Of Time, Passion and Knowledge – Fraser

Fraser, Thomas. Of Time, Passion, and Knowledge. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univerity Press, 1990. Print.

In Of Time, Passion and Knowledge J.T. Fraser discusses the function of time in relation to the arts in the eleventh chapter entitled “Arts, Letters, and the Beautiful.” In this chapter, Fraser examines how these aesthetically beautiful arts have the capacity to roam freely “among the many temporal Umwelts of man,” wherein an umwelt is understood as the epicenter of the communication and signification of the human and his “self-centered” world (398). Fraser first establishes art as the beauty of the absolute expressed through mimesis. He states, “since art imitates not the real nature of thing but only the manufactured thing, art is an imitation of appearances and not facts. Thus it is twice removed from reality” (399). Artists then are, as Fraser puts it, “time roving ambassadors” (402). As examples, he presents a painter or a sculptor whose art represents only a single frozen moment of action, but wherein that still moment is still somehow “pregnant with future and/or past” (402). In regard to Aristotelian tragedy, Fraser suggests it is not a portrayal of characters on display but of the action they take. He states, “the life and soul of tragedy is the plot, and the characters only secondary” (413). Because tragedy is meant to provide catharsis it must be temporal; it is “built on a continuous comparison and contrasting of happenings, and on a steady reflection on future, past, and present in terms of memory and expectation” (413). Catharsis is then ultimately achieved by a final re-identification with self and order at the end of the tragedy. In relation to novels, Fraser remarks that they employ temporal modality “which bring into play long-term memory and expectations” (421). Importantly, Fraser notes that novels also reflect changing cultural concepts of time. “It is not strange to find that the traditional novel, as Western piece of art, insists on accommodating free will [in contrast to the higher order/catharsis of tragedy], fate, and causality as understood in the modern West. Consequently, the novel as a literary device displayed the orientation of its characters to time and to the hierarchy of conflicts in temporality” (421). Thus, the novel is well suited toward the exposition of time because “it can speak through its authors to the many temporal Umwelts of man” (421). Ultimately, Fraser regards the arts as a mechanism whereby man creates (for the purpose of expression and exploration) conflict rather than order. He closes the chapter, ” Because of this quality of cosmic imitation, it is the beautiful which offers the most direct knowledge of the open-ended hierarchy of the unresolvable conflicts of time” (343).

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