‘10:04,’ by Ben Lerner

“10:04” connects this anxiety about identity with metaphysical questions concerning time and repetition. The title is taken from “Back to the Future,” the narrator’s “crucial” childhood film, in which a town hall clock shows this time as Michael J. Fox is catapulted back to his own future, having successfully altered the past. It is just one of many moments picked out by Christian Marclay for his 24-hour video installation “The Clock,” which the narrator visits with Alex. The narrator redundantly looks at his watch as he watches this real-time compilation of cinematic timepieces, experiencing “the distance . . . between art and the mundane.” The book is prefaced by an epigraph, describing a Hasidic belief that the next world will be exactly like this one in all respects, except ineffably different. Without the ineffable, the world as re-presented can never quite coincide with the world as experienced. The narrator notices that whenever he crosses the Manhattan Bridge, he remembers having crossed the Brooklyn Bridge, because that is the bridge he can see. By way of illustration he shows two identical photos (taken on the Brooklyn Bridge), one captioned “our world,” the second “the world to come.” On the final page, he fleetingly closes the gap between the two worlds, between himself and himself. Gazing again at Manhattan, he finally feels able to look at it “in the second person plural,” saying wholeheartedly after Whitman, “I am with you, and I know how it is.” We find ourselves hoping that it is true, for his sake, and for all our sakes.

Source: ‘10:04,’ by Ben Lerner

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