On the second paradox of Zeno


The people Marcel loves are people in motion. Like Albertine – always speeding off somewhere on a bike, on a train, in a car, on a horse or flown out of the window; like Marcel’s mother, perpetually on her way up the stairs to kiss him good night; like his grand mother, striding up and down the garden every evening for her constitutional even when it’s pouring rain; or like his friend Robert de Saint-Loup, whom we first glimpse scampering along the top of the banquette in a restaurant to fetch a coat for Marcel, who sits huddled and shivering at the table. Marcel is the still centre of all this kinetic activity, he is like the flying arrow in Zeno’s second paradox, which is shot from the bow but never arrives at its target because it does not move. Why does Zeno’s arrow not move? Because (this is Aristotle’s explanation) the motion of the arrow would be a series of instants, and at each instant the arrow fills that entire space of that instant, and this (Zeno would say) is a description of stillness. So if you add all the instants of stillness together you still get still. No one would deny that Proust’s novel streams with time, and with arrows shooting in all directions. But you could also think of the whole novel in your mind as one big stopped instant, since it takes Marcel the entire three thousand pages of the story to get around to the point of beginning to write it. On the last page he shoots his arrow but he does Zeno one better, he shoots it backwards, since you have just finished reading the novel he is proposing to write. It gives me a bit of a headache to think about Zeno and his paradoxes for very long, although I enjoy his deadpan delivery. Here is a shot of Zeno-antidote from that devoted Proust scholar, the filmmaker Chris Marker (Sans Soleil): “That is how history advances, plugging its memory as one plugs one’s ears… [but] a moment stopped would burn like a flame of film blocked before the furnace of the projector.”

From: The Albertine Workout, Copyright ©2014 Anne Carson, New Directions Poetry Pamphlet #13

Image source: The arrow

Sans Soleil

Anne Carson

#AtoZChallenge: April 19 – Q is for “Q”


The smoke rises from the pile of books. They’re picking up armfuls of the volumes loaded on the backs of the carts, and throwing them into the bonfire; a column of fire rises until it licks at the sky, to attract the angels with the smoke of Peter Lombard, Augustine, Tacitus, Caesar, Aristotle…

(“Q”, Dance of Death, by Luther Bisset, 2000)

“Q” the novel, which was followed by “Manituana”, in 2009, by the same authors (now under the collective pen name of Wu Ming) traces the origins of modern times through the Reformation and the tribulations in Europe of a member of the sect of the Anabaptists. The descriptions of medieval (but this was the 16th century!) tortures, executions and of the auto-dafes are excruciating. The novel consists of plots within plots. What struck me from reading Q and other novels, and of course historical accounts, is the rage to destroy books, from the bonfires of the Spanish Inquisition, the Wartburg Festival, and on to the Nazis’ day of cleansing, in Berlin, in 1933.

Those who are wrong, and who know they are, are enraged by books, as books may tell truths they cannot contemplate.

Zürich-Schipfe quarter : Memorial plate for th...