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Journal Articles The Criterion: an International Journal in English Year : 2012

Time and the Wound in Tristram Shandy: the sense of a quest


To what extent does The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy still make sense at the beginning of the 21st century? We certainly understand Laurence Sterne’s novel differently from his contemporaries. Two centuries and a half have elapsed. Our cultural heritage is different from theirs, as are our reading habits. Today one is often tempted to compare Tristram Shandy with Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. We also consider that Sterne shares a large number of theoretical similarities with French philosopher Henri Bergson (who influenced Proust). Maybe we should remember that one of Bergson key concepts was based on an opposition between time and duration, an opposition which is already present in John Locke's Essay Upon Human Understanding and explicitly taken up in Sterne’s book. Are we right when we look upon Tristram Shandy as an experimental work whose subject matter is time? Just like Proust’s fictional autobiography, the novel seems to a be a quest. Just like Remembrance too, Tristram Shandy is (paradoxically) not about the past. It is book with an obsession for the future. Indeed, the way Sterne experiments when he produces his associations between the past and the present (indeed when he creates a fictional past in order to make a future possible) is very close to what French philosopher Gilles Deleuze called crystals of time. At bottom, the crucial question is probably: why do we have to experiment with time? Sterne’s answer is clear: it is because of what could be called the wound, which is not (only) an accident, but also an event, that is a concept that forces us to think and helps us produce meaning.


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hal-02488670 , version 1 (24-02-2020)


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Daniel Thomières. Time and the Wound in Tristram Shandy: the sense of a quest. The Criterion: an International Journal in English, 2012, 3 (1), pp.1-28. ⟨hal-02488670⟩
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