Time travel fiction is a small subgenre of science fiction.
Science fiction is a small subset of all the many genres and types of
literature. Time machines and time travellers are a niche interest.
And yet, in another way, all fiction is time travel fiction.
All stories rely on time travel, and we, as readers, barely notice this. Every time there’s a flashback to a character’s childhood, every time a chunk of time is skipped as we jump forward a week, a year, a century with just a chapter break or a fade to black.
We are constantly negotiating multiple timescales, travelling forwards and backwards through time when we tell and listen to stories. And we do this naturally, without really questioning it.
So, when it comes to actual time travel fiction, stories where the jump back in time is not a flashback but a character actually moving through time using a machine of some sort, then storytelling and narrative really come into focus.
Profound questions about time and history – questions that physicists and philosophers and literary theorists regularly ponder – become commonplace in time travel stories. They become questions that mainstream audiences are engaging with. And these are question this week’s guest, Prof David Wittenberg has been thinking and writing about. We chat about the history and development of time travel, from utopias to hot tubs.
David Wittenberg is an Associate Professor at the University of Iowa. He has taught in the English Department and the Department of Cinema and Comparative Literature since 1998. He is the author of Time Travel: The Popular Philosophy of Narrative (Fordham University Press, 2013) and Philosophy, Revision, Critique: Rereading Practices in Heidegger, Nietzsche, and Emerson (Stanford University Press, 2001). His research and teaching interests include 19th- through 21st-century literary theory and philosophy, American literature, architectural design and theory, and popular culture studies. His current research project is a book about the meaning of very large objects, tentatively entitled Big Culture: Toward an Aesthetics of Magnitude. You can find out more here.
Works Mentioned & Referenced
Edward Bellamy: Looking Backward
H.G. Wells: The Time Machine
Back To the Future
G. Payton Wertenbaker: “The Man from the Atom”
Robert Heinlein: “By his Bootstraps”
Hugh Everett III
Midnight in Paris
Audrey Niffenegger: The Time Traveller’s Wife
Hot Tub Time Machine
That Mitchell & Webb Look
All music by Blue Dot Sessions
If you enjoy the episode and want to find out how to support the show then click here for more information.
For more about moving through time and space check out this episode on the 4th dimension.
Utopias were features in this episode. Check out the double episode on the topic here
For more on pulp fiction, try this episode
Words To That Effect is a member of the Headstuff Podcast Network. Check out a whole host of great Irish podcasts here
Time Travel Tales Transcripts
Full transcripts will be available soon