Saving Time: Nineteenth-Century Time Travel and the Temporal Logic of Late Capitalism

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Date: Winter 2018
From: Victorian Studies(Vol. 60, Issue 2)
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 3,961 words

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ABSTRACT: Fin-de-siecle time travel narratives do not only reflect their own historical moment, but they also anachronistically provide a theory of twenty-first-century capitalism. Using F. Anstey's 1891 novel Tourmalin's Time Cheques as a case study, this essay argues that these time travel narratives demonstrate a concern with the temporality of finance capitalism. By associating time travel with interest-bearing capital, narratives like Anstey's use temporal paradoxes to excavate capitalism's teleological logic. Time travel narratives also offer ways of rethinking current critiques of twenty-first-century capitalism, which often participate in capitalism's teleological logic. Anstey's novel exposes the ways in which capitalism produces a longing for unrecoverable origins, thereby necessitating a particular temporal experience. The time travel narrative, I argue, reveals and denaturalizes this capitalist temporal structure.

My day won't come until the day after tomorrow. Some people are born posthumously.

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ

F. Anstey's novel Tourmalin's Time Cheques (1891) is one of the earliest depictions of a time travel paradox. (1) When a character travels to the past, he undermines causality: later events become the cause of earlier events. Thus the origin of the events cannot be determined. (2) Peter Tourmalin discovers while traveling home to England from Australia via ship that as he crosses each time zone, the ship's clock is being set back. He thus gains several hours as a result of his voyage, but because he finds the extra time tedious, he is pleased when he learns that he can deposit his newly gained time in the "Anglo-Australian Joint Stock Time Bank, Limited" where his time can accrue compound interest that he can withdraw at a later time (Anstey 20). When Peter withdraws his time from the bank after his voyage, he ends up traveling to the past and altering his present and future. The story is one of several fin-de-siecle narratives that associates time travel with interest-bearing capital.3 Time travel undermines the very idea of an origin and serves to counter the teleological temporal structure of capitalism, particularly interest-bearing capital, which denies origins as it appears to increase itself or self-generate. Yet even in its denial of origins, interest-bearing capital reifies the origin that it conceals. Time travel reveals that the recovery of origins is part of the project of capitalist teleology. I argue that late-Victorian thinkers like Anstey used temporal paradoxes to affirm anachronistic thinking as a countermeasure to capitalist temporality.

This paper anachronistically employs a late-Victorian time travel paradox to suggest that Victorian texts might help us to reappraise twenty-first-century capitalism--as well as some of the critical theories conceived to explain and critique it. Time travel narratives might also provide ways for us to question Victorian alterity by demonstrating the temporal similarities between finance capitalism during the Victorian period and in the present. Twentieth- and twenty-first-century theorists of global capitalism, postmodernity, and neoliberal capitalism claim that what differentiates our current moment from earlier ones is that we have no history, that late capitalism has created a perpetual present. Yet time travel tales show us that...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A546648886