When I think back on different regions of time, it becomes a task to differentiate each in terms of the “standard feeling,” “the overall dimension,” “the primary cadence,” “the leading mood.” I don’t know what should be the exact phrase because I’m not sure exactly what I mean. The easy assumption is that what I am aiming to differentiate is primarily biological, that it has to do with “age”—but what, precisely, is age? If I could answer that—a tendency, a consciousness, a feeling, an appetite, an affection, a supposition, an awareness—then I might get closer to what I mean. I know that the limited perspective that shapes “a time” exists “for a time”—that’s perhaps a tautology except that the difference between the two uses of the phrase “a time” is at stake. “A time” is une durée—a period, which might be suggestible by received ideas, such as “adolescence,” “maturity,”—but such “times” have no force of lived character; they are empty formulas. “A time” is some wrinkle in the surface, some grasp of a space between two whiles, maybe a before and an after. A way of saying that “the time” of first understanding emotional life as inflected by Shakespeare exists for a certain period in youth and no matter how many times “Shakespeare” is returned to, or re-encountered, in later life, the “time” of Shakespeare dates from, and takes impetus from, those first encounters.
To follow that sense of “a time”—the time of first love, for instance—and for “a time”—the time of the space between high school and something like adulthood, the “time” of some months in 1978, for me. Bearing in mind that to elicit that “time” requires attention to what was present in the world at that time. To my thinking, which has never been particularly concerned with the particulars of “the times,” with the fashions and the fads and the “best of” the year, “a time” takes its form from how it is shaped by the passing show. Thus no slavish sense of what was popular or immediately recognizable, but still some sense—which should become more crucial as time passes—of what was inescapable, what was necessary. The point, in selecting cultural markers, is to make them speak to each other and to one’s personal “time,” not simply in the generic tones of the culture at large. We are dealing with episodes, events, “acts” which, as with theater, must be staged with a certain setting. For each moment, its necessary dramaturgy.
I do have a tendency to think in decades, to look for tendencies that are observable for “a time” –roughly 5-10 year increments. But to make more of the lived characters of such “events,” the duration is shorter, more focused. So rather than give in to my “spanning” nature (always useful for a critic), I have to concentrate on more discrete increments. The building blocks of the psyche. So, in each case, fidelity to the “event” puts it in a time for “a time.” It’s not about retrospect, ultimately, I’m just realizing, and this is key. It’s not about shaping this “me,” this speaker, by means of what has gone to build it, an edifice of the self. It’s more a question of isolating moments that would be isolated, that must be acknowledged, analyzed, unfolded, unpacked, explicated, as being moments in the “before and after and during.” At such “a time” it was necessary to feel or see according to x. At such a time, that became the causal basis of what must follow, at least “for a time.” The dialogue between moments or acts, then, is the all-in-all. It’s not to arrive at denouement but to remain “in dialogue,” and, at times, “in camera.” To remain in place, in a time, for all time.
This, if achieved, is something other than “a history” or “an autobiography.” It is an auto-critique, perhaps, or a lyric critique. But why waste time labeling it? The object is not more attainable for being named. The requirement is a conception, is conceiving a perception, a point of view as a position arrived at via time, not static and determinate, but shaped by the pressures of memory and reflection. “Lyric critique,” though, because the process of articulation is not explanatory but evocative, not a telling but a rendering, an inhabiting, a display. Yes, a composition, as in a tableau or scene. Playing live, like a lecture. A reading.