Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Human After All

Something to listen to while reading:

I have just read The Drowned World by J G Ballard. What particularly struck me about the book was within the postscript. Ballard comments on the fragility of society/ status quo. Ballard discusses how living through a war allowed him to see society as a construction. This idea is central to The Drowned World. Kerans refers to the structured society that Colonal Riggs represents as being unreal, a construction. Kerans, Beatrice and Bodkin are sharing the same dream, their consciousness collectively aligning with an ancient archetype, regressing mentally as their new world regresses to Triassic conditions.

The point I would most like to hold on to is that society is a construction, easily broken. I heard somewhere that civilised society is only three meals away from anarchy. Nothing in our day to day lives is actually real and it is all subject to extreme change. Resilience is the ability to roll with changes, embrace them and shift to the pattern of change.

The book I am currently reading is What I Was by Meg Rosoff. Rosoff is easier to read than Ballard, being a children’s writer. Her stories are simple and comfortable where Ballard’s are complex and sophisticated. There is something that is linking these two stories together and entwining myself within the folds. Finn is a boy who lives in a shack on a tidal island. He is wild, (partially) disconnected from society’s rules and constructed existence. Finn’s life is based in the facts and reality of living, of catching enough crabs to eat and sell, of collecting wood for his fire, on the act of being alive.

In Rosoff’s first book, How I Live Now, we meet four siblings with a similar unreality (disconnection from society’s rules).

I can relate to Finn and Edmond and Issac et al because I too wish to live in such a manner. I don’t mean total disconnection, because that would be rejecting things as they are now. I mean a partial disconnection, a state in which I exist as part of society but not expressly reliant on it.

I strive for this simple existence that acknowledges the fragile unreality of society. I want to be resilient, able to accept changes, to accept a total change of regime if it came to it. But I have been brought up in this society and have been conditioned by it. I often feel a sense of vertigo, as it were. I feel like What the hell am I doing? I have hardly any money, no security, no future path cleared ahead of me. I should acquire these things!

But these things are all so fragile. There is no resilience in them.

This brings me on to Sci Fi as a genre. The Drowned World is a science fiction novel. It is very different from the sci fi I have been reading recently, in that it accepts the fragility and temporal reality of our world and society. Often science fiction assumes our society will continue indefinitely far into the future and beyond the confines of this world. I disagree with this. We are not resilient enough. Our planet is subject to huge changes and the situation in The Drowned World is a lot more plausible than many sci fi situations. We are not all powerful. We are just successful animals enjoying a peak.

All animals have a limited capacity. We do not expect a dog to be able to compose a poem or discuss the intricacies of quantum physics. Why then do we expect the human species to have an unlimited capacity? Ages ago there was something on Radio 4 that discussed the limits of human comprehension. Martin Rees suggests robots will be the key to overcoming our biological limitations (though does not go into how the robots will be manufactured or fuelled if fossil fuels were to run out).

The lecture is extremely interesting, especially in relation to writing science fiction. It is neither disparaging of speculative science nor is it fanciful.

To listen to the lecture please follow this link. It’s well worth it, especially for sci fi geeks.

Lastly, the above ideas can be linked to the short story by Kurt Vonnegut entitled Tom Edison’s Shaggy Dog, the premise of which greatly amuses me and which I would like to take on as fact.

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