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.