These are photos from IN SEARCH OF LOST TIM, my installation at artist collective ALLDAYBREAKFAST's TIME MACHINE, part of Bath Fringe Festival 2016.
As well as performing songs and reading extracts from the book, I spoke to a host of visitors of all ages and from all over the world asking this question:
WHEN YOU WERE 12, WHAT WAS YOUR IMAGE OF THE FUTURE?
We'll be posting some of what they wrote on the day on this page.
If you want to join our Remembrance of Things Future, please add your comments below.
Along with histories of the 1960s and stories set in London at that time, coming of age memoirs and material about what it is to be twelve years old, the core of my reading for
LOST TIM has been on the theme of time travel in Literature and the popular imagination, the business of prediction and foresight, futurology or futurism, and how the future has been envisaged in the past.
Core texts include A Brief History of The Future which looks at the prediction industry from the Delphic Oracle to the professional futurists of today – like Patrick Dixon whose book Futurewise divides trends into six sections whose first letters make up the word FUTURE (Fast, Urban, Tribal, Universal, Radical, Ethical). A Brief History of Tomorrow covers similar territory but risks making some predictions of its own.
Time Travel in Einstein’s Universe, an overview of the science of time travel, outlines some of the real scientific thinking that underpins the key practical problems which are commonly explored in movies and fiction on the topic.
Alongside these, an anthology of Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century, well annotated with introductions to each story, shows variations on time travel themes, for instance the famous butterfly effect in Ray Bradbury’s A Sound of Thunder in which dinosaur hunters trample a leaf and return to a radically different present. The anthology includes multiple variations on what is known as the Grandfather Paradox: what happens if you kill your ancestor before your birth?
Moving faster than the speed of light sounds tricky but potentially feasible, whereas the idea of travelling backwards in time leads to complications. Could you meet yourself, (as the hero of BBC’s Life of Mars does)? If you make the slightest change will it alter the present you return to? Is time ‘read-only’? Would travellers into the past enter a different version of history and could they then escape from it. And if time travel will at some point be possible, why haven’t travellers appeared in the past…or have they?
The notion of the multiverse and an infinite number of alternative universes and times coexisting is an idea explored by scientists and astrologers in books such as Universe and Coming of Age in the Milky Way. Science fiction writers have played with these notions for decades, but I’ve also been looking at experiments with time and space in other literature. Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy starts in a slightly different England and ends with the protagonist Lyra slipping from dimension to dimension through incisions from her subtle knife.
A major theme of Lost Tim is that our vision of the future is about the present, and much science fiction is satire in disguise, from Orwell’s 1984, a critique of 1948, to Doctor Who’s version of a Big Brother reality show directed by the Daleks.
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (the first book I have read in its entirety on an iPod), takes place in what looks at first like paradise, but is soon revealed as a subterranean dystopia with superior beings farming their overground underlings, and while being the first novel to imagine the nuts and bolts of time travel, also has echoes of Jonathan Swift’s allegorical satires.
Different ways of dealing with the past in fiction include the brilliant Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis which tells a lifestory backwards in one sustained feat of description, like watching a film in reverse of someone regurgitating elaborate meals, and includes a poignant description of a backwards love affair. David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas cleverly interleaves sections of stories from past present and future. But I was most influenced by Overview, written by artist Emma Kay: her attempt to write down, without research, everything she knows about the world, so her personal history of the universe skips quickly from prehistory to pop music of the eighties. It made me wonder how young Tim would describe history and envisage the future from his media saturated perspective.
This year Radio 4 has been broadcasting 1968 Day by Day, rekindling memories of student protests in Paris, the assassination of Martin Luther King, the crushing of Dubchek’s Prague Spring in Czechslovakia, Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech and the extent of the support for him from racist trade unions; all this alongside the chirpy ‘I’m Backing Britain’ campaign, initiated by Robert Maxwell. Mark Kurlansky’s book 1968 covers US and global upheavals on an epic scale, whereas White Heat by Dominic Sandbrook is a first rate study of the Sixties in the United Kingdom which captures the parochial tone of much British culture then.
Andrew Marr in his A History of Modern Britain writes, “the truth is that we have never really left the sixties. We have simply repeated them… music, shopping and celebrity culture have been spread far beyond their first makers and participants.” An acclaimed series of BBC documentaries made in 2002, The Century of the Self by Adam Curtis, puts the 60s cult of self realisation in context alonside the creation of consumer society in Britain and the United States after 1945, led by Edward Bernays, a relation of Freud and inventor of Public Relations as a means to understand and ultimately control the secret desires of the masses.
Barry Miles, ex-editor of IT and author of In The Sixties, describes the minutiae of the alternative London life, including the launch of International Times at the Roundhouse, North London, where Marianne Faithfull dressed as a skimpy nun, Pink Floyd played live with a newfangled light show and the audience rolled around on a giant jelly.
The www.palaofuture.com website contains a wealth of material on how the future has been seen over the decades. Most revealing is the unquestioned sexism which survives in so many visions of the future, for instance a space aged, driverless car propels the family into the city, splitting in two to deposit dad at the office, mom and the kids at the shopping mall. Jetpacks and videophones are the most common recurring features in the Sixties future. A real prototype jetpack was used in the James Bond movie Thunderball, but it never took off as a product. Now Skype provides free video conferencing for those who want it, but this much anticipated wonder of the future doesn’t seem such a good idea now it’s possible.
I am grateful to readers of the if:book blog, www.futureofthebook.org/blog, who pointed me at this site and The Long Now Foundation, founded by musician Brian Eno, which exists “to provide counterpoint to today's "faster/cheaper" mind set and promote "slower/better" thinking. The foundation “hopes to creatively foster responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years” and runs www.long bets.org where would be futurists can make predictions for others to bet on the likelihood of them happening. For instance in 2002 someone bet $2,000 that “By 2010, more than 50 percent of books sold worldwide will be printed on demand at the point of sale in the form of library-quality paperbacks.”
Scott McCloud is the acknowledged philosopher of comic art and his Understanding Comics is insightful on the issue of time. “Unlike other media, in comics, the past is more than just memories for the audience and the future is more than just possibilities! Both past and future are real and visible and all around us.” says the cartoon version of the author on page 100.
But it was while I was reading around the subject of puppets that I found this passage from
The Secret Life of Puppets by Victoria Nelson which expresses a lot about our current fascination with stories that juggle with time and space:
“again and again in the demiurge films a moment comes when the main character collides with the painted canvas that marks the limits of his Archon’s created world, then breaks through it: Truman comes upon the read door in the fake sky at the end of his world… like the famous early sixteenth century engraving of the natural philosopher who sticks his head through the soak-bubble skin of the terrestrial sphere to gape at the wonders of the celestial world beyond. Now as then, these images suggest a major transition in sensibility. For it is precisely the moment when we become completely conscious of the boundaries of the worldview we have comfortably inhabited for several centuries that is also, inevitably, the moment we abandon it: we see the door in the sky, and we walk through it.”
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