This “stimulating contribution to literary theory” reveals the deeply philosophical concerns and developments behind popular time travel sci-fi (London Review of Books).
In Time Travel, literary theorist David Wittenberg argues that time travel fiction is not mere escapism, but a narrative “laboratory” where theoretical questions about storytelling—and, by extension, about the philosophy of temporality, history, and subjectivity—are presented in story form.
Drawing on physics, philosophy, narrative theory, psychoanalysis, and film theory, Wittenberg links innovations in time travel fiction to specific shifts in the popularization of science, from nineteenth-century evolutionary biology to twentieth-century quantum physics and more recent “multiverse” cosmologies. Wittenberg shows how popular awareness of new science led to surprising innovations in the literary “time machine,” which evolved from a vehicle used for sociopolitical commentary into a psychological device capable of exploring the temporal structure and significance of subjects, viewpoints, and historical events.
Time Travel draws on classic works of science fiction by H. G. Wells, Edward Bellamy, Robert Heinlein, Samuel Delany, and Harlan Ellison, television shows such as “The Twilight Zone” and “Star Trek,” and other popular entertainments. These are read alongside theoretical work ranging from Einstein, Schrödinger, Stephen Hawking to Gérard Genette, David Lewis, and Gilles Deleuze.
Wittenberg argues that even the most mainstream audiences of popular time travel fiction and cinema are vigorously engaged with many of the same questions about temporality, identity, and history that concern literary theorists, media and film scholars, and philosophers.