Harris 2009

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Harris, Jonathan Gil. Untimely Matter in the Time of Shakespeare. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009.

Palimpsested Time: Toward a Theory of Untimely Matter

"national sovereignty model of temporality" -- "Although it licenses trade between different moments (allowing, say, the 'modern' to import elements from the 'early modern' and to export others to the 'postmodern'), it grants each moment a determining auuthority reminiscent of a nation-state's: that is, firmly policed borders and a shaping constitution. As a result, any historical phenomenon tends to be regarded as a citizen solely of one moment-state. And from the vantage point of the rpesent, the past becomes a foreign country, or rather several foreign countries." (2)

"'Time' can refer to a moment, period, or age -- the punctual date of chronology. Hence 'the time of Shakespeare' can be demarcated and numerically represented as a finite temporal block (1564-1616, or the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries). But 'time' can also refer to an understanding of the temporal relations among past, present, and future. In this sense, 'the time of Shakespeare' is not a historical period but rather a conception, or several conceptions, of temporality." (3)
"Contrary to our either/or habits of local and universal reading, English Renaissance theorists of matter regard it as neither an age nor for all time. Rather, they see it as out of time with itself -- that is, as untimely. In the stone tablets of religious typology, the city walls of urban chorograpy, the compounded substances of vitalist philosophy, and the matter of the Shakespearean stage -- histrionic actors' bodies, malodorous special effects, and even trifling hand properties -- time is repeatedly, to use Hamlet's well-known phrase, out of joint." (4-5)
"Even as theoretical invocations of fetishism -- whether indebted to Marx or to Freud -- ostensibly seek to divert attention from the object to the primacy of the subject, I would argue that they respond, albeit in disavowed form, to a temporal conundrum posed by objects and matter itself. That is, things are often shrouded in anachronism. This is not simply because many objects are time travelers from the past (think, for example, of family photo albums with their frequently embarrassing evidence of out-of-date hairstyles and other fashion no-no's). Nor is it because present objects are sometimes coded as temporally obsolete in order to assert their social unacceptability or pathological nature (think of the hijab, or veil, which has in much of the west become an overdetermined figure for Islam's supposedly 'medieval' attitude to women). It is, more precisely, because the objects of material culture are often saturated with the unmistakable if frequently faint imprints of many times." (6-7)
"The discourse of the temporally retrograde fetish, when applied to the study of material culture, can thus work to displace and dismiss the specter of anachronism that haunts objects in general. But the relations between matter and temporality have been largely occluded in recent scholarship on objects, which has tended to transform the 'material' of material culture into a synonym for 'physical' -- thereby freezing not just the object in time but also time in the object." (7)
"For Aristotle as much as for Marx, matter is both past material that has been reorked as well as present, reworkable potential that presumes a future. Materiality thus articulates temporal difference. But in collating the traces of past, present, and future, it also pluralizes and hence problematizes the time of the object. In this respsect, materiality is not simply some kind of raw physicality prior to language and culture. It is rather a site of inscription and of differance. Matter is a surface that can be written on; but it is itself a species of 'arche-writing' in Derrida's sense, inasmuch as it is characterized by an ontological and temporal self-differentiation and hence deferral. Far from being an actuality endowed with self-identical presence, then, 'matter' or 'material' might instead be understood as designating a play of multiple temporal traces." (7-8)


"what is superseded survives its own supersession and can thus call into question the very progress it is enlisted to facilitate. And once the past is no longer regarded as having passed but is instead understood to reside in the now, we can start to take stock of its agency. That is, we can start seeing the past not as dead and buried or even as a spectral visitor from beyond the grave, but as alive and active. We can see it, in other words, as untimely matter." (31)

Reading Matter: George Herbert and the East-West Palimpsests of The Temple

"Herbert's treatment of supersession, in other words, does not quite banish the Jeish matter of the past; rather, it paradoxically depends and even thrives on that matter's untimely persistence." (35)
"As this suggests, matter figures prominently -- though perhaps unexpectedly -- in Herbert's explorations of Christian spirituality. If, as Jonathan Goldberg has noted, the Temple claims 'that all the world is the space of its writing,' then Herbert's matter is likewise resolutely textual. Indeed, I shall argue that the best way of reading matter in Herbert is to regard it as reading mater. But it is a special kind of writing, one that presumes processes of reworking intrinsic to material culture." (35)

projecting text's power "as that polychronic affirmation of collective unities that do not yet exist, and may never exist" (37) -- for Jameson, "typology presumes a temporality of utopian possibility" (37)

"I argue that the complex treatments of matter and time in 'The Church Militant' closely parallel those of the shorter and more widely studied typological lyrics. Taken together, they make the case for re-reading Herbert as not 'just' a religious poet but also a theorist of untimely matter. To view him this way, however, means questioning pervasive critical habits that have worked to dematerialize the mater of The Temple." (39)

worldly vs unworldly Herbert in critical debates (40)

"two interrelated interpretive frameworks modern critics have inherited from Herbert, the Augustinian theory of signs and the Pauline doctrine of typology, have predisposed them to dematerialize his matter. So long as Herbert is read from the vantage point of where he wants to be -- close to God -- each framework may seem to translate matter successfully into spirit: the Augustinian theory of signs through symbolic movement from material things to transcendent logoes, the Pauline doctrine of typology through temporal progression from carnal law to divine grace. But if we read The Temple also as a sustained reflection on the untimeliness of matter, we might see how the sequence simultaneously complicates both frameworks -- not least because, for Herbert, neither offers a tidy, unilinear movement form matter to spirit." (43-44)

"although typology as a system of divine signification may promise spiritual progression, typology as a technology of material reinscription has decidedly different, untimely effects. In Herbert's case, I would argue that this second aspect of typology becomes visile partly because of his recognizably Calvinist understanding of history." (51)

Tuve 1952, reading herbert alognside woodcuts from Biblia pauperum (51) -- Catholic typology

Calvin, ultimate victory for spirit only comes with Last Judgement (52)

"Paradoxically, then, Calvinist typology encourages not just a radical future-oriened refusal of the material worlds (in anticipation of the spiritual transcendence ushered in by the end of days), but also an equally radical and anachronistic rematerialization of the past in the present. Untranscended 'Jewish' matter is less the stuff of superseded history than th condition of the Protestant age, at least for now." (52)
"Herbert's use of typology here and elsewhere thus offers only an incomplete solution to the problem of untranscended matter in the Augustinian theory of signs. Conventional typology temporally purifies the components fo the sign by historically dividing old material signifier from new spiritual signified. But Herbert's version of typology undoes that purification by anachronistically collating the Jewish type and the Christian antitype within stone-heart palimpsests that promise yet impede the full arrival of spirit." (54)
"If the west is Herbert's horizon of becoming-spirit and the east his horizon of becoming-matter, then the ineluctable return of west to east in 'The Church Militant' suggests that his matter is less dematerializing than persistently rematerializing." (57)

the "atome" -- "one of Herbert's many palimpsest-like objects within which the amtter of the past is overwritten by the spiritual traces of its future. Yet like these other objects, the 'atomes supposedly superseded matter continues to do untimely work For even as "The Church Militant' places atomism under divine erasure, the poem uncannily reproduces aspects of an atomistic conception of the world." (60)

translatio religii as "beleaguered flight prompted by the withering rather than the flowering of religious devotion in each location. The force that impedes the unilinaer march of history toward transcendence throughout the globe -- and, by knocking it from the straight and narrow path, provides it with its Lucretian declension or clinamen -- is Sin" (62)

"'The Church Militant' does not offer any such functionalist recuperation of its effects. Instead Sin corrodes rather than facilitates progress. And in doing so, it generates the untimely effect of material reinscription that we have seen throughout The Temple." (62)
"Sin's westward progress from Babylon to Rome is different from the rue Church's Some readers have seen in 'The Church Militant' a justification of empire under the aegis of spreading the light of Gospel. But in Herbert's pessimistic conception of history, it is Sin rather than he Church that possesses imperial powers of expansion." (64)

Performing History: East-West Palimpsests in William Shakespeare's Second Henriad

"Shakespeare's second Henriad offers what might be described as a politics of intertheatricallity, where what is at stake is not just the realpolitik of the king or the destiny of the nation but also the skillful versatility, relative to both earlier and contemporary English actors, of the Lord Chamberlain's Men." (68)
"far more than any Enlightment philosophy of history, the second Henriad discloses how the temporality of supersession, and its assumption of timely development, is dependent on a constitutive untimeliness: the past needs to be performed in the present as that from which the present differentiates itself. Moving forward to the future, then necesitates a simultaneous movement backward to the past." (68)
"Intertheatricality, in other wrods, is concerned with the material culture of the stage -- that is, the working and reworking of theatrical matter, includin the actor's body and accessories." (69)

"new histrionicism" -- acting style, "newness entails less a clean break with the teatrical paast than a simultaneous retention and cancellation of it" (72); it "performs the temporality of supersession" (72)

"No matter how much supersessionary time turns its gaze to the future then, it carries the past with it. and as long as the past remains at work in the matter of the present, it retains an explosive power to speak back, as we shall see in the next part." (87)


"In explosive time, the traces of the past acquire a living agnecy within, and against, the present. This agency is illuminated by the specific connotations of 'explosion' in the time of Shakespeare." (91)

The Writing on the Wall: London's Old Jewry and John Stow's Urban Palimpsest

"Stow seizes on past matter in ways that fracture his present." (97)
"In The Survey, as we shall see, Stow uses the past not to celebrate but to put pressure on London's post-Reformation identity. And although much of his energy is devoted to identifying and retrieving materials that might be associated with London's Catholic past, he also finds in untimely Jewish matter materiel with which to explode the time of his Protestant present. In his simultaneous reproduction and refusal of supersession, then, Stow underscores the multitemporality of London as urban palimpsest." (97)
"How, then, is the past not just found but actively created within and by the matter of the urban palimpsest? And what temporalities can that matter be made to materialize?" (98)
"Stow,t hen, does not redeem Ludgate's Hebrew inscription in solidarity with London's living jews, as Antony Bale has suggested he does. Instead, we might see him submitting to another, unexpected solidarity. He mourns the loss of old Catholic materials that have been obliterated by the Protestant Reformation; and this leads him to feel sympathy not for Jews, living or dead, but forr Jewish stones that have likewise been defaced. Hence the irruption of a forgotten thirteenth-century Hebrew inscription into Stow's present, whether in the crumbling matter of Ludgate in 1586 or in the text of the Survey in 1598 and 1603, also disputes the time of Protestant London and its willful erasure of the pre-Reformation past." (117-8)

The Smell of Gunpowder: Macbeth and the Palimpsests of Olfaction

Macbeth's been connected to the Gunpowder Plot; but Harris wants to "ponder the ways in which the smelly materials of early modern theatrical performance got to work on their audiences or, for the purposes of this chapter, their olfactors. In the rpocess, I consider how the smell of Macbeth's 'thunder and lightning' was as theatrically important as its visual and acoustic impact, and the ways in which playgoers' responses to the odor of the squibs were not just physiologically conditioned but also implicated within larger cultural syntaes of olfaction and memory. But I do not seek to explain the smell of Macbeth simply according to the cultural poetics of hits historical moment. Indeed, I am interested in how the play's smells put pressure on the very notion of a self-identical moment as the irrdeucible ground zero of historical interpretation. For I locate in smell a polychronicity that, in the specific instance of Shakespeare's play, generates an explosive temporality through which the past is made to act upon, and shatter the self-identity of, the present." (120-121)


"Whereas the practitioners of supersession treat only the rpesent as active and the past as dead or obsolete matter, and whereas the proponents of explosion grant agency primarily to the live traces of the past that dispute and shatter the present, those who practice the temporality of conjunction recognize the combined activity of all is polychronic components." (143)

Touching Matters: Margaret Cavendish's and Helene Cixous's Palimpsested Bodies

"Cavendish's writing of matter thematizes here theory of matter: both entail a compounding of self and other, a production of figures that seem to possess singular integrity yet are palimpsested -- or 'nested' -- mixtures." (164)
"one of the greatest gifts that feminism continues to offer, whether to historical study in general or to early modern studies in particular, is its commitment to a conjunctive sensibility. That is, it presumes conversation -- but not identity -- between women (and, for that matter, men) across time. This sensibility has been increasingly disguised or disallowed in the name of situating the past within its historical moment. The dialogue between Cixous and Cavendish, however, suggests that it is time for both feminism and Renaissance studies to question time -- at least the purified, linear time of historicism -- and to imagine a temporality grounded ni the queer touch that conjoins past and present." (167-8)

Crumpled Handkerchiefs: William Shakespeare's and Michel Serres's Palimpsested Time

"Rather than a singular progression that can be geometrically plotted, time in Othello is a dynamic field whose contours keep shifting, bringing into startling and anachronistic proximity supposedly distant and disparate moments." (168)

Dis-orientations: Eastern Nonstandard Time