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EN2G4/EN3G4 Literature, Theory and Time

Convenor: Liz Barry 

Introductory video:

Please read as much of Woolf's novel Mrs Dalloway as you can before term starts. If you can't get hold of a copy, there is a Project Gutenberg version freely available online. But it would be best for you to purchase the OUP or Penguin versions for the term's work if possible. Think about the depiction of time in the book. How much time is passing? How do past, present and future related to each other? What is the relationship between time and emotion? There will be a light-hearted quiz in the first week so you can evaluate how much you've picked up from the novel so far.*

Do follow the #littheorytime21 hashtag on Twitter for occasional posts that might be of interest, and look back at #littheorytime19 and #littheorytime20 posts. And feel free to post using the hashtag with interesting time-related material you come across! (And/or maybe this year I'll finally get to grips with instagram, which I know would probably be more relevant and worthwhile...)

Module Outline

This course, open to second and third year students, introduces students to theories and philosophies of time in relation to some literary and cinematic texts that involve themselves closely with temporality (Woolf's Mrs Dalloway; Ali Smith's novel The Accidental; Marion Coutts' illness memoir The Iceberg; Maggie Nelson's work of 'autotheory' The Argonauts; and Christopher Nolan's film Memento).

We will be thinking about how time is represented in these narratives; about how narrative helps us imagine the historical past and the future; how tenses and other languages of time create affect. We will consider the relatively recent history of standardized time, and the effects of this on patterns of work and leisure and on concepts of the self and the nation. How were ideas of the past and the future invented? We will think about subjective experience of time in relation to emotional states such as anxiety, boredom and desire, and how time is experienced in states of mental disorder. We will think about time in relation to the body, illness, chronic conditions and the temporality of (health) care. The question of media will also be important here as we consider what it means for a book or an image or a poem to be situated in time, and ask whether media themselves are responsible now for our sense of time.

Above all, students taking this module should be interested in engaging deeply and in a sustained way with both literary and philosophical texts.

NB. It will be helpful to you to have read at least the first few chapters of Woolf's novel Mrs Dalloway before the start of term. Think too about the reading and watching (and other cultural consumption) you're doing this summer -- are you being made particularly aware of time in any aspect, and if so how? It would be nice to hear about these experiences in our discussions.

A critical 'reading package' will be distributed to you in week 1 with the key theoretical readings for term 1.

A further overview of some of the texts we will be reading can be found here in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia entry on Literary Theory and Time.

Seminar Time:


Pathway information (for students who enrolled on their course prior to 2019/20)

This is a Pathway Approved Option to the English Pathway and the Theory Pathway. It is a Options Module for all Pathways.


Intermediate Years:

[1 formative short piece (1000 words);] 1 x 3000 word essay (40%); 1 x 3600 word reading journal (60%)

Final Years:

[1 formative short essay (1000 words);] 1 x 4000 word essay (40%); 1 x 4400 word reading journal (60%)

Reading journal

4 entries

Each entry will pair ideas about time from one or two of the theoretical sources with a piece of fiction, literary non-fiction, film, or other cultural artefact, and make a reading of the 'text' in relation to the idea(s) in question. One of the four entries can be (but doesn't have to be) applying the theory we've looked at (or other time-oriented theory) to your own lived experience.

The entries can vary in length to make up the allotted word count (+/- 10%), but shouldn't be less than 500 words or more than 1500.

Below are some anonymized samples from previous years:

Sample journal 1

Sample journal 2

Sample journal 3


(Sensitive content is indicated with a 'CW' for 'content warning', with some brief indication of the nature of the content.)

Term One

Week One: Introduction

Mrs Dalloway, up to page 80.

You may like to read an article in the New Yorker about why people have been reading Mrs Dalloway during the pandemic, for a topical angle: Why Why Anxious Readers Under Quarantine Turn to Mrs. Dalloway

Week Two: Time in Narrative


Mrs Dalloway, to the end.

Gerard Genette, Narrative Discourse, "Introduction," "Order," "Duration"

Woolf, Mrs Dalloway pp. 28-32

Genette and Woolf handout -- preparation for week 2 seminar

If you have time:

Questions re. the Woolf passage re. psychoanalysis and narrative

Mini-lectures -- I will go through the main gist of this in the session but do have a look if you want to have a sneak preview:

Time in Narrative (Genette and Woolf) -- slides

Powerpoint videos -- Time in Narrative (week 2)

Week Three: Space and Time

Mikhail Bakhtin, “Forms of Time and Chronotope in the Novel” The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, (UTP, 1981), pg 84-258.

Handout -- guide to Mikhail Bakhtin's chronotope

Space and Time (slides) -- Week 3

Week Four: Phenomenological Time

Henri Bergson, from Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness, section collected as 'The Idea of Duration' in Henri Bergson, Henri Bergson: Key Writings, ed. Keith Ansell Pearson and John Mullarkey (Continuum, 2002)

BBC Radio 4, In Our Time: Bergson and Time

(listen to particularly 05.08 -- 8.25; 10.42 -- 15.56; and 17.52 -- 25.18 but it's all good value. Around these sections on the philosophy, there are discussions of his theory of evolution (how new things come into being), and his clashes with Einstein and the new physics, for instance)

Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time-Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta (London: Athlone Press, 1989)

Bergson and Deleuze -- questions to prepare for next week

Rock Star Philosopher -- Emily Herring on Bergson

Phenomenological Time -- Week 5 (Slides)

Extra listening:

Emily Thomas on The Philosophy of Time and the New Thinking about Time in C20 (video) -- listen to 06.10 -- 08.50

Week Five: Mrs Dalloway and other critical approaches

From Queer Bloomsbury (2016): Kimberly Engdahl Coates's 'Virginia Woolf’s Queer Time and Place: Wartime London and a World Aslant' [see Talis reading list]

Queer futures: Sara Ahmed, 'Happy Futures', from The Promise of Happiness (2010)

Woolf on how her contemporaries were responding to the shock and destabilizing impulse of World War One:

Woolf's How it Strikes a Contemporary (

Woolf and mental health: Patricia Waugh, 'The novelist as voice hearer', The Lancet (2015); Michael Whitworth on&nbsp;<em>Mrs Dalloway&nbsp;</em>and mental health (critical survey)

Week Six:


Week Seven:

Ali Smith, The Accidental

Slides on Deleuze, the time image, the chronotope and film (in particular Memento)

Slides AND VIDEO on Deleuze, the time-image, the chronotope and film (in particular Memento)

Slides AND VIDEO on The Shining, Bergson and Deleuze's Time-Image

Memento timeline

Week Eight: The Future

Stephen Kern, 'The Future', The Culture of Space and Time: 1880-1918 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983)

The Future (slides)

Heidegger, the Future and (Existential) Anxiety (video and slides)

Week Nine: Time and Non-Normative Mental States

CW: mental illness, trauma

Eugène Minkowski, from Lived Time [1933], trans. Nancy Metzel (Evanston: Northwestern Press, 1970)

Matthew Broome, 'The Neuroscience, Psychopathology and Philosophy of Time', Philosophy, Psychiatry & Psychology, 12: 3 (2005), 187-194

Judith Herman, from Trauma and Recovery (1992)

Preparatory handout on Non-Normative Mental States and Time

Non-Normative Mental States, Mrs D and The Accidental (ideas, exercises)

A bit leftfield, but a talk (slides and video) I have written on dementia, time and laughter -- tangential link to the Minkowski!

Week 10: Trauma, History, Time

CW: trauma

Hayden White, ‘The Modernist Event’, in The Persistence of History: Cinema, Television and the Modern Event, ed. Vivian Sobchack (New York: Routledge, 1996)

Suzanna Radstone, ‘The War of the Fathers: Trauma, Fantasy and September 11’, Literature and the Contemporary, 117-123

Post 9/11 Trauma and Fantasy and Ali Smith's The Accidental

Trauma, History, The Event (slides)

Other supplementary term 1 materials:

Talk on reading Mrs Dalloway via further Genette/ Narrative Discourse material; Paul Ricoeur's section on Mrs Dalloway in his monumental work on time and literary narrative, and Mark Currie's book about time and narrative (which mostly covers contemporary fiction but touches on Mrs D), About Time.

From Paul Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, Vol 2, 100-112

Mark Currie, About Time: Narrative, Fiction and the Philosophy of Time (Edinburgh, Univ. Press, 2007), introduction chapter 3 and chapter 5

Others' Time (slides)

Powerpoint videos -- Others' Time

Term Two

Week One

CW: (terminal) illness, cancer, bereavement

Marion Coutts, The Iceberg

Time and The Iceberg (slides)

Week Two: Illness Time

CW: (terminal) illness, cancer, bereavement

Eric Cazdyn, from The Already Dead: The New Time of Politics, Culture, and Illness. Part 1: The New Chronic, 1-47 (and particularly 44-47: 'Palliative Time').

Sarah Lochlann Jain, 'Living in Prognosis: Toward an Elegiac Politics', Representations, vol. 98. no. 1 (2007), 77-92

Frank, Arthur. The Wounded Storyteller. Body, Illness and Ethics. Second Edition. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2013.

Coutts and Illness Time (slides)

A talk by Coutts about The Iceberg in the Medicine Unboxed series

Week 3: Grief Time

CW: bereavement; grief, sudden death

Denise Riley, from Time Lived without Its Flow; poetry

Lisa Baraitser in Conversation with Denise Riley. Studies in the Maternal (2016), 8(1), p.5 Link to the article

Caroline Pearce, ‘Making Sense of Grief’, in The Public and Private Management of Grief (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), 61-101

Grief Time (slides)

A recent piece on grief, narrative time and Ali Smith (also referencing Denise Riley!)

Week Four: Time and Work

E.P. Thompson, ‘Time, Work-Discipline and Industrial Capitalism'

Kathi Weeks, The Problem With Work (chapters 1&2)

Readings from Ling Ma, Severance; Studs Terkel, Working 

Collection of online essays (Post 45 website) on Severance

Work Time (slides)

Week 5: Race and Time

CW: racism; death; bereavement and mourning

Christina Sharpe's In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (ch 1),

Michael Hanchard, 'Afro-Modernity: Temporality, Politics and the African Diaspora', Public Culture (1999) 11 (1): 245-268.

Race and Time (slides)


Week 7: Queer Time

CW: possible transphobia, homophobia, heterosexism

Lee Edelman, No Future, ch. 1: 'The Future Is Kid Stuff'

Dinshaw et al. ‘Theorizing Queer Temporalities: A Roundtable Discussion’ GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies(2007) 13(2-3): 177-195

The Argonauts and Queerness (handout)

Queer Time (slides)

Week 8: (Not) Reproducing Time

CW: childbirth; heterosexism, transphobia

Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts

Queer Lifecourse and Queer Genre (slides)

Journal surgery


Week 9: Deep Time

(CW: climate emergency)

Paul Crutzen, “Geology of Mankind”

Dipesh Chakrabarty, “The Climate of History"

Deep Time (slides)

Week 10: Slow and New Time

extracts from:

Jonathan Crary, 24/7 (chapter 1)

Jonathan Crary, 24/7 -- Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep (2013) -- pp. 14-28, 61-74

Lynne Segal, Out of TimeLink opens in a new window

Susan Sontag, 'The Double Standard of Ageing' (1972)

Kathleen Woodward, 'The Mirror Stage of Old Age' (1991)

Living a Good Life in Older Age -- short conference talks (conference I organized at Warwick a few years ago)

First assessed essay questions for EN2G4/EN3G4 2021-22

Deadline 22nd February, Tues Week 7, 12pm


Intermediate Year students: 3,000 words

Final Year students: 4,000 words


  1. How do the temporal operations of a narrative relate to the feelings it produces? Discuss in relation to one or more text you have read.


  1. The narrative discourse […] works to subvert, replay, or even pervert the normal passages of time” (Peter Brooks, Reading for the Plot). Discuss in relation to one or more literary example.


  1. “One of the functions of narrative is to create one time in another time” (Christian Metz). Discuss.


  1. Critics have a predilection for “condensing evidence into a resonant moment” (Ted Underwood). Discuss one or more novelist (or critic) who focuses on the “resonant moment… leaping over scales of time”.


  1. What role does time play in Woolf’s intention for Mrs Dalloway “to criticise the social system, to show it at work at its most intense” (Diary, June 1923, 248).


  1. How far does Ricoeur’s idea of ‘monumental time’ still pertain today, and if so, how? Discuss in relation to one or more work of contemporary literature.


  1. Discuss the use of anticipation in one or more literary text.


  1. “Fiction reflects projections of [the novelist’s] world superimposed on an inner landscape of need, desire and anxiety” (Ruth Perry). Discuss.


  1. Consider the relationship between time and emerging technologies of a)communication, b) travel, or c) both in the thought and literature of the early twentieth century.


  1. Time, for Bergson, is “the past gnawing into the future” (Matter and Memory). Consider the pressure exerted by the past on the experience of time in texts and/or other cultural artefacts on the module or elsewhere.


  1. “Time is the dimension of change, a fact which distinguishes it from the three dimensions of space” (Ted Honderich). Discuss in relation to one or more work of literature or art.


  1. ‘Time, 'a little time in the pure state‘, rises up to the surface of the screen’ (Deleuze, Cinema 2). Discuss one or more film in the light of Deleuze’s argument that the ‘time-image’ becomes newly prominent in post-war cinema.


  1. Ali Smith’s fictional world is “contextualized by a history in which the past is always present” (Patrick O’Donnell). Discuss in relation to one or more novels by Smith.


  1. Traumatic temporality is one of belatedness or latency. Discuss in relation to two or more works of literature and/or theory.”


  1. ‘Fiction achieves a kind of resolution of problems of time which philosophy cannot solve’ (Genevieve Lloyd). Discuss.


  1. Most mental illnesses bear witness to the significance of temporality to the sense of self. Discuss in relation to one or more work of literature or thought.


  1. “Temporality is structured not by regularly ticking seconds but by memory and fantasy” (Stephen M. Levin). Discuss in relation to The Accidental or any other work(s) of fiction you have encountered.


  1. How has Genette’s treatment of anachrony been useful in understanding the working of one or more literary or cinematic text you have encountered?


  1. Discuss the challenges to the representation of time in relation to desire, death, grief, joy, guilt, or


  1. How does Bakhtin’s concept of the ‘Chronotope’ help us to understand the workings of literary time? Refer to at least one novel in your answer.


  1. “Time has been rendered visible today in ways that would have appeared almost unimaginable even a decade ago” (Carol Watts). Discuss in relation to one or more artistic works you have encountered.


  1. “How can it be the end of anything?” Discuss the theme of ending (human, historical, ecological or any other) in Ali Smith’s The Accidental and/or any other work of fiction you have encountered.


  1. Peter Osborne identifies “dehistoricisation”, the “destruction of ‘lived’ historical narratives by the instantaneity of the image”, as one of the most far-reaching consequences of commodification in late capitalism. Discuss in relation to one or more works you have encountered.


  1. Choose a title of your own, in consultation with me. This has to be approved by the end of week 2 of term 2.


Essay Writing: A List of Points/ Resources

These are some aspects of essay writing (and writing in general) that I've noticed trip people up repeatedly, and feature in lots of my feedback:

- The most important thing for me, as you'll become aware from my feedback, is to know -- and to write -- a good paragraph. Andrew Frayn's blog (links below) is good on this and a host of other essay-writing issues.

- There is a growing tendency for people to use subordinate clauses as stand-alone, independent sentences. They are only half a sentence -- see below for an explanation of such clauses (which must be part of a larger sentence with a main clause involving a conjugated verb).

- Lots of people this year have fallen foul of the dangling modifier... Follow the link below to find out what they are, and for advice on avoiding them.

- Frayn is also good on how to write a good introduction to an essay -- that's something that has made essays stand out too this year (for good or ill...).

How to write a good paragraph (Andrew Frayn)

Dangling Modifiers, and how to avoid them

How to write a good introduction to an essay

Subordinate clauses (which cannot stand alone)


Choose ONE of these two referencing styles, become familiar with it and learn it, and make sure you reference the materials you quote or draw directly on in the body of the text through in-text citations or footnotes so your reader knows exactly where to go and find the material:

Guide to MHRA referencing (

Guide to MLA referencing with in text citation (


You might also want to do this very good Moodle about referencing and avoiding (inadvertent) plagiarism. (I’m not suggesting you would ever plagiarise, but this is a good general training in referencing appropriately):

Course: Avoiding Plagiarism (20/21) (

Reading list

Required Texts for Purchase*

Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway, OUP (2009 [1925])

Ali Smith, The Accidental (2005)

Marion Coutts, The Iceberg (2014)

Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts (2016)

* The Woolf is a recommended edition, but there are no rules about which edition you have, as long as it's the (accurate) full text and useable, so don't be concerned if yours is an edition with a different publication date.

Recommended Extra/Essay Reading

Bergson, Henri, Creative Evolution, in Modernism: An Anthology of Sources and Documents, ed. by Vassiliki Kolocotroni, Jane Goldman, and Olga Taxidou (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1998), pp. 68-71

Bergson, Henri, Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness, trans. F.L. Pogson Bergson, Henri Matter and Memory, trans. Nancy Margaret Paul and W. Scott Palmer (New York: Zone Books, 1988)

Kristeva, Julia, Time and Sense: Proust and the Experience of Literature (New York: Columbia, 1996)

Lloyd, Genevieve. Being in Time: Selves and Narrators in Philosophy and Literature (London: Routledge, 1993)

Deleuze, Gilles, Cinema 1: The Movement-Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam (London: Athlone Press, 1992)

---, Cinema 2: The Time-Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta (London: Athlone Press, 1989)

Doan, Mary-Anne, The Emergence of Cinematic Time: Modernity, Contingency, the Archive (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003)

Kittler, Friedrich, Discourse Networks: 1800/1900, trans. Michael Metteer (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990)

---, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, trans. Geoffrey Winthrop-Young and Michael Wutz (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999)

Marx, Leo, The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal In America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1964)

Schivelbusch, Wolfgang, The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the Nineteenth Century (New York: Berg, 1986)

Solnit, Rebecca, Motion Studies: Time, Space and Eadweard Muybridge (London: Bloomsbury, 2003) Greenslade, William, Degeneration, Culture and the Novel 1880-1940 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994).

Nicholls, Peter, Modernisms: A Literary Guide (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1995) Schleifer, Ronald, Modernism and Time: The Logic of Abundance in Literature, Science and Culture, 1880-1930 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000)

Harvey, David, The Condition of Postmodernity (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989)

McQuire, Scott, Visions of Modernity: Representation, Memory, Time and Space in the Age of the Camera (London: SAGE, 1998)

Birkerts, Sven, The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age (New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1994)

Douglas, Jane Yellowlees, The End of Books or Books Without End: Reading Interactive Narratives (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000)

Erikson, Thomas Hylland, ‘Speed is Contagious’, in The New Media Theory Reader, ed. by Robert Hassan and Julian Thomas (Maidenhead: Open University Press, 2006), pp. 272-278

Harpold, Terry, ‘The Contingencies of the Hypertext Link’, in The New Media Reader, ed. by Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2003)

Hesse, Carla, ‘Books In Time’ in The Future of the Book, ed. by Geoffrey Nunberg (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), pp. 21-36

Lee, Heejin and Liebenau, Jonathan, ‘Time and the Internet’, in The New Media Theory Reader, ed. by Robert Hassan and Julian Thomas (Maidenhead: Open University Press, 2006), pp. 266-271

Huyssen, Andreas, Twilight Memories: Marking Time in a Culture of Amnesia (London: Routledge, 1995), pp. 249-260.

King, Nicola, Memory, Narrative, Identity: Remembering the Self (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000)

LaCapra, Dominick, History and Memory after Auschwitz (London: Cornell University Press,1998)

---, Representing the Holocaust: History, Theory, Trauma (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994)

Bender, John, and David E. Wellbery, eds, Chronotypes: The Construction of Time (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1991)

Krämer, Sybille, 'The Cultural Techniques of Time Axis Manipulation: On Friedrich Kittler’s Conception of Media' Theory Culture Society Vol. 23 (7–8) 2006: pp 93–109.

Fukuyama, Francis, The End of History and the Last Man (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1992)

Gray, John, Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia (London: Allen Lane, 2007)

Harpold, Terry, and Philip, Kavita, ‘“Party Over, Oops, Out of Time”: Y2K, Technological ‘Risk’and Informational Millenarianism’, in NMEDIAC 1.1 (2002) (available online O’Leary, Stephen, Arguing the Apocalypse: A Theory of Millennial Rhetoric (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994)

Thompson, Damian, The End of Time: Faith and Fear in the Shadow of the Millennium (Hanover, NH.: University Press of New England, 1997)

Benjamin, Walter ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History,’ Illuminations (London: Fontana, 1992), pp. 246-258

Friedland, Roger, and Deirdre Boden, eds, NowHere: Space, Time and Modernity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994)

Gould, Stephen Jay, Time’s Arrow, Time’s Cycle: Myth and Metaphor in the Discovery of Geological Time (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991)

Gallagher, Sean, The Inordinance of Time (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1998)

Hawking, Stephen, A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes (London: Bantam Books-Transworld Publishers, 1988)

Kennedy, J. B., Space, Time and Einstein (Chesham: Acumen, 2003)

Kern, Stephen, The Culture of Time and Space: 1880-1918 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983)

Levinas, Emmanuel, Time and the Other [and additional essays]. Trans. Richard A. Cohen (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1987)

Lewis, Wyndham, Time and Western Man (London: Chatto and Windus, 1927)

Minkowski, Eugene, Lived Time: Phenomenological and Psychopathological Studies (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1970)

Osborne, Peter, The Politics of Time: Modernity and Avant-garde (London: Verso, 1995)

Poulet, Georges, Studies in Human Time (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1956)

White, Hayden, The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Interpretation (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989)