suspend it in a state of ongoing presence. There are many shoots to his argument, but at its core is a romantic, optimistic, even brave commitment to the power and danger of aesthetic forms."  ~ Blakey Vermule, Stanford University, Nonsite

" Clune makes a powerful argument for how the literary critic, if properly aware of the literary subject's uniquely antagonistic relation to time and actuality, might contribute something new to other disciplines as opposed to remaining parasitic on their methods." ~Sianne Ngai, Stanford University

"Clune's exquisite new book asks how literature might arrest time's erosion of perceptual vivacity. He moves beyond the historicist orthodoxy that has so dominated literary study for the past twenty years." ~Jonathan Kramnick, Johns Hopkins University, Nonsite