In a recent diary entry, I made a brief note I don’t entirely understand. It is as follows:
Desire counterfeits time, is the voice of narration, of narrative (=promised emancipation). Here I might also write, “All culminating in the image of a dwelling: It indicates a secret life. Since all of writing is devoted to the question of unremembered pleasure…”
Elsewhere, in another entry, there is an equally strange but not altogether unconnected fragment:
What if a person will always be a few steps from life, whatever this is, and what if this person will feel dissatisfied, imperfect on account of this distance? What will we say of them? Do they become a character typical of their time? And, if such a person cannot become such a character, what is the use of them?
Possible we somehow die for a time, a year, a month, a day, without realizing this—then wake to find ourselves, which is to say “someone,” present again, attentive, expectant, apologetic, even?
One must work, perhaps for some time, to see scenes.
I’ve been doing—you may have guessed—a word search for the title of this very short essay. The search turns up other, less relevant things, of course. I discovered, too, the following (the ultimate or penultimate, I promise) fragmentary observation:
An essay occurs in time like dog years, where it isn’t a task of reasoning so much as something that befalls one. I perhaps don’t read or write enough and yet always feel like I am reading, like I am writing.
I thought for a little while earlier today about recognizable forms of time associated with writing: the times of reading, of writing; the time of literary history, a sort of hazy funnel; the time of the contemporary, which is to say, the time of the attention paid to writing in the present; the time of editing; the time of criticism. I thought of the time of the deadline, wherein discomfort is directly related to increasing populations of possible or expected readers, to triviality of content; to the need, therefore, to attach varied and numerous stylistic affordances. I thought, too, of the time of the author, in which we all agree to agree that someone like “Lucy Ives” exists and is uniquely responsible for words like these, as well as other words like them. I worried and I zoned out. I considered the powdery face of Mount Rainer, visible sometimes behind coniferous stands along I-5.
I think sometimes critics talk about their “unit of analysis,” by which they mean the entity they focus on when they would like to read a text. Someone discourses on friendship; someone focuses on the manufacture of pen nibs. I like to imagine a really useless critic or scholar who takes as his or her focus time “itself.” Could I end up as a critic like this? My friend, who is an expert in Victorian literature, says that literary realism happens when coincidence and personal connections (interrelatedness) drive a story (are a story?), i.e., “It turns out that everyone actually already knows one another.” Or: “So-and-so turns out to actually be related to another person, instead of just present in or at the same place and time.”
I think about this sort of artificial coincidence as one of the most convincing manners in which a written thing (here, a narrative) can convey something that feels like personal or human time. (In the anthropocene, a book/tome can also sit very nicely on a table and serve as an imposing material unit costful in hours, days, and even years of somebody’s leisure.) However, there are not really any real kinds of time in books or texts, which is precisely why it makes so much sense to try to read the kinds of time inside, and even around, them.
Time is a nice medium, but very little can be made from it. And perhaps one of its finer qualities is its tendency to go on.
I’m curious to know if there are people living, writing now, who are writing works they imagine will be legible or popular only after their deaths. Or people who are writing works they want, specifically, to somehow cast forward into time, rather than into the hands of human readers. Writing is tinged with these sorts of hopes. In its archaic “immortality” as the engraved cut in stone, of course, but also as a basis for other, more or less advanced technologies.
I just found another diary quote, actually:
I remember I used to spend months and almost years in dreams, or what are perhaps better termed recollections. I wrote constantly. This was what it seemed appropriate to me to do. And later: I spent many years with a strong, almost violent feeling that there was much to live for, although I may have been inactive for much of this time.
I suppose this is one of the strangest aspects of how I write now, my agnosticism with respect to purpose. As perhaps you have read here, there have been other casualties to this refusal of closure on my part, including though not limited to: faith in literature, faith in literary genres. How I write now is honestly almost as simple as counting, though maybe I use names in place of numbers. And sometimes in the place of names, real scenes.
Lucy Ives was born in New York City and earned a BA from Harvard University, an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and a PhD in comparative literature from New York University. Her first collection, the book-length poem Anamnesis (2009), won the Slope Editions Book Prize. Ives is also the author of...