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Narrative Time and the Popular Song

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Drawing from Paul Ricoeur's work on how the uncertainties of temporality are given coherence through narrative, this essay explores how popular songs mediate the human experience of time. It develops this idea via a brief illustrative study of how “Waterloo Sunset” refashions ordinary time through a narrative that celebrates the cyclical repetition of a moment, and suggests a more general tendency for pop songs to humanize the paradoxes of the “triple present” and to harmonize the tensions between phenomenological “lived time,” “cosmic time,” and “clock time” (categories drawn from Ricoeur). The essay outlines ways that a cyclical popular song aesthetic resonates with a broader series of temporal experiences understood in relation to concepts of ritual, accelerating social time, and plotless biography. In arguing for the importance of time and temporality in the study of popular music and self-identity, the essay is deliberately exploratory, seeking to open up a series of issues with the intention of complementing existing approaches to the relationships between music, identity, and social life.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: October 1, 2012


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