Discontinuous Self



‘All things give way, nothing remains’ — so Walter Pater translated Heraclitus in one of the seminal texts for Modernist aesthetics.1 In claiming a sense of flux as ‘the tendency of modern thought’, Pater anticipated both the preoccupations of writers such as Proust, Eliot and Woolf, and the new interest in pre-Socratic philosophy of such thinkers as Nietzsche, Bergson and Heidegger. As the normative Western categories of time began to disintegrate under scrutiny, writers became involved in tracing ‘that strange, perpetual weaving and unweaving of ourselves’ that Pater had described. Wyndham Lewis’s perceptive, if cantankerous, book Time and Western Man registered with dismay, in the twenties, the modern rejection of ‘rational’ models of change and the literary experimentation with new techniques for representing time that went with it. The placement of the self in change was crucial to the new perceptions, for ‘subjective’ time could be characterised as common experience which belied the linear bias of cumulative, digital sequence. Bergson wrote:

There is at least one reality which we all seize from within, by intuition and not by simple analysis. It is our own personality in its flowing through time, the self which endures.2


Clock Time Subjective Time Finite Centre Time Link Linear Bias 
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  1. 1.
    The conclusion to The Renaissance gives the Greek. See L. Trilling and H. Bloom (eds), Victorian Prose and Poetry (Oxford University Press, 1973), p. 317, note 1 for Pater’s translation.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Henri Bergson, ‘Introduction to Metaphysics’, translated by Mabelle L. Andison, in A Study in Metaphysics (Totowa, NJ: Littlefield, Adams and Co., 1%5), p. 162.Google Scholar
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    See Hugh Kenner, The Invisible Poet: T. S. Eliot (Methuen, 1963), p. 274, note 1. Compare, ‘When he gave two readings at Columbia University and the University of Texas, on both occasions he made the same disclaimer — that he had almost lost contact with the young man who had written the earlier poetry. It might be more accurate to say that he had escaped from him.’ Peter Ackroyd, T. S. Eliot (Hamish Hamilton, 1984), pp. 323–4.Google Scholar
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    See Mitchell A. Leaska, The Novels of Virginia Woolf: From Beginning to End (City University of New York, 1977), footnote 11, pp. 188–9.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Dennis Brown 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Hatfield PolytechnicUK

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