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Time: Responding to Barad's Derrida with T. S. Eliot

Amophrast's picture

The quotes I will put here are meant to be put in conversation with themselves and each other. Uncredited quotes are pieces from a final paper on T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets, which is a set of four poems: Burnt Norton, East Coker, The Dry Salvages, and Little Gidding. I believe the Four Quartets respond directly to Barad's reading of time and the importance of the past in regards to not trying to return to the past.

"The concern is 'not with horizons of modified--past or future--presents, but with a "past" that has never been present, and which never will be, whose future to come will never be a production or reproduction in the form of presence." - Derrida, as quoted by Barad

"Time present and time past / are both perhaps present in time future, / and time future contained in time past. / If all time is eternally present, / all time is unredeemable." - T. S. Eliot (Burnt Norton)

"Time past and time future / what might have been and what has been / point to one end, which is always present." - T. S. Eliot (Burnt Norton)

"Time is represented as something spherical in which every moment in time is connected in every other moment in time. Time serves to move and regulate everything within its jurisdiction. However, some things that cannot be regulated are ... possibilities of things that could have happened in the past, but never did."

"However, according to East Coker (part II of the Four Quartets), time is not only circular, but spherical as well. Every moment in time (past, present, and future) is connected to every other moment in time. No moment stands alone. There is 'a lifetime burning in every moment.'"

“The way up is the way down, the way forward is the way back.” - T. S. Eliot (Dry Salvages)

"Eliot reworks this phrase in a way that seems more relatable to time, in that there is a past and a future. However, ...[the intention] is that there is no difference between the two, thus that there is no past and no future because no matter what it is called, they lead in the same direction. Because all time is interconnected, all time occurs in the present. The present consists of everything we have done and everything we will do, as well as the things we have not done because all factors affect what decisions we might make in the present."

(Barad) if the past was already there as something we could return to.....

We can't change the past later on. By trying to return to the past in the present, we are messing up past, present, and future, due to the fact that all time is eternally present.

The past is not a definite thing that can be returned to, no matter how ideal it might seem to us now. As Barad said in her lecture, the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone was supposed to be successful. Why? Because there were wolves in the past and that was how things were supposed to be. All it really did was cause issues with all the change that has occurred since then. Using the past to set standards for the future is dangerous. This commonly comes up in regards to the Constitution--what was the original intent of the founding fathers? What did they see for this country?

Does it even matter? We are here now, the past is present in the present, so effectively they are here now. By idealizing and idolizing the past, we slow progress, defined not as movement to the better, but simply movement itself. By idolizing the past, time becomes stagnant.

Why can't time become stagnant?

If time becomes stagnant, how are movements supposed to progress? (for better or for worse)

A crowd of protestors from the perspective of someone in the crowd. One person holds up a sign that says "I can't believe I'm still fucking protesting this shit!"

Feminist movement, queer rights movement, protection/health care for sex I need to go on?

By the way, Judith Butler mentioned Karen Barad at the coffee hour briefly and said she was brilliant, and it made me giggle in joy.

To read the Four Quartets in their entirety:

Picture pulled from here:


Amophrast's picture

This is a good question! I

This is a good question! I honestly hadn't thought about those lines. But somehow, it doesn't seem contrary to me.

If the past is constantly being re-created and seen again as if for the first time, I don't see this as really returning to the past. I think what he's saying is that due to the non-linear, spherical structure of time, it is possible to return to the past in a way that makes it new again, making it in a sense the future. "In my end is my beginning," "in my beginning is my end." The past is not being replaced or reconstructed, simply revisited. I think that Barad uses the term "return" differently from Eliot in this context, which was possibly clearer in Barad's sense due to the example about the wolves in Yellowstone.

Eliot seems to talk more about knowing our beginnings, our sources. Return seems to be referenced more in terms of learning than anything else.

But I will also say I think any Eliot piece can be worded to contradict itself at least ten times over, so I think your reading is really cool. I would say it's contradictory for him to even use the word "first" when he seems to be saying that there's no real thing. I think this is partially the product of trying to talk time's lack of structure in a language that is centered around time. I can't remember if Barad said this directly or if I extrapolated it from her talk, but the language we use is very temporal. Advanced, (to advance), introductory, (to introduce), progressive, (to progress), temporary...words based on time. It reminds me of one of my other classes in which feminist writers created new structure for language to restructure the telling of stories in a manner that was less phallocentric. So maybe a new language needs to be created.

Additionally, "time" according to Doctor Who, because I think it's an excellent image:

A description of time according to Doctor Who: "People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but *actually* from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it's more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly...time-y wimey...stuff."

Pinpoints within a circle represent "causes," and the swirls that spin out from them represent "effects." Everything overlaps and is interconnected.

Kaye's picture

diffracting eliot and barad

Thank you, Amophrast, for your Baradian riff on the Four Quartets!  As I was reading Barad's paper in Derrida Today, I jotted down another Eliot quote in the margin on p243.  (This is where she describes how Heisenberg's question to Bohr "hangs in the air..., enfolded into the making of spacetime, its reverberations returning again, for the first time.")  Reading this brought me back to "Little Gidding" the fourth movement of the quartet: 

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

In these lines, isn't Eliot encouraging us to return to a past and to recognize that past is always being re-created?  How do you read this part of the Quartet?