Anticipations: H. G. Wells, Science Fiction and Radical Visions
A Conference at Woking, 8-10 July 2016
Abstracts * Accommodation * Programme * Registration * Venue and Directions
Sunday 10 July 2016
9.30 Ogilvy Room
Mark Blacklock (Birkbeck, University of London)
“‘Can an Instantaneous Cube Exist?’ Wells and the Fourth Dimension”
H.G. Wells’s repeated attention to the idea of the fourth dimension in his fiction illustrates the extension and subtlety of his scientific reading and understanding. In his earliest works Wells exploited all the narrative possibilities of a concept that perfectly straddled the plausibility required by his style and the extraordinary desired by his content, allowing for a mathematically-sanctioned array of dizzying effects: time-travel, corporeal inversion, invisibility and co-location.
Closely reading Wells’s early treatment of the idea of the fourth dimension in The Time Machine (and its precursors), The Invisible Man, The Wonderful Visit and the short stories “The Remarkable Case of Davidson’s Eyes” and “The Plattner Story”, this paper assesses and revises claims for Wells’s predictive vision in relation to the ideas of relativity. It works to locate Wells’s work and research in relation to the developing field of n-dimensional geometry and to fill out the details of his frequently acknowledged – though infrequently explored – debt to scientific romancer and theorist of higher-dimensional space, Charles Howard Hinton, a debt both undersold by Wells and largely ignored by Hinton.
In closing, this paper will consider how Wells’s use of the idea of the fourth dimension might have influenced form. Did what was by Bernard Bergonzi as Wells’s “favourite motif” in his early fiction become, as argued by William J. Scheick, an engine for formal development in his fiction? To what extent can we think of Wells’s fiction as truly higher-dimensional?
Mariateresa Franza (University of Salerno)
“H.G. Wells and the Fourth Dimension: The Conquest of Time“
In 1942 H.G. Wells published The Conquest of Time, a little pamphlet where he condensed his modern ideas concerning the fundamentals of existence: time, space, identity and religion. Originally conceived as a rewrite of First and Last Things written in 1908, this essay casts new light on Wells as a thinker and distinguished interpreter of his era, above all on his absolute unconventional attitude toward the common beliefs. Interestingly, among the several philosophical speculations he has been embedded in, time has always had a predominant aspect in Wells’s frame of mind and, consequently, in his huge literary output. Wells has always been interested in and, we may argue, obsessed by the idea of time and its implications. Since the early years at South Kensington, where he acquired his reputation as a speculative writer through the publication of his first scientific essays on biology, evolution and philosophy, time seems to have been the silent protagonist subtending every kind of possible speculation. In particular, Wells has been fascinated by the concept of time as Fourth Dimension. This idea was an appealing issue for many writers and artists and the extension of its popularization among the intellectual Victorian milieu witnessed a fresh interest in this field, mostly because it offered a wide range of visionary possibilities. The young Wells may have been acquainted with the topic through the 1887 debate at the Debating Society, where a new theory about non-Euclidean geometry and multidimensional space was advanced. The idea of an unknown dimension in addition to the well-known three (length, breadth and thickness) was as attractive for the young Wells as it was a successful experiment in the laboratory. A few years later he developed his personal theory about time as a fourth dimension, perfectly displayed in The Time Machine (1895) where it proves to be the necessary strategic condition to the scientific and cognitive framing of the plot. About fifty years later, after the publication of Einstein’s theories on Relativity, an old and disillusioned Wells recalls his juvenile outsets showing a mature awareness about the nature of time and its individual perception. The aim of the paper is to investigate the speculative aspect of this essay according to the epistemological frame within which the revolutionary idea of Fourth Dimension spread and developed through the nineteenth century.
Thomas Connolly (Maynooth University)
“Beyond the Common Range of Men: H.G. Wells, Posthumanism and the OncoMouseTM“
What is the connection between H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds and a mouse? Both can be understood, I argue, as sites for an exploration of what it is to be human. In this paper, I want to make an argument for Wells as an early posthumanist writer, one whose fiction explores the boundaries between the human and the non-human. According to posthumanist critics, the development of both the advanced techno-industries and the “schizophrenic” postmodern culture of late capitalism have problematised traditional models of the human subject, which is no longer clearly defined or even definable, and produced subjects that differ radically from former Western interpretations of the individual as a singular, autonomous, and coherent entity. Such critics generally limit themselves to the cultural production of the late-twentieth century, which in the area of science fiction has been the works of such postmodernist writers as Gibson, Russ and Dick. I want to make the argument, however, that Wells’s The War of the Worlds offers an early, and highly prescient, picture of such late twentieth-century posthumanity through its description of the Martians, these “sprawling bodies” have been so subsumed within technology as to be unable to function without it. Through a comparison with an archetypal product of the late twentieth century, the OncoMouseTM, I intend to show, to an extent not hitherto acknowledged, the ways in which Wells’s novel foreshadows what were later to become some of the central issues in the whole tradition of western sci-fi, namely, the amalgamation of technology and the body and the upheaval of traditional distinctions between humanity and nature. Both The War of the Worlds and the OncoMouseTM, I argue, present a soritean challenge to traditional distinctions between nature and culture, posing in different ways the question of where exactly along the continuum between these realms the partition should be drawn. By so doing, I want also to show the ways in Wells’s ground-breaking fiction can be understood as a means to explore the ramifications, positive and negative, of the increasing alignment between technology and humanity.