Cow-time, derivative movement, and Robin’s cataleptic calm

“To pay homage to our past is the only gesture that also includes the future” (43)

All of the characters in Nightwood have a strange relationship to the past. Felix’s entire life is organized around (much like his father) a nostalgia for Europe’s aristocracy. The narrator says the “Jew once more becomes the ‘collector’ of his own past” (13) and “Felix had that sense of peace that formerly he had experienced only in museums” (14), describing why Felix enjoyed the circus people because “The circus was a loved thing that he could never touch, therefore never know” (15), like museums. The circus and the museum. Assemblages. Mysterious, removed. One is chaotic, one is organized. When Felix and Robin begin their courtship, they spend almost all their time in museums and Robin reminds Felix of a “figurehead in a museum, which though static, no longer roosting on its cutwater, seemed yet to be going against the wind” (41). Compare this to the cow: “I thought, there are directions and speeds that no one has calculated, for believe it or not that cow had gone somewhere very fast that we didn’t know it, and yet was still standing there” (26). These things/Things have movement within, movement that is not across space, but in time, perhaps in the space of their bodies in which there are more bodies. This is the movement of fragmentation, the movement at the level of the fragment, a derivative time’s derivative movement, a more radical sensation of “the moving parts.”

Importantly in that quote about Robin as figurehead, there’s a semicolon that continues: “as if this girl were the converging halves of a broken fate, setting face, in sleep, toward itself in time, as an image and its reflection in a lake seemed parted only by the hesitation in the hour” (41).

Nora is described as “an early Christian” because she “believes in the word.” The narrator says, “There is a gap in ‘world pain’ through which the singular falls continually and forever; a body falling in observable space, deprived of the privacy of disappearance; as if privacy, moving relentlessly away, by the very sustaining power of its withdrawal kept the body eternally moving downward, but in one place, and perpetually before the eye. Such a singular was Nora. There was some derangement in her equilibrium that kept her immune from her own descent” (56-7)

Nora also has “large, protruding, and clear” eyes with a “mirrorless look of polished metals which report not so much the object as the movement of the object” (57).

Robin is compared continuously to an animal or a child, an image of inconsequence, of backwardness – the narrator even says she had a “way back” look about her. Her clothing is also “of a period that [Felix] could not quite place. She wore feathers of the kind his mother had worn, flattened sharply to the face. Her skirts were moulded to her hips and fell downward and out, wider and longer than those of other women, heavy silks that made her seem newly ancient” (46, my emphasis).

“Robin prepared herself for her child with her only power: a stubborn cataleptic calm, conceiving herself pregnant before she was; and, strangely aware of some lost land in herself, she took to going out” (49, my emphasis).

Felix also wants to have a child/Child, a son specifically, in order to have a son (lineage) who would “feel as he felt about ‘the great past'” (42). The doctor says, “The modern child has nothing left to hold to, or, to put it better, he has nothing to hold with. We are adhering to life now with our last muscle–the heart” (43).

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