Memories of the Future: Malcolm Quinn’s Keynote

Malcolm Quinn, Director of CCW Graduate School, was recently invited to give the Keynote at the conference, Memories of the Future, organised by University of the Arts London and Institute of Modern Languages Research, School of Advanced Study, University of London, held on 2-3 May.

‘My presentation for Memories of the Future drew on my recent research on the re-purposing of ideas and institutions in nineteenth century Britain, and about the social transformations that occur with a change of use. Can we think of time machines the same way? When we think of a time machine, we might think of an object that looks different from all other objects in the world, like the bizarre hybrid vehicle familiar from the stories of H.G. Wells.  I discussed a time machine which, rather than being a different kind of object in the world, might be constructed out of a different usage of existing objects. The time traveller, similarly, is someone who talks about and uses the things of this world in a different way than everyone else. I used this difference between new objects and new uses of existing objects to discuss the importance of satisfaction in narratives of time travel, and the difference between ‘not getting what you want’, which is the basis of the fantasy of obtaining satisfaction through travel to another dimension of time, and ‘not wanting what you get’ because the things that you get only have one set of instructions for use. The second part of my presentation applied this distinction to historical analysis – I asked if there was something that could separate knowledge of how things were in history (and how things might have been in ‘counterfactual’ histories) from the recreation of historical knowledge in a form that this world does not use it.  As an example of the latter, I discussed Robert Musil’s book The Man Without Qualities, where knowledge of World War One is used in a very remarkable way.’

A recording of Quinn’s full keynote can be viewed here:

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