Time travel and hypertext

Posted by jerry on February 13th, 2007 — Posted in Journal, New media, Theory, Writing

Having just read the remarkable novel The Time Traveler’s Wife I got to thinking just how common time travel is. So common, in fact, that you have to think carefully to realise you are doing it every day. There are hints, of course, like when your Partner looks at you strangely over the coffee and says ‘have you heard what I just said?’ and you realise you were thinking about the sound of a violin you heard last week, or a funny email from your daughter.

As Mark Marino notes, time travel is a common theme in literature and film. But these narrative devices work on safe constrained parameters – the film maker or writer supplies the context against which the time travel is juxtaposed for its effect.

Time travel narrative

He makes the claim that perhaps hypertext is different – and he may be partly right. The thing about hypertext is that it can have many more variables than linear fiction – whether novel or film – and may be constructed in a ‘writerly’ way by making it wiki-like with multiple authors. But real time travel is far more complex.

We time travel all the time, but have little control over where it takes us – the scent of a rose takes you to that garden in Leeds Castle in the UK ten years ago, or the sight of some wrapping paper takes you to the gift you are thinking of buying your partner next week. The thing is, it is only by exception that we actually experience narrative sequence in an ordered linear sequence. We are constantly steered by connotations and overtones of meaning.

It makes me wonder then, why some people seem to get hot under the collar about the time and resources that go into spaces like Second Life – real life experienced in a virtual world. Don’t people get that we are always embedded in a multiplicity of virtual worlds? And to think the authorities were worried about novel-space, like the court case surrounding ‘Madam Bovary’.

Angela Thomas, a New Media researcher from Sydney explores Second Life and uses that space for teaching new media literacies – you see, it’s all about real human interaction, it’s just the space that’s virtual. Perhaps that is more healthy than sharing a real space and daydreaming off somewhen else!

Cheers
Jerry

1 Comment »

Comment by Mark Marino

Jerry,

This is a beautiful reflection. I like the allusion to Madam Bovary, these dangerous stories about those who long to escape. I think you will find the storyline of “12 Easy Lessons” follows your reflections on “time travel” more closely than my discussions about the medium may have indicated.

What strikes me about time travel narratives in hypertext form is not their plasticity (as in wikis) but that they maintain some narrative stability, so we can begin to experience the regret, loss, and futility that dog time travel fantasies and the psychological experience of time.

I wonder if these two quotes from Emerson don’t speak to these comments as well:

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.

This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.

Second Life time is real time. Time travel time is real time. It all compliments and complicates our experience of the now and out relationships to the future and to the past.

Posted on March 16, 2007 at 3:29 pm

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