For much of the twentieth century, the discipline of literary studies has grappled with the question of how its generally sotto voce activity responds to a history that calls loudly for action. This essay treats the question of literature's quietism in relation to the problem of literature's modernity and temporality. The turn away from the noise of the world at the beginning of the century has been criticized as the motivation for and the effect of modernism's obsession with time. But the modernist “time cult” did not simply withdraw into the space of the internal and eternal. By examining T. S. Eliot's complaint against time in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and engaging theoretical critiques of the desire to be modern, this essay argues that modernism explored alternatives to the static, quieted present, and that contemporary American time-travel narratives continue this exploration. Rather than see postmodernism as the inheritor of modernism's silent and disengaged moments, the essay concludes that both seek to examine the disquieting multiplicity of times and the denser, more complicated versions of the present that they engender.

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