Pierre Ducrozet : « Le défi climatique m’excite plus qu’il ne m’effraie »English translation from deepl.com
In Le grand vertige (published by Actes Sud in 2020), his new cli-fi novel, Mr. Pierre Ducrozet in France ....Twitter ID at (@pierreducrozet) ....stages the fight against global warming and questions, in a hollow, the best way to live in the world in the 21st century. All this through a gallery of characters who wonderfully embody the generational and ideological tensions of the moment. Interview with a man of his time.
If science fiction has been able to take up the theme
of global warming, sometimes to the point of saturation - climate fiction is now considered a literary current in its own right - contemporary novelists, with a few exceptions, still seem as timid as ever at the idea of tackling it in their turn. Pierre Ducrozet, for his part, is less pusillanimous. It is precisely in order to resonate with his time, that of a burning issue in the literal sense of the word, that he has chosen to make the climate issue the central subject of his new novel. A book whose title, The Great Vertigo, sounds like the title of a chapter in a history textbook that would look back over the period 2000-2030.
At the heart of this story with its holistic ambition, divided into increasingly shorter chapters as we get closer to the end, we come across the boomer Adam Thobias, a pioneer of ecological thinking appointed to head an International Commission on Climate Change, which he will transform into a parallel network of activists in which June, 22 years old, agrees to participate, from millennium to caricature. In parallel, we follow the work of Nathan, a young biologist who is trying to unravel the mystery of perpetual motion - and thus of clean and infinite energy - through the study of the photosynthesis of a bionic plant.
While he looks less far into the future here than in his previous novel, L'invention des corps, which plunged the reader into the transhumanist fantasies of a Californian entrepreneur inspired by Peter Thiel, Pierre Ducrozet has the merit of taking up this time with his pen the challenge of the century, that of the climate. It was well worth a meeting to talk about the future. All the more so since the writer intends to play a full part in the "reinvention of artistic and literary forms" he so desperately wants.
Usbek & Rica: In L'Invention des corps (Actes Sud, 2017), you explore the future as it imagines itself in Silicon Valley, with characters inspired by real-life figures like Richard Stallman or Peter Thiel. Your new novel explores less the future than the present, but always with the same obsession for the body and movement ...
Pierre Ducrozet : I've always wanted to write about movement and travel. The body imposed itself as an obvious entry point for my previous book, but today it is more a question of the gesture of writing than a theme in itself. Afterwards, it's true that I like to "take" my characters in their bodies, in their movements, without dwelling on psychology. I like authors like Hemingway, Carver or Faulkner for precisely that reason, this way of being less in psychology than in action.
"The idea was to try to bring the whole world into a single narrative.
With The Great Vertigo, the idea was to try to bring the whole world into a single narrative, and to somehow manage to map the whole. During a conversation with my editor for my previous novel, she had this sentence: "In fact, your book, rather than The Invention of Bodies, could be called The Habitation of the World. "It worked for me and this new book is really that: we go beyond the body and we question the way we inhabit space, the world.
Apart from Ian McEwan's Solaire (Gallimard, 2011), or more recently Lieke Marsman's Le Contraire d'une personne (Rue de l'Échiquier, 2019), there are hardly any contemporary novels whose plot is based head-on on the fight against global warming. For having chosen this theme?
That's right. Moreover, it is also true for the subject of transhumanism, which was at the heart of The Invention of the Bodies. Why is the climate crisis always approached through science fiction and from a dystopian angle? To this day, I still haven't read a novel about the forces at work, about how we try and fail to fight global warming. Is it because the present time is difficult to "put" in a novel and is quickly perishing? I don't know. In any case, I find it very exciting. The climate challenge fascinates me more than it frightens me. And I really wonder why there aren't more of us fiction writers taking up this subject. It's such a huge thing that's going on...
To be credible on a subject like this, does the novelist have to do more research?
I had a lot of discussions with my brother, who is an economist, to evaluate the budget that the Climate Commission that I imagine in the book would have to spend.
I talked a lot with my brother, who is an economist, to evaluate the budget that the Climate Commission that I imagine in the book would have. Initially, I had in mind the sum of 7 billion euros and he told me: "But no, much more! ». In the end, I put in 120 billion... And it's true that for the past few months, between the climate crisis and the health crisis, it's perfectly normal to come across such dizzying amounts in the news.
For The Invention of Bodies, I had done a lot of investigative work. Documentary writing was more important, with passages on networks, the history of the Internet, research on the lengthening of life...
Here, global warming is naturally my subject. I've made a beautiful thematic library, of course, but I'm already in it every day. The idea was really to be as close as possible to what is happening in our reality. And all the places through which history passes are places that I know, from Burma to Kenya. More than a work of documentation, it was a question of constituting a rather coherent thought on this subject that we all know, of finding my own angle.
"Engaging in a form of austerity does not necessarily mean giving up all forms of mobility and life.
It is a novel whose plot is based on a series of tensions: between localism and globalization, between boomers and millennials, between militant radicalism and "cool transition" ...
Exactly, and that's really deliberate. I published last year, with Julieta Canepa, a children's book on Ces jeunes qui changent le monde (Lamartinière, 2019), and published in the last few months in Libération several articles on these subjects. Let's say that I believe that committing to a form of austerity does not necessarily have to mean giving up all forms of mobility and life. It is necessary to be able to find a new impetus, a new hedonism. How can we do this economically and politically? How to articulate global and local? One must read Bruno Latour on this subject, when he digs into these contradictions to define his concept of "terrestrial". We need a myriad of experiences and local systems, but it is essential to also invent the superstructure that will link the whole.
"How could we have believed that our species could "settle down" definitively when everything, everywhere, is in movement on this planet? »
Finding "a perpetual movement, but without leaving traces", as one of your characters says, is that what we are talking about today?
That's what it's all about. In 2020, we collectively realized that our system was not sustainable, that it was a sand castle of hallucinating fragility. How could we have believed that our species could somehow "settle down" definitively when everything, everywhere, is in movement on this planet? This is an incredible historical error, hence the historical detour I make in the heart of the novel about the digging of the very first oil well, on August 17, 1859 in Titusville, Pennsylvania. I don't believe at all that ecology is just being content with the local and renouncing any form of displacement. That's not the solution: you need movement, but another movement.
An oil well An oil well / Floréalréal - CC BY-SA 4.0
June, the heroine, thinks like you: she is radical in her ecological commitment but doesn't want to feel guilty when she takes a bubble bath...
June is 22 years old. And she should be living like a hermit with the excesses of previous generations? Why should she? And moreover, this generation is criticized for "not being very fun"... Let's not exaggerate anyway! It's not because boomers have been bathed in champagne that we should do the same thing, but I don't see why June should have to grow up with permanent guilt. Besides, you don't win political battles with the spring of guilt. In fact, today we need to talk about "challenge" more than "climate" crisis: it's a great time to reinvent a lot of things. A moment of joy too, as May '68 could be. It's like technology: it's still extraordinary what you can do with the Internet... Confinement has shown us once again: it was the experience of "world space" from home, between the hyperlocal and the hypermondial.
"Ecological, racial and gender struggles have no borders.
In the aftermath of the municipal elections, the ecologist Noël Mamère told us that he believed in the emergence of justice as a new marker of the convergence of struggles, at least for the "climate generation". Do you agree?
From the moment when "world space" asserts itself, when "world unity" becomes a reality, why wouldn't George Floyd's death speak to young people on the other side of the planet? We must nevertheless remember that Greta Thunberg was initially sitting alone on a street in Stockholm, and that two months later the whole world was marching in the Fridays for Future events. Thanks to the Internet, of course, but not only: ecological, racial, gender struggles have no borders. This universal consciousness could be seen at work also at the end of 2019, with social revolts at work simultaneously in Chile, Lebanon and Hong Kong.
Pierre Ducrozet Pierre Ducrozet / © Chris Palomar
The other hero of the book is Nathan, the biologist. With his alchemist side, he tries to unravel the mystery of perpetual motion through the meticulous study of the photosynthesis of a bionic plant. There is an almost "solutionist" side to this quest?
How is it possible that we don't really know how the life principle of photosynthesis in all its complexity works? With Nathan, I wanted to ask this question: how do we manage to be as porous as plants? How to be "in the world" like them, who don't even need arms or hands? Nathan is obsessed with perpetual movement and the idea of being part of it, of rediscovering that form of nomadism that allows one to be there, always present to things. While the heroes of oil extraction, paradoxically, by opening the floodgates, have frozen the world.
"The idea of a national novel, in my eyes, no longer makes any sense.
At the moment, there is this fashionable formula, in science fiction, but not that: we would need a "war of the imaginary", that would be the precondition for a possible change in the state of the world. Are you part of this movement?
As long as we don't imagine a new way of being alive, as long as we don't manage to create new collective and individual narratives, we're not going to succeed. In literature, what excites me is to see how this transformation, this change of world, will be embodied in new artistic forms. Artistic history, especially literary history, is always linked to the great history. For example, the idea of the "national novel", in my opinion, no longer makes sense. The "great American novel," moreover, should eventually cease to exist... We need to adhere to the great porosity of the world we inhabit. We need to go beyond fixed artistic forms and codes, and that starts by decentralizing the place of the human in the stories. So yes, we need new narratives, and we need to get started without delay!
SUR LE MÊME SUJET :
> Cli-Fi : des fictions pour prendre conscience du péril climatique