Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Terminator at Kelmscott

I once had a dream that, on some sort of Time Team-style archaeological dig, I excavated part of the broken exoskeleton of one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator robots in the grounds of William Morris’s Kelmscott Manor. I woke up in a state of fear and shock. It is true that there is a World War Two pillbox in the grounds of the Manor, so in that sense the memory of the political barbarism of the twentieth century reaches even into the idyllic corners of Morris’s upper Thames. But what was a robotic image from one of our own most powerful postmodern dystopias, the Terminator series of movies, doing in my dream in the utopian Kelmscott landscapes of News from Nowhere itself?

I take this disturbing dream to be some sort of oblique confirmation, from a Morrisian rather Jungian collective unconscious, that there may be dystopian elements to News from Nowhere, notes of warning built into that text just as they are, very much more obviously, in H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine; and that such warnings may ultimately focus around the issue of technology in the text. Old Hammond, as I have noted before in this blog, may be ‘disappointed’ in the new society, and Ellen frets about where its lack of historical consciousness may be politically leading it.

I find my mind circling around the ‘force vehicles’ of the Nowherian society, which do not seem to be very clearly focused or understood in the text itself. What is the nature of that ‘force’? How are democratic decisions about its use or availability made in this society? Who is manufacturing such vehicles? What else do they manufacture? Why do such high-tech products seems so out of kilter with the slow, neighbourly, arts-and-crafts lifestyle of the other Nowherians? If, historically speaking, energy-rich societies have militarily imposed themselves upon their energy-poor neighbours, might it not be that the ‘force-rich’ manufacturers may seek to impose their will upon the force-poor neighbours of the Thames valley in Morris’s novel?

For if they – whoever ‘they’ are – can build force-vehicles, could they not ultimately, if push came to shove, build Terminator robots too? And the English revolution of 1952 would then have to be fought all over again, but now – to borrow a phrase of T.S. Eliot’s from Four Quartets – under conditions that seem unpropitious.