Die Zeit läuft rückwärts – Time Running Backwards


Martin Amis: Time’s Arrow (dt. Pfeil der Zeit), Roman, 1991

The novel recounts the life of a German Holocaust doctor in a disorienting reverse chronology. The narrator, together with the reader, experiences time passing in reverse, as the main character becomes younger and younger during the course of the novel.

Lewis Caroll: Through the Looking Glass (dt. Alice hinter den Spiegeln), Roman, 1871

Through the Looking-Glass (…) is an 1871 novel by Lewis Carroll and the sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865). Alice again enters a fantastical world, this time by climbing through a mirror into the world that she can see beyond it. There she finds that, just like a reflection, everything is reversed, including logic (e.g. running helps you remain stationary, walking away from something brings you towards it, chessmen are alive, nursery rhyme characters exist, etc.).


‘I don’t understand you,’ said Alice. ‘It’s dreadfully confusing!’
‘That’s the effect of living backwards,’ the Queen said kindly: ‘it always makes one a little giddy at first — ‘
‘Living backwards!’ Alice repeated in great astonishment. ‘I never heard of such a thing!’
‘ — but there’s one great advantage in it, that one’s memory works both ways.’
‘I’m sure MINE only works one way,’ Alice remarked. ‘I can’t remember things before they happen.’
‘It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards,’ the Queen remarked.
‘What sort of things do YOU remember best?’ Alice ventured to ask.
‘Oh, things that happened the week after next,’ the Queen replied in a careless tone. ‘For instance, now,’ she went on, sticking a large piece of plaster [band-aid] on her finger as she spoke, ‘there’s the King’s Messenger. He’s in prison now, being punished: and the trial doesn’t even begin till next Wednesday: and of course the crime comes last of all.’
‘Suppose he never commits the crime?’ said Alice.
‘That would be all the better, wouldn’t it?’ the Queen said, as she bound the plaster round her finger with a bit of ribbon.
Alice felt there was no denying THAT. ‘Of course it would be all the better,’ she said: ‘but it wouldn’t be all the better his being punished.’
‘You’re wrong THERE, at any rate,’ said the Queen: ‘were YOU ever punished?’
‘Only for faults,’ said Alice.
‘And you were all the better for it, I know!’ the Queen said triumphantly.
‘Yes, but then I HAD done the things I was punished for,’ said Alice: ‘that makes all the difference.’
‘But if you HADN’T done them,’ the Queen said, ‘that would have been better still; better, and better, and better!’ Her voice went higher with each ‘better,’ till it got quite to a squeak at last.
Alice was just beginning to say ‘There’s a mistake somewhere — ,’ when the Queen began screaming so loud that she had to leave the sentence unfinished. ‘Oh, oh, oh!’ shouted the Queen, shaking her hand about as if she wanted to shake it off. ‘My finger’s bleeding! Oh, oh, oh, oh!’
Her screams were so exactly like the whistle of a steam-engine, that Alice had to hold both her hands over her ears.
‘What IS the matter?’ she said, as soon as there was a chance of making herself heard. ‘Have you pricked your finger?’
‘I haven’t pricked it YET,’ the Queen said, ‘but I soon shall — oh, oh, oh!’
‘When do you expect to do it?’ Alice asked, feeling very much inclined to laugh.
‘When I fasten my shawl again,’ the poor Queen groaned out: ‘the brooch will come undone directly. Oh, oh!’ As she said the words the brooch flew open, and the Queen clutched wildly at it, and tried to clasp it again.
‘Take care!’ cried Alice. ‘You’re holding it all crooked!’ And she caught at the brooch; but it was too late: the pin had slipped, and the Queen had pricked her finger.


John Boynton Priestley: Time and the Conways (dt. Die Zeit und die Conways), Schauspiel, 1937 (inspiriert von John William Dunne: An Experiment with Time, 1927, s. unter Philosophie)

Time and the Conways is in three acts. The first act is set in the Conway house in 1919 on the night of the birthday of one of the daughters, Kay. Act Two moves to the same night in 1937 and is set in the same room in the house. Act Three then returns to 1919, seconds after Act One left off. (…)

The play emerged from Priestley’s reading of J. W. Dunne’s book An Experiment with Time in which Dunne posits that all time is happening simultaneously; i.e., that past, present, future are one and that linear time is only the way in which human consciousness is able to perceive this.

Priestley uses the idea to show how human beings experience loss, failure and the death of their dreams but also how, if they could experience reality in its transcendent nature, they might find a way out. The idea is not dissimilar to that presented by mysticism and religion that if human beings could understand the transcendent nature of their existence the need for greed and conflict would come to an end.


Vladimir Nabokov: Insomniac Dreams: Experiments with Time, 1964 (published 2017)

Nabokov was a notorious, lifelong insomniac who admitted unease at the prospect of sleep, famously stating that “the night is always a giant”. His insomnia contributed to an enlarged prostate later in life, which only exacerbated his sleeplessness.  Nabokov called sleep a “moronic fraternity”, “mental torture”, and a “nightly betrayal of reason, humanity, genius”. Insomnia’s impact on his work was widely explored and in 2017 Princeton University Press published a compilation of his dream diary entries, Insomniac Dreams: Experiments with Time by Vladimir Nabokov.



Nabokov had been reading deeply into serialism, a philosophy positing that time is reversible. The theory came from J. W. Dunne, a British engineer and armchair philosopher who, in 1927, published “An Experiment with Time,” arguing, in part, that our dreams afforded us rare access to a higher order of time. Was it possible that we were glimpsing snatches of the future in our dreams—that what we wrote off as déjà vu was actually a leap into the metaphysical ether? Dunne himself claimed to have had no fewer than eight precognitive dreams, including one in which he foresaw a headline about a volcanic eruption.

If all of this sounds too batty for a man of faculties, consider that Dunne’s “An Experiment with Time” had gained currency among a number of other writers, including James Joyce, T. S. Eliot, and Aldous Huxley.



Christopher Nolan (director): Memento, film, 2000

Memento is a 2000 American neo-noir psychological thriller film written and directed by Christopher Nolan, and produced by Suzanne and Jennifer Todd. (…)

The film is presented as two different sequences of scenes interspersed during the film: a series in black-and-white that is shown chronologically, and a series of color sequences shown in reverse order (simulating for the audience the mental state of the protagonist). The two sequences meet at the end of the film, producing one complete and cohesive narrative.



(…) „Die Zeit fließt mitten in der Nacht”, schrieb der britische Dichter Alfred Lord Tennyson. Doch dieser stetige, scheinbar auch ohne sein Wahrgenommenwerden existierende Fluss der Zeit ist vielleicht nur eine Illusion – jedenfalls aber ein Problem. Denn die fundamentalen Naturgesetze sind zeitsymmetrisch, enthalten oder bevorzugen also keine Richtung von der Vergangenheit in die Zukunft. Unsere Alltagserfahrung lehrt jedoch das Gegenteil, wie jeder weiß, der schon einmal einen rückwärts laufenden Film gesehen hat: Dass sich Scherben auf dem Boden wie durch Zauberhand zu einer Tasse formen und diese auf den Tisch hüpft, wird in der Wirklichkeit nie beobachtet, obwohl dieser Vorgang – eine Umkehrung aller mikroskopischen Teilchenbewegungen – den Grundgesetzen unserer Welt zufolge eigentlich genauso möglich sein sollte wie sein Gegenteil (siehe Kasten „Zehn Zeitpfeile”). Im scheinbar weltabgewandten, aber umso gastfreundlicheren Elfenbeinturm des ZiF versuchten die Forscher diesen alltäglichen Phänomenen der vierten Dimension auf die Schliche zu kommen – und zwar mit erstaunlichen Schlussfolgerungen: Vermutlich steckt der Ursprung des Zeitpfeils bereits im Urknall, und das Universum läuft seitdem wie eine Uhr ab – doch wie wurde sie aufgezogen? Manche Forscher nehmen an, dass sich die Zeit sogar einmal umkehren wird. Und vielleicht lauern zeitverkehrte Inseln bereits in unserer Nähe. (…)


John William Dunne: An Experiment with Time, 1927

An Experiment with Time is a book by the British soldier, aeronautical engineer and philosopher J. W. Dunne about his precognitive dreams and a theory of time which he later called “Serialism”. First published in March 1927, the book was widely read. Although never accepted by mainstream science, it has influenced imaginative literature ever since. (…)

The first half of the book describes a number of precognitive dreams, most of which Dunne himself had experienced. His key conclusion was that such precognitive visions foresee future personal experiences by the dreamer and not more general events.

The second half develops a theory to try and explain them. Dunne’s starting point is the observation that the moment of “now” is not described by science. Contemporary science described physical time as a fourth dimension and Dunne’s argument led to an endless sequence of higher dimensions of time to measure our passage through the dimension below. Accompanying each level was a higher level of consciousness. At the end of the chain was a supreme ultimate observer.

According to Dunne, our wakeful attention prevents us from seeing beyond the present moment, whilst when dreaming that attention fades and we gain the ability to recall more of our timeline. This allows fragments of our future to appear in pre-cognitive dreams, mixed in with fragments or memories of our past. Other consequences include the phenomenon known as deja vu and the existence of life after death.