Hania Siebenpfeiffer deposited »Narrating Temporality: Futuristic Time Travel as New Literary Genre around 1800« on Humanities Commons 11 months ago
While the 17th century focused on restructuring the present, the 18th century invented the future as a new temporal dimension. Lang before H.G. Wells, late 18th century literature discovered the future as a new literary field by inventing futuristic time travel. Louis-Sebastien Mercier was the first to create the new, highly successful literary genre of modern science-fiction in his novel “L’an 2440” (1771), whose protagonist falls asleep in 1770 only to wake up in a post-revolutionary, idealistic Paris of 2440. The idea of using the fundamental temporal openness of literary narratives to design utopian (later increasingly dystopian) times instead of utopian spaces, as in Moore’s “Utopia” (1517) or Campanella’s “La citta del sole” (1602), reflects the paradigmatic change from a spatial to a temporal model of order that constitutes modernism. For the European literature of the late 18th/early 19th centuries, this had two consequences: On the one hand, the new genre of futuristic time travel radicalized the general ability of literature to sharpen its fictions into a poetic thought experiments on yet unknown, but nevertheless possible futures. On the other hand, from 1800 onwards literary time travels especially were attributed a prognostic potential that still is vivid today. My lecture will focus on this generic invention of futuristic time travel in European literature around 1800 on the basis of Mercier’s “L’an 2440” and its immediate successors, such as Nicolas Edme Retif’s “L’an deux mille” (1790) and Daniel Gottlieb Mehrings “Das Jahr 2500” (1794). In doing so, I will focus on the following questions: What kind of futures (open/closed, static/dynamic, utopian/dystopian, near/distant, one-dimensional/multidimensional) did literature around 1800 devise? How did the novels anticipate future knowledge in order to invent plausible knowledge of the future(s)? What new kind of temporal narrative(s) did they create?