Asynchronous poetics of time

Finally, a look at the correlation under investigation between narration, fiction, and tense from the perspective of tense. Both as empirical material in literary history (the present tense in literary texts) and in historical phenomena (present tense novels), tense is subject to a methodological tension. A poetics that understands its object to be temporal cannot conceive it as atemporal. Time does not simply define things or set the expiration date for concepts but raises the question of how objects are subsumed under concepts. Temporality relates to transformations and changes in conditions. Temporal correlations describe how, on the one hand, the unity of a substance is perceived in conditions subject to change, while on the other hand substantial transformation, that is, the production of something new, is possible only within temporal correlations.

Temporal unity has the form was/is or is/was. Such a temporal bipolarity (Sebastian Rödl) can be found not only in the figuration of time that is presentification, but also in the figuration of time that is asynchrony, which we have defined as our object. Asynchrony has a bitemporal form of the same kind as presentification. For this reason, the differences in the approaches of literary history, historical (genre) poetics, and the poetics of time become palpable once again.

(1) From the perspective of the history of literature, (present-tense) novels naturally emerge in their respective present, and only from this perspective can claims be made about their chronological sequence. And in a strict sense, it is possible to speak of a rejection of classical narrated fiction (in which fiction is created by means of the epic past tense) only from a literary historical perspective. The avant-garde practically confirms the systematic boundary drawn by the classical matrix of narrated fiction between an artistic and an everyday use of
tense (a boundary that at the same time represents a barrier to cognition/knowledge).

(2) (Genre) poetological discussions (for example, Georg Lukács' siding with narration against description) can also not simply be made congruent with the poetology of the works themselves (for instance, anti-narrativity), especially where establishing the present tense as the dominant narrative tense of the twentieth century is concerned. Already from the perspective of historical poetics, the novel that emerges or is "reinvented" after the "end of the novel" cannot unambiguously be located within a history of literary development.

(3) From the point of view of a poetics of time, we see that the altermodern novel's fictional narration is synchronous with classical narrated fiction (and need not be understood as a regression within the history of literature or as an avant-gardism in the poetics of genre). Calling contemporary present-tense novels altermodern novels, too, takes this asynchrony into account. In asynchrony, the methodological
strands of system transformation and literary history coincide. The altermodern novel projects an asynchronous narrated fiction on the basis of a present tense split in itself. In the literary agenda of altermodernism, there is a moment of anteriority, which does not, however, imply a conservative gesture: to say that time passes does not mean that it must be held on to.

The altermodern novel produces asynchronicity not only in texts, but also in the way it positions itself in literary history—one might call this the existentialization of its method. The agenda of altermodern narration, in its asynchronous relation to events in literature, can no more be understood to be postmodern as it could be said to be premodern. The insight into asynchrony—the insight that every present moment is synchronous with a moment that precedes it—leads the altermodern novel to locate writing prior to the present.

The asynchronous poetics of the present tense, which the altermodern novel differentiates in the strata of literary history, historical poetics, and time-poetics, has guided our investigation methodologically. Starting with this poetics, we examine the capacity of the present tense to produce fiction and narration; at the end, we will show how such a poietic present tense also opens up a new approach to language and to reading.

Excerpt from: Armen Avanessian and Anke Hennig: Present. A Poetics (Manuscript).  PDF