Catching up with Time

Belatedness and Anachronies in Francophone Literature and Culture

by Ashwiny O. Kistnareddy (Volume editor) Alice Roullière (Volume editor)
©2022 Edited Collection VIII, 250 Pages
Series: Modern French Identities, Volume 145


This volume offers an important examination of the ways in which artistic manipulations of time can lead to a different perception of time as nonsynchronous and anti-chronological. The range of media (philosophical essays, film, plays, novels, autobiographical narratives) and periods (medieval, early modern, contemporary) explored here testify to the enduring significance of so-called «delays» and the need to rethink these as anachronies. The spectral presence of the notion of «Kairos» throughout this volume connects different attempts to subvert linear time, on occasion allowing events and temporalities to coexist and compete or, alternately, asking the mind to stretch itself and experience the uneasiness of time by attempting and failing to encompass diverse spaces and temporalities concomitantly. The resulting essays interrogate, test and contest the limits of the possible and enable a rethinking of what time could represent across disciplines and genres.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of figures
  • Introduction: Catching up with time (Alice Roullière and Ashwiny O. Kistnareddy)
  • À temps, c’est-à-dire tard. L’hystérésis comme outil d’intelligibilité dialectique chez Sartre (Chiara Collamati)
  • La lecture est le retard de l’écriture. Interprétations autour de Roger Laporte, de Jacques Derrida et d’Edmond Jabès (Domenico Cambria)
  • When the self arrives late, or Didier Eribon’s autotheoretical (re)turn (Lili Owen Rowlands)
  • Mémoire de fille d’Annie Ernaux: différer l’écriture, s’attarder sur l’événement (Alice Laumier)
  • Dissonances, retard et temps non-chronologique dans HHhH de Laurent Binet (Diane Otosaka)
  • ‘Se trouver en deux temps à la fois’: Malabou’s and Marker’s plastic images (Michael Grace)
  • ‘L’éternel recommencement’: From infernal cycles to subversive spirals in Sony Labou Tansi’s Conscience de tracteur (and beyond) (Sky Herington)
  • Al-ghurbah ou l’exil occidental comme pratique moderne du soufisme chez Abdelwahab Meddeb (Sana Abdi)
  • Reading ‘in-between’ the lines of La Fille du comte de Pontieu and Peau noire, masques blancs (Rebecca Courtier)
  • Notes on contributors
  • Index
  • Series Index

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Alice Roullière and Ashwiny O. Kistnareddy

Introduction: Catching up with time

Abstract domains such as time are shaped by metaphorical mappings from more concrete and experimental domains such as space.1

As cognitive linguists have demonstrated, space constitutes this ‘inescapable metaphor’ for any attempts to tackle narratives, be they fictional or historical, insofar as they deal with the abstract notion of time.2 In looking at belatedness we should recognize the spatial metaphor that not only opens up considerations of a ‘time out of joint’ but also stands between us and the literary and artistic experiences of being late. What space can best render the inherently elusive concept of belatedness? Turning to Dipesh Chakrabarty’s characterization of a historicist structure of time, the waiting room emerges as an emblematic metaphor. Through the historicist lens, social and political practices in South Asia illustrate a conception of time as an integral overarching frame containing various perspectives of time, hierarchized and hurtling towards the development of modernity, thus not only consigning some nations to the ‘waiting room of history’ but also converting history itself into a waiting room.3 According to what Lera Boroditsky would term the ‘ego-moving schema’ used to describe time, one arrives at the waiting room as ←1 | 2→a static space that is intrinsically built to contain an overflow, to delay the progression to the next stage. The waiting room is where one dwells: in French ‘demeurer’ is derived from the Latin ‘mora’ (delay). The ‘demeure’ that is the waiting room, emblematic of the historicist hierarchization of time, thus can also open up a space for a time that moves in unexpected ways and where the very awkward flow of time comes under scrutiny.

Belatedness, as a subaltern temporality, is the axis upon which hinges the Western historicist structure of time and postcolonial reviews of modernity. As such, it belongs to both postmodern and postcolonial revalorizations of Western cultures. Resisting the narrative whereby history leads us all in the same direction but some arrive earlier than others depends on finding new loci of enunciation to counter the anthropological notion of ‘denial of coevalness’.4 Postcolonial modernity opens to a temporal approach that grasps for what Walter Mignolo terms ‘pluritopic semiotics’.5 The postmodern interest in time thus accompanies spatial decentring and revalorization of subaltern epistemologies. These interrogations were at the heart of the two-day conference on ‘Delays/Les retards’ which we organized at the University of Cambridge in April 2019. Our main aim was to bring together PhD candidates and Early Career Researchers who were working on time, and especially, on the nature of ‘delays’, and create conversations around what such a concept, omnipresent in Anglophone historical and literary studies, could signify in the Francophone context. The two days brought together a range of papers that threw up a range of questions and, crucially, enabled the group of scholars and the audience to reconsider time and anachronies as notions that are particularly apt to address literature, philosophy and films in French. Underpinning our project was the will to acknowledge that delays and asynchronicity provide a centripetal force in the reflections prevalent in the works studied that constitute themselves as a radical experience of the impossible integration of ←2 | 3→time. The variegating interpretations of delays which the speakers offered fostered a creative assemblage of papers that critically interrogate the pluritopic significance of delays and the prominence accorded to neighbouring concepts such as anachronism and belatedness.

In envisaging this volume, we wanted to push these interrogations further by juxtaposing chapters that would gesture to a renewed interest in rethinking time and its valence in the contemporary world. As we selected the chapters for this volume, many subthemes emerged: notably reflections on the acts of writing and reading, autobiographical writing, trauma and temporality, non-linear time and non-Western temporalities. Beyond the extant literary scholarship on individual writers, thinkers and filmmakers whose works are examined in this collection, this work advances the scholarship on temporality more broadly. The chapters assembled here speak to the range of spatial and temporal qualities entailed in the notion of belatedness. Thus, temporal delays can be interpreted within the same framework as spatial difference and concomitant factors. The multifarious ways in which the contributions have interpreted and interrogated both space and time add to the current debates revolving around the links between time and literature. Through a discussion of a range of materials including philosophy, film, theory and forms of the novel (fiction, autobiographical narratives, etc.), the volume fosters a new platform for a multifocal discussion of belatedness and anachronies in Francophone literature and culture. The contributions to this volume offer conceptual insights into the notion of ‘delay’ that remains singular to the literary and artistic configuration in which belatedness arise. We remain committed to the idea that delays are not illustrated by the texts and films evoked here but, rather, that anachronism is embodied and problematized in form and language. All contributions contend with negative implications of belatedness: authors, artists and philosophers who engage in the act of looking back or forward all gesture towards temporal lag, and belatedness is constantly reaffirmed as constitutive of our human experience of space and time.

←3 | 4→

Postmodern time and belatedness

Significantly, with the exception of Courtier’s chapter, which focuses on a medieval text but is read through the lens of postcolonial theory, most of the chapters in this volume focus on works produced in the mid-twentieth century, at the time when thinkers place the beginning of what has been termed ‘postmodern time’. David R. Dickens and Andrea Fontana, building on Frederic Jameson’s notion that postmodern time destroys historicity, define postmodern dealings with temporality as a subjectivation of time that also resists any kind of integration. The corollary to the destruction of the waiting room of history is the effacement of temporality on the individual who then lacks a sense of temporal continuity.6 The notion of subjective time is also at the heart of Tatyana Fedosova’s ‘Reflection of Time in Postmodern Literature’ in postmodern texts, with postmodern principles entailing ‘playing with the text, with time, and with the reader’.7 Despite the lack of systematic study on postmodern discourse on time, fiction writers shape a postmodern time that resists the assimilation of diversities through various strategies such as the construction of choral narrative voices. Joseph Francese’s comparative study of Italo Calvino, John Barth, Toni Morrison, E. L. Doctorow and Antonio Tabucchi, shows how literary aesthetic movements such as high modernism can converse with postmodern principles whilst retaining some conventional control over the authority of the narrator.8 Writers take advantage of this lack of definition to offer radical and malleable postmodern reproductions of time that nonetheless coalesce around identifiable strategies:

←4 | 5→Many writers prefer a progression without chronology, using the so-called polychrony, a heterogeneous temporality and chronological distortions (anachronies). For this purpose, they break the sequence, put things out of order, locate events from the present back into the past, describe a variety of temporal experiences, produce new experiences of time, temporal and causal relationships become indistinguishable.9

The potent possibilities of such a conceptualization of time are central to this collection of chapters as each contributor offers their own interpretation of belatedness and anachronies and examines their chosen work to identify the ways in which writers, thinkers or filmmakers showcase the plasticity of temporalities.

The chapters gathered here develop the notion that Francophone literature and films offer valuable insights to our understanding and experiences of anachronism. Thus, they contribute to critical debates on the philosophical question of time by showcasing the import of postmodern and postcolonial dealings with time in the Francophone context. Inspired by various conceptual framings of belatedness, these emergent scholars of literature and film shed new light on the complexities of ‘looking back’ through writing and visual media. By investigating the ways in which literary and cinematographic works frame and replay the impossible task of catching up with time, the past and the present are not simply redefined as illusory constructs but are also transformed. The apparently shallow and negative construct of belatedness creates fertile grounds for political and artistic explorations at the intersection of identity studies, philosophy and history.


VIII, 250
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2022 (September)
anachronism delays Time Studies anachronies asynchronicity kairos Catching up with Time Ashwiny O. Kistnareddy Alice Roullière
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2022. VIII, 250 pp., 5 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Ashwiny O. Kistnareddy (Volume editor) Alice Roullière (Volume editor)

Ashwiny O. Kistnareddy is Bye-Fellow and Director of Studies in Medieval and Modern Languages at Lucy Cavendish College and Affiliated Lecturer in the MMLL Faculty at the University of Cambridge. She recently published a monograph, Migrant Masculinities in Women’s Writing (2021). Alice Roullière is a Supernumerary Teaching Fellow in Early Modern French Literature at St John’s College, Oxford. She teaches and researches French literature of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.


Title: Catching up with Time