Science and Technology in Waterland

Andrew Curtis '92 (English 32, Spring 1990)

It cannot be denied, children, that the great so-called forward movements of civilisation, whether moral or technological, have invariably brought with them an accompanying regression... That the discovery of the printing press led, likewise, as well as to the spreading of knowledge, to propaganda, mendacity, contention and strife. That the invention of the steam engine led to the miseries of industrial exploitation and to little children working sixteen hours a day in coalmines. That the invention of the aeroplane led to the widespread destruction of European cities along with their civilain populations during the period 1939 to '45... And where history does not undermine and set traps for itself in such an openly perverse way, it creates this insidious longing to go backwards. (Waterland, p. 92)

This passage is important to Swift's novel because it supports Tom's belief that history moves in circles. The invention of the steam engine and the splitting of the atom inevitably bring us backwards rather than forwards. Lewis believes that we travel forward (progress) as time passes, but Crick knows better. "There are no compasses for journeying in time."(p. 102)

See Also:
The Idea of Progress
Progression and Regression in Waterland

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