Compacting time: Anne Stevenson's poems of memory

Emily R. Grosholz

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


What we say about time is that it passes. But to know that it passes, we must remember and anticipate, engaging in a garden-variety form of transcendence. In order to be aware of our human temporality, our awareness cannot simply flow with the implacable, straight, one-way passage of time. However, we also know very well that when we revisit the past in memory, we are not in the past, but have only made the past present for a while as a representation. And we know that our reliving of the past is imperfect: we have forgotten or repressed or transposed some of the details, or polished them up with the glamour of delusion, hope, or love. Works of art, such as a lyric poem or a sonata, written out on the page and read or performed intermittently, are thus especially precious to human beings, because they allow us to relive the past perfectly. They share this peculiar feature with religious ritual. Rituals are scripted, and the point of liturgy is to recreate the original moment (for example, the Last Supper) in exactly the same way, every time that the ritual is enacted. But what can we mean here by a ‘perfect’ or an ‘exact’ repetition?

Perfect repetition, This question is difficult to answer, because we cannot require ‘perfect repetition’ to mean ontological identity. The very idea of an event being repeated or re-created requires the linear, uni-directional flow of time, for while it may be the same event, its re-creation must take place later on, at another moment of time. We cannot suppose that time moves in a circle and that the same moment of time, with the pertinent event somehow identically in it, happens again at a later moment of time, for that supposition is contradictory or incoherent.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationVoyages Over Voices
Subtitle of host publicationCritical Essays on Anne Stevenson
PublisherLiverpool University Press
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9781846316272
ISBN (Print)9781846314841
StatePublished - Jan 1 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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