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Afterthoughts and Postscripts, 54.2: René Thoreau Bruckner
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Forthcoming (the Spiral of Scholarly Time)

René Thoreau Bruckner


“A colored spiral in a small ball of glass,” explains Nabokov, “this is how I see my own life.”[1] Likewise, this is how I have come to see scholarship. While developing the article, “‘Why did you have to turn on the machine?’ The Spirals of Time-Travel Romance”—published for the first time in this winter’s issue of Cinema Journal—it became clear that the academic publishing stream carves a spiral path through time. Please bear with me if the following case in point reads like a piece of time-travel fiction. It is a true story.

Last year, there appeared a peculiar reference in an issue of the German art criticism journal, Kunstforum International—on page 95 of issue 225, to be precise—which reads as follows:

Die Spirale, so schreibt René Thoreau Bruckner, bietet eine Alternative zum Zeitstrahl, indem sie mit der strengen Unterteilung in Vergangenheit und Gegenwart bricht, wie sie von der linearen Vorstellung von Chronologie vorgesehen ist. Mit der Spirale “bewegt man sich immer wieder am Vergangenen vorbei, sehr nah an Stellen, die schon vergangen bzw. An denen man schon vorbeigegangen ist.” Dadurch wird die Beziehung zwischen Vergangenheit und Gegenwart eine der Nähe und nicht der Distanz.[2]

[The spiral, as René Thoreau Bruckner writes, offers an alternative figuration of time that breaks with the strict separation of past and present as mapped by linear chronology. With the spiral “one is always going round again, passing very close by points already passed/past.” As a result, the relationship of past and present is one of proximity rather than distance.][3]

 The reference appears in an article titled “Grafomanie und Zoophilie: Zwei Punkte auf Sergei M. Eisensteins Linie.” Its author, James Leo Cahill, presents Eisenstein’s compulsive drawing habit as a perverse and essential facet of the creative/thought process. The article starts by looking at a cartoon-doodle of a pig that reads, “Where have you disappeared to???”—with the pig’s spiral-like tail forming the last two words of the sentence—and proceeds to link Eisenstein’s compulsive line-drawing (graphomania) to a “zoophilic” preoccupation. “Eisenstein’s animal lines stoke animal passions,” Cahill explains, blurring distinctions between human and non-human, between drawing and writing, between past and present. Cahill includes a quotation from Eisenstein’s Nonindifferent Nature that, frankly, should be included in my time travel romance essay, explaining that the form of the spiral visualizes

that double path by which a truly effective work is constructed—equally descending by its roots into the subsoil depths of the accumulation of the past experience of humanity, and by its crown, growing into infinity of heavenly perspectives of the future social and spiritual progress of humanity.[4]

This is precisely the understanding of the spiral’s temporal function that Deleuze takes from Eisenstein, and that I have taken from Deleuze.

Back to the strange story at hand, however: In this fantastic Eisenstein study, published one full year ago, Cahill refers directly to my article, which has just now been published for the first time. The endnote correctly cites Cinema Journal, but with the publication date listed as erscheint 1914 [forthcoming 1914]. How is this possible? An article exactly like the one I wrote, “forthcoming” 101 years ago? There must be a time machine behind this…

There is a time machine behind it, albeit a rather quotidian one. I can explain: Some time in early 2013, well before submitting my essay to CJ, I had passed a rough draft across the desk of Dr. Cahill, a good friend and semi-regular collaborator of mine. I hoped to glean some advice; he obliged, and his encouraging input was immensely helpful; many thanks are owed.

Months later, my article was accepted for publication. Then began the interval during which it underwent Cinema Journal’s editorial “post-production” process. Sometime during that interval, I received a query from Cahill: would I like to read a draft of an essay bound for Kunstforum International, titled “Graphomania and Zoophilia: Two Points on Sergei M. Eisenstein’s Lines?” Furthermore, would it be okay to cite my text on spirals? Sure, why not? It was then late in the year 2013. The projected street date for my article was fall 2014. His essay still needed to be translated into German. Both articles seemed destined to appear in print at roughly the same time, or so I thought. As it turned out, my article landed instead in the winter 2015 issue, and Kunstforum is a publication with a relatively short turnaround time, so Cahill’s essay saw the light of day a full year before mine—and with a perfectly Freudian typo in the footnote that cites my article as forthcoming in 1914, which of course was meant to read 2014—unwittingly creating the time-travel paradox that got me thinking: the temporality of academic publishing flows at irregular speeds and on circuitous paths, sometimes forming a spiral. Here I am now, thanks to this new time machine called “Afterthoughts and Postscripts,” circling back around to cite Cahill’s impossible citation of my article.

The citation is one of the primary building blocks of scholarly time. Most of the time, footnotes and endnotes function by referring back in time, to pre-existing findings and claims already staked: the scholarly past. Occasional exceptions to chronological order are allowed, as evidenced by the convention of the erscheint, the forthcoming, which allows for a measure of speculative faith about the scholarly future.[5] Another predictive allowance is the “notes for future work” convention. So, here goes…

Writing on this particular topic—time travel, cinema, spirals, desire—I feel the constant pull of possible tangents. One of the more productive, I think, is what I would call the translation tangent (mentioned in Note 48 of the essay). In “The Task of the Translator,” Walter Benjamin argues that translations are tools in the process by which an original work of literature finds an “afterlife.” Furthermore, a good translation sets free “pure language,” though only for a fleeting moment here and there, in the gap between languages. Benjamin offers a simile to illustrate this activity:

 Just as a tangent touches a circle lightly and at but one point—with this touch rather than with the point setting the law according to which it is to continue on its straight path to infinity—a translation touches the original lightly and only at the infinitely small point of sense…[6]


The “touch” that Benjamin imagines on the outer edge of language greatly resembles the way I want to suggest that presence be imagined on the curving line of the spiral of time. A time traveler, hurtling along on a spiral path, feels the pull of this tangential trajectory: the potential (never actual) break from the gravitational pull that keeps the body moving around. This also resembles what a work of minor literature tries to achieve, in the thinking of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guatarri (to which I refer in Note 25).[7]

A translation actualizes an artwork’s afterlife, a touch or punctum on the curving path of time. Intimacy with, and difference from, the past becomes palpable. The films examined in my essay are not translations, per se, but they are all “revisionary.” Portrait of Jennie is an adaptation that afforded an afterlife to its source, Robert Nathan’s eponymous novel. Vertigo is, as David Thomson insists, “the eventual realization of Portrait of Jennie.” La Jetée is Chris Marker’s “remake” of Vertigo.[8] And Timecrimes consciously creates what writer-director Vigalondo calls “a Hitchcockian character” to further plumb the potential Marker recognized in Vertigo’s spiral structure. Like a translation, an adaptation or remake perpetuates the life of a pre-existing version.

The remake may be more prevalent in the film historical present than ever before. See, for one current example, the new television series 12 Monkeys, a remake of Terry Gilliam’s remake of La Jetée. Or, see the trailer for Terminator Genisys, a forthcoming film which, spiral-like, promises to revisit and revise its original source material, the 1984 Terminator, itself a solid example of the Time Travel Romance (TTR) sub-genre. Now, as a remade/translated TTR film, the Terminator refuses to die and draws a new line across the spiral of film historical time. Future work on this topic will further elaborate on the spiral shape of film history and popular culture more generally.

The Terminator franchise is just one of many TTRs I have left out. Another obvious omission, Tom Tykwer’s 1998 Run Lola Run, came to mind when I read the German word Spirale in Cahill’s translated essay (Spirale is the name of a prominently featured bar in Tykwer’s spiral-structured film). Re-reading Tom Whalen’s Film Quarterly essay on Run Lola Run, I saw that the film traces a conceptual tangent to my present argument. As Whalen explains, “Lola’s journey is not essentially circular. Time for Lola (and for us) is not circular, but (dialectically) spiral.”[9]  Thankfully, Whalen cites Nabokov’s musings on the way Hegel’s dialectic triad envisions time as a spiral, providing me with a nice new reference and some inspiration for future work.[10] While my present argument focuses on the psychological/metaphysical aspects of time (time-travel as an expression of memory and desire) it also connects directly to a complementary exploration of the political/historical aspects of time (time-travel as a mode of historiography and temporal critique). The former circles inward while the latter opens outward, ever increasing in size; both are part of the same spiral.

Simply put, it’s all coming around again—history, memory, desire, movie remakes, pre-sold properties, citations, forthcomings, and promises for future work. “A colored spiral in a small ball of glass,” explains Nabokov.



[1] Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited (New York: Vintage Books, 1989), 275.

[2] James Leo Cahill, “Grafomanie und Zoophilie: Zwei Punkte auf Sergei M. Eisensteins Linie,” Kunstforum International [Graphomania and Zoophilia: Two Points on Sergei M. Eisenstein’s Lines], trans. Elisabeth Winkelmann, Kunstforum International 225 (2014), 90-99.

[3] My translation, as amended from Cahill’s November 24, 2013 English language draft.

[4] Sergei Eisenstein, Nonindifferent Nature, trans. Herbert Marshall, Cambridge, 1987, p 189.

[5] A fat interval between the scholarly past and scholarly future comprises the scholarly present, the present argument, which begins somewhere in the primordial research soup, endures through the process of writing/revision, and, with any luck, culminates with publication. That is when the work is inducted into the official repository of the scholarly past, to reel perpetually around on the spiral of scholarly time.

[6] Walter Benjamin, “Task of the Translator.” Illuminations; trans. Harry Zohn; ed. Hannah Arendt (New York: Schocken Books, 1968), 80.

[7] See Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guatarri. Kafka: Towards a Minor Literature. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986.

[8]David Thomson, Showman: The Life of David O. Selznick (London: Abacus, 1993), 513. .

[9] Tom Whalen, “Run Lola Run.” Film Quarterly, Vol. 53, No.3 (Spring 2000), 36.

[10] Nabokov, 275-76.


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