The philosophical studies of Yamaguchi University

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The philosophical studies of Yamaguchi University Volume 7
published_at 1998

The sense of existence disappering in becoming past : Temporal perspectives on Graham Swift's novels

失われていく実在感覚 : Graham Swift の小説の時間論的考察
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Whether tense determinations (present, past, future) belong to us or whether they are intrinsic features of reality has been long argued among philosophers. It could be said that we will understand the matter better if we try to regard this problem, not as a linguistic issue, but as an ontological one. Tenseless theorists, although they admit that we cannot remove tenses from our language, argue that tense is something which we create and which is dependent only on us, just showing how the one who utters a tense statement is personally related to the world. The British novelist, Graham Swift (1949-) has written novels where the protagonists are seeking the several kinds of senses of existence. Not only are the protagonists sceptical about their surroundings (especially, in terms of their spatiality), but they also doubt whether what happened really happened and continues to have an existence in the present. They sometimes find it hard to assure themselves of such a sense of existence, even thinking that those past events were just illusions. In Swift's major work, Waterland (1983), the hero, grammar school history teacher, Tom Crick, relates to his students what happened to his ancestors, by using tenseless terms which he initially believes could provide him with speaker-independent, objective, truths. His attempts, however, end up being a failure because such descriptions can only give him a certain emptiness of the past reality, as if they were a list of items just ranging in order. From all this, Tom realizes that the other category of description, namely, tense description, is indispensable in order to obtain for him a sense of the existence of the past. But for all the awareness of this, he is aware that even the tense uses do not enable him to obtain what he wants. He insinuates that the event will lose something when it passes from the realm of the present to that of the past. This paper will analyze why Tom's attempts are infeasible, focusing on that which the event will lose in the process of becoming past. I will examine what is lost during the process by introducing the notion of ‘the open future' which I define as the future not fixed.