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Lecture 16 - The Mechanics of Time Travel


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Sixteenth lecture for my students in English 140, UC Santa Barbara, Summer 2012. Course website:

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Lecture 16 - The Mechanics of Time Travel

  1. 1. Lecture 16: The Mechanics of Time Travel English 140 UC Santa Barbara Summer 2012 30 August 2012“[M]ay the Sea of Life stretch before you like glass, andmay you always have the wind at your backs.” —Gomez’s wedding toast, p. 278
  2. 2. The color blueHenry: “I would hold it close to my face, so close Icouldn’t see anything but that blue. It would fill mewith a feeling, a feeling I later tried to duplicate withalcohol and finally found again with Clare, a feelingof unity, oblivion, mindlessness in the best sense ofthe word.” (22)“I sat on the back porch in my pajamas with Momand Dad and Mrs. and Mr. Kim, drinking lemonadeand watching the blueness of the evening sky.” (25)“The streetlights tint the sky orange above me; it’s adeep cerulean blue over the lake.” (117)
  3. 3. Henry’s various theoriesAt 35: “things happen the way they happened,once and only once. I’m not a proponent ofsplitting universes.” (46; ch. 3)At 15: “a self from 1992 […] said that he thinksthere is only free will when you are in time, inthe present. He says in the past we can only dowhat we did, and we can only be there if wewere there.” (57; ch. 4)“everything has already happened.” (57)
  4. 4. At 35: “The choices we’re working with here are ablock universe, where past, present and future allcoexist simultaneously and everything has alreadyhappened; chaos, where anything can happen andnothing can be predicted because we can’t know allthe variables; and a Christian universe in which Godmade everything and it’s all here for a purpose but wehave free will anyway.” (76; ch. 4)At 40: “My mother dying … it’s the pivotal thing …everything else goes around and around it … I dreamabout it, and I also – time travel to it. Over and over.”(114; ch. 6)To Gomez, at 36: “There’s something wrong with me.I get dislocated in time, for no reason. I can’t controlit, I never know when it’s going to happen, or whereand when I’ll end up.” (143; ch. 8)
  5. 5. To Gomez, at 40: “Causation only runs forward.Things happen once, only once. If you knowthings … I feel trapped, most of the time. If youare in time, not knowing … you’re free. Trustme.” (145; ch. 8)At 28, to Clare: “It’s a brain thing […] things likerunning, and sex, and meditation tend to helpme stay put in the present.” (166; ch. 9)“So far, my range is about fifty years in eachdirection. But I very rarely go to the future, and Idon’t think I’ve ever seen much of anythingthere that I found useful. It’s the past that exertsa lot of pull. In the past I feel much more solid.Maybe the future itself is less substantial?”(167; ch. 9)
  6. 6. Clare’s feelingsAt 13: “sometimes you tell me something and I feellike the future is already there, you know?” (75; ch. 4)At 20, to Gomez: “I can see everything laid out, like amap, past and future, everything at once, like anangel. […] It’s happened already. All at once. […] I’veseen my future; I can’t change it, and I wouldn’t if Icould.” (149; ch. 8)“nothing can ever be sad, no one can be lost, or dead,or far away, right now we are here, and nothing canmar our perfection, or steal the joy of this perfectmoment.” (241; ch. 11)“He is back in the present, my younger Henry, the onewho belongs here.” (276; ch. 14)
  7. 7. The fantasy of compensation“I roll over and look at him and realize that hismouth is bleeding profusely. I jump up to get awashcloth and Henry is still smiling when I getback and start daubing at his lip.” (42; ch. 3)“One of the best and most painful things abouttime traveling has been the opportunity to seemy mother alive.” (109; ch. 6)“I wish for a moment that Time would lift me outof this day [Christmas Eve], and into some morebenign one. But then I feel guilty for wanting toavoid the sadness; dead people need us toremember them, even if it eats us.” (118; ch. 7)