Sunday, 6 September 2015

Time travel

But where did the genre come from? My own hypothesis is a very general one: namely, that the late 19th-century invention of SF correlates to Walter Scott’s invention of the modern historical novel in Waverley (1814), marking the emergence of a second – industrial – stage of historical consciousness after that first dawning sense of the historicity of society so rudely awakened by the French Revolution. David Wittenberg does much better than this, but his remarkable hypothesis is only one of the conceptual breakthroughs in this stimulating contribution to literary theory. I will dwell mainly on the three that interest me the most: the relationship of SF to modernism in the arts; the historical periodisation of the genre; and the dramatic challenge to narratology as a field, with implications for the theory of ideology as well as for the analysis of narrative structure itself (of which the time-travel story, with all its ineradicable paradoxes, suddenly becomes the fundamental paradigm). Nor is philosophy itself untouched by the fallout from these dramatic revisions: after all, the phenomenological ego is a temporal matter, and time itself one of its fundamental paradoxes, which neither Husserl nor Heidegger ever laid to rest.

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