Simon Bowie is a culture writer and film critic based in the UK. He writes and speaks about various forms of contemporary culture from film and TV to video games and memes with a particular focus on cultural representations of irony and sincerity. You can find more of Simon’s writing, conference presentations, and idle thoughts at:
Introduction to The Fire in Which We Burn: Time and Trauma in Contemporary Television
In his poem ‘Calmly We Walk through This April’s Day’, Delmore Schwartz (1967) wrote:
Time is the school in which we learn,
Time is the fire in which we burn.
Soran (Malcolm McDowell) quotes this line in Star Trek: Generations (1994) as some explanation to Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) for why he wants to return to the non-linear time of the Nexus. He wants to free himself from time’s burning shackles in order to escape the psychological trauma of the Borg killing his entire family.
Escaping trauma by disrupting the linear flow of time is a theme across many cultural properties. Characters like Soran seek to escape the tyrannical linearity of time as a way to stop experiencing the psychological trauma from an event that dominates their life. Others travel backwards in time to attempt to rewrite or expunge a traumatic incident in their lives. The meme concept of travelling back in time to kill Adolf Hitler before the rise of the Third Reich is based on the fundamental idea of erasing the collective physical and psychological trauma of World War II and the Holocaust.
We all experience time and most of us experience trauma. Time burns us all but some are burnt more than others through the trauma of war, gendered violence, racialised violence, colonial violence, genocidal violence, or any of the myriad other traumas that can befall a person.
In this short essay collection, I present three meditations on the link between time and trauma in three contemporary television series. In particular, I look at how psychological trauma is often linked to non-linear representations or conceptions of time; how trauma manifests as a distortion of time into non-linear, non-homogenous forms.