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Time and Again

Thanks to the generosity of Charles, I've been reading Jack Finney's Time and Again.

From the book description at Amazon:

"Sleep. And when you awake everything you know of the twentieth century will be gone from your mind. Tonight is January 21, 1882. There are no such things as automobiles, no planes, computers, television. 'Nuclear' appears in no dictionary. You have never heard the name Richard Nixon."

I'm only a few chapters into the book. This is a new experience for me, to read something at a deliberatley slow pace. Normally I tear through books, speed reading my way through chapters so that it takes me only a day or so to finish a novel.

There's something so profound about this book, that I put it down after each chapter - sometimes after single paragraphs - to contemplate the concepts the author has put forth.

These are things that won't be profound to everyone that reads them. But a particular theme running through the story so far has resonated with me for a reason - it's something I think about often, but trying to describe it to other people, to talk about it or explain it usually brings shrugs or strange looks in response.

I'll excerpt the book first before trying to explain myself.

He said, "There are other essentially unchanged buildings in New York, some of them equally fine and a lot older, yet the Dakota is unique, you know why? I shook my head. "Suppose you were to stand at a window of one of the upper apartments you just saw, and look down into the park; say at dawn when very often no cars are to be seen. All around you is a building unchanged from the day it was built, including the room you stand in and very possibly even the glass pane you look through. And this is what's unique in New York: Everything you see outside the window is also unchanged."

[...]

"Picture one of those upper apartments standing empty for two months in the summer of 1894. As it did. Picture our arranging - as we are - to sublet that very apartment for those identical months during the coming summer. And now understand me. If Albert Einstein is right once again - as he is - then hard as it may be to comprehend, the summer of 1894 still exists.

Time and space. Have you ever visited an historical site? Have you ever stood where Paul Revere once stood or touched a wall that Edgar Allen Poe once touched? Have you ever looked at the trees in your backyard and wondered who was here before you, when those trees were just saplings?

It's a feeling that's hard to describe, to feel the coming together of time and space, of histories, of past and present. I think if I sat in my yard long enough, facing the grouping of trees on the north side and maybe looking up, right into the branches and leaves so I can see nothing else, I could be back there, when this was all forest and woods. And if I sat just as long in the vast fields of the elementary school, at a time of day when there were no cars zooming by on the parkway that edges the school, maybe at that time of morning where it's neither dark nor light, I could see the old potato farms stretch out before me. January 2 of long ago.

My parents' house used to be an airplane hanger. Who's to say it's not still an airplane hanger, with each moment in time living on top of the other, each unaware that they ever stopped or started existing. Maybe time piles on top of itself and never really disappears.

If you try hard enough, if you are open to the ideas and tuned into the past, you can feel it when your feet touch upon a stone walk that existed in the 1800's. You can feel the existence of the thousands of other feet that walked there before you. If you put your mind in the 1800's, you can sense the people like ghosts. Except they aren't ghosts. They are the past, living in tangent with the future and the present.

As I said, it's not something that's easy to explain and it's certain to make some people think I've lost touch with reality. The idea that different planes of time can co-exist is something talked about in science fiction novels, but taken seriously by very few. I don't know anything about quantum physics. I can understand very little of the mechanics of theories put forth on this subject. For me, it's not a matter of equations and calculations. It's just feeling. It's the knowing that something existed long before you did and lived and breathed on the very spot you are standing on now. Who is to say it is that January 2, 1894, 1900 or 1776 does not still linger there? Perhaps reaching those dates from 2005 is a scientific impossibility, but that doesn't mean they aren't here, unfolding right on top of us, unseen.

I've written about this before:

See, I believe that every thing, living or inanimate, has an energy to it. A store, a car, a person. And when that person or object moves from one place to another, they leave some of that energy behind. So as I stood there I looked around me and saw not racks of DVDs and action figures, but tables and chairs and the people I used to work with. I could almost hear my name being called from the kitchen. It's as if little ghosts of all the people who passed through the restaurant were still in that place, eating and drinking and cooking....It's not a theory, it's not a scientific fact. It's my own way of connecting time and space. It's what I feel connects us with the past, because the past never leaves us. It's here, we just have to look for it.

Furthering that theory, it's not even about the people or objects leaving the energy behind. The past and its energy is soaked up in everything it touches. So those stone walkways, the brick on your house, the tree in your yard, the dirt under your feet that goes on for miles, the walls of a school, the sign on an ancient building, the Egyptian artifacts in a museum, dinosaur bones; they are all what binds us to the past, they make it possible (for me) to believe that if parts of the past remain, then past as a whole must remain also, surviving off the energy its remnants hold.

I'm sure I lost most of you a few paragraphs up and I'm sure more than a few of you are wondering if I've had too much holiday egg nog. As I said, it's a hard thought, a difficult concept to explain without sounding loopy.

But who can prove it's not a real concept? Maybe a man can walk out of 1970 and into 1882, maybe not in a physical way where he can alter things or interact, but as an invisible presence, observing, just as the past is an invisible presence to us right now. Perhaps all it takes is an open mind and willingness to see that the past is still very much in the present.

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Comments

You know what this post reminds me of? About a hundred "Family Circus" cartoons where the family is in some place, and dozens of ghost people are all around them in costumes of the past.

Ack! Don't hurt me!

Too much metaphysics not enough coffee. I must come back to this later.

Okay, after seeing that cartoon, now I feel better about the comment I just left over at Jeff Goldstein's.

That cartoon is so wrong. And I did not right-click and save-as and send it to all my friends. That was my evil twin.

Read "The Hidden Face of God" by Gerald Schroeder. I touches on a lot of the things you wrote about. Energy, Space, Time, and the miracle of Consciousness.

Thanks...I must have had just enough coffee, my mind said, "Oh wow..." and that doesn't happen much these days. Note to self: "Time and Again" by Jack Finney. Probably at Borders in the "Way of The Peaceful Warrior" section.

It's weird that the idea of the future & past as being "places you could go" didn't seem to exist in english lit before Wells. Rip Van Winkle had to travel in time by going to sleep for 20 years, he experienced the same time as everybody else, he was just unconscious for most of it. Also note that in Wells' original "The Time Machine" story the great catastrophe was caused by class warfare, a hot topic at the turn of the century. In the the 1961 George Pal film version the catastrophe was Nuclear War. In the wretched 2002 film version the catastrophe was an environmental disaster.
The future and the past always seem to be about the present, don't they?

I have a few old family things around the house. One of my favorites is an old worn book "Biography of a Grizzly" by Ernest Thompson Seton, 1900. My late maternal grandfather was born in 1901 and his father read that book to him at bedtime when he was a kid. Later, he read it to my mom and uncle when they were kids, and to my sister and me when we were little.

When I hold that book in my hand and turn the pages, I realize it existed when I didn't, when a great grandfather sat by his sons' beds and read them a bedtime story in the days when rural Pennsylvania didn't have electricity. I flip the pages and realize that a small girl, my mother, listened to the story in Depression era Southern California, knowing she'd be in school in the morning struggling as a "lefty" to write her lessons without smearing the ink, what with ballpoint pens not yet invented.

That book has existed in a continuim of time, touched by family members grown and gone. It is hard to describe the connection I feel to all those people I get when I hold that book in my hands. It seems to be the closest thing to a time machine.

Terry

I've had the TV tuned to the Sci-Fi channel last couple of days for their Twilight Zone marathon (and they've shown some little seen episodes, too - sweet). I was struck again how many episodes dealt with nuclear annihilation of the planet (sometimes the twist at the end of the show was that the main characters were escaping such doom were now traveling to Earth). Very Cold War oriented.

I've read so much over the years, including tons of short stories, I sometimes can't remember the authors ... but there is one story that is kind of a twist on time travel (which is many times used as a vehicle to comment on society... ethos and morals). Earth comes in contact with a kind of space spore; it doesn't affect humans, but it does "eat" electricity. No more electricity. The story concerned how society then changes ... reverts, to the late 1800's.

Living here outside of Philly, the road that the Redcoats marched down to do battle with Washington in Hatboro is not more than 10 meters from where I now sit. The washcloths I am using as I look at the road were cross-stitched from my great-grandmother from flour sacks nearly 50 years ago. The passing of consciousness through time is a one way trip, no?

A lot of concepts that might seem absurd or fanciful at first blush are not necessarily so. Science still does not have a solid understanding of the fundamental physics of the universe. Things such as multiple additional dimensions and parallel universes are distinct possibilities. Since the true nature of matter and energy is not known, there's no valid reason to dismiss ideas like yours out-of-hand, even on a strictly factual level.

I understand completely your difficulty in explaining your feelings about this book and it's premise. I read it a few years back and absolutely loved it! But when I tried to explain it to my family or friends, they all just got this kind of quizzical look on their faces and would nod and smile at me like I had lost my mind. I don't know that I agree all that much about the actual possibility of being transported into another time period, but in a sci-fi kind of way, I was completely enthralled with the whole story. I highly recommend this book to everyone.

I don't know transdimensional physics, but I know what I like, and his stories and novels are a sheer delight, even if you don't take the "science" seriously. Did Bradbury getting the moons of Mars wrong ruin the Martian Chronicles?

"Time and Again" is one of my favorite books. I read it when I was a junior in high-school, and have re-read it a couple of times since.

It's probably why I enjoy history so much. The book reminds me that people in earlier times were just like us - same dreams, needs, hopes etc.

I hope you enjoy it!

I don't think this is the same thing as you are describing,

but I have stood over the hills, that overlook Fredericksburg Virginia,

and I could see the guns entrenched there, like they were in 1862, and how the plain below was so exposed..

and it filled me with a sadness I cannot describe.

Darleen-
I wish scifi channel would do a marathon of the dystopian scifi movies of the 70's, Logan's Run, Soylent Green, Silent Running, THX1138, Dark Star, The Omega Man. Star Wars changed everything when it came along.
Personally I think that if we somehow lost the ability to make or use electricity we'd come up with something to replace it. On the other hand, we know that Dark Ages do occur. I seem to remember that the secret of making concrete was lost when the Roman empire collapsed and was not recovered until the 18th century.

i love books about time travel. and jack finney's are some of my very favorites. i've read them a couple of times and will probably read them again :)

Once, my dad proposed the idea that ghosts might really be just that construct of time and energy never really disarranging. And if so, the times when ghosts are seen is really just a convergence of factors that give some of those things a moment of visibility.

You've made me want to read this book.

Thank you,

Woody

I work as an archivist, and a few weeks ago we acquired a huge collection of papers that had been moldering in a barn for who knows how long. In cataloging the collection, I came across a copy of the New York Herald, special extra edition for April 15, 1865, with the headline: “Death of the President: Further Details of the Great Crime.”

Reading that story was nothing like reading about Lincoln’s assassination in school. And holding that newspaper, thinking it had been printed that day and read by people for whom this was current, shocking news… I think the whole present/past distinction is a lot trickier than we like to admit.

It's not so odd, Michele. I've had these thoughts many times. I've stood on Kennesaw Mountain just outside Atlanta and seen the remains of extensive trenchworks dug by the Condederates to halt Sherman's advance on the city. The accounts of the time said the slaughter was so great that at one point both sides agreed to a brief ceasefire in order to remove and bury their dead. I try to imagine what that would have been like. I try to put myself in that time and place. I do this all the time; I think it's very instructive.

It's not quite the same thing as what you're talking about -- simultaneous, overlapping moments of time in the same place -- but that's an interesting concept.

Last week we visited the Etowah Indian Mounds in north Georgia. I was intrigued to learn that the Mississipian culture that built those mounds existed and thrived long before the more well-known tribes of our region -- Creek, Cherokee, Choktaw -- ever came into being. The Etowah Indians were part of a vast, more or less culturally homogeneous native American society that was scattered over the South and up the Mississippi River Basin. It got me to thinking about how entire civilizations have come and gone on this earth, and how some of them have left almost no traces of themselves. Vast sums of knowledge and experience and the work of human hands, swallowed up by the march of time...buried in the sand, consumed by the forest, rotted to dust. I was left feeling rather sad. If we had complete knowledge of who they were, how they lived, what they believed, would the world be a different place? Alas, all of that is lost to us, along with much else.