Destroying time: Topology and taxonomy in "The Alexandria Quartet"

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Steven Cohan


Topology, Taxonomy, Alexandria Quartet, Durrell, Lawrence, Mimesis, Narrativity

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature | Literature in English, British Isles


Our understanding of narrative is deeply implicated in our sense of time. Narrative theory, when it has focused on narrative modes rather than textual analysis, has consistently derived narrativity from temporality. This understanding of narrative was most profoundly questioned not by narrative theory itself, but in the explicit program and literary technique of Lawrence Durrell's The Alexandria Quartet. Durrell set out to fulfill a long-standing ambition to "destroy" conventional narrative time, relying on Albert Einstein's theory of relativity. Critics have invariably not taken Durrell's formal innovation seriously either on its own merits or for its insights about narrative. Nonetheless, the Quartet has the extraordinary potential to bring into focus work by some of the most important thinkers of the 20th century, from fields as diverse as philosophy, literature, physics, psychoanalysis, literary criticism and, most important to this dissertation, narratology.

Concentrating on the Quartet, Destroying Time re-examines the elements of narrative form in order to challenge the longstanding emphasis on time as the cornerstone of narrativity. Proposing instead that narrative is a topological construct, the dissertation draws on the dream-work in psychoanalytic theory, which considers space and time, not as a priori categories, but as they come to be represented in the various levels of psychic topologies. Since time does not exist in the unconscious, temporality can be represented in dreams only by means of spatial relations. Enunciation is consequently a spatial ordering that weaves narrative space and time with the topological structure of dreams or fantasies. The topology of any narrative therefore relies exclusively on enunciation as disposition or arrangement of utterance, that is, the specificity of the text and the kind of forms it lends to psychic operations. As illustrated by a close reading of Durrell's Quartet, narrative topology engages multiple levels of figuration: those of technique and visualization of form; of narrative objects, or, more specifically, "event" objects; of the construction of the author, narrator and character functions in terms of correspondence with the psychic mechanisms; and finally, of the virtual subject projected by the enunciatory apparatus. Destroying Time takes up each of these elements in separate chapters.


Surface provides description only. Full text is available to ProQuest subscribers. Ask your Librarian for assistance.