Against redemption: Interrupting the future in the fiction of Vladimir Nabokov, Kazuo Ishiguro and W. G. Sebald
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This dissertation considers how Nabokov, Ishiguro and Sebald---each of whom has abjured, in different ways, a sense of national belonging---rethink community in relation to the legacies of totalitarianism, imperialism and fascism. I read Ada, The Unconsoled and Austerlitz both through and against theories of community proposed by Bataille, Blanchot, Nancy and Agamben. Forming a sort of counter-discourse to numerous recent "traumatic" discourses, these philosophical treatments of community would interrupt a prevailing belief that any engagement with the past inaugurates melancholic repetition; they seek instead to locate alternative constructions of community in a present that would be neither a transition to a predestined future nor the redemption of a lost past. Community, as a question of whether belonging can resist nostalgia or anticipation for some (national) immanence lost or to come, largely determines the novels' temporal logic. Each addresses the possibility of divorcing the present from an orientation toward loss by interrupting narrative futures precipitated by "catastrophe" and a sense of "imminent crisis." And yet each, in its confrontation with political upheaval, historical impasse and the ostensibly ruptural logic of modernity itself, threatens to overtake that logic where interruption is pressed into the service of self-perpetuation. For if the novels resist a "future anterior" by interrupting an indebtedness to the past, they also exceed the present that each would delimit by refusing to end. Together they reveal persistent difficulties with formulations of interruption, limit and abandonment that would resist fantasies of national redemption: each novel is itself a fantasy of national unbelonging that attempts to substitute its own aesthetic totality for a sense of nationhood that has been lost and that remains, despite Nabokov, Ishiguro and Sebald's disavowals of national identity, a locus of longing. However, although myths of national origins and rebirth do continue to play out in these novels, an experience of the "limit of community"---that threshold between the present and what it is not, between finitude and indeterminacy---continues to challenge any "literary immortality" that would overwrite it.
German Romantic definition of the novel as that form which “distinguishes itself by a kind of double, contradictory potentiality, by the possibility of limiting itself and extending itself infinitely,”71 is suspended between presupposition and anticipation. The idea that presents the thing itself does not presuppose a past; the idea is itself immemorial. Agamben writes that for “man” in his infancy, in his initial exposure to a world, “it is a question of remembering precisely nothing: nothing
unrecoverable loss that cannot be invested in a future destabilizes the subject which is beside itself; as Bataille writes of Levinas’s il y a, “There is no longer the subject of the objective world, opposed to the object that he is not, that he appropriates usefully if he 42 can.” To be beside oneself is to lose oneself in ecstasy, in the miraculous, in unknowing; it is also to lose one’s bearing where, as Libertson writes, “the intervals which consecrate identity and non-contradiction”43 are
control over the past – he is absent from the place where his name is called, lost to the inexhaustible presence and eternal vigilance of the il y a. The past that is still “firmly attached” but “spurious” gives the lie to any opposition between seamless continuity and interruption; instead, we have something like Blanchot’s idea of disaster, of ceaseless interruption, of insomnia, “with no perceptible break in the faked serialization.” This is, perhaps, the “L disaster” that brings into apparent
Unclaimed Experience, 64. 97 Caruth, Unclaimed Experience, 65. Lacan develops his idea of traumatic awakening through a reading of one of Freud’s patient’s dreams. A man, whose son has just died from a long illness, relates a dream in which the boy appears beside him, asking, “Father, don’t you see I’m burning?” In reality, an overturned candle has set the deathbed on fire while the father has been sleeping. The father’s dream resurrects the child and places him at a critical moment where the
the music veer[s] dangerously towards the realms of perversity.” Not holding back, he goes astray of common sentiment and loses the consensus he had begun to build. Ryder, who has during this time has been primarily concerned about his own speech, decides that “some other factor altogether was influencing Brodsky’s behavior.”102 As Brodsky’s body contorts “to some rhythm of its own dictating,” Ryder realizes the conductor’s face is “distorted with something more than passion,” that is, with the