I would like to know what "A moment pulled into its smallest parts" means in the following sentences:

At first, there was emptiness. Thoughts flew through space, trying to ignite. A sky readied for fireworks, a stage cleared for decisions. But where do decisions come from?

I saw you and Hania slung together, dancing, oblivious to me on the other side of the window. My stomach began to burn, secreting pain like arrowheads, and then the two of you as a four-legged creature, struggling on the forest floor. Eating itself, aware only of itself. At the same time your pleas for trust rang in my ears, your pleas for my patience. The fire in my belly spread. My back reached for soreness, my eyes stirred and dampened. The man was still there, staring at me. And so was the piece of paper.

I felt the pause of time. A moment pulled into its smallest parts, spread so thin it threatened to break. When I imagined taking that piece of paper and reaching for the pen, pictured the possibility of it, of writing your name, my arm refused to move. I couldn’t feel it. I couldn’t feel the fire in my gut, I couldn’t feel any pain. I’d gone numb.

In this novel which is set in the 1980's in Poland under the socialist regime, where homosexuality was socially unacceptable, the protagonist Ludwik left Poland in 1981 to live in the United States of America. And he remembers what it was like back then in Poland, where he decided to leave the country after trying hard to stay in the country. So he came to the Passport Bureau to get his passport and was preparing to be asked questions by the officer regarding his trip to the U.S. when the officer suggested that the Bureau knew about his "pederasty" and said that Ludwik must write others' names "engaging in sodomy" in order to get his passport. So when he faced a blank paper lying in front of him, Ludwik sat there, thinking of writing the name of Janusz, who was his lover but straddled between Ludwik and the girl named Hania.

In this part, I wonder what the underlined expression means. Does it mean that a moment is composed of several units, and this moment was being extended/stretched like a rubber ring to the fullest extent in order to be shattered into the moment's smallest parts...?

But then, because it "threatened to break," I believe the moment was not yet broken, so I am confused.

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    Imagine a moment of time to be like a rubber band, pulled out very long. What will happen at some point? Dec 21, 2020 at 17:56

1 Answer 1


The usage here is figurative, and does not indicate anything physical about time or its measurement. The speaker says that he felt time going very slowly, so that he was aware of each fraction of an instant separately. He is hesitating. He thinks that time might break, like a rope or a rubber band subjected to more tension than it can stand. This is a metaphor for the emotional tension that he feels at that moment, picturing in his mind the action he is about to take, hesitating before he takes it, and unsure what the result will be.

  • Dear @DavidSiegel, thank you very much for the explanation. Then would it be okay to see that "A moment pulled into its smallest parts" here means "A moment is pulled/stretched to be divided into its smallest parts"? Dec 25, 2020 at 12:17
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    @Pasta Addict Not really. Changing the bold text to "A moment is ..." is going to change the figurative effect which is the whole point of the phrase. Beyond that, the use of "to be divided" in your comment is awkward at best, and does not really catch the meaning of the original phrase. Dec 25, 2020 at 15:53
  • Dear @DavidSiegel, thank you very much for the comment. I was actually wondering in terms of the meaning of "into" in "pulled into" here, and tried to paraphrase its meaning. Then, if "into" does not have a meaning of "divided into," may I ask how I can best paraphrase its meaning (if it has a meaning here)...? Dec 25, 2020 at 16:37
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    @Pasta Addic the problem is, this kind of figurative language is very hard to paraphrase without changing its meaning. "pulled into" her means "changed into by a process of streaking" It suggests streamline something until it shatters into many small bits. "divided" suggest a more controlled and intentional process.One might say ""A moment is pulled/stretched so that it shatters into its smallest parts". That is closer, but the tone has changed, and here the tone is an essential part of the author's intended effect. Dec 25, 2020 at 16:51

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