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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