IAS Fellow's Public Lecture - Can Novelists Predict the Future?
Sometimes novels make predictions about the future that turn out to be true. Are they lucky guesses, shrewd insight, or a sign that creative imagination can be prophetic? Drawing on his own experience as a novelist and physicist, Andrew Crumey explores the phenomenon of literary precognition.
Some predictions are strikingly precise: in Gulliver's Travels we read that Mars has two moons, though they would not be discovered until a century and a half later. Others are more like self-fulfilling prophecies: cyberspace existed in fiction before it became fact.
Yet prophecy need not only refer to the future: the prophet is one who interprets and transmits divine will, and it was this aspect that, for example, E.M. Forster emphasised in his consideration of the "prophetic" quality of fiction. Even if the novelist is not divinely inspired, he or she may be able to interpret the present and past in such a way as to point towards the future.
The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw profound mediations on the nature of time from Einstein and Proust. Before either of them, H.G. Wells was considering the possibility of time travel. What do today's novelists prophesise?
Andrew Crumey is a novelist and critic whose work reflects his academic background in theoretical physics and his interest in the history of ideas. As lecturer in creative writing at Newcastle University he is concerned with the philosophy of fiction and the relationship between literature and science. Dr Crumey is an IAS Fellow, hosted by St John's College. For further information please visit: www.dur.ac.uk/ias/fellows/1011/crumey/
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