Measuring Time: The Sense of an
HUM 2213: British and American Literature II
Spring 2013
Dr. Perdigao
April 8-12, 2013
Julian Barnes (b. 1946)
Born in Leicester, England on January 19, 1946
1957-1964: Educated at City of London School and Magdalen College, Oxford
1968: Graduated with honors in modern languages
Worked as lexicographer for the Oxford English Dictionary supplement for three
1977: began work as reviewer and literary editor for the New Statesman and the
New Review
1979-1986: Worked as television critic for New Statesman and Observer
Received 2011 Man Booker Prize for The Sense of an Ending
Three other novels shortlisted for the prize: Flaubert’s Parrot (1984), England,
England (1998), and Arthur & George (2005)
Awarded the David Cohen Prize for Literature in 2011, a award that honors a
lifetime's achievement in literature for a writer in the English language who is a
citizen on the UK or the Republic of Ireland
Metroland (1980)
Before She Met Me (1982)
Flaubert’s Parrot (1984)
Staring at the Sun (1986)
A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters: questioning of history and interpretation
of facts (1989)
Talking It Over (1991)
The Porcupine (1992)
Letters from London: series of essays written for the New Yorker between 19901995; first published book of nonfiction (1995)
Cross Channel (1996)
England, England: theme park of English history: Big Ben, Princess Di’s grave,
Harrods, Stonehenge, white cliffs of Dover (1998)
Love, etc (2000)
Something to Declare (2002)
In the Land of Pain: translation of Alphonse Daudet’s notes written while suffering
from syphilis (2002)
The Pendant in the Kitchen: articles published in The Guardian (2003)
The Lemon Table: short fiction (2004)
Arthur & George: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle involved in crime investigation (2005)
Nothing to be Frightened of (2008)
Pulse: short stories (2011)
The Sense of an Ending (2011)
Through the Window: seventeen essays and a short story, examination of influence
of British, French, and American writers (2012)
Levels of Life: Release April 2013, memorial for wife Pat Kavanagh
Crime fiction written under pseudonym Dan Kavanagh: Duffy (1980); Fiddle City
(1981); Putting the Boot In (1985); Going to the Dogs (1987)
On Memory
INTERVIEWER: So much of your fiction—England, England, Flaubert’s Parrot,
A History of the World in 10½ Chapters —questions our sense of the past. You
write about the uncertainty of history and the effort of trying to get back to some
kind of origin, particularly through the creation of replicas and enhancements of the
past. In several of your novels you talk about first memories. England, England
begins, “What was your first memory?” though Martha finds she can’t remember.
You use a similar line in Arthur & George, and maybe even Staring at the Sun. It’s
something that seems to come up in your writing, and so I’ve always wanted to ask
you: What was your first memory?
On Memory
BARNES: I have absolutely no idea at all, but it is a recurrent interest of mine. The
book I’m writing at the moment involves, at a certain point, exchanges with my
brother, who is three years older than me, about what we remember about our
childhood. My brother, I should explain, is by profession a philosopher, and he
believes that all memories are untrue. All—without exception. So we have a certain
argument. But actually what we remember about our childhood is completely
different and often contradictory. I’m completely unable to disentangle authentic
memories from things I was told had happened to me. I think all my earliest
memories are things my parents or grandparents told me I had said or done when I
was a small child, and they’ve become part of my “memory bank.” I’m also not
sure at what age they really happened, between three and six or eight or so. We
think of memories as being there, leaving almost a physical trace of some sort, and
being things that are theoretically recapturable, just as anything that you do on your
computer can be retrieved by the FBI, unless it’s been ground and smashed to very,
very small pieces indeed. But I think that memory, as I understand it, and I’m only
at a sort of primitive stage of reading up about it, doesn’t seem to work like that.
There isn’t what we would think of as a permanent, physical trace there. Indeed, the
cells that contain it are changing by the hour in their shape and in their existence—
I’m speaking in very rough scientific terms, you understand. I do apologize.
Schiff, James A. “A Conversation with Julian Barnes.” Missouri Review 2007
(30.3): 60-80. Web.
Making Sense of History
“‘Indeed, isn’t the whole business of ascribing responsibility a kind of cop-out?
We want to blame an individual so that everyone else is exculpated. Or we blame a
historical process as a way of exonerating individuals. Or it’s all anarchic chaos,
with the same consequence. It seems to me that there is—was—a chain of
individual responsibilities, all of which were necessary, but not so long a chain that
everybody can simply blame everyone else. But of course, my desire to ascribe
responsibility might be more a reflection of my own cast of mind than a fair
analysis of what happened. That’s one of the central problems of history, isn’t it,
sir? The questions of subjective versus objective interpretaion, the fact that we
need to know the history of the historian in order to understand the version that is
being put in front of us.’” (13)
“You might even ask me to apply my “theory” to myself and explain what damage I
had suffered a long way back and what its consequences might be: for instance,
how it might affect my reliability and truthfulness. I’m not sure I could answer this,
to be honest” (49).
A Personal History
“Even if you have assiduously kept records—in words, sound, pictures—you may
find that you have attended to the wrong kind of record-keeping. What was the line
Adrian used to quote? ‘History is that certainty produced at the point where the
imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.’” (65)
“But I’ve been turning over in my mind the question of nostalgia, and whether I
suffer from it . . . But if nostalgia means the powerful recollection of strong
emotions—and a regret that such feelings are no longer present in our lives—then I
plead guilty. I’m nostalgic for my early time with Margaret, for Susie’s birth and
first years, for that road trip with Annie. And if we’re taking about strong feelings
that will never come again, I suppose it’s possible to be nostalgic about
remembered pain as well as remembered pleasure. And that opens up the field,
doesn’t it? It also leads straight to the matter of Miss Veronica Ford.” (89)
Character and Identity
“How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish,
make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge
our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told
about our life. Told to others, but—mainly—to ourselves” (104).
“Does character develop over time? In novels, of course it does: otherwise there
wouldn’t be much of a story. But in life? I sometimes wonder. Our attitudes and
opinions change, we develop new habits and eccentricities; but that’s something
different, more like decoration. Perhaps character resembles intelligence, except
that character peaks a little later: between twenty and thirty, say. And after that,
we’re just stuck with what we’ve got. We’re on our own. If so, that would explain
a lot of lives, wouldn’t it? And also—if this isn’t too grand a word—our tragedy”
“When you are in your twenties, even if you’re confused and uncertain about your
aims and purposes, you have a strong sense of what life itself is, and of what you in
life are, and might become. Later . . . Later there is more uncertainty, more
overlapping, more backtracking, more false memories. Back then, you can
remember your short life in its entirety. Later, the memory becomes a thing of
shreds and patches. It’s a bit like the black box aeroplanes carry to record what
happens in a crash. If nothing goes wrong, the tape erases itself. So if you do
crash, it’s obvious why you did; if you don’t then the log of y our journey is much
less clear” (115).
Return of memories (122-123)
Using Google Earth to find clues
Story of ghosts
Ebb and Flow
“The time deniers say: forty’s nothing, at fifty you’re in your prime, sixty’s the new
forty, and so on. I now this much: that there is objective time, but also subjective
time, the kind you wear on the inside of your writes, next to where the pulse lies.
And this personal time, which is the true time, is measured in your relationship to
memory. So when this strange thing happened—when these new memories
suddenly came upon me—it was as if, for that moment, time had been placed in
reverse. As if, for that moment, the river ran upstream” (134).

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