Minding the Gap

While admitting to learning little about the “conveniences” of the “real future,” The Time Traveller (for so it will be polite to speak of him) makes an odd request of his captive audience: “Conceive the tale of London which a negro, fresh from Central Africa, would take back to his tribe!” Is this the role the Time Traveller has taken up in his recounting of this “fantastic and incredible” story? What interests me more, however, is the way the Time Traveller conceives the relation “between a negro and a white man.” While the Time Traveller describes the separation between himself and “those of the Golden Age” using terms that connote time (“wide interval”), the separation between “a negro and a white man” is described more ambiguously as a “narrow gap.”

Even if this supposed gap were infinitesimal, what constitutes it? Does “a negro tribe” in Central Africa not share time, so to speak, with white men in London? Is it possible for “a negro and a white man” to be contemporaries? Or is the suggestion of such contemporaneity a fantastic “interposition of [an] anti-cognitive law into the empirical environment” of a racialized world, making such a suggestion a disqualifier from the SF as a genre (Suvin 375)? Or to put it more bluntly, which is more conceivable a gapless existence between “a negro and a white man” or time travel?

Relatedly, in the Time Traveller’s attempt to explain the difference between Morlocks and Eloi by “proceeding from the problems of our own age,” I did not—contrary to his confidence—”anticipate the shape of [his] theory.” Fully expecting a (more explicitly) racialized understanding of these two groups, I was shocked to hear the Time Traveller theorize their relation as the “social difference between the Capitalist and the Laborer.” This was the “key to [his] whole position.” And while the Time Traveller sees things such as inter-marriage in London as slowing the inevitable gulf between Haves and Have-nots, I am left wondering: what, if anything, can close the gap between “a negro and a white man”?

4 thoughts on “Minding the Gap”

  1. The Traveller suggests temporality evidences the difference between himself and the “negro,” which, as you say, is fantasy since the only real “proof” he has is scopic, of course. Though we see the body serves as proof of time travel–the Traveller’s disheveled appearance upon his return or the pocketed flower, the scopic fails as evidence for social location (his initial theories regarding Eloi and Morlocks). Is recognition impossible without temporal estrangement, without a certain bending of the mind?

  2. Also interested, based on what you both have said here, that the Time Traveller just doesn’t come back. The whole intimate reporting of the experience over cigars etc. is framed around the need to share novel experience (in time). Not sure how to tie his disappearance to the multi-directional (because ambiguous?) racialization you point out. Also important that the Time Traveller mixes up geography and time in the comparison. He never leaves London, right?

  3. The Time Traveller refers to “standard” practices of imagining worlds/times: “In some of these visions of Utopias and coming times which I have read….” (48). Describing utopias is explicitly set against (and shuts out) the imagined storytelling of an African visitor to London (48), seemingly because the writer who can deploy “detail” has enough familiarity with the norms of a shared “real world” to construct an imagined utopia that will have an assumed community of readers. The storytelling/hearing apparatus seems to break down at these “gaps.” Though, it’s at such a gap that the Time Traveller finds himself!

  4. I think the gap you describe in your post can be used to really inform how we are to read the Novella’s concluding image. Both the Eloi and the Morlocks are characterized by Welles in terms lifted from racist stereotypes that would certainly be legible to his readers in the late 19th century. The Eloi are child-like, playful, and dumb, traits that are part of the racist prelapsarian stereotype projected onto indigenous peoples in the Americas(among other places). The Morlocks in turn are violent ape-like creatures, a description in line with the most heinous representations of black people that were circulated. When the story’s frame narrator takes comfort in the flowers from the time traveler’s pocket, it’s in truth not a comforting but a horrific moment. For all of his supposed interest in the “communistic” lifestyle the dehumanization of the have-nots to the point of literal dehumanization is not on his mind –he instead takes comfort by identifying with his own inhuman ideal — and I think this is best understood through the gap imposed by racialization that you point us to.

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