Neither Heroism nor Tragedy : Learning to Make Way for New Correspondences between Science and its Questions through Ursula Le Guin’s Writings on Writing
Literature, Science, Science fiction
How can exchanging stories teach us to respond in catastrophic times? The deluge of words, images, statistics, prognoses, and debates tells us that something is happening, the planet is trembling, and a response is needed. Everything speaks to a state change, but nothing orients action itself. How to offer a response to ecological crisis without it being immediately returned, revised, if not parodied? Debates over the “anthropocene” are a case in point, while merchants of doubt have made a career out of it (Bonneuil & Fressoz 2016; Hamilton 2016; Oreskes & Conway, 2011). To escape the anxiety of the permanent state of emergency and act, the ecological crisis must be dramatised, narrated. Some imagine this imperative as a problem of governance, of a new social contract — but other genres are possible! What can we learn from science fiction, fabulation or speculation (Haraway, 2016) in order to hold a world that escapes us together, filled with ghosts and monsters (Tsing, 2017), in order to find a place for the sciences? By analysing Ursula Le Guin’s writings on writing — her essay “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction,” her book Steering the Craft, along with her online collaboration Navigating the Ocean of Story I/II — we examine SF’s ability to make way for new correspondences between what is and what is to come. “Steering the craft,” “navigating the ocean,” Le Guin takes up an eminently political register to characterise her art and the care it requires. What lessons can we find to tutor our own modes of reading/writing in the shadow of an ecological crisis that emboldens fascisms and their strategic deployment of “fake news”? In contrast to the scientific mission of “sharing knowledge,” fake news muddies the waters, propagates ad hominem attacks and reduces worldly storytelling to a war of positions. Building on recent work on ecological narrativity (Heise, 2017) and pragmatist studies of scientific labor (Stengers 2017, Despret 2011), we propose an inquiry/performance in homage to Ursula Le Guin. It will dramatise an epistolary exchange concerning the role of political beacon played by SF in the dark night of modernist progress. This communication was presented at the conference “The Legacies of Ursula K. Le Guin: Science, Fiction and Ethics for the Anthropocene” held on June 18-21 2019 in Paris at Université de la Sorbonne Nouvelle.