Racial Fears and Techno-Apocalypses

A new post in the future wars series: yellow perils, bacteriological weapons, and futuristic inventions, before and after WWI

By 1908, the stereotypes and racialised representation of Asian populations used in Albert Robida’s feuilleton La guerre infernale – such as the demographic pressure and willingness to sacrifice millions of individuals (instalments 16, 24), the comparisons with insects such as ants (instalment 23, Les fourmis jaunes), the topoi of Oriental cruelty – were well established in popular Western yellow peril narratives and propaganda.[1]

In La guerre, bacteriological weapons are used to reduce their numbers (instalment 25, A nous le choléra!) but soon these weapons pollute the waters and affect the “whites” as well. Among yellow-perils coeval narratives, Jack London’s “The Unparalleled Invasion” ought to be mentioned for a similar idea of an annihilation of Chinese people operated – successfully in London’s case – by Western powers with bacteriological weaponry, after the realisation of China’s potential for world domination thanks to its demographic strength. Written around 1907 and first published in 1910, London’s short story is mainly set in 1976, and it is framed as written retrospectively from a yet even more distant future. According to John Swift “The Unparalleled Invasion” “clearly gives expression to an uneasy premonition, in London, in his culture, or in both, of the precariousness of white racial supremacy; but, more interestingly, it pays homage in language and plot to an emergent science and scientism that made racial anxieties simultaneously more frightening and more manageable.”[2] The parallel might help today’s reader to better grasp the significance of the yellow peril theme at the time, and to see how a grotesque exaggeration and satirical elements are exploited by Giffard and Robida’s in expressing in words and images racial fears.

The fear of an overwhelming wave is aptly represented by the image of an artificial hill made by soldier with their bodies, which the Chinese army erects on its march towards Moscow so that the officers can get a better view of their surroundings (instalment 28, Les Chinois à Moscou). The scene is described with horror by the narrator, who is following the Chinese army as a prisoner with other Westerners. In Moscow, horrible tortures and painful deaths await them, drawing on the topos of Oriental cruelty, not unprecedented in Robida’s work, nor isolated in popular French and Western publications, where, by the end of the 1880s, Chinese torture had become a fairly common topic in  public discourse, thanks not only to the interest in Chinese society and culture created by developments in East-West political and cultural relations such as the opening of a Chinese embassy in London in 1877 and the Chinese section at the 1878 Paris International Exhibition, but also to the proliferation of specific tropes in popular literature[3] (instalments 28 and 29, Dans l’avenue des supplices).

Albert Robida, illustration for La Guerre infernale by Pierre Giffard (Paris: Èdition Méricant, 1908), published in issue 28, “Les Chinese à Moscou”, 895. A Chinese army with prisoners in cangues advances towards Moscow; text reference: “Ce fut dans cet équipage que nous entrâmes à Moscou”. On this image see also Giulia Iannuzzi, “The Cruel Imagination: Oriental Tortures from a Future Past in Albert Robida’s Illustrations for La Guerre infernale (1908)”, 2017, external link to full open access version.

Throughout the novel, nature is bent and shaped by technology: tunnels of gigantic proportions are excavated both by the Germans when they attack France, and in England where the Tube is re-purposed as a bomb shelter, transferring the entire capital underground (instalments 8 and 9).[4] The famous London fog is cleared with specially developed acetylene guns (instalment 10). To ward off Japanese battleships, the Americans create a cage of fire on the water using a system of oil pipes off the coast of Florida. Thanks to the genius of an inventor by the name of Erikson, the US Department of Power and Electricity manages to jam the Japanese compasses, and to freeze the water by suddenly removing the oxygen from it. Thousands of Japanese corpses are burnt, poisoning the air with a terrible stench. Similarly, by altering the chemical composition of the atmosphere, and by electrifying the soil, thousands of casualties are caused on land, in a terrible exercise of “scientific massacre” (La tuerie scientifique, instalment 17).

La guerre infernale, as the precedent La guerre au vingtième siècle, with its rutilant imagination, and its narrative frame ultimately neutralising tragedy and destruction as part of a dream from which the protagonists wakes in the last pages, testifies Robida as – in I. F. Clarke’s words –

one of the very few … who found it possible to be funny about ‘the next great war.’ [5]

It is worth noting that the experience of the First World War will radically change his approach. Immediately after the conflict, Robida published a short illustrated in-folio album – Le Vautour de Prusse – and a 302-pages novel – L’Ingénieur Von Satanas – developing the same anti-Prussian reflections, and revisiting the war theme with a more pronounced anti-militarist spirit.[6] L’Ingénieur’s second prologue, taking place in the fictional “Peace Palace” in La Hague where a pacifist international conference is inaugurating the palace, in 1909, seems to suggest a direct reprise of La guerre, followed by its pessimistic fulfilment. Scientists, politicians, philosophers, and millionaires from all around the world are championing a pacific progress and greeting the beginning of a new global golden age, brought about by techno-scientific progress. But scientific marvels become means of mass destruction in the hand of the greedy Prussians, corrupted by the evil engineer Von Satanas, a diabolical figure recurring through the ages, that might as well be seen as the embodiment of human nature’s dark side and inclination towards violence and conflict. In 1929, Europe and the whole world have become home to a new prehistoric and barbaric civilisation, a post-apocalyptic land, with survivors living underground. Endless irregular lines of trenches, bomb craters, burrows and tunnels disfigure the Earth surface and render the similar to the Moon’s.

Without losing the adventurous edge that characterised La guerre as well as other Robida’s earlier works, L’Ingénieur offers a rather more pessimistic and sinister take not so much on science per se – which is presented as the key to a possible future of harmony and prosperity – but on the human ability to put differences aside and resist belligerent instincts.

The next post in the future wars series will summarise some conclusions about Robida’s work and war imagery as a laboratory for a global and futuristic mind set.

Albert Robida, L’ingénieur von Satanas: roman (Paris: 1919). Copy at Bibliothèque nationale de France via Gallica. “Le gas! le gas! – crient-ils”.

Notes

[1]  Thoralf Klein, “The ‘Yellow Peril’,” EGO – European History Online, external link; John Kuo Wei Tchen and Dylan Yeats, eds., Yellow Peril! An Archive of Anti-Asian Fear (London: Verso, 2014); John W. Dower, “Yellow Promise / Yellow Peril: Foreign Postcards of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05),” MIT Visualizing Cultures, 2008, see especially section ‘Yellow Peril’, external link. See also Michael Keevak, Becoming Yellow: A Short History of Racial Thinking (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2011).

[2]  John N. Swift, “Jack London’s ‘The Unparalleled Invasion:’ Germ Warfare, Eugenics, and Cultural Hygiene,” American Literary Realism 35, no. 1 (2002): 59-71, qt. 60; see here 67 for remarks on the narration’s grotesque detachment, elements of a dark Swiftean approach, and an ironic distance between London and his narrator. On London, the Russo-Japanese war, and yellow peril fears see also Daniel A. Métraux, “Jack London: The Adventurer-Writer who Chronicled Asian Wars, Confronted Racism-and Saw the Future,” The Asia-Pacific Journal  8, no. 4.3 (2010): 1-10.

[3]  André Lange, “Le rire et l’effroi. Supplices et massacres orientaux dans l’oeuvre d’Albert Robida”, in Le Supplice Oriental dans la littérature et les arts, ed. Antonio Dominguez Leiva and Muriel Detrie (Neuilly-lès-Dijon: Editions du Murmure, 2005), 135-169 ; Jérôme Bourgon, “Les scènes de supplices dans les aquarelles chinoises d’exportation”, 2005, Chinese Torture / Supplices Chinois, accessed January 21, 2020, external link.

[4]  On the precedent of the tube in La vie electrique see also Dominique Lacaze, “Albert Robida, Explorer of the Twentieth Century,” part I, “Technical Innovation” and part II, “The Invention of a Society,” Futuribles 366 (2010): 61-70, and 367 (2010): 65-76, see I, 65.

[5]  I. F. Clarke, “Future-War Fiction: The First Main Phase, 1871-1900,” Science Fiction Studies, 24, no. 3 (November, 1997): 387-412, see 398.

[6]  Albert Robida, Le Vautour de Prusse (Paris: Georges Bertrand, 1918); Robida, L’Ingénieur Von Satanas (Paris: La Renaissance du Livre, 1919), Bibliothèque nationale de France, Gallica, identifier: ark:/12148/bpt6k14217576. A brief mention is in Philippe Willems, “A Stereoscopic Vision of the Future: Albert Robida’s Twentieth Century,” Science Fiction Studies 26, no. 3 (November 1999): 354-378, see 376-377, note 18.

Credits

This post is adapted from Iannuzzi, G. (2019). “The Illustrator and the Global Wars to Come: Albert Robida, La guerre infernale, and the Long History of Imagined Warfare”, Cromohs – Cyber Review of Modern Historiography22, 95-136; par. “Techno-apocalypses”, pp. 122-124. DOI: 10.13128/cromohs-11706. Full text available in open access: https://oajournals.fupress.net/index.php/cromohs/article/view/11706.

See here all posts in the future-wars series

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "Racial Fears and Techno-Apocalypses," in Geographies of Time, 01/09/2021, https://ian.hypotheses.org/1807.

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

Visualising a global war: La guerre infernale

A new post in the future-wars series: Robida and the world war of the future

La guerre infernale was written by Pierre Giffard and illustrated by Albert Robida.[1] Published in weekly instalments in 1908, La guerre infernale gives the future-war genre a satirical edge, offering a scenario in which a global conflict of massive proportions breaks out in consequence of an argument between the German and the English ambassadors over the serving order of the dessert at a dinner. To add to the irony, the dinner is taking place during the Conférence de la paix, the annual meeting of a philanthropic organisation founded by Nicholas II of Russia in 1895. In 1937, the protagonist and narrator is covering the conference periodical summit at the Hȏtel de l’Entente Universelle in La Hague, for the Paris newspaper L’an 2000, when the war breaks out. While the conflict is triggered by a disagreement between European powers, the role of Japan and China in its outcome is a clear reminder of the Russo-Japanese War of a few years before.

Novelist, reporter, illustrator, watercolourist and engraver, Albert Robida (1848-1926) is today regarded as one of the founding fathers of science fiction, and recognised as a key figure on the cultural scene of the French Third Republic. He extensively worked as editor and collaborator of Paris periodicals such as La Caricature, and imagined visionary portrayals of a future society shaped by the technological inventions exhibited at International World Fairs such as Paris 1881, 1889, and 1900.  During his life, he illustrated ninety-four books, of almost fifty of which he was sole author.[2]

 With Giffard – a fellow journalist specialised in sport, who covered the Russo-Japanese war in 1904[3] Robida collaborated in various editorial projects already during the 1880s-1890s. These included the pictures for the humorous La vie en chemin de fer and La vie au théâtre (1887-1888) and La fin du cheval (1899) on the means of transports that were soon to replace horse-drawn carriages and the socio-economic advancements that they would bring about.

Giffard himself (1853-1922), after taking part in the 1870 war as one of the youngest lieutenants in the French armée auxiliaire, had become a journalist. He collaborated with numerous newspapers and periodicals including Le Figaro, covering, among other things, the technological developments in transport and communications exhibited at Paris 1878, and travelling the world as a correspondent, from war zones such as Algeria and southern Tunisia amongst others. Creator of French cycle and car races, he became editor-in-chief of Le Petit Journal in 1887, until moving to Le Vélo in 1896 after a few years of collaboration under a pseudonym, and then to L’Auto in 1904.

One may assume thatone of the reasons Giffard mentions for choosing a humorous slant in his work on the railway in the “Préface” of La vie en chemin de fer also applies to La guerre infernale :

… avec la forme humoristique l’auteur a pu s’assurer le concours de l’un des crayons les plus spirituels de notre époque, et c’est là un gros atout dans son jeu, pour ne pas dire plus.[4]

He is referring to none other than Robida, of course, whose contribution is very likely to have been more than just illustrating: many themes and inventions are reprises of ideas and scenarios already imagined in the above-mentioned Le vingtième siècle, and its sequel La guerre au vingtième siècle, including means of instant communication, aerial means of transport, innovative weapons.[5] Furthermore, La guerre infernale shares with other works by Robida an interest in social aspects (such as the role of women),[6] and in the consequences of technology for everyday life and customs and habits. As Philippe Willems has summarised,

what really distinguishes Robida from other nineteenth-century writers of conjectural fiction is the depth of his portrayal of the future, the real-life dimension … halfway between Jules Verne’s detailed mechanical explanations and H. G. Wells’s psychological realism.[7]

The global backdrop against which the protagonists’ adventures take place, unlike the mainly French and Parisian setting of Le vingtième siècle and La vie electrique, is reminiscent of the Voyages très extraordinaires de Saturnin Farandoul (1880).[8] Paris serves nonetheless as a barycentre for the adventures of La guerre infernale’s protagonist. It is to the French capital that he returns between his adventures in the Atlantic and in Russia, and it is to Paris that knowledge and news always flow and are collected and sorted, near the palaces where the crucial decisions are discussed by French authorities.[9]

In fact, La guerre infernale plays up a global dimension brought onto the stage of individual experience and perception by the use of new means of transport and communication that earlier works by both Giffard and Robida had represented in different contexts and/or with different strategies.[10] The first instalment, tellingly entitled La Planète en feu, presents the idea of a global dimension compressed by the instantaneous nature of the telephone: awoken in the middle of the night by a massive fire starting in La Hague, the protagonist discovers that a war has started, but is unable to track down the incident that originated it. He will receive news of what happened in the very same hotel he is staying at only via a colleague in Paris, who gets a phone call from La Hague at the Café Krasnapolski. Similarly, it is the telephone that makes it possible to deliver ultimatums and institutional communications in real time, activating the various alliances that cause the conflict to escalate first to a European and then to a global dimension.[11]

Means of transport are at the centre stage from the very first pages, allowing the protagonist and his companions to travel throughout Europe and across the globe. They use an aérocar to head back to Paris, since the editor-in-chief asks the protagonist to cover the conflict for the newspaper L’an 2000, only to be redirected to the French aerial arsenal at the base in Mont Blanc.

Albert Robida. “Nouvelles du Grand Lac Salé”, Le Journal Amusant, no. 759, July 16, 1870: 3, detail. Source: Gallica, https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k5861280m/f3.item. On this image see also Daryl Lee, “Robida’s Mormons”, Transatlantica [En ligne], 2 | 2017, mis en ligne le 13 mai 2019, DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/transatlantica.10869.

The massive Mont Blanc arsenal (to the description of which the second instalment, Les Armées de l’air, is almost entirely devoted) includes a Leviathan formation composed by 150 attacking aircrafts, supported by a regiment of bicycle-sized, extremely manoeuvrable flying machines operated by couples of pilots and gunners. Furthermore, aerial warfare brings about consequences in the life of civilians (e.g. the use of individual shields and the construction of subterranean cities), in terms of tactics and strategies, and in the existence of specific authorities (e.g. the ministère de l’Aérotactique, ministry of aerotactic, already imagined in La vie électrique).[12] A German bombing strikes the chemical section of the compound, where bacteriological weapons are being developed,[13] causing 150 deaths. But tragedy of even bigger proportion is reported from Belfort, blown up by a massive quantity of explosives that German soldiers placed under the city using a gigantic tunnel excavated from the Black Forest.

The first part of the novel is devoted to the conflict as it unfolds in Europe, with the German Reich attacking the French Mont Blanc base as well as bombing cities in France and bringing war to the other side of the English Channel. After an aerial battle in the skies above London, the protagonists and his friends end up stranded above the Sargasso Sea, where the only way to allow the others to regain altitude and leave the polar region is to drop the body of a dead companion. The passage to the Atlantic marks the passage of the narrative backdrop from a European to a global scale.

Along with submarines and hommes-crabes (6), the naval warfare is no less impressive: over the Atlantic the protagonist admires the American warship Minnesota on patrol: “Mille tonnes de deplacement, cinq turbines, trois arbres à helicer, un developpement al 15000 chevaux faisaient alors du Minnesota le Croiseur le plus rapide du monde” (instalment 12: 380). When cholera is used to wage bacteriological warfare in Russia against Chinese armies, a “train sanitaire” operates between Orenburg and Rostov, to help infected “whites” (instalments 25 and 26).

Economic interconnectedness is also put to use by battling countries. During the first days of the war, Britain floods Germany with false Deutschmarks in order to sink its economy (instalment 5), and when European powers coalesce against the threat of an invasion from China a “yellow tax” is approved within the alliance to fund the war against Asian powers (instalment 21).

In fact, while there is a treaty in place at the beginning of the war between Japan and France and Japanese aviators are perfecting their training with the French Voleurs corps (instalment 8). When he arrives in North America, the protagonist learns that Japanese immigrants in California had long been preparing for the invasion of America, and that now, supported by troops from Japan, are engaged in terrible battles which caused thousands of deaths, and left every American survivor deranged due to the trauma, hospitalised in a dedicated facility.

Japan and the US fight a naval battle of epic proportions between the Bahamas, Cuba and Florida (instalments 15, 16). From Canada to Africa, the Japanese multiply their invasion plans, acting as the leading force behind which the Chinese are also mobilised. It is against the backdrop of the Atlantic space and with the Asian arrival on the scene that the conflict starts to assume a fully global scale and at the same time a clear racial connotation: the “yellow” threat leads “white” nations to overcome their current disagreements and strike up new alliances. The American president arguing for an alliance with the British warns about the prolificacy of Asian populations, contrasting it with the demographic decline of the “whites” (instalment 16). Japanese and Chinese armies invade California and block the Panama Canal (instalments 18 and 20), while Europeans helps Russia to construct a “muraille blanche,” “white great wall,” against the Chinese plans to invade Europe (instalment 21). The assassination of Tsar Nicholas II and a riot or revolution demanding a new constitution leaves Russian open to Chinese occupation (instalments 21-23).

The next post in the future wars series will offer some reflections on the theme of the ‘yellow peril’ and the representation of a nature bent by technology, and then discuss the subsequent developments of the representation of the war of the future in Robida’s creative journey.


Notes

[1]   Pierre Giffard, La guerre infernale, illustrated by Albert Robida (Paris: Èdition Méricant, 1908), 30 weekly instalments, in-4°, 952 pp.

[2]   For an overview on recent scholarship on Robida and indications for further reading: Iannuzzi, “The Cruel Imagination,” 194-195; secondary sources of particular note are: Philippe Brun, Albert Robida, 1848-1926. Sa vie, son œuvre. Suivi d’une bibliographie complète de ses écrits et dessins (Paris: Editions Promodis, 1984); Daniel Compère, ed., Albert Robida du passé au futur. Un auteur-illustrateur sous la IIIe République (Paris: Belles Lettres, 2006); Sandrine Doré, “Albert Robida (1848-1926), un dessinateur fin de siècle dans la société des images” (doctoral thesis, Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense, 2014).

[3]   Jacques Seray, Pierre Giffard, précurseur du journalisme moderne. Du Paris-Brest à l’affaire Dreyfus (Toulouse: Le Pas d’oiseau, 2008); C.G.P.C.S.M.-Fontaine d’histoire, La Famille Giffard (Fontaine le Dun: Fontaine d’histoire, 2007).

[4]   “… thanks to the humorous form, the author was able to secure the collaboration of one of the wittiest pencils of our time, who was a big asset to his work, to say the least.” Pierre Giffard, La vie en chemin de fer, illustrated by Albert Robida (Paris: A la Libraire illustrée, [1888]), Bibliothèque nationale de France, Gallica, ark:/12148/bpt6k1028744.

[5]   Marc Angenot, “Albert Robida’s Twentieth Century,” Science Fiction Studies 10, no. 2 (July 1983): 237-240; Philippe Brun, Albert Robida, 1848-1926. Sa vie, son œuvre. Suivi d’une bibliographie complète de ses écrits et dessins (Paris: Editions Promodis, 1984), 33; Philippe Willems, “A Stereoscopic Vision of the Future: Albert Robida’s Twentieth Century,” Science Fiction Studies 26, no. 3 (November 1999): 354-378, esp. 358 and note 7.

[6]   On Robida’s representation(s) of women: Robida et l’émancipation de la Femme, thematic issue of Le Téléphonoscope. Bulletin des amis d’Albert Robida 21 (2014); Doré, “Albert Robida,” vol. 1, 98, 150-152, 244 note 825, 296-299; Sandrine Doré, “Entre caricature et anticipation, la Parisienne définie par Albert Robida (1848-1926),” L’art de la caricature, sous la direction de Ségolène Le Men (Nanterre: Presses universitaires de Paris Nanterre, 2011), electronic edition, doi: 10.4000/books.pupo.2233; Dominique Lacaze, “Albert Robida, Explorer of the Twentieth Century,” part I, “Technical Innovation” and part II, “The Invention of a Society,” Futuribles 366 (2010): 61-70, and 367 (2010): 65-76, see II, 72-73. Depictions of women in the army by Robida are to be found in La Vie parisienne, as early as 1875, and in Le Vingtième Siècle (1883).

[7]   Willems, “A Stereoscopic Vision,” 360.

[8]   Albert Robida, Voyages très extraordinaires de Saturnin Farandoul dans les 5 ou 6 parties du monde et dans tous les pays connus et même inconnus de M. Jules Verne (Paris: Librairie illustrée- Librairie M. Dreyfous, 1880), Eng. trans. The Adventures of Saturnin Fanandoul, trans. Brian Stableford(Encino, CA: Black Coat Press, 2008).

[9]   On the representation of France at war and its ideological ambivalence in La guerre infernale: Paul Bleton, “La guerre telle qu’elle pourrait être,” Lublin Studies in Modern Languages and Literature 39, no. 1 (2015): 64-75, see 67, 70.

[10]   On the global conflict evoked in Le Vingtième siècle: Lacaze, “Albert Robida,” II, 74.

[11]  See also André Lange, “En attendant la guerre des ondes: les technologies de communication dans les anticipations militaires d’Albert Robida,” Le Téléphonoscope. Bulletin des amis d’Albert Robida 11 (2004): 7-17.

[12]  On Robida and aerial warfare: Alain Bernard, “Robida et les dirigeables,” Le Téléphonoscope. Bulletin des amis d’Albert Robida 10 (2003): 10-11; Marcellin Hodeir, “La guerre aérienne à travers la science-fiction: Albert Robida,” in Compère, Albert Robida, 117-126; here especially 120 for Robida’s inventions as extrapolations from technologies of his time.

[13]  On the possible influence of Robida on Well’s imagination on biological warfare: Helena Costa and Josep-E. Baños, “Bioterrorism in the Literature of the Nineteenth Century: The Case of Wells and ‘The Stolen Bacillus,’” Cogent Arts & Humanities 3, no. 1, doi: 10.1080/23311983.2016.1224538, see 6-7.

This post is adapted from Iannuzzi, G. (2019). “The Illustrator and the Global Wars to Come: Albert Robida, La guerre infernale, and the Long History of Imagined Warfare”, Cromohs – Cyber Review of Modern Historiography22, 95-136; par. “Techno-apocalypses”, pp. 118-121. DOI: 10.13128/cromohs-11706. Full text available in open access: https://oajournals.fupress.net/index.php/cromohs/article/view/11706.

See here all posts in the future-wars series

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "Visualising a global war: La guerre infernale," in Geographies of Time, 01/07/2021, https://ian.hypotheses.org/1792.

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

Science Fiction, Utopia, and Digital Humanities

Virtual archives, ideal libraries, new heuristics of the network

This article was first featured in Italian on the website of Apice (Archivi della Parola, dell’Immagine e della Comunicazione Editoriale, functional centre of the University of Milan), March 9, 2021. The author would like to thank Lodovica Braida for permission to translate and reproduce it here.

Interested in the relationship between humanity and techno-science, the speculative imagination thrives in the digital world. Indeed, science fiction has functioned as a hypothetical laboratory for experiments that have profoundly shaped the intersections between digital and humanistic studies. Starting at least with H.G. Wells’ World Encyclopaedia, with its neural structure – a prefiguration of our relational electronic databases -, concepts such as immersive virtual reality or artificial intelligence, and key reflections on the relations between corporeal physicality and digital dematerialisation have taken shape in the novels of authors such as Philip K. Dick, Anne McCaffrey, and William Gibson.

We therefore invite our readers to a brief survey of science fiction in the digital world, starting with this question: does speculative and utopian imagery constitute a particularly fruitful field of research for the humanities in the digital world? The answer – we are going to demonstrate with a few examples – can certainly be positive, at least in some important aspects of that multifaceted field undergoing tumultuous developments which goes by the name of digital humanities.

From the point of view of the accumulation and retrieval of textual information and bibliographic metadata, initiatives such as The Internet Speculative Fiction Database (started in 1995 and constantly being updated) show an impressive quantitative scope, and exploit the potential of crowd sourcing and cooperative construction procedures to support an open access model in favour of the end user. Cataloguing and encyclopaedic initiatives in the English-speaking world reflect an increasing global circulation of culture and translation trends that are bringing texts from non-European and non-Atlantic areas, such as China and Japan, to the international market. Exemplary of this is the space devoted to non-English speaking authors and works in the 18,000 entries of the Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction. Conceived by Peter Nicholls at the end of the 1970s, the SF Encyclopaedia came to the web in 2005, after several editions on paper and on CD-ROM – media that today would no longer be able to contain its extension. With its numerous international contributors and its team of editors-in-chief, it represents a mediation between open collaboration and authoritative authorship that is in many ways an alternative to the model typified by Wikipedia. The French-speaking world has also moved in this direction with the encyclopaedic portal Noosfere, which has been developed since 1999.

The web also makes multilingual resources or those that straddle linguistic-geographical borders accessible. Today, the European enthusiast can consult the young 中文科幻数据库 (CSFDB, Chinese Science Fiction Database) with the same browser with which she accesses the retrospective SF, Fantasy and Horror Catalogue founded by Ernesto Vegetti in 1958, which passed from computers and floppy disks to the Internet, and was closed in 2009 after having surveyed the fantastic in the history of books in Italy since 1602.

These are initiatives that have virtual communities behind them (not public and/or academic institutions) and therefore make the most of the possibility – made available by the Internet, and more specifically by the web – of structuring and operating groups of individuals who would otherwise be distant from each other, and of building ideal library catalogues that do not refer to physically existing collections.

In the academic field, may be mentioned the impressive utopian bibliography from 1516 to the present, compiled by Lyman Tower Sargent and hosted on the servers of the Penn State University Libraries, and the cornucopia of critical materials, bibliographical references, concordances, and electronic editions dedicated to the father of European utopia, The Essential Works of Thomas More, the result of collaboration between various scholars.

As for catalographic resources offering a web-based access point to real collections, one could list, alongside Apice’s catalogue, those of collections such as the Arthur O. Eaton Collection of Science Fiction and Fantasy (University of California), the Science Fiction Hub and Special collection (University of Liverpool), the Utopian Studies Collection (University of Missouri-St. Louis), or the Arthur O. Lewis Society for Utopian Studies papers (Pennsylvania State University). These are just a few representative examples of a much more articulated galaxy, surveyed by the SF Archival Collections Wiki maintained by librarians of various institutions, and literally mapped in SF Archival collection, administered in Googlemaps by The Eaton Journal of Archival Research in Science Fiction.

The Internet in 2003. Visualisation by OPTE Project – https://www.opte.org/the-internet, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. Graph engine LGL. Graph colours: red – Asia Pacific, green – Europe/Middle East/Central Asia/Africa, blue – North America, yellow – Latin American and Caribbean, light blue – RFC1918 IP Addresses, white – Unknown.

Much could be said about how the world of fantastic speculation has embraced the potential of digital content distribution – with scientific and amateur journals, directories, and resource portals – and communication – from yesterday’s BBSs to today’s newsletters, forums, and websites. It is perhaps more interesting, however, to offer some remarks on those areas with a specific heuristic potential. If we answered positively to the question “has science fiction contributed to shaping the digital humanities?” we can ask ourselves, on the other hand, if and how the tools that are now being developed in the field of digital humanities contribute to a better understanding of speculative fiction.

In this context too, key texts of the European tradition such as More’s Utopia continue to attract the attention and creativity of scholars. The Open Utopia project by Stephen Duncombe (New York University), for example, proposes a hypertextual and multi-codical edition as a starting point for new readings and actualisations of the text, and connects the main site to a collective writing project on a wiki platform.

Marking up texts and organising textual corpora open up new possibilities of constructing analyses and visualisations. Moving from books to texts, to data, to data analysis, the science fiction researcher sees the promising territories of geo-referencing, spatialised narration and network analysis ahead. Between Moretti’s distant reading and new semantic and formal-structural investigations, a multitude of possible quantitative and qualitative investigations are been made available.

Thus, we begin to circumscribe and process sets of sources in order to capture the evolution of interests and tastes, from the perspective of cultural history and sociology (the text-mining of science fiction corpora in current researches such as that of Alex Wermer-Colan‘s) or literary history (the analyses and visualisations of a Gibsonian corpus carried out by Stefania Forlini, Uta Hinrichs, Bridget Moynihan, and John Brosz) and stylistics (the computational stylometry applied to C. S. Lewis by Michael P. Oakes), or building catalographic and popular applications.

In conclusion, utopian and science-fictional speculation is confirming, in the digital world, its ability to straddle different methodological traditions, and to rediscover and make fruitful a common epistemological background that is often little visible in our contemporary system of knowledge.

Giulia Iannuzzi

University of Florence – University of Trieste

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "Science Fiction, Utopia, and Digital Humanities," in Geographies of Time, 14/03/2021, https://ian.hypotheses.org/1673.

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

Writing the History of Future Empires

Samuel Madden’s Eighteenth-century Twentieth century at Beyond Borders: Empires, Bodies, Science Fictions

I am delighted to present a paper at Beyond Borders: Empires, Bodies, Science Fictions, the London Science Fiction Research Community 2020 conference, an online event in partnership with the London Chinese Science Fiction Group and Science Fiction Beyond the West.

I’ll be talking about A new and unexampled way of writing the history of future empires: Samuel Madden’s Eighteenth-century Twentieth century, presenting the first results of an ongoing research on the future as a secularized imaginary space in eighteenth-century European culture through the case study of the Memoirs of the Twentieth Century. Published anonymously in 1733, the Memoirs is a work of speculative fiction in the form of an epistolary novel by the Irish writer Samuel Madden, an Anglican clergyman and philanthropist with pro-Hanoverian and Whig sympathies.

Madden’s novel is a fine example of the emergence of a new secularized future, pliable through human action. This research, using the Memoirs as a case study, places new emphasis on the role played by a new form of imperial and global interconnectedness in shaping and accelerating complex processes of time secularization.

First slide of Giulia Iannuzzi's presentation "A new and unexampled way of writing the history of future empires: Samuel Madden's Eighteenth-century Twentieth century", with author's name, paper title, conference details. In the background an eighteenth-century drawing of two angels observing the moon with a telescope.

My paper is scheduled as part of Panel 4B: Pliable Futures (chair: Tom Dillon), Saturday 12th September, 10:00-11:30 (GMT+1) – Panel Block 4:

  • Giulia Iannuzzi- A new and unexampled way of writing the history of future empires: Samuel Madden’s Eighteenth-century Twentieth century
  • Sakshi Tyagi – Beyond Otjize and Medusae: Identity and Borders in Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti
  • Mary Regine Dadole – Familiar Aliens: An Analysis of the Postcolonial Condition and the Politics of Science Fiction in Isaac Asimov’s “The Martian Way”.

The conference programme includes:

a plenary session on  SF & Translation with Sawad Hussain, Emily Jin, Guangzhao Lyu, Dr. Sinéad Murphy, Dr. Tasnim Qutait,

keynotes by Dr. Nadine El-Enany, Florence Okoye

a Creator Roundtable with Chen Qiufan, Larissa Sansour, Linda Stupart, chair: Angela Chan,

a rich schedule of panels exploring borders in science fiction, and particularly “borders as politicised tools used to uphold empires, divide communities and police the bodies of those most marginalised”.

Here’s the conference webpage: http://www.lsfrc.co.uk/category/beyond-borders/.

 If you wish to attend the event, please visit the ticket tailor event page for the conference at this link.

At this link a set of conference documents, including the programme beautifully designed by Sinjin Li.

The London Chinese Science Fiction Group and Science Fiction Beyond the West are partner of this event and the programme includes a number of contributions on contemporary Chinese science fiction. I’ve been interested in the reception of Chinese science fiction in Italy for quite some time now. From my archive, here’s in full open access an essay I published in 2015, an interview with the translator Lorenzo Andolfatto (Chinese-Italian), and one with Massimo Soumaré (Japanese-Italian).

Cite this article as: Giulia Iannuzzi, "Writing the History of Future Empires," in Geographies of Time, 09/09/2020, https://ian.hypotheses.org/1493.

This blog is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

Historicizing the Future

… I must acquiesce, and be content with the Honour and Misfortune, of being the first among Historians (if a mere Publisher of Memoirs may deserve that Name) who leaving the beaten Tracts of writing with Malice or Flattery, the accounts of past Actions and Times, have dar’d to enter by the help of an infallible Guide, into the dark Caverns of Futurity, and discover the Secrets of Ages yet to come.

Samuel Madden,  Memoirs of the Twentieth Century (London: Printed for Messieurs Osborn and Longman, Davis, and Batley …, 1733) vol. 1, 3.

Contemporary historiography has highlighted the role played by a spatial dimension in the birth of a speculative imagination which, in modern-age Europe, exploited fantastic and philosophical motives, and was rich in theological and spiritual interests.1 The Copernican revolution opened up cosmic space as a possible home to other planets and civilisations. From Francis Godwin’s The Man in the Moon (1638) to Cyrano de Bergerac’s The Other World (1657), up to Fontenelle’s Entretiens sur la pluralités des mondes (1686), the seventeenth century reflected on the possibility of extra-terrestrial life and saw the flourishing of interplanetary voyages, explorations of the moon and more remote celestial bodies, close encounters with distant civilizations, including the possibility of being visited by extra-terrestrials beings on Earth (e.g. Charles Sorel’sL’Histoire comique de Francion, 1623, progenitor of the imaginary visits of alien humans in Europe).2

Cultural historians and scholars of speculative fiction usually locate in a late-modern period the appearance of a temporal dimension exploited as a means of dislocation from the writer’s reality, and thus as a source of cognitive estrangement.3 However, while some see in the consequences of the same Copernican revolution the crucial condition thanks to which the imagination first became able to work outside the temporal horizon of Biblical time,4 others place the shift from a spatial-based to a temporal-based speculation as late as the eighteenth century,5 or take the year 1800 as a conventional watershed.6 In his comprehensive anthology of British future fiction, I. F. Clarke identifies a turning point during the nineteenth century, but traces from the seventeenth century onwards the first developments of a temporal imagination, in consequence of which “the geographies of utopian fiction evolved into the historiographies of a new literature.”7

The conceptualization of a future intimately linked to the present and shapeable by human action can in fact be traced back to the emergence of new ideas and sensibilities towards historical time, which matured gradually during the modern age.8 Anglophone and francophone literatures offer extrapolations of near-future scenarios as early as the beginning of the seventeenth century. 

A play such as A Larum for London (published anonymously in 1602) implicitly suggests that a Spanish sack of London might replicate the horrors of 1576 Antwerp,9 John Dryden’s Annus Mirabilis (1667) imagines London reborn after the Great Fire, political prophetism nourishes works such as Aulicus his Dream of the King’s Sudden Comming to London (anonymous, 1644)10 and Jacques Guttin’s Épigone, Histoire du siècle futur (1659). The future is home to a model society towards which the English Parliament is invited to work in A Description of the Famous Kingdome of Macaria (1642) attributed to Samuel Hartlib.11 These narrations offer possible and counter-factual histories used to make a point about the politics of the day, whether through ominous predictions, practical indications, or – in the case of Guttin – as the backdrop to adventurous plots.12 Squibs, satires, or exotic romances, these texts represent a step towards a secularized history13 and conceptualizations of the future that their late-modern and early-contemporary descendants will come to embody, without yet constituting a genre, nor focusing their inventions and extrapolations on those techno-scientific wonders that would only later take centre-stage.14

As Bronisław Baczko has argued,15 the topographical dislocation exploited in early-modern imaginary voyages may serve the purpose of constructing an ideal society untouched by the same historical processes experienced by the reader’s, so that history as known by the writer and the reader constantly informs the invention as a negative presence, by its absence. Utopian societies may consequently be described as a result of different histories, and characterized by alternate calendars and time-computing methods, such as in L’histoire des Sevarambes; peuples qui habitent une partie du troisième continent, communément appelé la Terre australe by Denis Veiras (1677-1679).16 Baczko discusses also what he calls utopia-proposals, such as Étienne-Gabriel Morelly’s Code de la Nature (1755), in which the utopian project may serve the purpose of showing a different yet possible continuation of history, freeing society from its past to offer a new beginning.17

A fantastic voyage: a ship has left the sea below and is sailing among the clouds, in a nocturnal sky. The caption below reads "The ship is caught up into the skies". Illustration from Lucian's wonderland: being a translation of the 'Vera historia' by Lucian, by St J. Basil Wynne Willson; with numerous illustrations by A. Payne Garnett (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1899), p. 47. Copy via InternetArchive.
“The ship is caught up into the skies”. Lucian’s wonderland: being a translation of the ‘Vera historia’ by Lucian, by St J. Basil Wynne Willson; with numerous illustrations by A. Payne Garnett (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1899), p. 47. Copy via InternetArchive. Non known restriction for scholarly use.

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Future Wars: Introductory remarks

Introducing a series on future-wars fiction in modern European culture

Ne soyez point en peine de ce Heros inconnu qui se presente à vos yeux. Encore qu’il ne soit pas ny de ce Monde ny de ce Siecle, il n’est pas si farouche ny si barbare, qu’il ne soit capable de faire un beau choix, & qu’il n’ait jugé aussi juste de vostre merite, que l’auroient pû faire tous ceux qui ont l’honneur de vous mieux connoistre.

Jacques Guttin [Michel de Pure], 
Épigone, histoire du siècle futur
 (A Paris: Chez Pierre Lamy, 1659), aij-p.nn.

Late modern and early contemporary imageries related to techno-driven globalization processes are to be found, in some of their most popular and graphic expressions, in visual and literary works of fiction. Made possible by the emergence of new ideas of a secularized historical time, early speculative fiction is an exceptional vantage point from which to observe the birth and development of popular themes and tropes related to those compressions of time and space, which increasingly characterized the world system between the late nineteenth and the early twentieth century.

In the European cultural space, and especially in mature publishing markets such as the French one, speculative fiction set in the future became an apt expression of new imageries related to techno-science, including new communication and transportation systems and the astonishing speed of their development.1 Narratives and illustrations interpreted the appearance of new forms of awareness of globalization processes, becoming part of a communicative circuit, which was expanding its audience at a fast rate, thanks to the increasing presence of the popular press.

In this phase of techno-scientific acceleration and tumultuous changes in cultural habits, speculative fiction began to depict a major shift that had been occurring in the European mind-set during the late modern era: the emergence of a plastic future. New ideas of the future were a consequence of new, secularized temporalizations of history. The conception of historical time as home to linear processes of development was in turn deeply influenced by a close encounter with “others,” by explorations, voyages and the availability of written, figurative and material sources regarding remote parts of the world, which documented Western forms of ethnocentric hierarchization and, at the same time, began the task of problematizing them.2

Fantastic narratives and illustrations can be read as part of a broader social history of ideas of space and time,3 and work as litmus tests of the complex reconfigurations they underwent in the Western mind, as global interconnectedness brought new subjects and issues onto the stage.

The subgenre of imagined future wars developed in relation with the use of alternate history as a means for political propaganda, which could be found from the late seventeenth century onwards in non-fiction tracts and pamphlets, as in some of the examples discussed below. Near the end of the nineteenth century, this literary and visual narrative strand assumed clear-cut characteristics, and articulated concerns regarding instabilities and tensions in international relations, and fears related to the destructive use of those technological innovations that were following one another so rapidly and that were taking centre stage at the great international exhibitions and world fairs. 

The discovery of a selection of Albert Robida’s original sketches for Pierre Giffard’s feuilleton La guerre infernale (1908),4 offers an occasion to connect these various strands and critically assess the role of wars to come in the development of an imagination related to the future, and in the construction of the consciousness of a global, human, earthly destiny.

Recent scholarship in speculative fiction studies and cultural history has produced a few excellent studies tackling speculative fiction as a laboratory for a global space-time between the late nineteenth and the early twentieth century,5and the emergence of science fiction as a genre in the age of colonialism and empires.6 Existing contributions, also when dealing with the specific theme of imagined future wars,7 tend to concentrate on the early-contemporary age, rightfully stressing the significant changes that in that phase affected the European techno-scientific, socio-political and economic system, and their influence on new forms of mass media communication, collective imagery and textual genres.

Histories of science fiction dealing with the development of the genre from ancient times through the ages tend, in turn, to be written from a perspective internal to the science fiction genre..8 While excellently outlining main authors and trends, general histories of science fiction necessarily give up more in-depth analysis of specific themes, and usually broader issues of cultural history remain outside their scope. Such works do not deal, or only marginally, with the connection between speculative imagery and the conceptualization of time, and they often keep their focus on literary expressions, while leaving aside other spheres and levels of public discourse and forms of representation.

The present series of posts, building on existing contributions, aims at fostering a better understanding of imagined future wars in the early contemporary age by locating them within a long history of imagined warfare, including late-seventeenth and eighteenth-century developments, and against the backdrop of the cultural history of time. Furthermore, for late modern and early contemporary expressions, this study – drawing on Robida’s case –, aims at enhancing the deep connections that run between literary, figurative and exhibitionary cultural artefacts in terms of representation strategies and circulation of ideas.

NOTES

1

“SF and Globalization,” ed. David Higgins and Rob Latham, special issue, Science Fiction Studies 39, no. 3, 118 (November 2012).

2Reinhart Koselleck, Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time, trans. Keith Tribe (1979; New York: Columbia University Press, 2004).

3Peter Burke, “Foreword: The History of the Future, 1350-2000,” in The Uses of the Future in Early Modern Europe, ed. Andrea Brady, Butterworth Emily (New York and London: Routledge, 2010), ix-xx.

4Presently part of the Civico Museo di guerra per la pace “Diego de Henriquez” of the City of Trieste, of which seven are reproduced here (Figures 6-12). Diego de Henriquez, Italian ex-soldier and creator, between the 1940s and the early 1970s, of a notable private collection of armaments, military tools and technologies, documents and books pertinent to the theme of war throughout history, bought fifteen of Robida’s original sketches in 1957, when he found them on a bookstand in Rome. On Henriquez (Trieste 1909-1974) see Antonella Furlan, Antonio Sema, Cronaca di una vita: Diego de Henriquez (Trieste: APT Trieste, 1993); Furlan, La civica collezione Diego de Henriquez di Trieste (Trieste: Rotary Club Trieste-Civici musei di storia ed arte, 2000). On Robida’s sketches within Henriquez collection: Giulia Iannuzzi, “The Cruel Imagination: Oriental Tortures from a Future Past in Albert Robida’s Illustrations for La guerre infernale (1908),” in Law, Justice and Codification in Qing China. European and Chinese Perspectives. Essays in History and Comparative Law, ed. Guido Abbattista (Trieste: EUT, 2017), 193-211, esp. 194, note 3.

5Higgins and Latham “SF and Globalization,” quoted above.

6E.g. Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr, “Empire,” The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction, ed. Mark Bould, Andrew M. Butler, Adam Roberts, and Sherryl Vint (London and New York: Routledge, 2009), 362-372; John Rieder, Colonialsm and the Emergence of Science Fiction (Middletown CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2008). See also Paul K. Alkon’s works cited below.

7E.g. I. F. Clarke, “Future-War Fiction: The First Main Phase, 1871-1900,” Science Fiction Studies, 24, no. 3 (November, 1997): 387-412; I. F. Clarke, “Before and after ‘The Battle of Dorking,’’’ Science Fiction Studies 24, no. 1 (1997): 33-46.

8E.g. Adam Roberts, The History of Science Fiction, 2nd ed. (London: Palgrave, 2016).

This post is adapted from Iannuzzi, G. (2019). “The Illustrator and the Global Wars to Come: Albert Robida, La guerre infernale, and the Long History of Imagined Warfare”, Cromohs – Cyber Review of Modern Historiography22, 95-136; par. “Introductory remarks”, pp. 96-98. DOI: 10.13128/cromohs-11706. Full text available in open access: https://oajournals.fupress.net/index.php/cromohs/article/view/11706.

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Future Wars

Imagined conflicts to come at the 11th Annual Symposium of the Research Network on the History of the Idea of Europe

I’m delighted to take part in Waging War and Making Peace: European Ways of Inciting and Containing Armed Conflict, 1648–2020, the 11th Annual Symposium of the Research Network on the History of the Idea of Europe, which was scheduled to take place in Venice, and it has now been moved online

at http://www.ideasofeurope.org/waging-war-and-making-peace/ – 24 June – 3 July 2020

My presentation will focus on Waging Future Wars: Imagined Techno-Apocalypses and the Birth of a Global Consciousness in the European Mind, adopting speculative fiction as a vantage point to examine fears related to techno-scientific progress and racialized enemies.

Albert Robida, illustration for Pierre Giffard, La guerre infernale (Paris: Èdition Méricant, 1908), 30 weekly instalments, in-4°, 952 pp. No known restriction for scholarly use.

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