Since the time when utopian writers have engaged in the challenge of envisioning a time, rather than a place, which could host their speculations about desirable destinies or apocalyptic dooms for mankind, writing uchronias has functioned as a powerful mode of foretelling, or speculating on, the future of humankind. In the narration of events which would radically modify the course of history, strong emphasis is laid on great gulfs or on deep ties between the future world and the past. Writers of uchronias foresee the future by inspecting history and memory of the past, because speculating on transformations of the social structures requires a historical perspective. Conceptually, envisioning the course of history locates uchronia in-between utopia and science fiction. Uchronia is a temporal utopia, it involves a time voyage and the action develops in a temporal dimension, while space remains the same. The metamorphosis of ‘another place’ into ‘another time’ in Sébastien Mercier’s L’an 2440 (1771) marks a radical reformulation of utopia as a literary genre. Clearly enough, Mercier’s emphasis on time responds to a substantial change in the episteme: as Reinhart Koselleck makes clear, since the second half of the 18th century the development of history has no longer been envisaged in time, but through time and because of time. The introduction of historicized time, which transforms classical utopia into uchronia, testifies to a wider philosophical enquiry where the term “uchronie”, which first appeared in the Revue philosophique et religieuse in 1857, was semantically moulded on “utopia” by philosopher Charles Renouvier. While utopia is located in an imaginary place, uchronia involves a radical change of time: the temporal dimension becomes central, because the writer’s main concern is about the sense of history and human development. The full title of Renouvier’s work, Uchronie (Utopie dans l’Histoire), Esquisse historique apocryphe du développement de la civilisation européenne tel qu’il n’a pas été, tel qu’il aurait pu être) , published in Paris in 1876, clearly refers to a prospective historical development of European civilization, a development which has not been but could have been. Terminology poses problems, since uchronia refers to a literary genre as well as to a time concept. More precisely, the term can designate metamorphosed 19th-century utopias which bear witness to the writers’ growing awareness that social structures evolve through time, but it also defines a philosophical concept that revolves around human desire to fathom a course of history different from the actual one. The different course of history will multiply into parallel histories that develop from the arborescent universe of science fiction, where each world is like a tree branch grown as one of manifold possible ramifications. The choice of a corpus that includes works habitually referred to as utopias, dystopias, and ambiguous utopias, requires methodological specifications. The term uchronia will be employed not only to define utopias that are set in another time but also, and more importantly, for utopias which unfold speculations about time. Thus, while futuristic novels or novels of anticipation may well be included in the survey, the focal point of the enquiry is the notion of time from an epistemological perspective. Focusing on the uchronic aspect of utopia thus means to assess the functions and purposes of theories, conjectures, or sustained speculations about time in fictional writings that conjure up an alternative world. After London (1885) by Richard Jefferies, A Crystal Age (1887) by William Hudson, News from Nowhere (1890) by William Morris, Swastika Night (1937) by Katharine Burdekin, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1948) by George Orwell testify to the radical erasure of history, if uchronia portrays dreadful scenarios, or to the disquieting remembrance of the past, if uchronia forebodes a better future. In societies dominated by totalitarian regimes the retrieval of a buried cultural heritage discloses to the dissidents the width of their cultural blank. Moreover, the discovery of the forgery of memory reveals how the purported construction of a world from which the faults of the past have been removed – the achievement of uchronia – is the appalling, powerful ideology on which the regime maintains its power. On the other hand, in ideal worlds of the future the act of bearing witness to historical memory is dangerously ambivalent: mediators of memory such as books, commemorations and collective rites that revitalise the ties with the past disclose the vulnerability of all efforts made to fathom a radically new beginning of human history. Uchronia always begins with the same question: how would History be if this or that event occurred or had occurred? It begins questioning history conceived as a coherent paradigm that explains human actions from generation to generation and then goes on to give voice to the human will to control and modify the course of events. More importantly, uchronia disentangles thought from official History and makes it possible to envisage a different history, another history of History. Envisioning future history necessarily means dealing with the past, that is with the memory of how the world was before the historical event that marked a new beginning of history. Writers of uchronia challenge time by denying its univocity and by establishing a strong interaction with history. They do not modify a number of events due to develop in a long time span but rather focus on a widely known, easily recognisable historical period; they manipulate a historical ‘knot’, such as the Trafalgar Square massacre in News from Nowhere (1890) by William Morris or the role of the Germans during the II World War in Swastika Night (1937) by Katherine Burdekin, and imagine possible outcomes in a renewed historical framework. Uchronia transforms linear, univocal time into historical knots generated by a break of the causal chain, namely a historical accident witnessed by the traveller. Uchronia thus creates a temporal alteration, a fissure in the plot of Time which makes it possible to change History and to explain what that change has provoked. Thus, uchronia is neither a temporal paradox, which is linked to a cyclical conception of time, nor a parallel universe, which explores simultaneous historical realities. The narrative pattern of uchronia presupposes that History, modified by the writer, remains History, identifiable as a paradigm of causes, purposes and odds, represented in a fictional scheme and projected forwards, towards a possible future.
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