A Half Resolution

In this article, Jameson discusses a conflict that science fiction authors face. The conflict is closure. It seems contradictory when making up a narrative in the future that is completely imaginary to have to end it. The fact that there must be closure in a novel, if it is to follow the typical narrative style, means that science fiction novels tend to end confirming that the imaginary events were false.

For example, if we look at The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, at the end we see the demise of both main characters. Stevenson came up with an extremely provocative and creative storyline to explore the idea of the other, but because it is a narrative he is writing, he must kill off these two characters at the end of the book. This provides closure and containment and succeeds in limiting the characters to the pages of the book.

Wells does not fully conform to this so-called obligation for closure in The Time Machine. In the ending of The Time Machine, the time traveller has set off on another expedition and it is 3 years on and he has still not returned. It seems that Wells has addressed this conflict of closure and science fiction novels by giving a sort a resolution and then taking it back. Closure happens when the time traveller has returned from the trip and is at the dinner party with his alien flowers. This final trip that he never returns from however, challenges this resolution. Wells does not want to end his science fiction work with a resolution so he almost does (to lend the novel a typical structure of beginning, middle, end) and then he takes it away.

Wells is teasing the reader. Is this idea of other universes purely a topic of intellectual exploration that happens at dinner parties or is it real. Is it just another example of a group of intellectuals bringing together their many different opinions? This is how ideology is created according to Jameson. Wells is trying to blur the lines between false consciousness and science and I think it is his ending that ultimately lets him succeed in doing this.

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Jameson’s subversion of residual/emergent theory

Reading The Time Machine was a whirlwind experience. Wells’s novella rockets from start to end with a careless persistence mirroring that of time’s incessant forward motion, and negating virtually all that we have discussed in this course in the process. The Time Traveller claims that “We are always getting away from the present moment. Our mental existences, which are immaterial and have no dimensions, are passing along the Time-Dimension with a uniform velocity from the cradle to the grave” (7). This assertion, in conjunction with Jameson’s conviction that “today the past is dead…[science fiction’s] multiple mock futures serve the quite different function of transforming our own present into the determinate past of something yet to come” (152) skews our perception of time as a linear construct. According to Jameson, the future is as unfathomable as the present is fickle. Each individual moment experienced is immediately relegated to the dimension of the past, “emptied of its vitality” and thus inaccessible to us as a means of comprehending our current selves, societies, or political consciousness, let alone as a source of speculation as to the future. In this regard, the only source of constancy is the past. As such, if we cannot imagine a future that is entirely other, the only option to which we have access as beings with limited rational capacity is the imagination of the future’s past, which in the process serves as an “elaborate indirection” that provides enough distance from the present moment to elucidate a reality previously clouded by our immediate judgments, needs, and desires, for only when something is behind us are we able to form a full and unbiased analysis of its complexities. One must only consider failed political theories, ineffective leaders, and mistaken military strategies to rationalize Jameson’s viewpoint.
In the context of cultural evolution, however, this system of thought poses a problem: if the past is wholly unconnected from the present, which must be disposed of in order to theorize about the future, where is the distinction between dominant, residual, and emergent? Jameson’s theory disregards the existence of the residual entirely, presenting each moment as entirely its own. And yet, if this is the case, what is responsible for the seemingly logical progression of dominant values? The Time Traveller intuits the social dynamics of the Elois and Morlocks strictly in relation to the existing ideologies of his own lifetime, but as such is incapable of fully grasping the fundamental newness of the society in which he finds himself.
I certainly have not yet come to fully understand Jameson’s perspective, particularly in the context of our many discussions of Victorian cultural sensibilities. I am unsure of whether Jameson is urging us to learn from the past, and use the literary treatment of utopias as a function of tailoring future development, or merely encouraging the abandonment of any semblance of control to a disconnected and uncertain future.

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Questioning the Present Through the Future

For a long time, most futuristic science fiction frustrated me: the imagined futures always seemed so arbitrary and the individuals of the future so one-dimensional–they represented what we would be, what we could be, or what we should be in some sort of prescriptive tendency. While the author’s own views are inevitably ingrained in any novel or story, it somehow mattered more to me in science fictions that this was a world of the author’s creation: his or her own prediction of our planet’s destiny. Who were they to make these assumptions?

And yet, more recently, I’ve begun to realize that science fiction isn’t really about the specifically engineered and planned futures that they depict. Certainly in a much less academic way that Jameson comes to it, I begun to understand that, instead, the significance resides in the reader of this future: how does this depicted prescription of what is to come affect how the reader thinks about what is now. As Jameson writes, “For the apparent realism, or representationality, of SF has concealed another, far more complex temporal structure: not to give us ‘images’ of the future…but rather to defamiliarize and restructure our experience of our own present…” (151). If the author is able employ the current situation of the world to imagine such as future as they describe, what does that mean about the present moment’s conditions?

Employing this new perspective to The Time Machine, I was, in fact, most struck by the time traveller himself. His self-conscious rationality–seemingly employed with an uncharacteristic bravado–and quick willingness to pass judgement coupled with his alternative spats of passion and violent intention seemed to create within himself a troubling duality. He was both scientific and impulsive. He was both Morlock and Eloi–carefully and methodically industrious and unthinkingly slave-like to desire or emotion. If this apparent pinnacle of the modern, educated gentleman could harbor these two apparently divergent natures, what could be said of the rest of society? And what did it mean that Wells’ imagined future was that in which these two natures could no longer coexist in the same individual. Humankind has always provided anyone interested–from the psychologist to the theologian–with a fascinating study in contradiction: does Wells’ story challenge the idea that we can continue to function with these divergent aspects within us?

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Comfort in Change

Within Jameson’s work, one small section raised a number of questions for me.  Specifically, he says “there is, indeed, something also at least vaguely comforting and reassuring in the renewed sense that the great supermarkets and shopping centers… that all these things are not seized immobile forever, in some “end of history,” but move steadily in time towards some unimaginable yet inevitable “real” future.”

At first, I was a bit taken aback by this.  What could possibly be comforting about the present ceasing to exist?  The more I thought about this, though, the more I could see the evidence to support this idea.  In fact, it is this idea that speaks to a larger question: why do we want to know the future at all?  Does this mean that there is some inherent dissatisfaction with our own time?  On the one hand, such a desire to seek the future and progress makes sense if we can assume that the future will be better than the present.  We cannot, however, know this, and so I am still led to question why we as humans have such an insatiable desire to know the future.  From Mill’s perspective, it makes sense that we seek progress, but I feel as though this desire goes beyond that theory and may even suggest some innate human need.

Regardless of the motivations, though, the search for the future, and the questions I have considered, indeed reflect Jameson’s view of the science fiction future as a tool for placing the present.  No matter what we think about the future, or why we explore it, those motivations inevitably speak to something about our own time and even provide a new, perhaps more subtle method of analyzing the present.

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“The Time Machine” in context

For this week’s blog post I wanted to do something a little different and set “The Time Machine” in the context of 18th/19th century perceptions of the future and time travel.

As I read the book over Thanksgiving I started thinking about my own ideas about the future, how different they are from H.G. Wells’s, and which aspects are the same.


Here is a useful link that summarizes the timeline of time travel and its development through the years. It’s great because it starts with the publication of “The Time Machine.”



This link http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/09/090921-hg-wells-hgwells.html is an interesting 2009 article from the National Geographic that interprets H.G. Wells’s predictions in light of what actually happened.


This website on the other hand, http://singularityhub.com/2012/10/15/19th-century-french-artists-predicted-the-world-of-the-future-in-this-series-of-postcards/

portrays a collection of 19th century French postcards, that depict some of the contemporary ideas of what the future might bring.


And finally, THIS http://www.paleofuture.com/ is a gem! It is a blog dedicated to past notions of the future. One can browse by decade (the decades relevant to us would be the earlier ones, so 1870s-1900s mostly) but the other decades offer interesting insights also. What caught my attention are all the artistic artifacts that Matt Novak- the writer, has accumulated on this blog. Have a look!


In light of expanding my understanding of “The Time Machine” and its context, here are also some questions that I found useful, when thinking about the novel:


  1. Why is the final key question: where did the TT go, and not why didn’t he come back?-> where does the contemporary focus lie?
  2. Is there sex in the future?  Not really! Why is that? What does that mean for evolution?
  3. Why is progress portrayed as the regression of the human into the infantile state?
  4. The TT’s view of the future is direly pessimistic, and yet the narrator’s is surprisingly optimistic- why is this the case? What are we supposed to take away from the book?


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Science Fiction; Are We Living in the Past?

Frederick Jameson in the article “Progress Versus Utopia: Or, Can We Imagine the Future?” makes a fascinating point about how the Science Fiction genre changes our perspective on history and essentially our present time as a history for the imagined future.  He writes, “I would argue, however, that the most characteristic SF does not seriously attempt to imagine the “real” future of our social system.  Rather, its multiple mock futures serve the quite different function of transforming our own present into the determinate past of something yet to come” (Jameson 152).

This quote really got me thinking about how we perceive our present and the real impact the SF genre has on us.  Most would assume that it is about predicting the future and using imagination to create a world filled with possibilities that we honestly cannot even grasp now.  The idea of progress that Mill has ingrained into our heads would seem to be pervasive.  However, in the novel The Time Machine by H.G. Wells this was not the case at all.  The world did not progress.  If anything it regressed into two groups of semi humans that do not fit the definition of advancement in any way.  The world was falling apart.  This leads to the question why?  What caused the world to become so backwards?  Therefore, I believe that the genre of SF is really trying to speak to us about our present.  Our actions now change the future.  So, if the future is a backwards place filled with Eloi and Morlocks then we must be doing something very wrong.  The present time we live in is now put into a different perspective.  We see our time as the past or the history of a future time and we are able to identify the flaws that may lead to a future lacking in progress.  This makes us more self conscious to our own culture when looking at it as a past.  There is a separation making it it is okay to critique our own society and our actions because we no longer completely revolve around ourselves.  There is a larger meaning created which I believe is incredibly interesting, and also pretty freaky.  Its strange to think of yourself as some future humans ancient ancestor setting an example for the future of the human race.  Talk about pressure.

This being said, I believe this way of thinking of the present can have positive and negative impacts.  Maybe if more people thought this way we would all recycle, ban pollution, and join in the green movement completely.  However, since we truly cannot predict the future and these novels are just works of fiction it does not have as great of an impact as one may hope.  James even agrees we cannot imagine a “real” future, but maybe the possibility of helping the world by looking at ourselves as an important piece of history may alert some to lead their lives in a better way.

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Not Just Your Run of the Mill Progress

While reading the Time Traveller’s tale, the notion of progress kept jumping out at me. At first the Time Traveller seems to operate according to Mill’s linear notion of progress; he expects the future to come with scientific advancements that have outdone the ones of today, progressing further along the arrow of development in which the current time is significant and everything that came before is barbaric. He anticipates, “what strange developments of humanity, what wonderful advances upon our rudimentary civilization, I thought, might not appear when I came to look nearly into the dim elusive world that raced and fluctuated before my eyes” (26). This conception of progress coincides with Mill’s ideas, but does not stay constant throughout the book. Instead, the Time Traveller’s own era is held up as a model, fitting in with Victorian notions of superiority.

When the Eloi are not as technologically advanced or specifically intelligent as the Time Traveller expects, he worries that he “had built the time machine in vain,” suggesting that this striving for new intelligence was his only motivation (33). He soon beings to master the “simple” language, feeling like a “schoolmaster among children” (36). The Time Traveller feels he is superior to not only the past, but the future as well. Instead of looking at progress as a linear function, he views a sort of bell curve, with rising times, a climax, and falling times. He is clear in his descriptions that the year 802,701 AD is a part of the decline of humanity, while the Victorian period is “this ripe prime of the human race” (77).

This idea, that the Victorian period is the best of the best, leads to the Time Traveller’s desire to (in a way) colonize the Eloi, and also relates to Victorian colonization efforts. The Time Traveller speaks of the future’s problems needing to be “mastered” (57), and who could do that better than the paternalistic Victorians?

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The Eloi and the Morlocks

H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine presents a very interesting look at what our future could be.  The time-traveler jumps thousands of years into the future to find two types of beings roaming the Earth, the Eloi and the Morlocks.  While the time-traveler aligns himself with the Eloi, especially through his relationship with Weena, an eloi he rescues from drowning, readers may be confused as to which species/race they are supposed to express sympathy.

The Eloi are happy, carefree people who live above the earth’s surface, eating fruit and basking in the sun, while the Morlocks lurk in the underground and shadows, hiding from light and only venturing out of their dark habitats to capture and feed on the Eloi race.  When presented in this way, the Morlocks appear to be the antagonistic race of this future world.    The time-traveler expresses his disdain and hatred for the Morlock race as he fends them off coming out of the forest.

My wariness of the Eloi stems from the time-traveler’s description of saving Weena from drowning.  He tells his dinner guests, “ The main current ran rather swiftly, but not too strongly for even a moderate swimmer.  It will give you an idea, therefore, of the strange deficiency in these creatures, when I tell you that none made the slightest attempt to rescue the weakly crying little thing which was drowning before their eyes” (48).  The apathy displayed by the Eloi or “the little people” reveals the race to be rather daft, inactive, and helpless.  The nickname of “the little people” further emphasizes their lack of awareness and ability to bring about change in their surroundings. Even in his relationship with Weena, the time-traveler takes on a kind of father role as she follows him around throughout his exploration.  Weena does not really possess any thoughts of her own but blindly follows the time-traveler, and throughout the book, it’s debatable whether Weena is a child, a woman, or some type of animal companion.  The dependency of the Eloi frustrates me as these people seem to do nothing to fight against the Morlocks.  In this state, they appear more like animals, and thus, position themselves as prey in the predator/prey relationship the time-traveler ultimately discovers to exist within this environment.

The time-traveler also goes on to explain, “The Upper-world people might once have been the favoured aristocracy, and the Morlocks their mechanical servants: but that had long since passed away.  The two species that had resulted from the evolution of man were sliding down towards, or had already arrived at, an altogether new relationship” (67).  The tables have turned, and the Morlocks appear to have assumed more power by capturing and feeding off the Eloi.  What spurs this evolution or possibly revolution we will never know, but as a reader, I feel more inclined to sympathize or at least try to understand the Morlock’s cruel point of view because of the action and strategies they employ in their daily lives where I think the Eloi exercise none.

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Museology & Melancholy

“My museum hypothesis was confirmed. Going towards the side I found what appeared to be sloping shelves, and clearing away the thick dust, I found the old familiar glass cases of our own time. But they must have been air-tight to judge from the fair preservation of some of their contents. Clearly we stood among the ruins of some latter-day South Kensington!” (Wells 70)

As I read the Time Traveller’s museum characterization of the Palace of Green Porcelain, I envisioned their Victorian era manifestations: institutions such as the National Gallery (founded in 1824), the Victoria and Albert Museum (also known as the South Kensington Museum from 1857 to 1899), and the Tate Gallery (founded in 1897). Each of these projects of museology for the fine and decorative arts aimed to preserve the material culture of the past while presenting that of the present. Through such methods of exhibition and taxonomy, these museums revealed royal and private collections and curiosities that distinguished a distinct culture. Similarly, the Palace of Green Porcelain stands as a splendid building of display that conserves ancient objects and artifacts. Yet as I continued to read the Time Traveller’s description of such a gallery, I began to note its fundamental difference from its predecessors.

Though the Palace of Green Porcelain seems to function as a post-Victorian museum, its contents are neither easily visible nor effortlessly accessible. The Time Traveller emphasizes the corrosion and decay of the museum’s artifacts, as he notes “an array of miscellaneous objects was shrouded in … grey covering” and discerns a skeleton whose bones “lay beside it in thick dust” (Wells 70). He continues, “in one place, where rain-water had dropped through a leak in the roof, the thing itself had been worn away” (Wells 70). While Victorian museums upheld a careful preservation of their valuable ancient contents for patrons and audiences to admire, the contents of this Palace do not seem suitable for exhibition or display. The Time Traveller describes a “splendid array of fossils” that “through the inevitable process of decay … had been staved off for a time, and had, through the extinction of bacteria and fungi, lost ninety-nine hundredths of its force” (Wells 70). As the traveller continues, his diction repeatedly illuminates the fragmentation, brokenness, and atrophy of the objects and the museum as a whole.

As I concluded the chapter on the Palace of Green Porcelain, I interpreted the Time Traveller’s descriptions as Wells’ remark on the melancholia of the museum. Treasures of the past become mere scraps, subject to the destruction and carelessness of future civilizations. Despite their material value, art, fossils, and books fall into a state of collapse and desolation. If the Palace of Green Porcelain is the last of all museums that have survived, is all art and culture of civilization forever lost?

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Who Gets a Name?

This novella begins with little introduction as the narrator throws the reader immediately into the story. The first line is, “The Time Traveller (for so it will be convenient to speak of him) was expounding a recondite matter to us” (3). He is from the beginning seen as the protagonist of the story, yet he is without a name. The frame narrative used in this novella is common of the time, and the narrator is also usually nameless, but the protagonist usually has an identifiable name. Though the narrator claims that it is easier this way, the writing makes it seem otherwise. During the second dinner, the narrator writes, “‘Where’s ——-?’ said I, naming our host” (16). The Time Traveller has a name, it is just intentionally left out, which provides some small problems here and there, and while it is not inconvenient, giving the Time Traveller a name would have been more convenient.

None of the characters in the frame have names; they are all identified by their profession. This says a lot about the Victorian ideals of social status; you are what your position in society is. The Time Traveller, though, is not a profession, or at least he gets no money from it. This sets him apart from the rest of the group. He is othered outside of everyone else who speaks about science and technology, just as his technology does. This technique also sets up the capitalist values Wells was so against. In this Victorian society, people are based on their value to society so much so that they no longer have an identity outside of their use value. The narrator also is separate from the group for he has no name. He also does nothing to keep the plot going, he merely scribes all of the action. As he has little effect on the plot, he has no title and therefore no name.

The only character in the novella that is actually named is Weena, who is also the character the Time Traveller interacts with the most. She helps him in his endeavor to find the time machine and brave against the Morlocks, even if she dies in the end. Though she has little character other than her child-like wonder, she has the privilege of a name. In their communist society, everyone has lost their individuality and everyone is the same. Weena gets a name, however, because she creates change in the plot rather than hiding from the Morlocks. She is also the romantic object for the Time Traveller. It may be possible that names are actually detrimental and show inferiority. As Wells was a socialist, he might be above the individualization process, and by giving Weena a name, she becomes a single entity rather than something for the greater good. The Time Traveller has a purpose for society, but Weena only has a purpose for the Time Traveller.

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