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“Obsessed with buffering”

Tom McCarthy

“Obsessed with buffering”
Questions to Tom McCarthy

in: Recessional—Or, the Time of the Hammer, p. 31 – 48

Elisabeth Bronfen

We’re going to see whether we have some questions. Good, I don’t even have to break the ice.


The icebreaking fits well because I think I have another work for your collection: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Coleridge. It’s a voyage to the South Pole—so hence the ice—but I was thinking of the fact that Coleridge frames the story that the ancient mariner tells with a sinful act. That sinful act is of course shooting the albatross. This then brings on the suspension of time which moves the ship into the Doldrums. Nothing moves anymore, everybody dies and then the ghost ship turns up with Death and Life throwing the dice for the soul of the ancient mariner. Death loses so the ship continues with the whole crew who are basically zombies: dead bodies that are moved around by supernatural creatures. The ship sales back to England and the moment it reaches the harbor, everybody drops dead, the ship falls apart and the only person who survives is the ancient mariner who is now condemned to tell his story.

Tom McCarthy

“He stoppeth one of three” outside a church where a wedding is going to happen.


That’s right, he stops them on the way to the consummation of the wedding. Do you agree that this fits the general narrative of your talk?


Yes, absolutely. There’s another wonderful ship moment in Dracula as well on the Demeter: they’re dead or they’re all going to die—or more precisely, they’re transporting death, undead death (Dracula), in a coffin, just like Addie Bundren. I always think this is somehow about September the 11th: the last ones to die crash the ship into the harbor; with their last strength they just tie themselves to the steering wheel and head straight for the town rather than the designated parking space—which on September the 11th would be the airport. There seems to be something very prescient about this death ship driven by someone who is already effectively dead.

I had forgotten about the dice in the Ancient Mariner, but the point in Mallarmé is that the dice is not thrown, although the poem itself produces a dicey numbering of some type.


But I think that that would be my point: this is probably the difference between a Romantic poem and a Modernist poem....

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Tom McCarthy

Tom McCarthy

is a British novelist and artist based in London. McCarthy operates as »General Secretary« of a semi-fictitious organisation called the »International Necronautical Society« (INS). He also published a number of essays and short stories. With his debut novel Remainder (8 ½ Millionen) he was awarded the Believer Book Award in 2008. His novels C (2010) und Satin Island (2015) were shortlisted for the Men's Booker Prize.

Other texts by Tom McCarthy for DIAPHANES
Tom McCarthy: Recessional—Or, the Time of the Hammer

In this essay, based on a talk he gave in Zurich, award-winning British novelist Tom McCarthy ("Remainder", "C", "Satin Island") unearthes a pattern, a rationale that is working both in and against the canon of modern(ist) literature, of authors such as Thomas Pynchon, Maurice Blanchot, Thomas Mann, Joseph Conrad, James Joyce and William Faulkner. McCarthy tackles a specific obsession with time that haunts their works; a time that is marked by arrest, pause, suspension, interval, eternal moments, tool-downage, waiting. Recessional time, as it were. Time-out-of-time. This is precisely that time (or tense) of fiction that is central to Tom McCarthy's own writing. The essay is followed by a conversation with the author in which he discusses his own practice of writing.