Monday, August 10, 2009

How to dream science fiction

by Sylvie Bérard

At the end of July, while everybody was heading to Montreal for Worldcon,
I was leaving in the opposite direction, heading to Cerisy-la-Salle, France, for a ten-day conference on science fiction under the theme "Comment rêver la science-fiction à présent" ["Contemporary science fiction dreams of tomorrows" or, literally, "How to dream science fiction at present"].

The organisers Danièle André (Université Pasquale Paoli, Corte), Daniel Tron (Université de Poitiers), and Aurélie Villers (Université de Nice), wanted to check whether SF had a future or was slowly dying. Science fiction had been the source of most twentieth century myths, it had offered a remarkable base for representation of contemporary society and helped us understand the complexity our own world, but was it still relevant in those times when reality was constantly competing with the most unbelievable scientific hypotheses, when even science seemed to have trouble renewing itself? Forty or so scholars met to reflect on the serious matter of the future of science fiction, to produce a "state of the question" of contemporary SF and to address a series of sub-questions: could SF keep surfing forever on the same old myths in new, futuristic contexts? could it regenerate itself in new supports and/or in cultural contexts other than those where it had flourished during its first century of existence? hadn't the hybridation process with other genres transformed it already, and if so, in which way? where do the new models could come from? and was hybridation a sign of renewal or, on the contrary, of a profound crisis?

There probably were fewer Klingons and 3D models over there than there were in Montreal, and the panels and paper had their dark, pessimistic moments, but overall the conference was a blast. The questions were many; approaches were pluridisciplinary and not only limited to the (French) written word. Scholars came not only from France, but from the US, Canada, UK and Spain. Papers pertained to fields such as arts and media studies, language and literature studies, hard and social sciences, communication, history, psychology, philosophy, etc. SF works included literature, cinema, graphic novels, animés, mangas and visual arts. The format was also different from most North-American conferences, as it was based on forty-minute papers followed by a twenty-minute discussion, which left plenty of time to satisfactorily deploy a topic, and to discuss it thoroughly. The conference also included performances, round tables, public readings of works of fiction, and film showings. The fact that most participants lived in the castle for the whole duration of the conference and so could meet between the papers and other activities, helped make this conference a real ten-day science fiction-based utopia.

I have been told that it has now become a tradition: the last ten days of July at the Centre culturel international de Cerisy-la-Salle a
re now dedicated to the "littératures de l'imaginaire" ["literatures of the imaginary"]. Well, that's probably not the last ten-day stay that I spend secluded in that Normandy castle, discussing outlandish matters...

PS: To take into account the core topic of this blog, I should add that the future of SF didn't seem very queer, at least based on this conference, as only a few of the papers actually covered queer topics: Margaret Galvan's paper on women only utopian science fiction and Anne Kustritz's paper on postmodern eugenism. But this is French academy, and gender studies are not as common as they are in the anglosaxon world--and it is significant that the two scholars I mentioned are from the US. Even the paper I presented at Cerisy was not really about queer or gender matters (although it is a bit unavoidable when talking about that author), as my paper was about dream as a SF topos in Élisabeth Vonarburg's fiction.

For a complete list of the papers that were presented. check the conference website (in French).
For an excellent (also in French) review of the conference, check this website.

Oh, and for your information, next year's conference will be on the Western, if you so feel inclined.


  1. Sylvie, this whole conference sounds amazing. We don't hear enough about things that are going on outside the English-speaking world. But clearly there is some interest in gender/queer issues, as I was recently asked to write a brief article about it for a new queer journal called Heterographe (sorry, can't figure out how to make this do accents). They're translating the piece into French for the publication.

  2. The conference was amazing indeed. And I have just taken the liberty to post a CFP for another conference in French.