“For me the only true, serious science
worth following is science fiction” [i]
During the lockdown, with the images of deserted cities, the anonymity of doctors and nurses behind their masks, the possibility – at least in Israel – to track people’s movements and location via their smartphones, you could often hear people saying that they felt like they were living in a science-fiction film.
When asked about science-fiction, Lacan said: “Let us note that without science, there can be no science-fiction… surely, science-fiction beats around the bush of the collective unconscious, to which only one thing in the world testifies: every language (langue). But how are we to take that unconscious? It is something that is produced in every one, whether there is science-fiction or not. It is not by coincidence that, after some mixing, we reached languages (des langues) characterized by plays on words, équivoques, which testify to the consistency of a collective unconscious… Science-fiction can only be constituted by that which excludes it, because it is finally striking that is should only serve to express unconscious structures that are absolutely particular”.[ii]
In 2012, in an interview held in Buenos Aires, Eric Laurent describes how, in the 1960s, the mass publication of pocket-books started; that’s how Freud’s works came out – The Interpretation of Dreams, and then the essays on sexuality, and the Introductory lectures to psychoanalysis. “They caught my attention immediately, it was knowledge that was not taught in schools, a different knowledge, knowledge that was truly recent and contemporary. Access to Freud was not through an institution, nor through university courses in Psychology. If there was any institution involved in this encounter with Freud, it was the bookstore as an institution. That encounter was highly personal, but it is true that, at the same time, there was a generational effect, in that you could talk about this with your friends. The curious thing is that when you talked to your friends, Freud became part of conversations about all that was new in Humanities, which, we might say, is the same as to say that these were conversations about science-fiction, which was something that fascinated us. So Freud became a version of science-fiction. It was the same Freud who interpreted our dreams, as if they were something actual, just as Asimov did, in a great science-fiction novel called Foundation, in which a community is founded and commented upon by its founder along the centuries. But Foundation is also the paranoid delirium of that absolute prediction, as well as a commentary on Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, which was, precisely, not to think that this would be a nightmare, but that a knowledge about Humanities could be compatible with history. And that was Asimov’s bet”. [iii]
Jorge Luis Borges wrote, in 1954, an introduction to the Spanish version of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. I wish to note a few points from that introduction, in which Borges refers to three works: The first is by Luciano de Samosata from the 2nd century. The second work is by Ludovico Ariosto from the 16th century. The third work is Kepler’s Somnium Astronomicum dated from the 17th century.
“The first two [imaginary voyages] are, however, irresponsible and free inventions and the third one is obstructed by an eagerness for verisimilitude. The reason is clear. For Luciano and for Ariosto, a voyage to the moon was a symbol or archetype of the impossible… for Kepler, it was already a possibility, as it is for us… By its nature of anticipation of a possible or probable future, Somnium Astronomicum precedes, unless I am mistaken, the new narrative genre that North-Americans call ‘science-fiction’ or ‘scientifiction’ and of which these Chronicles are an admirable example…”[iv]
We are used to think that science-fiction began with the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, but Borges’s rigorousness allows him to identify that it actually started in this work by Kepler. Borges’s choice is not only interesting, it is a lesson to us all. At exactly the same moment when scientific discourse was born, science-fiction was born, too. It picks up that subject that is rejected by science. The same logic of production of the subject – the logic of being foreclosed by scientific discourse – applies to science-fiction, too.
That knowledge about Humanities, the knowledge that could be compatible with history, is the knowledge that pertains to the subject. A new knowledge that touches upon the subject of science, the subject as foreclosed from scientific discourse. This is what we mean when we say that “the subject of psychoanalysis is the subject of science”.
When someone – myself, friends, no doubt, a generational question – mentions that he feels that he is living in a science-fiction film, is it not a way of saying that he suffers from having been foreclosed from the common discourse, from the epidemiological discourse? We can feel it, we are in science-fiction, it’s definitely one possible nomination for the event.
Translated by Dan Shalit Kenig
A longer version of this paper was published originally in Spanish in Zadig Espana. Available Online.
[i] Lacan J., “1974, Jacques Lacan, entretien au magazine Panorama”, La Cause du désir, n088, 2014, pág. 171, (free translation).
[ii]Lacan J., “Interview de Lacan sur la science-fiction”, La Cause du désir, n084, 2013, pág. 8 (free translation).
[iv] Borges J.L., “Prólogos con un prólogo de prólogos”, Obras Completas IV, EMECE, 1996, pág. 28 (free translation)