My time at Presans, particularly between 2017 and 2019, has allowed me to mature some thoughts on the future of fiction, of which I share here three lines of questioning. I would like to note that these reflections bear in particular the mark of my exchanges with Albert concerning Houellebecq and literary dystopias, which begin well over ten years ago if we take into account our first informal discussions around the theme of apoptosis.
1. Non-Houellebecquian characters
Since the 1990s, Houellebecq has been attentive to writers creating new founding myths centered on the theme of the horror of the world. He suggests, in an original way, that the material of these new myths could, in principle, accommodate heroic characters capable of generating great moral energy. He himself, however, has not explored this possibility of narratives featuring cohesive humanity confronted with a fantastic disintegration of the world. Houellebecq’s theme is rather a human disintegration in a world devoid of fantasy, where technological and religious attempts to overcome disenchantment sometimes take place.
The author is not confused with his characters, and it seems that Houellebecq has become, with time, the prophet of a certain anthropological renewal. But a prophet who knows that he will not see the promised land.
2. Strangeness of the world matter
For many decades the West has lived in the illusion of the end of history, and this illusion is far from dead since we do everything to keep it alive. It is the central illusion, the one by which our system perpetuates itself, crisis after crisis. Crises in the shadow of which alternative systems are also developed.
The feeling of living in post-history is linked to the cultural stagnation noted by Jaron Lanier about ten years ago, but nothing has changed since then. Our system can no longer properly digest events because they move too fast for it. One solution is to worship technological acceleration for the sake of technological acceleration, as I noted in 2017. But “the fact of accelerating technological progress does not deliver certainty about the direction of that acceleration.” A more relevant and less exhausting approach would be to first look for a point of view from which what is currently happening can be inscribed in imperturbable long-run cycles. Houellebecq drew formidable pessimistic energy from this type of perspective.
If I may use an analogy, our system would be like a person entering the negotiation stage of a grieving process which, according to Kübler and Ross, includes five stages: denial, anger, negotiation, depression, acceptance. But all sorts of analogies with situations of mental pathology, more or less judicious, would be possible here, and many of them have already been made. What has a future are the startups of psychedelic products and BCI headsets.
Everyone is free to explore the alternative perspectives, the strange worlds that pop up in our field of vision when the music stops. And to decide, in these moments, if it is the world, or itself, that is crazy. The only question is what will maximize our energy.
3. Social networks, vectors of artificial fictions?
Everyone sees today that social networks are and will be in the future the determining technological factor in the wars of beliefs. In the space of these wars of beliefs, fiction will be an instrument of choice to overcome the mourning of the illusions of our time. But this instrument can have other uses.
Social networks continue to evolve technologically. The apparent stability of established positions could be deceptive in the face of new political or technological upheavals. From this point of view, fictions constitute support of construction of social network among others, whether it is a question of aggregating evaluations on a large scale or on the contrary of constituting reading clubs on a human scale. A problem of information organization among others? Both Amazon and Google had already tackled the problem of the total book catalog a long time ago. What are the consequences of making a huge mass of texts available to every Internet user? Can a disruption still occur on this side? These are questions that certainly lead far beyond the question of the future of fiction because the texts that have the most impact do not belong to the category of fiction.
I would end this list of questions by drawing attention to an ongoing process to be followed closely: the generation of texts by artificial intelligence, whose operation implies a capacity to evaluate texts. The weaponization of the large catalog has only just begun.