In honor of the premiere of the final season of Lost, Prof. Doc Jensen looks at competing theories of time-travel in popular sci-fi franchises. Warning: this course may cause a migraine. Students are advised to take an aspirin before reading. (Getting stoned may also help, though this cannot be condoned by the faculty.) For more crash courses in pop culture, enroll in EW University.
“Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.”
With those famous words in Slaughterhouse Five (1969), author Kurt Vonnegut introduced one of the most memorable time travelers and depictions of time travel that literature has ever given us. The premise: Billy Pilgrim has gone crazy from failing to grapple with the horror he experienced during World War II many, many years before. Unmoored from sanity, the haunted optometrist convinces himself he’s been abducted by aliens who believe that time is eternally present, that past and future are happening in the now: Cubism made real. Pilgrim — his mind desperately flailing to save itself from its own existential crisis — adopts this conspiratorial perspective, as well as the sanguine philosophy that comes with it: that we are prisoners to predestined, already-written fate. And it is not a pleasant experience. “Billy is spastic in time, has no control over where he is going next, and the trips aren’t necessarily fun. He is in a constant state of stage fright, he says, because he never knows what part of his life he is going to have to act in next.”
Vonnegut’s powerful masterpiece may or may not be what you would call a hardcore sci-fi novel, although it does provide a provocative dramatization of new ideas about time described by quantum physics (and, it must be added, a perspective of reality familiar to followers of Buddhism and other mystic religions). You see the same stuff brought to life in the dark superhero epic Watchmen (Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons; 1986) in the form of all-powerful yet impotently omniscient Dr. Manhattan, a literal manifestation of topsy-turvy Relativity and the embodiment of a weapon that changed the course of history and filled the world with profound insecurity. READ FULL STORY