Written in 1733, Memoirs of the Twentieth Century is widely regarded to contain the earliest known conception of time-travel and, in particular, the first cognitive leap that would allow for a historicized image of the present as seen from the point of view of a distant future. Intriguingly, it is the text itself which is claimed to have traveled back in time and Madden has used this conceit to satirize his own period – tracing out its bureaucratic absurdities into a strange yet pointed vision of the late 20th century: a world politically fraught, overwhelmed with corruption and struggling to reconcile religious faith with scientific discovery.
The mysterious publishing history of the book imparts a certain weight to its claims. Printed anonymously in an edition of 1000, all but 10 copies were immediately destroyed for unknown reasons. It would only be printed once more in 1972 and until now Memoirs… has been extremely scarce – resulting in disappointingly little scholarship. This new edition includes Liam Gillick’s Prevision. Should the Future Help the Past first published in 1999, the very year when Memoirs… leaves off. Gillick explores the socio-political implications inherent in strategic attitudes towards the future with a critical eye to the ‘scenario planning’ of late capitalism. It provides a prescient framework for reconsidering Madden’s text now, just over ten years on since its fictive origination and apocalyptic conclusion.
To encourage further study, the complete text will be freely distributed electronically in conjunction with the limited edition hard-cover and a mass-market paperback. ∎
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