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This chapter will explore the link between time, modernism and the novel. In literary modernism it is the novel, almost alone among genres, which is typically linked to time and to innovations in the representation of temporality. Despite T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets (1944) being about time, time is not a structural concept for poetry (excluding narrative poetry). This chapter will not discuss innovations in temporality as a response to aspects of modernity external to the novel itself, whether developments in the other arts, in philosophy, in scientific theory, in technology (including train travel, the synchronization of clocks, the telegraph, photography and the cinema) or in the organization of the work day under capitalism. Our specific concern is rather what in the formal properties and history of the novel makes it the one among literary genres in which the modernist preoccupation with time is worked out. The answers to this question will necessarily select among the various external theories of modernism and time those that best explain the novel’s internal development. For time is not simply a subject of the modernist novel; it governs its formal experiments. Just as, according to Michel Foucault, 'philology was to untie the relations that the grammarian had established between language and external history in order to define an internal history', a history internal to the novel can be isolated, alongside the novel’s role in history.
Poetry and eloquence are both alike the expression or utterance of feeling. But … eloquence is heard, poetry is overheard. Eloquence supposes an audience; the peculiarity of poetry appears to us to lie in the poet's utter unconsciousness of a listener.
J. S. Mill, “What is poetry?”
No poem is intended for the reader, no picture for the beholder, no symphony for the listener.
Walter Benjamin, “The task of the translator”
I can be using language in the strictest sense with no intention of communicating. Though my utterances have a definite meaning, their normal meaning, nevertheless my intentions with regard to an audience may shed no light on their meaning. But communication is only one function of language, and by no means an essential one.
Noam Chomsky, Reflections on language
Language and communication
The development of a stylistic form which exists nowhere in the spoken language presents a problem for historical linguistics and literary history. If, as is often supposed, “un style écrit ne se renouvelle … que par un contact avec la parole,” then how does such an unspoken form arise? Is it a natural form or an artificial distortion? If natural, why does it appear at a given historical moment?
The assumption that natural linguistic change occurs only in speech — with writing preserving outmoded forms — is due to the modern assumption that the spoken language is the repository of all forms generated by the synchronic grammar.
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