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Who hasn’t felt helpless at the mere thought of leaving this industrial mega-machine? To break definitively with our technological prostheses and to live differently. 

n « technocratic solutionism » seems more than ever to be at work in our societies. He postulates that « a technical solution exists for each problem encountered, even if it is the result of different con

flits about values, interests or ideas »(1). For example, renewable energies will save us from the decline of fossil fuels and climate change; robots and other objects connected through gigantic servers will help us set up a collaborative, sustainable and harmonious economy; or at worst, the colonization of Mars in a not so distant future will allow a small part of humanity to escape the ecological catastrophe! 

This absolute faith in a saving technology is the fruit of a culture of science fiction born at the same time as industrial capitalism. Yes! We humans prefer to believe in the stories we have been telling ourselves for a long time — our founding myths — rather than believe in facts that contradict those stories. Every society is in fact founded on great narratives (myths), which allow the world to be interpreted and which give rise to collective identities, thus forming communities of destinies(2).

As early as the mid-twentieth century, Edgar Poe explored the techno-fantasy imagination in his famous Extraordinary Stories , which « taught a very attractive and rigorous doctrine, in which a kind of mathematical [rationalité] and a kind of mysticism were united »(3). Thus, he opened the way to authors such as Jules Verne or Isaac Asimov, to scriptwriters such as Stanley Kubric or Georges Lucas, or to cartoonists such as Edgar Pierre Jacobs. We have all been lulled to varying degrees during our childhood by these tales of space conquests, of limitless human ingenuity or of the relentless march of progress. Our lifestyles are based on these visions and they are so powerful that we quickly fall back into them when we think about the future, especially if we consider the collapse of our living conditions. The influence of these techoscientific myths on our psyche is one of the reasons why the transition is slow to manifest itself…(4)

However, in contrast to this dominant cultural narrative that generates denial and inconsistent attitudes, another imaginary is developing: that of disconnection. Concretely, it is a matter of a growing number of transitioners giving up, in a progressive way, everything that the thermo-industrial matrix provides (food, clothing, fast travel, electronics, etc.) before being forced to suffer shortages. 

In search of voluntary simplicity and autonomy, they help each other to find knowledge and techniques that allow them to regain possession of their means of subsistence. Around the world, thousands of projects are being created to restore polluted rivers and soils, produce healthy food, make homes, generate renewable energy, care for others, learn differently and organize differently. 

Not only do communities in transition test and experiment with unplugging practices, but they also articulate their experiences in the form of stories that they share in exchange workshops or performances. In short, they are preparing for the likely collapse of the mega-machine and the life after by cultivating a new imagination. This is the key. By telling the stories of a generation that would have freed itself from fossil fuels and would have learned to live in an unstable climate, they progressively break free from the grip of the conceptual and narrative network proposed by technocratic solutionism and thus create the conditions for the emergence of new ways of living. 

In the best-selling MaddAddam trilogy, Canadian author Margaret Atwood follows the adventures of four teenagers before, during and after a great collapse. The story takes place in the United States in the near future where corporations have taken control of everything and everyone. When a character named Crake creates a new virus, almost the entire human population is wiped out and the dystopian neoliberal society is replaced by a post-apocalyptic world. 

The three novels focus on the wanderings of Jimmy, Toby, Zeb and Ren. In the dystopian society, these characters try to find their own place in a corporatist world filled with genetically modified animals, violent ex-convicts and bio-terrorists. However, after the tragedy created by Crake, their main concern becomes survival. After finding each other, they begin to form a new community. This community, in turn, must negotiate the terms of its existence in a world populated by wild animals and « Crakers », a genetically modified humanoid species created by Crake. 

The main interest of MaddAddam for the issue at hand, the unplugging, is the final revelations about the new world that emerged and about the characters who were able to find meaning in this battle for the future of humanity. Atwood’s trilogy can indeed be understood as an alternative to the meaning we usually give to apocalypse, that of revelation rather than extinction, or the imaginative exploration of other possibilities rather than the end of all possibilities(5). Exploring themes of love, hope, freedom and autonomy, Margaret Atwood tells a « beautiful story » of collapse, concluding that her trilogy is « an epic not only of an imagined future but also of our own past, a way of exposing how oral traditions of storytelling led to written traditions and ultimately to the meaning of our origins. »(6).

Beyond its practical aspects (survivalism), unplugging also involves an emotional and intellectual process of working on the meaning of the myths on which our society is based. It is then similar to the concept of « decolonization of the imaginary » proposed by the philosopher Serge Latouche but also of The« desprendimiento  » (disengagement) advocated by many South American intellectuals when they realized that the colonial system was still being perpetuated in their political, cultural, social and economic practices almost two centuries after the wars of independence. This approach « consists, not in opposing or trying to avoid the whole matrix, but in detaching from the values (emotional process of disengagement) that bind its elements together, in separating and disassociating them (intellectual process of disengagement)(7)  » In order to regain the ability to act. 

What if, while looking the collapse straight in the eye, we managed to tell ourselves some beautiful stories? 

Pablo Servigne and Raphaël Stevens 

Notes et références
  1. N. Carr, «Technology: Techno-fix troubles », Nature, vol. 495, n° 7439, 2013, p.45.
  2. Voir J. Campbell, Le pouvoir des mythes.
  3. Paul Valéry, Variété II, Folio, 2012 (1929), p. 149.
  4. P. Servigne, R. Stevens, « Alors ça vient ? Pourquoi la transition se fait attendre », Barricade, 2014.
  5. R. A.. Northover, « Ecological Apocalypse in Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam Trilogy », Studia Neophilologica, vol. 88, n°1, 2016, pp. 81–95.
  6. A. S. Greer, « Final Showdown : MaddAddam, by Margaret Atwood », The New York Times, 6/3/2013.
  7. Valeria Wagner, « Récits à bascule : les cas de La Villa de César Aira et Embassytown de China Miéville », Eu-topias, vol. 12, 2016, pp.119–130.

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