Critics often discuss works of fiction by condensing them into a few resonant scenes. We are so attached to this strategy, in fact, that we sometimes apply it to history itself: New Historicists explicitly theorize the anecdote as an appropriately literary representation of the past. But why should minutes and hours be more literary than months and years? This essay traces the belief back to changes in the pacing of fiction. But the changes at stake are not themselves easily crystallized into an anecdote or even a generational conflict: they seem on the contrary to have sprawled across several centuries. It thus turns out that we need long timelines even to understand the history of gem-like moments.
- Literature and Literary Theory