Time, Time Travel and the Conventional Narrative

Click here to find an intriguing essay by writer Frederick Reiken on the subject of flashbacks in fiction and the treatment of time(travel) in such books. Below an excerpt:

What a conventional story-oriented narrative usually employs is a literary application of the temporal construct known as “block time” or a “block universe” – in which time is envisioned spatially, as if it were a four-dimensional space-time map. That’s why we accept, without hesitation, the simple literary technique of a flashback. Within the spatialized time frame of a novel, the effect of jumping to a flashback is less like going back in time and more like getting on an airplane in New Jersey and then getting off in Texas. For a more exaggerated way of thinking about block time, consider protagonist Billy Pilgrim in Kurt Vonnegut’s landmark novel Slaughterhouse-Five. Billy has become “unstuck in time,” and has no control over which part of his life he will wind up in next. All the moments of his life — present, past, future — can be arrived at as if they were geographic places. What I’ll suggest is that a conventional, realistic work of literary fiction makes use of the same apparatus minus the spasmodic time travel. Instead of the protagonist becoming unstuck in time, the author simply moves the reader around within the block-time map. In other words, the reader is the one who becomes unstuck, because the story can go anywhere it wants.

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