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Lauren Beukes

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Those who cannot imagine the future

There’s that great maxim: Those who don’t remember the past are doomed to repeat it.

I’d like to add: Those who cannot imagine the future are doomed to fuck it up.

 

Recent comments:

  • <a href="http://kelwynsole.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Kelwyn Sole</a>
    Kelwyn Sole
    February 18th, 2012 @18:02 #
     
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    Well, yes, Lauren: agreed. Although I think it's pretty difficult to imagine the future, as the future has a habit of going entirely in a different direction to what's expected, and thus kicking one in the ****. (I am tempted to repeat the lyrics of that dreadful Jimmy Webb song from the 1960s, 'MacArthur Park').

    Ask any Zimbabwean in the early days of 2000, I guess. Also there's a wonderful novel by Cela, 'San Camilo 1936', which deals with the three days leading up to the start of the Spanish Civil War. It starts with everyone - the protagonists - thinking about sex and alcohol and a good time, and ends up with them starting to kill one other....

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  • <a href="http://kelwynsole.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Kelwyn Sole</a>
    Kelwyn Sole
    February 19th, 2012 @09:32 #
     
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    Correction - Webb's 'The Yard Goes (Went?) On Forever'. (Hear them singing in the doorways / the women of Pompeii / standing with the Nagasaki housewife...).

    Not knocking Webb - ah, those crooning, yearning songs on background radio in the 60s ... Galveston, The Moon's a Harsh Mistress, Wichita Lineman, By the Time I Get to Phoenix... words fail.

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  • <a href="http://www.moxyland.com" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    February 19th, 2012 @09:49 #
     
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    Ah, but I'm not saying "predict the future", which is another thing entirely.

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  • <a href="http://kelwynsole.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Kelwyn Sole</a>
    Kelwyn Sole
    February 19th, 2012 @12:03 #
     
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    So I guess it's imagine the future(s)?

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  • <a href="http://kelwynsole.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Kelwyn Sole</a>
    Kelwyn Sole
    February 19th, 2012 @12:58 #
     
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    Lauren, if you don't mind, can I draw you out a little more on the difference between 'predict' and 'imagine'? My take is that you can't predict the future, but you can try .... and there's quite a lot of literature, esp novels, that do this. For instance, a while bunch of writers in the 1980s/90s - Kanengoni, Hove, Chinodya, Nyamfukuzda - are sending out signals in their fiction that Zim may be in trouble some time in the future - to me, this is the best type of 'political fiction'. And it both imagines and predicts.
    (I'd want to suggest that it's also what at least some of the current wave of SA crime fiction is attempting to do).

    A lot of sf does something similar - warns about/extrapolates trends, and tries and imagine what the social/psychological etc result might be. There's not a lot of sf that just 'imagines' - Varley's Steel Beach, maybe ... can't think.

    But my question is: what's the point of just 'imagining' in creative literature without attempting a predictive element?
    I get a bit lost here...fantasy does more of it, I guess. But you are suggesting that if you can't imagine, it will have consequences....

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  • <a href="http://www.moxyland.com" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    February 19th, 2012 @23:24 #
     
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    It's imagining plausible possibilities, what ifs within reason (or outside of reason that still say something interesting eg. China Mieville's language allegory Embassytown) rather than playing Nostradamus.

    It's using fiction as a way of exploring ideas, extrapolating on current trajectories, socio-economic, political, technological, personal, interrogating where we are now, who we are now, where we're going.

    Some of those what ifs might turn out to be on-the-money.

    I've been a little alarmed by some of the stuff that Moxyland seemed to have predicted, like, oh say government shutting down cell phones and cutting off your Internet for perfectly bad reasons.

    But that doesn't make me a futurist, it makes me a good observer of right now (and apartheid actually with media censorship and attempts at social control) and there were already examples of cell phone cut offs that were happening when I was writing the novel.

    William Gibson has a great take on this from this interview with The Paris Review: http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/6089/the-art-of-fiction-no-211-william-gibson

    INTERVIEWER

    Do you think fiction should be predictive?

    GIBSON

    No, I don’t. Or not particularly. The record of futurism in science fiction is actually quite shabby, it seems to me. Used bookstores are full of visionary texts we’ve never heard of, usually for perfectly good reasons.

    INTERVIEWER

    You’ve written that science fiction is never about the future, that it is always instead a treatment of the present.

    GIBSON

    There are dedicated futurists who feel very seriously that they are extrapolating a future history. My position is that you can’t do that without having the present to stand on. Nobody can know the real future. And novels set in imaginary futures are necessarily about the moment in which they are written. As soon as a work is complete, it will begin to acquire a patina of anachronism. I know that from the moment I add the final period, the text is moving steadily forward into the real future.

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  • <a href="http://www.moxyland.com" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    February 19th, 2012 @23:28 #
     
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    (Gibson quote contd:)
    There was an effort in the seventies to lose the usage science fiction and champion speculative fiction. Of course, all fiction is speculative, and all history, too—endlessly subject to revision. Particularly given all of the emerging technology today, in a hundred years the long span of human history will look fabulously different from the version we have now. If things go on the way they’re going, and technology keeps emerging, we’ll eventually have a near-total sorting of humanity’s attic.

    In my lifetime I’ve been able to watch completely different narratives of history emerge. The history now of what World War II was about and how it actually took place is radically different from the history I was taught in elementary school. If you read the Victorians writing about themselves, they’re describing something that never existed. The Victorians didn’t think of themselves as sexually repressed, and they didn’t think of themselves as racist. They didn’t think of themselves as colonialists. They thought of themselves as the crown of creation.

    Of course, we might be Victorians, too.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    February 21st, 2012 @00:43 #
     
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    LOVE the bit about the Victorians. Thanks, Lauren, this is fascinating.

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  • <a href="http://www.moxyland.com" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    February 21st, 2012 @01:29 #
     
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    I know, so perfectly astute and funny.

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  • <a href="http://kelwynsole.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Kelwyn Sole</a>
    Kelwyn Sole
    February 21st, 2012 @07:34 #
     
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    Maybe I'm just dyspeptic this morning, but I suspect we in SA at the moment are more Victorian than the Victorians will ever be, or were. I also believe you have to take the self-understanding of past generations seriously, even the Victorians - there's a passage in Kim Stanley Robinson's wonderful novel 'Antarctica' where he talks about the awe we should feel for all those wrong-headed, not-so-clever people in our past, despite the mistakes they made: he's talking about the Scott expedition at the time, if I remember.

    This is fascinating, Lauren, but something still is niggling at me here. I take Gibson's point about literary extrapolation being about the present: sure, absolutely. But I think there's a straw person here - I can't think of any sf writer worth his/her salt who is a 'futurist' in the way described.

    I see WG is distancing himself from the cyberpunk label - haven't read anything of his since Idora (sp?), so I wouldn't know. Certainly Sterling has distanced himself, too....but I've never been a fan of cyber/splatter/steampunk, and one of my problems with them is that they seem content to describe their extrapolated trends as fashion; as style, without any of the 'future-warning' element you, and WG, seem to think is important....or am I wrong?

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  • <a href="http://kelwynsole.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Kelwyn Sole</a>
    Kelwyn Sole
    February 21st, 2012 @07:41 #
     
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    Poem in illustration (of Robinson's point):

    "These live people,
    These more
    Than three dimensional
    By time protracted edgewise into heretofore
    People,
    How shall we bury all
    These time-shaped people,
    In graves that have no more
    Than three dimensions?
    Can we dig
    With such sidlings and declensions
    As to coffin bodies big
    With memory?
    And how
    Can the earth's contracted Now
    Enclose these knuckles and this crooked knee
    Sprawled over hours of a sun long set?

    Or do these bones forget?"

    - Archibald MacLeish (fr. 'Signature for Tempo')

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  • Chiara
    Chiara
    February 21st, 2012 @14:15 #
     
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    I think the John Dube-Haggard story currently on our front page may be an interesting digression here. Stephen Coan has written an article where he talks about H Rider Haggard, the victorian adventure novelist (King Solomon's Mines, Ayesha, the "all-Zulu novel" Nada the Lily), whom Coan says made "prophetic" comments about SA's future in his journal, Diary of an African Journey (edited by Coan). Just thought it was interesting considering the talk here of Victorians and prediction, noting also the genre Haggard was writing in (I haven't read his stuff tbh, but based on your comments, Kelwyn, it looks like there's an interesting story emerging here about the links between spec-fic and political fic?)

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  • <a href="http://kelwynsole.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Kelwyn Sole</a>
    Kelwyn Sole
    February 21st, 2012 @14:39 #
     
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    Yes, Chiara, I think there is a story, or rather a road to be followed here - but it feels like one may have to steer a complicated path along it. What's interesting about the Zimbabwean novelists I mentioned is that none of them 'tries to look' into the post-2nd chimurenga future: but the extrapolative signals are there, if one is attentive enough. It needs the reader to be prepared to make the links, and imagine and think through, to some extent - even though the signals, "trouble is likely to come!" are there.

    And the connections of political questions/issues with sf/fantasy are obviously there in some 'genre fiction' - LeGuin's The Dispossessed; Mieville's The City & The City, Mack Reynolds' work etc ... right wing as well; people like Anderson and sometimes Heinlein. (Someone jokingly said to me recently that it looks like most of 1990s and post-1990s Brit sf was written by members of the SWP!) But I think Lauren is talking about something that's imbricated (love that word) on this more obvious type.....very interesting.

    I am as fascinated by those who unconsciously forget the past, and believe they've superseded it - looking just at the history of literary debate in SA, things are constantly forgotten, debates vanish as if they never existed - so the wheel is constantly being reinvented. It may have something to do with colonial pathology, otherwise I dunno why....

    but I love the way history, just like the future, never does what you want it to. Who would have thought the debate about 'political literature' in SA would re-emerge re an upsurge of crime fiction, and our attempts to understand what's going on? Cool.

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