Another Time

I just noticed that one of the professors at Crooked Timber is teaching a freshman course at Brown University on time travel, which is pretty cool, and particularly intesresting for me, since I wrote my dissertation on time travel films. It looks like Brian Weatherson is taking a much different approach to the topic, in that he seems more concerned about the philosophical problems of time travel, but he does highlight some key problems, including the issue of “consistency:”

The ones that make sense on a ‘one-dimensional’ view never have it the case that at a particular time something both is and isn’t the case. They don’t require that the direction of causation always goes from past to future, that would stop them from being time travel stories after all, but they require that there be a single complete and coherent story that can be told of the history of the world. Some philosophers are known to reserve the label ‘consistent’ for these stories, but that’s probably a bit harsh

He also captures the difficulty I’ve often had in trying to use the correct verb tense when writing about time travel narratives, and ultimately builds to an interesting reading of Back to the Future that effectively captures the film’s wild metaphysical logic: the “new 1985 Marty,” created when the “original Marty” travels back in time and his parents “become” successful doesn’t “remember” growing up in a wealthy home. Still, as Brian points out, the film still seems to work, in my opinion because the viewer is more or less sutured in to Marty’s experience–because we see everything through the eyes of “original Marty,” we more or less accept his experience of the world. In essence, the film simply glosses the “two-body” problem because we never actually meet the “new 1985 Marty.” I’m trying to think of time-travel films that might break with representing time through the subjective time of a time traveler, and the only example that comes to mind is the incredible Sticky Fingers of Time.

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