Can climate fiction save us? No, but it can raise awareness and sound the alarm for readers of cli-fi novels around the world!
Cli-fi is a real independent literary genre, which for decades has been offering visions of climate change to overcome what Amitav Gosh calls great ''blindness.''
by NICOLÒ PORCELLUZZI
October 9, 2018
translated from the Italian
and copyright Nicolo Porcelluzzi (born in 1990 in Mestre, Italy)
The new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the most important research center on climate change, was published: the perspectives indicated by the study, as you can imagine, are not the most optimistic. If by 2030 the political and industrial centers fail to contain the increase in temperatures by 1.5 degrees Celsius, the consequences on the overall quality of life, and on the survival of those living near the equator, will be disastrous.
And the writers ... what are they doing? If you like to read it is likely that in recent years you have been questioned about the adherence of your readings with respect to the world around you, which is always more complex, more and more hot, or cold, more and more strange. This is because, as we shall see, much of contemporary narrative in recent years has not been interested in climate changes that already upset the lives of women and men far from our borders. Now that the scenario slowly begins to evolve it should be remembered that science fiction, a literary genre often snubbed, has been engaged for decades to compose visions on the matter.
Science fiction has anticipated the highest literature because it has always been involved in the epic of scarcity, in the construction of habitats, in the description of the different and alien. Signatures that have begun their practice in Sci-Fi in recent decades are nowadays referred to as undisputed authorities in all areas: think of the late fame of Margaret Atwood, due to a TV series (The Handmaid's Tale) taken from one of her twenty-thirty books. Of these then, the trilogy of MaddAddam is a cornerstone of what is now a genre of its own in all respects, climate fiction, or Cli-Fi [''klai-fai''] coined by American climate activist Dan Bloom at his website cli-fi.net -- ''climate fiction'' that tells the impact of the climate emergency on Earth of the 21st century.
Kim Stanley Robinson is the godfather, the polar star of the Cli-Fi canon: an author who in Italy, despite many novels and awards, has not yet met with a recognition commensurate with his influence. In 2016 Fanucci began the publication of his trilogy of Mars, already considered a Classic, an epic of the nineties that tells the terraformation of the red planet, that is the anthropic transformation of the Martian landscape in an ecosystem suitable for human presence. The frontier is utopia, dream of salvation, but one's dreams are known, they are the nightmares of the other.
In fact, terraforming is a goal that the first settlers can not pursue by saving themselves from criticalities and contradictions: each of them, as guided by the same mirage, will act according to its ideological coordinates, be these socialist, militarist or liberal. A painful gestation but the only possible one for a new society far from that corrupt blue planet - and this is one of the recurring themes of Robinson - from a sick economic system. Robinson embodies the duty of inventing new forms of narration capable of proposing radical alternatives, of recreating the meaning of "collective subject". The only subject that, after all, can cope with the climate emergency: divided we dissolve into anxiety.
Climate fiction focuses on this anxiety, abandoning itself to speculative projections, plunging into the most diverse abysses; as Kunkel notes in the New Yorker novels are rare able to face the emergency with the tools of the present, to reconstruct our psychic condition, mostly impotent. A book that manages to photograph the mismatch between the objectivity of climate change and our subjectivity, intermittent and aimed at the short term, is undoubtedly In the world to come of Ben Lerner, a masterpiece that manages to articulate the paradoxes of an emergency already in place without setting up any fantasy scenography:
La fantascienza si aggancia a quest’ansia abbandonandosi a proiezioni speculative, tuffi nei più diversi baratri; come nota Kunkel sul New Yorker sono rari i romanzi capaci di affrontare l’emergenza con gli strumenti del presente, di ricostruire la nostra condizione psichica, per lo più impotente. Un libro che riesce a fotografare lo sfasamento tra l’oggettività dei cambiamenti climatici e la nostra soggettività, intermittente e rivolta al breve termine, è senza dubbio Nel mondo a venire di Ben Lerner, un capolavoro che riesce ad articolare i paradossi di un’emergenza già in atto senza allestire nessuna scenografia fantasy:
''Another hurricane historian had failed to arrive, as if we lived out of history or were slipping out of time. But in reality he had arrived, only not from us. In the lower part of Manhattan the subway and the road tunnels were filled with water. [...] Two men approached, at least one of them drunk, who asked us for some money. In the absence of the street lamps and the established order there was a long time when I could not understand if they were begging or threatening a snatch.''
Is the catastrophe to anticipate loneliness, or the opposite? An attempt to answer is hidden in Sebald's pilgrimages, gems like The Rings of Saturn (Adelphi, 2010) that oscillate between fiction and non-fiction, reconnaissance of suburbs in which Nature, whatever we mean, becomes scenario, protagonist, antagonist. In Sebald, ecological awareness arises from the idea of deep time, that is, the fabric of life on the planet:
Even time ages. Pyramids, arches of triumph and obelisks are columns of ice that melts. [...] The seed of poppy sprouts everywhere, and if, on a summer day, unexpected as the snow catches us the misfortune, then we want nothing more than to be forgotten.
Forget about it or not, it's time to prepare for the times when the unlikely will be proposed as a norm, where the recurrence of floods and tornadoes will change our idea of the ordinary. In Literature and Ecology (Carocci, 2017), Niccolò Scaffai compares the observations of Franco Moretti (literary critic and professor at Stanford) and Amitav Ghosh (author of The Great Blindness for Neri Pozza, 2017) arriving at a clear synthesis: our idea the novel is based on mechanisms already in use in the nineteenth century, set "to keep the narrative of life under control", to give it an order, relegating "the unheard of towards the background". But environmental catastrophes are unheard of, cancel any perspective between us and the background, between the human and the non-human.
A catastrophic good sense is urgently needed, which according to Ghosh has always accompanied us over the millennia, until "the instinctive awareness of the unpredictability of the planet" has been gradually supplanted by solversion, by faith in technology. From these premises we explain the fascination of a literary current developed recently in the USA by Dan Bloom and dubbed cli-fi.
The hard science fiction of Kim Stanley Robinson is an idea of literature that stands up by explaining itself, continuously. The new weird instead does not explain, does not need it, corrupts, confuses ... it is an exercise of hybridization, of overcoming between human and non-human, in debt to the philosophies of Timothy Morton and Donna Haraway. Speaking of Haraway, his Chthulucene is out for the types of BLACK (the difficult translation is the work of Claudia Durastanti). It is a collection of essays where one of the most eccentric and visionary minds of recent times hybrid science fiction biology and feminism, genetic composting and poetry, exercising through language a new awareness: between mammals and pollen molds we have never been, and we will not be never, at the center of the world. Nightmare material for scientists like Michael Beard told by McEwan in Solar (Einaudi, 2010). Invited to a residence of artists in the Arctic, the old Nobel laureate does not know how it is finished
in a room to drink with so many people conquered by the same extravagant hypothesis, namely that it would be art in its most noble forms, from poetry to sculpture to dance, from absolute music to conceptual art, to raise the question of climate change , [...] to induce the public to reflect and react in the first person or to demand the same from others.
A doubt of those obstinate: will it be enough to tell us stories to survive? Anthropological studies aimed at deciphering human adaptability in hostile environments identify a fundamental technology in storytelling. For thousands of years telling stories has proved to be the best strategy to pass on the so-called shared knowledge, or instructions for the use of life - how to live in harmony, longer, mixed with the non-human. Culture remains our only time machine, especially in times when stories that tell nothing are proliferating.