Imaginary Intimacies: Death and New Temporalities in the Work of Denise Riley and Nicholas Royle

Autumn/Winter 2016
DOI: 10.3898/NEWF:89/90.10.2016

In The Severed Head: Capital Visions (2014), Julia Kristeva understands there to be two forms of relation to death in contemporary culture. The ‘imaginary intimacy with death, which transforms melancholy or desire into representation and thought’ is opposed in Kristeva’s work to ‘the rational realization’ of the act of capital punishment, the former epitomizing ‘vision’ in contrast to the ‘action’ of the latter. This essay proposes that Kristeva’s idea of an ‘imaginary intimacy’ with death can be read in the context of contemporary literary responses to the death of a loved one by Denise Riley and Nicholas Royle. In particular, this essay addresses the relationship between death and new temporalities in Riley’s essay Time Lived, Without Its Flow (2012), her recent collection of poems Say Something Back (2016), and Royle’s Quilt (2010). The non-linear models of time found in Riley’s and Royle’s works are contextualised via the attempts in phenomenology to theorise the relations between temporality and finitude, as well as via Stephen J Gould’s work on geological time. For Riley, the experience of the death of her son brings with it an ‘altered condition of life’ in which time takes the form of ‘a-temporality.’ Questioning the limits of the sentence, and collapsing the narrative boundaries between the living narrator and the deceased father, Quilt traverses the boundaries between experience lived and an experience impossible to claim. Through such an analysis the essay explores the capacity of experimental works to harbour new non-linear temporalities that reflect on the relation between temporality and finitude in the contemporary. 

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New Formations 89/90: Death and the Contemporary