Monday, August 22, 2011

The Time Machine

H. G. Wells wrote a novel called The Time Machine. He wasn’t the first writer (nor the last) to fantasize about time travel. Today, with string theory and quantum notions like entanglement, in which a particle can be conceived of occupying two spaces at the same time, our most basic conceptions of time are challenged. Henri Bergson believed that time was essentially an invention of the mind, at least in the way we conceive the units of its progression. But when you think of it, the impulse to travel backwards and forwards or Back to the Future, as the hit movie put it, is really emotional. In The Seducer's Diary, Kierkegaard talks about the unhappiest man in the world, whose past is his future and whose future is his past, a man who, as the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy puts it, “hopes for that which can only be remembered, and remembers that which can only be hoped.” The search for a time machine, which reached fever heights in the Romantic era that fed Wells’s spirit, is an expression of the temptation of transcendence. For the Romantic, that which doesn’t exist and can’t exist is always much more enticing then the dreary and knowable present, which is overly emphatic and offers no hope of transcendence. “A Stop at Willoughby” is the title of a famous episode of The Twilight Zone in which the protagonist journeys back to an idyllic turn-of-the-century world that turns out to be death. To the extent that the Romantic sensibility still lingers in our culture, we are all time travelers, idealizing a past that is already gone and living in the hope of some future in which the occurrence of certain contingencies will bring about utopia—a word that literally means “that which doesn’t exist.”

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.