… Heinlein’s story is fraught with an inability to get around the unifying element of the human subject’s own consciousness because humans are fraught with it. It is in this light that what might be seen as a flaw – Heinlein’s pseudo-libertarian human subject in a chaotic world that nonetheless responds, somehow, to the idiosyncrasies of each travelling subject – can be seen as a marker not simply for the problems of conceptualizing time, but for thinking about narrative and ethics as well.
Of the various characters who experience individual time-travelling scenarios in Heinlein’s Elsewhen, their subjective unity reveals something further than the fact that their time tracks will follow a course of probability that most reflects their individual personalities: that though their individual personalities grant coherence and predictability to their realities, their identities are not so stable. In fact, it is their identities that are the primary casualties of adventuring about the time-world of possibilities. The method by which this identity is held together is revealed by the way in which it is torn apart – by and through forgetting.
Dr. Frost’s students, in Heinlein’s world, are unified by personality – their beliefs, their commitments, their dispositions – even if and when their identities disintegrate under the pressure of forgetfulness. Subjectivity is here something applicable not to some stable self (identity), but to that self’s general orientation, an orientation that is established by nature according to Heinlein’s professor, but which I can’t help but think of as being subjectivated by a myriad of forces that act upon a subject in any lifespan, even before arriving at a seminar on “speculative metaphysics” at some whacky liberal university. This problematization reinforces and throws into high relief the role that memory plays as an element of subjectivation, something that strives to give unity to the subject in time, and that is especially pertinent in those situations where a subject finds his or herself traversing time in ways other than that of maximum probability, as Heinlein’s Dr. Frost’s students do. Something obviously occurs to the time/ possibility travelling subject that causes him or her to forget, that reinforces a pulling a part of the subject as a unified being with one body, one mind, one set of beliefs, commitments, proclivities, or memories. The question, for the reader who is presumably immersed in a world where the possibility of such time travel is not an option, has to do with what role memory – with remembering or forgetting – plays regarding our own identities, and what that means in terms of how we think of, foster, or cultivate, memory, and what this means for our own processes of subjectivation.