Michel Serres: Science, Fiction, and the Shape of Relation Author(s): Laura Salisbury Reviewed work(s): Source: Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 33, No. 1, Technoculture and Science Fiction (Mar., 2006), pp. 30-52 Published by: SF-TH Inc Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4241407 . Accessed: 21/02/2012 21:09
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Laura Salisbury Michel Serres:Science,Fiction, and the Shape of Relation
In Eclaircissements: cinq entretiens avec Bruno Latour (1994, translatedas Conversations on Science, Culture, and Time), Bruno Latour suggestively reaches out to a figure from science fiction in his attempt to describe the strangelyundisciplined, interdisciplinary work of Michel Serres. Latourasks Serres, who has writtenon subjectsas diverse as information theory, the physics of the Roman poet and philosopherLucretius, fluid dynamics, contemporary ecological imperatives,and Emile Zola, "why in the space of one paragraph,do we find ourselves with the Romans then with Jules Verne then with IndoEuropeans,then, suddenly, launchedwith the Challengerrocket, before ending up on the bank of the Garonneriver?"(Serres and Latour43). Latourproposes that Serres proceeds throughthe use of a something like a conceptual "time machine"(79). After all, he seems resolutely indifferentto temporaldistances, being able to suggest that Lucretius may be more our contemporaryin his presentationof the world as a chaotic and turbulentswirl of atomsthanNewton is in imaginingthe world as a percussive and concussive collection of billiard balls.1 It is easy to see what Latourmeans here, for Serres's poetically resonant folding together of subjects, spaces, and times creates a map of new and unexploredshortcutsand pathways, wormholesthatjoin togetherpositions and momentsthatphilosophy,history, science, and literature have traditionally held quite distinct. Serres, however, rejects Latour'smetaphorof the time machine, which he fears is infected with the idea of travelingbackwardsalong the line of time. "[T]he words machine and backwardin time bother me," states Serres, for "set in motion on its railroadtrack, such a locomotive is the embodimentof linear time" (79). Serres's resistanceto Latour'sproposition revealsa ratherlimitedconception of the metaphoricalpossibilities offered by time travel, for he only sees within it suggestionsof a conventionaland even potentiallytyrannicalversion of linear time. Perhapsthe time machineremindsSerres of H.G. Wells's 1895 novella, in which time travel projects the future of the world as an inverted Hegelian dialecticof historicalprogressionthatleadsnot to pure Spiritbutto degeneration and the heat deathof the Earth. Serres wants no part of such a vision of linear, historical temporality,which he reads as taintedwith conflict and the violence of dialectical supersession. Serres presents himself instead as an irenic philosopher(a thinkerof peace ratherthan war) who is able to bring together temporallydistantelements and epochs throughan understanding time not as of a line in which the past is necessarily excluded andovercome, but as a turbulent and chaotic system of "stopping points, ruptures, deep wells, chimneys of thunderousacceleration,rendings, gaps" (Serres and Latour57). The time that interests Serres percolates-sometimes working through, sometimes working back-rather than passes (58).2 So Latour withdraws his metaphor. It is not

Despite a seemingsuspicionof science fiction as a category. scientific and literary texts-a complex. no time machines. La Fontaine.One of Serres's maxims is that "[t]hereis no pure myth except the idea of a science that is pure of all myth" (Serres and Latour 162). he displays a resistanceto such "genre fiction. aerostats. And Serres certainly works more to find suggestive symmetriesamong Verne. rather.then. so distant. It is perhapsno surprise. and "notone word of what commonly goes by the name of science fiction" ("Jules Verne" 175). works to demonstrate thatscience shouldnot be regardedas offering an objective or unmediatedview of the world.3 In a mode thatis now recognizableto us via Foucauldian historicism and the cultural history that has become so influential in the humanitiesand . steam engines. thatthe one authorSerreswho has writtenon that has a place within the canon of science fiction is Jules Verne ratherthan Wells (see Jouvences and "JulesVerne"). a past hiddenwithin the center of the Earththat is accessible only by passing throughthe infinitecomplicationsof turbulent flows and a space that ice folds time-a volcanic shaft that links surface and center. then.the philosopheris simply attentiveto the way in which thingsbecome unexpectedlyclose or distantwithin a temporalitythatis chaotic and turbulent.SERRES: AND THESHAPE RELATION SCIENCE. He complainsto Latourthatwhen he startedwriting. and his monumental five-volume series Herme's." revealing throughout work his a powerful preference for canonical authors: Zola. andAlice's Adventuresin Wonderland (1865).thattwo eternitiesseemed to be looking at each other like two porcelaindogs-like two stone lions flankinga doorway" (Serres and Latour47). airplanes. In fact. Revealing again a rather limited conceptionof sf. seeking out what he finds to be always already there in diverse philosophical. "thereis only a technologyof vehicles and communication. among others. FICTION. Moliere. OF 31 Serreswho travelsthroughtime. Rousseau.a time that is more meteorologicalin its movementsthan classically historicist. rather. But Serreswrites thatin the works of Verne. and Musil. it is a cultural formationthat has its history and complex place amongstother discourses. Hermes: Science and Literature. twisted. His work explicitly opposes such ossified disciplinary purity. Serres's work of the 1960s and 1970s persistentlydemonstrates an explicit interestin the passage between science and fiction. and enfolded passage between the science and the humanities. along its line. he presumablymeansthatthereareno impossibletechnologies. "thebifurcatedrelationship betweenscience and literaturewas so frozen. However. publishedbetween 1968 and 1980. suggests that there could neverthelessbe linkages and relationshipsbetween his theories and science fiction that Serres himself has not explored. For Verne's version of time travel in Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864) fmds a past that has not yet been overcome. alongside his creationof a methodthatrevealsthe productivehybridityof disciplines. submarines. Serres's relevance to sf studies clearly does not lie in his specific readings of texts. Greek myth. thanany connectionwith otherscientific romancesof the period. his insistence on mappingthe passages between discourses and genres that would conventionally appear to be spatially and temporally distinct. Balzac.railways. presentand past." only balloons.

chemical. seemingly more logically distant "sets of operators"that inform the texts. danger- . a method or strategy of working on formations differentfrom itself" (Hermes39). and so forth. "As soon as one can build . As Harariand Bell point out in theirexcellent introduction the Englishtranslation to of Hermes. all change. for example. reveal much more of the cultural formationof the nineteenthcentury than a neat and hermeticallysealed history of the novel or an equally distinct history of science (Hermes 39-40). the playing out of genetic flaws that structureand scar Zola's Rougon-Macquart novels.. As soon as attentionis paid to the unexploredpassage between the apparentlydiscrete discourses of science and fiction.as bisected by the structuresand imperatives of myth. contrary to the institutionaldisciplinary separationsand the increasing specializationsof the period. More significantly. though. which is foundin scientific tracts from the 1840s onwards. [E]nergy dissipates and entropy increases" (Hermes71). as AndrewGibsonputsit. Zola to Turner.. Serres ratherunexpectedlyreads Zola's explorationsof literarynaturalism. that circulate throughthe structuralgenetics of these novels create a "genetictreatise that is itself the materialization a cosmology of heat-a steam engine" (Harariand of Bell xviii). electrical. the imperatives of sex and death...32 SCIENCE FICTION STUDIES. literary. he asserts that mythic discourse is "une entreprise de tissage" [a process of weaving]. instead.both reflecting and in some cases anticipating the production of seemingly "objective" scientific knowledges through a complex series of significantlynon-linearrelationships. is not restrictedto a single discipline. actually anticipatethe discovery of thermodynamicmodels of the world. are connectedby the same models and metaphors. Serres insists. closed to. there are other. Because Zola's texts are necessarily born in a space of communicationbetween multipledomains. Serres writes that he discovered duringhis writing of Feux et signaux de brume:Zola (1975) that the history of science "offers less interest as an object or domain than as a set of operators. steam or combustion engines. his scientific exploration of genetics and anticipationof thermodynamics.In Hermes IV. on the developmentof scientific.." writes Serres. He readsZola's texts as structured according to the scientific models of genetics with which the authorwas familiar. Serres can thus write thatthe "steamengine [that]circulatestherein among the hereditaryflaws and murders"of Zola's novels and the "thermodynamic grill" that stretchesacross these texts. Hermes IV: La distribution(1977). explores the nineteenthcentury rejection of Cartesianmachines in favor of models of motors and the laws of thermodynamics.andphilosophicalworld-views that are imbricatedwith one anotherin complex and suggestive ways. heat and cold. Serres suggests that the horrors of heredity. In Zola. Nietzsche to Bergson. VOLUME (2006) 33 social sciences during the 1980s and 1990s. The second law of thermodynamicsaccounts for the impossibility of perpetual motion. whereby. andturbineengines. "the notion of time changes. it becomes clear that the space of the relationshipis more complex than simply connective. But the notion of the "heatdeath"of the universe and the inevitablecessationof all work. "connectionsare establishedbetweenplaces and spaces that are remote or isolated or inaccessible from. works from Marx to Freud.

" topology is "the science of nearness and rifts" (Serres and Latour 60). squashed. a journey across separated spatial varieties" (43). language. Topology.Where both Euclideanandnon-Euclidean metricalgeometryis concernedwith measurement and with "the science of stable and well-defined distances. or folding. the . Borrowingequally from structuralism historicism. accordingto the engines of their genetic instincts. the figures and structuresthat are folded into Zola's scientific discourse and his literary naturalism can be understood as working in isomorphically identical ways to the chimerical spatialityof Greek myth. topology is a mathematics of surfaces that involves "actions of stretching. squeezing.. As Steven Connor puts it. For Serres. And thus the essential thing is no longer this particular figure. . unfolding ways of reading that reconfigure character. One significant aspect of topology for Serres is the fact that points that seem metricallydistantfrom one another(say. then. Zola's Paris can be read as having a mythic geography. even deadly to each other" (90). Strangely. as what appearsat one moment to be the inside of the form can be warped into its outside under topological analysis. The "spatial operators" at work in the texts produce an unexpected mythic geography within the scientific discourse of naturalismand the tragedies of social transgressionthat attend it. throughand between spaces that initially seem as heterogeneousand distinct from one anotheras the island spaces of Homer's Odyssey. Serres describes how these isolated spaces in Zola's texts are woven together."spatialoperators" -that aretopologicallyanalogous to the topographicalshapes of Greek myth (Hermes 42-43). Topologically speaking. then. labyrinths.4SerresreadsZola so and that "thetext turnsinside out like a glove and shows its function"(Hermes47). by bridges. or similarities between realms that would usually remain socially distinct. For topology is concerned with demonstratinghow the spatial relationsof measurementare subjectto unpredictable shifts. Alongside the thermodynamicmotor of drive and decay. the bottom of the teacup to the outer rim of the handle).. reveal unexpected passages. OF 33 ous. is concerned with "the propertiesof figures and surfaces which are independent of size and shape . this particularsymbol. with those abstractspaces that are invariantunder homeomorphic translation" ("Topology" 2081). once understood topologically. In Hermes IV. For Serres. links. AND THESHAPE RELATION FICTION.SERRES: SCIENCE. because it is populatedby characterscirculating. a wandering. can be shown to be adjacentto one anotherunder isomorphictranslation.or shaped into one another without piercing the surface of the form. Zola's texts are traversedby spaces that. space is at stake. and theme into new relationshipswith one another. a teacup and a doughnut are isomorphically identical: teacup and doughnutcan be stretched. as conventionalaccountshave it. or this particularartifact. connected and disconnected. but not tearingor breaking"shapes ("Topologies" 106). At this historicalmoment. which holds a fascination for Serres throughouthis work. So Serres can argue that within both myth and this nineteenth-century literary discourse. of continuity and contiguity.the formal invariantis something like a transport. hence. an itinerary is at stake. wells. this "transport"is "the elementary program of topology" (44). "connectionand non-connectionare at stake.

ordered..But Serresdescribeshow mathematics returnsto its origins within this same historical moment. the house and .the evolutionaryparadigm.disciplined. this windowless and "sinisterblock of a building. modem discoursesof naturalismandrationalitytriumphover mythicalaccounts of the world: "Euclidean space . despite the fact that most of its neighboringdwellings have been separatedand "let in flats and chambers to all sorts and conditions of men" (17-18). to remain discrete.. conventionally. even if it is not useful to call them science fiction" (Luckhurst23). "seems scarcely a house" (11) at all. Spaces are separable. sharesand representsin even more sensationalterms Zola's fascinationwith the depravity and degenerationperceived to be at work within the labyrinthinemoderncity. and discourse of scientific naturalismthat all subtenda text like RobertLouis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886). The descriptionof the house in which Jekyll and Hyde reside seems to resist the stablemeasurements conventionalgeometrymight wish to impose on it.from passageto fault. handsomehouses" (17)-and remainsreassuringlyintactand coherent. So at the very moment when we appear to have "an aged Europe asleep beneath the mantle of reason and measure. it is warm. from relay to labyrinth" (52. this creationof unexpectedpassagesbetween realms that ought. which holds a centralplace within the conditionsof emergenceof science fiction. emphasis in original).. for an Anglophone readership. Of course. Just as mythicjourneys appearwithin the discourse of literary naturalism. the illegitimateenfolding of diverse temporalitiesand spatialities within the Gothic. in which the threateninglyarchaic returns to menace the present and the borders and boundaries of both psychical and geographical space are subjected to unpredictable metamorphoses. Although Serres makes no mention of it. "for the buildings are so packed together about that court . mythology reappears as an authentic discourse" (53) within the nineteenthcentury. thefin-de-siecle Gothic. Approached througha dim bystreet. Jekyll's residence is set within the geometrical.34 SCIENCE 33 FICTION VOLUME (2006) STUDIES. degenerationanxiety. it's hard to say where one ends and the other begins" (11).topology emerges as a science in the work of Johann Listing and James Clerk Maxwell. In the mythical space of the city as labyrinth. repress[es] a barbarous topology" and "transport displacementwithoutobstacles" takes the place of "the ancient and journey from islandsto catastrophes. might similarlybe understoodin topological terms. homely. frombridge to well. "afterthe fashion of a countryhouse" and thus far from the cold alienationof urbanspace (18). But the laboratory throughwhich Hyde makeshis entrancesandexits is. Like Zola's "steamengine" of literarynaturalism. And following Serres's readingof Zola. that Entered from the front.. is more reminiscentof a rather different genre of writing from the latter half of the nineteenth century. It is indeeda space that will not yield itself to measurement. by contrast." which bears "the marks of prolonged and sordidnegligence" (8). gridded certainty of Cartesianspace-"a square of ancient. the house appears to be one of "great wealth and comfort".the most unheimlichof spaces. reveal it to be one of manynineteenthcentury"fictionsof science.this warping of the topography between inside andoutside.

stretching uniformnlyand endlessly in all . Jekyll. thatGibsonworkswith two geometrically and politically opposed representationsof cyberspace in his texts. Dani Cavallaro notes a connection between the tropes of cyberpunk and Gothic architecture. incorporatesGothic disorder into the spatial rationalism of traditionalsf. like city lights receding" (Neuromancer67). Lines of light ranged in the non-space of the mind. clusters and constellationsof data. just as the of architecture the psyche. Jekyll and Hyde could be thought of as a toroid (a doughnut shape). In topological terms. In place of the relative lack of complexity of a sphere or cube in which all visible surfaces are reassuringly exterior. in which the past is recuperatedand the meaning of its style reconfiguredby its eruptioninto the present(176). who is nothingbut the interiority of libidinal forces. is only ever explicitly connected to the descriptionof the laboratoryas an unreadableblank of exterior surface that has no windows and a door that admits only him. as future is anxiously enfolded into the concerns of the present. Drawing upon distinctions elaboratedby Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. full of crumbling edifices of the past. rendersit a "foundationless space" of "limitless surfaces"(Cavallaro175)-a space closely associatedwith Gothicaffect andthe terror of the ungraspablesublime. Dick's Do AndroidsDream of Electric Sheep? (1968). uncanny interior spaces of memory and mourning. halfabandonedand hollowed-out buildings-the dark. As Nick Binghampoints out. Science fiction's use of Gothic tropes is well-documented. emphasisin original). the codification of temporal and spatial instability within this genre allows the cyberpunkfictions of the late 1980s and 1990s to be read as part of what might be thought of as a second wave of fin-de-siecle Gothic. Borrowingmore of its visual language from cyberpunkthan from Philip K. or the integrityand proper limits of the humanbody are subjectedto more or less violent reconfigurations. who is all outwardrespectabilityand the exteriorityof socially sanctionedbehavior. furnitureanddomestic servants-while Hyde. however. 35 laboratoryare connectedthrougha rift or fault line in rationalspace. in which conscious and unconsciousare supposedto remainrelativelydistinct. the version of cyberspacethat appearsat the beginningof the 1995 film of JohnnyMnemonic(for which Gibson wrote the screenplay)is "a gridded. Cavallaroargues. William Gibson's famous and founding definitionof cyberspaceas "[u]nthinkable complexity. denot[ing] fluidity. Euclidean world. Cyberpunk.SERRES: AND THESHAPE RELATION OF SCIENCE. Ridley Scott's 1982 film Blade Runner certainly explores a Gothic Los Angeles. resides within descriptionsof cozy interiority-of hearths. FICTION.classificationandcategorization" (177. is warpedinto the Gothicmonstrosityof Jekyll/Hyde. the hole that rends the book into a textual toroid produces a shape in which inside and outside are disturbinglycontinuous. that within cyberpunkthe Gothic also becomes the favored style for describingthe resultsof the interface between humans and technology. the symbol of order. Cavallaro argues that Gothic space is a "smooth space . however.. boundlessness and the collapse of rationalizinggrids" that can be contrastedwith "striatedspace. Topology also makes sense of the instabilityof outside andinside thathauntsthe scene. Cavallarodoes not note. by this analysis. Indeed..

with its links to the embodieduser. displacements.. andof cyberspacein particular.Just as Gibson's conceptionof the technologicallyenhanced body in "BurningChrome" similarly blurs the boundariesbetween flesh and machine ("leads [are] clipped to the hard carbon studs that stick out of my stump"[201]) by turningembodimentinto a networkof technicalrelations. statesJack. and even subtendsthe discourse of science. cyberspace.6 Topology states that some geometric problems are not dependent on the precise shapeof the objects involved. enriches.work to uncover and unfold the pockets of data and informationthat exist in its unlocalizablespace.' It would also be importantto note that the scientific modeling of communications networks. is a networkthat always has the possibility of reshapingitself or undergoinghomeomorphictranslation:the "matrixfolds itself aroundme like an origamitrick"(216). the matrix itself assumes a symbiotic and dispersedcorporealityto be imaginedas an "extendedelectronic nervous system" (197). The cyberspaceto be found in the second half of JohnnyMnemonic. As Jack implies. For cyberspaceis not the agglomerationof discrete partsthatcould submitto being mappedfrom the outside or from above. VOLUME (2006) 33 directions: a geo-metric totality" (248).. the sublime is invoked through scale and the power of function. The cyberpunk achieves a technologized version of the Situationist derive by rerouting corporate space and exploiting the topological peculiarities of the complex but continuoussurface of the network. It takes on the appearanceof an infinitely malleable surfacethatcan be unfoldedandmoldedat will. more fundamentally. it is envisaged as "brightgeometries representingthe corporatedata. what is significantis how these shapesare . Towers and fields of it in the colorless nonspaceof the simulationmatrix"(197). the cyberspace of the console cowboy can thus be read as another mythic space-a space of journeys. which is entered using stolen hardware and hacking skills.translations. Later.Following one of Serres's favorite theses that myth informs.36 SCIENCE FICTION STUDIES.andtransformations-that cannotbe reducedto the totalizableor striatedshapes of Euclidean geometry. wired into a VR interface. In "Burning Chrome" (1982). But despite corporations'wish to control the infinite networkof data by modulatingit into rational. as Johnny'shands. Even Johnny's body.stablewithinthe realmof Euclideangeometry.. totalizable forms and localities. the cowboy heroes of Gibson's texts are able to hack into these predetermined networks and pathways. the corporatecyberspacevisible to "legitimateoperators"is similarly represented as a "3-D chessboard. infinite and perfectly transparent"(195).has takenits figures and tropes-sublime "[u]nthinkable complexity"and the topologicalpeculiarity of a space that is both global and local-from the discourse of both Gibson's science fiction and. The network of cyberspace thus belies its corporate representationas totalizable. as he finally bends and scores Chrome'scorporatespace beyondrecognition. is actuallyenfoldedwithin an infinitely complex informationinterfacethatenables Beijing and Newark momentarilyto touch one another. is thus very different from the previous version of gridded totality.the languageof myth. seemingly fixed in the Euclidean space of the "real" (connected to hardwareand moving little more than a few feet over a suggestively griddedboard). Here.

This is an area strangelyvoid of explorers" (Serres and Latour70). myth.it is "less a junctureunder controlthanan adventureto be had. In such "modern"terms. OF FICTION." Serres tells Latour. and science. Once the invariantqualities of the problemhave been identified. For the space in between disciplines is seen by Serres as still very much underexploredand far more complicatedthan the idea of an "interface"between two stable concepts would suggest. for "mediation.just as the teacup needs to be worked in order for its points to resemble the doughnut in metrical space. to have little relationshipwith one another. it is possible to work with a geometric problem that may have proved unsolvable in one particular form. The fundamental purposebehind topology is that by concentratingon the configurationof passages and connections rather than static points in space. among other sciences-is the demiurge of plural spaces. In the first phase of Serres's work. Bruno Latour asserts that Serres's topologically complex philosophy is amodern:it does not accept the distinctionbetween the ordersof fundamentally things that divide the naturalfrom the culturalor social. It seems like science read as a most peculiarkind of mythological fiction. so Serres's philosophy stretches and explores the spaces of and passages between epistemologies that are usually kept distinct from one another. while religious sacrifice is a social phenomenon:"tobe modern is precisely to accept that Challengerhas nothingto do with Baal. The space between disciplines through which Hermes passes is the realm of ice flows. as Latour has it. 37 mathematical connected together. Readingtopologicalcomplexitydoes not simply enable Serresto drawnew maps of the stable terrainof literature. as Latourputs is. within the potentially more welcoming environmentof the other. jagged shores. we moderns can only see the Challengeras a technicalobject. guiding travelers along and between uncertain topographies and standing.what HarariandBell describe as "an expedition filled with random discoveries that exploits the varieties of spaces and times" (xxxvi).philosophy. because the . instead. at first glance. it seems nothing other than madness for Serres to assert in Statues (1989) that the explosion of the space shuttleChallengerin 1986 and the incinerationof human sacrifices within a brass statuededicatedto Baal in Carthagestrangelyresemble one another. it is possible to see structuralsimilaritiesbetween problemsthat seem. The final volume of the Hermes sequence published in 1980 is thus subtitledLe Passage du nord-ouest (The Northwest Passage) because it tells of the difficult journey between disciplines whose itineraryis not predicted from the outset and whose map is the process of the passage. Hermes-god of commerceand theft and founder of alchemy (hermeticism). Serres's work is. multiplicity"(Serres and Latour 1). translations. of course. and that is the legacy of what it means to consider oneself modern. This journeythroughthe northwestpassage is thusa randonnee. it is thereforeno surprisethatthe tutelary house-god of this projectis the cunningand ingenious Hermes. the protectorof boundarieswhose statueis placed at crossroads.SERRES: AND THESHAPE RELATION SCIENCE. similarlyobsessed with such homeomorphic translations between seemingly radically distinct discursive environments. and the randomly scattered islands. "It's more fractalthantruly simple.7 For.

see Berressem 52). incommensurability. In topological terms. The fetishes that injectedsuch frissons into the discourses of postmoderntheorizationsof culture in the 1980s and 1990s all seem to be there: multiplicity. technologies. then. chaos. Jean Baudrillard's lamenting acceptance of a technologizedworld of rapidlyexchangingsigns and simulacramight be taken as representative of what Serres finds to be the materially impoverished philosophiesof languagedominantwithinthe period. the pluralityof meaning.Sf has continually read the rational space of modem science as implicated within the disruptive. Serres workedwith Foucault in the 1960s. irrational(in terms of Euclidean geometry). libidinal. hybrid knowledges. The sign. so soft. cries out against the empire of signs" (Serres and Latour 132). they may be linked by structuralresemblances and connectivities. liminal spaces. I cannot think this substitutionas an equivalence. Serres is referencedin TheArchaeologyof Knowledge(1969). and objects are implicated within those atavistic. thathe can hardlybe thoughtof as being excluded from the climate of "French Theory" that dominated the Anglo-American academy and the of metalanguage postmodemliterarystudiesin the 80s and 1990s..and the revelationof the discursive qualitiesof seemingly objective disciplines such as history and science. It is clear. Serres's work. There is perhapsa familiar flavor to some of the ideas that Serres presentshere. translations. VOLUME (2006) 33 Carthaginians were religiousandwe no longerare. particularlyfrom the 1980s. and Derrida's Given Time: Counterfeit Money (1991. [T]herevolutionsthathave made us modem have in fact made these past states incommensurable" (Serres and Latour 138-39). and Hermes I includes specific engagementswith his work. it also offers a language for creating and exploring the topologically complex cognitive and imaginative spaces within which such connectionsmight be projected. substitutesitself for the thing.. Serre'swork offers science fiction studiesa theoreticallanguagefor mappingthe contoursand bifurcationsof the passage between science and fiction.andtransformations. It is thus perhaps this theoretical interest in "narratives.and transcendental impulsesthathave persistently appearedwithin culturalformationsas the Gothicundersideof a positivismthat drawsits strengthfrom the Enlightenment project. to which Serres's work can be most productively opposed. Noise and Sense. which is hard. Nevertheless. demonstratesan implicit critique of those theorists of postmodernitywhose interest lies primarily in reading the exchange of signs. My book. and often uncanny spatialitiesthat are figured by the humanhopes andfearsthatattenditsjourneys.... To see the relationshipbetween Challenger (the technological object of modem science) and Carthaginian sacrifice (the social object of a mythologicaland religious world-view) is to see how our scientific tools. In the . Indeed. He worries that "language replaces experience. irrational. Les cinq sens. while sympatheticto the work of Foucaultand Deleuze (see Serres and Latour 38-39).. Deleuze and Guattari'sCapitalismand Schizophrenia (1972). Of course. Deleuze's TheFold (1988)."and its sometime refusal to grantthe particularity quiddityof and things behind the circulation of signs. science fictionhas always worked precisely to explore the culturaleffects and affects of projected scientific advancement.38 SCIENCE FICTION STUDIES. though.

The Parasite). Information theoryuses mathematicsandprobabilityto describe the relationshipbetween intendedinformationand white noise in the channels of communication between a sender and receiver. It studies the transmissionof messages. or it is to the logos what matter used to be to form" (7). The Five Senses)-Serres neithercelebratesnor simply opposes the circulationof signs. but Serres extends the interest in informationtheory displayed in Hermes IV in the work that follows it. Serres is not the only writer to suggest thatthe deep metaphorthat structuresthoughtin the twentieth century-from the unconscious to the computerto the genome-is that of the code. This noise. FICTION. Hermes was always interested in the transmission and unpredictable transformationof messages through topologically diverse spaces. therewas noise. For Serres. the speed of theirpropagation. from signs differentiatedfrom an infinitecacophonyof other signs and from the static that will not admit to being read as a sign at all. before even the word. an open and temporaryvortex that emits and receives flows of energy and information?What is a language. all the biological transformations life. Communicationonly emerges from background noise. the philosopher's work must establish pathways of communicationbetween this networkof systems. That interest in languageis reconfiguredas an engagementwith the very channelsof communication itself-those prepositionsthat precede statementsor postulates and that are the fundamentalground of language. against which previous philosophies have blocked their ears. is both the very possibility of language and its interference. Serres also describes how communication between people. Serres will write that "[n]oise is the basic element of the softwareof all our logic. it must also read communicationitself as an enactmentof the turbulent between contingentpockets or figures of orderandthe relationship swirling disorderthat is its ground. In Herme'sII: L'Inteiference (1967). is best thought of as "a game played by two interlocutorsconsidered as united against the phenomenaof interference and . it is the multiple sound of the universe that "the intense sound of languagepreventsus from hearing" (78). AND THE SHAPE OF RELATION 39 work that follows the final volume of Hermes -Le parasite (1980. but Serres asserts that all creationsof systematicorder.SERRES: SCIENCE.theirprobability. a "background noise. Genesis). dialogue. he pares back the philosophicalobsession with languageand discursive structuresof the 1970s and 1980s to its most basic elements. history itself with its traces and marks. As Serres puts it: "[i]nformationtheory follows directly from thermodynamics. instead.their redundancy"(Hermes IV. before language. a text. are formsof coding thattransmit of informationdown diverse channels: What is mathematicsif not languagethat assures a perfect communicationfree of noise? What is experimentationin general if not an informationalas well as an energeticevaluationof the laboratory? Whatis a living system if not an island of negentropy. if not objects of which the theory of information defines the functioning?(HermesIV. In the later Genesis. every scientific system. qtd in Harariand Bell xxiv) In order for these diverse systems of coding to speak to one another. Gene'se (1981. and Les cinq sens (1985. which precedes all signals and is an obstacle to their perception" (Serres and Latour 78). qtd in Harariand Bell xxiv).

. as system. it is also. the possibility of any communication. Genesis. and fluctuatingorganizations"(xxvii). of elements. it is the problem of the third man. significantly. social. VOLUME 33 (2006) are confusion"(Hermes He suggeststhatthese interlocutors not dialectically 66). I pass. writes Serres. giving only conversationratherthanmaterialremuneration. As Harariand Bell put it. The parasite excites the system to the degree that a message sometimes cannot pass at all.. a sponger or guest who outstays his or her welcome. Again. for Serres. In biological. like the excluded third man in dialogue. numbers"(2). I hear. thatorderedsystems are significantexceptions ratherthanthe rule. is called the parasite. but noise is also part of the production of the system-indeed. "it is necessary to rethinkthe world not in terms of its laws and regularities. the ur-conditionof the materialuniverse-and its complex relationshipwith systems of contingentorder. Serres's projectis thus to demonstratephilosophically. and communicative terms. it forces the system to increase in its complexity. interruptingand incapacitatingthe functioning of a system through its noise.. is integralto the system from the start: its noise precedes and perturbsthe system.. "they are on the same side. explores furtherthis static-the sound. Heat a little. In fact: To hold a dialogue is to presume a third man and to seek to exclude him. emphasis in original) By 1980. and even noise). We might call this third man the demon. tied togetherby mutualinterest: they battle againstnoise" (67). but rather in terms of perturbations and turbulences. the demon. and fluid dynamics have done within their disciplines. I send. an integration .as chaos theory. this prosopopeia has anotherface: the excluded third. uneven structures. the prosopopeiaof noise. The figure of turbulencethat resounds and repeats within the poetic and incantatoryframework of Genesisis Serres's way of paying attentionto the multiplicity of the sensible world that philosophy and science reject in their quest for "a principle. atoms. meaning. Serres chooses the figure of the parasite because the word bears a useful triple meaning in French: it is a biological organismthat invades and lives off another. he repeatsthat the multiple.. heat a little more. the term for noise or static and in information theory. nevertheless. Still under the divine protection of Hermes. a successful communicationis the exclusion of the thirdman. (67. everything collapses" (194). and the noise is its prohibitoror interception. in order to bring out its multiple forms.40 SCIENCE FICTION STUDIES. appearing . informationtheory. rather.sound. The most profound dialecticalproblem is not the problemof the Other.which Serres later said should have been called Noise ("an old Frenchword thatexpresses clamorandfuror"[SerresandLatour74]). or unit" but can also conceive "the backgroundnoise from which it emerges" (110). who is only a variety-or a variation-of the Same. the philosophy of communications (in the broadest possible sense) that appears in Genesisis able to "conceive the message as order. Given thathe sees the actionof the parasitewithin all informationsystems. opposed. the parasite is a "thermalexciter" (Parasite190) that causes fever and inflammation."[W]hitenoise is the conditionfor passing(for meaning. The parasite.

The ball is the sun of the system and the force passing among its elements. Serres asserts the social importanceof the quasi-objectby explaining. in the pulsingof blood throughthe body. Serresconcentratesinsteadon the significanceof what he calls "quasiobjects. in twisting columnsof smoke. Rome: TheBook of Foundations). Because the conventionalobject of modem thought "lies precisely outside of the relational circuits that determine society. Serres grants objects their rightful position within the construction of the world. even in the order/disorder of individual corporeality itself. 41 as a complex interactionbetween undifferentiated noise andnegentropicislands of transient order. crucially. "a chaotic multiplicity of orderly and unitary multiplicitiesand chaotic multiplicities"(110). the team fluctuatesquick as a flame.SERRES: AND THESHAPE RELATION SCIENCE. it is within the relational network constellating around the ball that meaning is located. The kernel of the object itself has a limited significance. "Ourrelationships." In Genesis. with greater complexity." is or. As Serres goes on to write inLe'gende anges(1993." writes Serres. that the crucial difference between humanand animal societies is the emergence of objects. perhaps unexpectedly." a contingent and circumstantial linking together of smaller turbulences (110).instead. it reveals itself to be "moreof a contractthana thing" (88). The analysisof the flows andthrusts. because when viewed as part of a network of communicationsand exchanges of information. outstripped"(87-88). unstable and fluctuatinglike a flame. The ball as a quasiobject thus not only reveals its own presence and interventions. except that it forms a center of attraction.the prepositionsthatlink togetherthese turbulentsystems. it keeps a nucleus of organization. a billion times interwoven" (47). For Serres. it exists in multiple distributionsratherthan as a universal state. around it. is not to be thought of as out of the ordinary or as "an epistemologicalmonster".there would be no world without this interlinkingweb of relations."[l]iving thingsandinert things bounce off each other unceasingly. its significance lies in the fact that it is fundamentallya "relationalobject" (Genesis 87) ratherthan an object with its own distinct and separablebeing: "Aroundthe ball. in which there are both ferment and quasi-staticeddies. in a linguistic message. are to be found in many places. The ball is a quasi-objectratherthanan essential object. By producing"reflectionson the multiple"(91).it demonstrates that human subjectivities and collectives must also be viewed as part of a multiple interfacewith the non-humanobject world. multiple in space and mobile in time.instead. it is a center that is offcentered. off-side. Turbulenceis in the weather. it is "theordinarylot of situations"(5). OF FICTION.social bonds. in Genesis. through it. become. which is a "temporary turbulence. he attempts "to think a new object. relational"(91). but. "turbulence a multiplicityof local unities and of pure multiplicities. part of Serres's project to construct "a decent philosophy of the object" (Genesis 91).Althoughthe ball has certainparticular physical qualities. Serres uses the example of a ball to explain the figure of the quasi-objectthat appearsin The Parasite and Rome: le livre des fondations (1983. Seemingly rejecting the phenomenologicaldesire to see the thing in itself as it really is. Turbulenceis thus widespread.Angels: Modem des A Myth). would be airy as clouds . in river flows. And these turbulentsystems.

' As far back as Hermes IV.though. addingcomplexityto the systemof humanrelationsand even fundamentally workingto constructa society thatvalues the voice of each individual..As Serresgoes on. and shines a light upon the subjectreveals that it is never simply and essentially itself (as nothingfor Serres ever is): The quasi-objectthat is a markerof a subject is an astonishing constructorof intersubjectivity. these vicariancesof subjects weave the collection. Serres writes that: . s/he is held together by multiple cords. not always convincingly. in such a way that he gravitates aroundit and fluidly takes the position it takes. VOLUME (2006) 33 were there only contractsbetween subjects"(87). It is in following its trajectorythat their team is created"(Angels 47-48). As "the luminous tracer of the social bond" (87). rather. in Les cinq sens he demonstrates thatsensory embodimentrendersit impossible to stand in front of or outside the world. "We": what does we mean? We are precisely the fluctuating back and forth of the "I. to free oneself from its entangled networksandthe multiplespaces andtimes tracedby the circulationof objects. he muses.And this passing.a "trackerof the relations in the fluctuatingcollectivity around it" thatactuallymakes it the "truesubject"of the game." The "I" in the game is the token exchanged. Any object investedwith desire or fear traces a silent contractwith the human. ratherradically. it slows down instinctive interactionsto create a contractthat is "heavierand denser" (SerresandLatour201). a modem subject. it "stabilizes .its freedomfromthe complex cordsof the quasi-object(Genesis90). as a quasi-object.to put it in Angels. it is a mistake to imagine that the ball in a game is simply being manipulated by human subjects.. instead. This newly reconfiguredsubject is no longer an individual. (227) During the 1980s. Serres's peculiar empiricism leads him to assert that the ball itself "is creating the relationshipbetween them [human subjects]. Although Serres states that science seeks to assert its objectivity. If the ball is a quasi-object. and channels of communication. this networkof passages. how and when we are subjectsand when we are no longer subjects.S/he is a constellationof relations and becomings ratherthan a being. the quasi-object that constructs. simple example of what Serres means by the quasi-object might be the vestige of human civilization representedby the conch shell in Lord of the Flies.42 SCIENCE FICTION STUDIES. As Serres puts it in The Parasite. Human societies are fundamentallystructured and stabilized according to exchanges within a network of objects that are invested with a culturalvalency thattranscendsany simple use value. but especially the relationsit spawns"(Serresand Latour108). finds to be the crushingly second order investigationsof phenomenologyand linguistic critique. The object itself is valueless. Serres's peculiar empiricismattemptsto free itself from the discourse of rational science and from what he.We know. the skilledplayer is also perhapsonly a quasi-subject. throughit. A good. contracts. positions. relations"(87).in that he "knows that the ball plays with him or plays off him. objects slow down the relationshipsbetween subjectsand what would otherwise be their quickenedand simplified reactions to the world.

As Connorsuggests. knowledge arrives both from being thrustinto the midst of things. phenomenology. Serres uses the embodied philosophy of Les cinq sens to cry out against language and "the empire of signs" that informedthe Westernintellectualand social dominantof the 1980s...intellectualized.my body is not plungedinto one space but into the intersectionor junctions of this multiplicity. for the world of languagehas alreadybeen decentralizedandredistributed as part of a wider network of codes and information.his text "celebratesthe death of the word" (Les cinq sens 455).] is not plungedinto a single. by renderingthe postmodernobsession with signs redundant rather than erroneous (166). AND THE SHAPE OF RELATION My body [.. however. definingtheir common border. rather. and from also understandingoneself as a similarly imbricatedand implicatedbundle of multiple relations. Consequently. "MichelSerres'sLes CinqSens" 157).SERRES: SCIENCE. rather.. for a thinkerwho so relishes being deridedas a poet and whose philosophicalmethodrelies so heavily on metaphorto give a rapidcontiguityto what would normally remain spatially distinct. He criticizes Merleau-Ponty'sassertionin The Phenomenology of Perception that "'we find in language the notion of sensation.. it touches. the final section of Les cinq sens reworksSerres's critiqueof philosophiesthatclose their ears to the sensible word and listen only to language. Serresreveals how "in the skin. Contingencymeans mutualtouching:world and body meet and caress in the skin. Strangely. It works in Euclidean space. always filters sensory experience throughstructuresof language. "[wihere language [for Serres] sought to fix and petrify objects. in particular. My body lives in as many spaces as the society. Using the skin (which he says carriesthe message of Hermes)as merely one example.. What you can decipher in this book is a nice ethnology of city dwellers. as Connorpointsout. the world andbody touch. distributing them in patternsof invariantconversionandexchange. As Connor puts it. Serres expandsupon this philosophyof the body by statingthat it does not simply inhabitmultiplespaces. It sees in projective space. the group or the collectivity have formed. Lots of phenomenology and no sensation-everything via language"(132).. from being implicatedin a world of relationshipswith objects and others that brings diverse local spatialities together. who are hypertechnicalized. information dissolves the .. it suffers in another... For Serres. FICTION. but it only works there. The skin intervenes in the things of the world and brings about their mingling" (qtd in Connor. and tragicallystrippedof any tangibleexperience..chainedto their library chairs.9Serrestells Latour that the "returnto things" always runs up against the barrierof logic within philosophy. bodies are always "corps meles" (mingled bodies).hears and communicates in a third.. caresses and feels in a topological space. knowledge is no longer a process of unveiling the world (157).which has a lineage thatlinks the poststructuralism Derrida of back throughHeidegger's fundamental ontologyto Husserl.it constructsits sense of itself through and in terms of a structuralmultiplicity. Part of this refusal of language is a turning away from the discourse of phenomenology.. specified space. I mingle with the world which mingles itself in me. Serres writes that ratherthan opposing the world where signs are dominant. But.' . throughthe skin. (Hermes 44-45) 43 In Les cinq sens.

distinctive within anddistinctfrom its environment. spaces. nevertheless. A world that is conceived of according to the complex. Serres's account of the mythological paratext and crumpled time-lines that run alongside the positivist narrative and linear temporalityof science is very suggestive for a readingof the "darkfantasy"of a writer such as Mieville. now. and his continuinginterest in the topologically complex passages between systems and disciplines.it is a multiple. makes this work particularly relevantto contemporary texts thatare attemptingto explore the intersticesof the traditionalgenres of science fiction. thinks." "span. most famously articulatedin Darko Suvin's assertion that the genre is constructedthroughthe "presenceand interactionof estrangementand cognition"(61). unpredictableand turbulent circulationof information." "slipstream. and fantasy." or "interstitial"fiction (see Luckhurst 241). it cannot be read as an agrarianrejection of technology or some nostalgic return to an essential and stable matter either. which has variously been called the "New Weird. the bottomlessmystery of the givenness of things. But where sf has traditionallybeen representedas a genre thatimaginesdifferentworlds. andtechnologieswithin the framework of rational laws of causality and logical possibility. the processes through which the embodied subject feels. For this work. "Michel Serres's Les Cinq Sens"167). and constructs itself are shown to have been always alreadymultipleeffects of the dispersaland coagulationof information. and perhaps just for now. a bundleof relations-a quasibody. its dispersal. Sf's persistent attempt to impose a certain disciplinary purity on itself. the centripetaland centrifugalforces thatmake center and peripheryimpossible to locate and that are the sensory body's work of self-makingand self-transformation. can also be thought of as exploring the topological similarities and unexpected passages between areas of thoughtand genres that philosophyand literaturewould normallyhold distinct. takes Serres back to "the primal adventureof philosophy . Instead. " Serres's version of embodimentmay have none of the jacked-in enjoyments or prosthetic appendages of which theoreticalexplorers of cyberspacewere once so fond. borrowsmuch from science's fundamentally modem claims for the impermeabilityof its borders. horror. Serres's distinctiveaccountof embodiment. Most postmodem theorizations of the body have sought to emphasize its hybridity. object by operationalizingit" ("Michel Serres's Les Cinq Sens" 166).ratherthan under the delimited arena of agreement that Serres problematicallysuggests is requiredby the exchange of signs.. its multiple interfaces with technologies-humanity as the apotheosisof Freud's "prosthetic god.his desire to figure the world as a network of relationships in which objects play constitutive roles.44 VOLUME (2006) 33 SCIENCE FICTION STUDIES. .. perhaps. The sensory body is not a coherentmodem subject. China Mieville has recently sought to rethinkscience fiction as a "subsetof a broader fantastic mode" ("Symposium"43). suggesting that sf simply represents the "not-yet-possible"ratherthan the "neverpossible" that has more traditionally characterized fantasy. apprehensible otherwise than as the mere task or antagonistof the linguistic subject-protagonist" (Connor.

and the Gothic. but here. If they consider us at all. which occur like parasitical "patterns of interference" (59).as opaque as brickworksphinxes." which appears and disappearsin "Reports. John Harrison.. armouredin girders. ushered in by us. generic transgressionis figured in terms of topological complexity. have their own unreadableintentions. As with Mieville's earlierKingRat (1998) and the Gothic Jekyll and Hyde. Partof what makes Mieville's work so compelling is the astonishingattentionhe gives to the world of things.conspiracy narratives.. The Via Ferae. relishes the Gothic frisson at the presentationof what .One way of readingthis remapping of the corporate.but they can also potentiallybe used by humans. fantasy. institutional. thatthis is the quotidianexperience of embodimentand of being throwninto an object world. fantasy. Of course. connectivities. as it describes how the narratoris drawn into a meticulously detailed occult science that explores the Via Ferae (feral streets) thatappearand disappearin London. such "boundary would be replacedby passages. The Via Ferae and the city itself might thus be imagined as quasiobjects-"multiple in space and mobile in time. Mieville.There are legends of those who can tame and ride these streets. [and] get rid of the old Newtonian spatialmetaphorsof 'barriers'and 'ghettos"' (qtd in Luckhurst240). constitutingand scramblingthe distributionof information that makes up the networkof relationshipsthat is London. as he imagines the city streets that are constitutiveof the social world as possessed with powerful but unreadableintentions: "Theirmotivationsare unimaginable.and diversely social spaces of the city according to the wild and illegible logic of Via Ferae is to view it as a reworkingof the Situationistderive thatpays even closer attentionto the role of objects in the coconstructionof urbanspace." is in fact both quasi-objectand quasi-subject:it intentionallypushes throughthe stable urban environment. Genesis 91)-rather than essential objects that are nothing other than tools to be used by powerfully coherent subjectivities. AND THE SHAPE OF RELATION 45 M. pelted in new cement and paving" (77). suggests the narrator. FICTION. but the Via Ferae are just as capable of using the humanbuilding and planningefforts throughwhich Londonis constantlybeing reconstructedfor their own purposes. unstableand fluctuatinglike a flame.but it is neverthelessreshapedby the city. in contrast. suggests that such texts can "replaceboundarymetaphors. "Maybethis is how they will occur now. arrivingnot suddenlybut slowly. conjunctures. One must imagine that. and horror. as in Serres's work. relational"(Serres. I doubt they care what's in our interests" ("Reports" 75). "VarminWay.who coined the moniker "New Weird" in homage to the WeirdTales of the 1920s that similarly combined science fiction.A short metaphors" story such as Mieville's "Reports of Certain Events in London" certainly translations exploresvarioushomeomorphic amongrealism.SERRES: SCIENCE. Serres insists thatthis is how things generally are. as it sometimesappears in "abuckledconfigurationdue to the constraintsof space" (61). The text imagines urban space as transcribedand transfigured by the turbulent and chaotic appearance of these literalized prepositions. which are multiplein space and time. the very subjectof the narrativehas become the unpredictablepassage-the wild alleyway and untamed boulevard-that enacts a form of mythic spatialtranslation.

But where Serresuses philosophyinflectedwith the tropesof fiction and poetry to mapthe intersticesof orthodoxaccountsof the world. uses the affective disturbances they enact as part of an explicitly political attemptto imagine and think outside of "realist"capitalistepistemologiesandontologies. For Mieville. but only insofaras it reveals multipleand chaotic relations with the global. In a rathermore synthesizingfashion than previously."a witch attemptsto conjurea powerful fetish for himself that will work as a "conduitto fecundity" (83). The Natural Contract) he meditates on the word . VOLUME (2006) 33 seems like monstrosity. Serres writes thatbecause globalized telecommunications (de)materializea world that seems structuredas and throughexchanges of informationor messages more completely than ever before.shuntingthe horizons of the possible. This "corps meles" is however still boundto its progenitorthatwished to use it as a tool. there is an enduring political significance in imagining a quasi-subject that remains separableneither from the object world nor from those other subjects that it would seek to objectify. as in the philosophicalsystems of modernity. As Luckhurst notes."with each domainhaving "a philosophyof its relationsof its truthto its system and of the circulationalong these relations"(HermesII. there are ungainsayable. Theoristsof the postmodern have consistentlywrittenof the importanceof contingentepistemologies. For Serres. but grows by wordlessly incorporating everythingand anyone it encountersinto its own horrifying multiple and mingled corporeality. as for Serres. the task of philosophy now may be to pay attentionto the local. "an autonomoustype of truth. A visceral conglomerationof his own flesh and bodily fluids. This is postof Seattle fiction" ("Long Live the New Weird" 3). This is a singularly Gothic account of embodiment. Serres similarly asserts the value of regional domains that do not circulate. its freeing-upmirroringthe freeing-up.In "Familiar. the familiaris rejected. there are only ever regionalepistemologies. qtd in Harariand Bell xiv). With the crisis of the "WashingtonConsensus" and the rude grass-roots democracies of the movements for social justice. which fades away in "random holes" and "[e]ntropicwounds" (95).46 SCIENCE FICTION STUDIES. For Mieville. it is possible and indeed necessary to write "a general theory of relations" (Serres and Latour 108). Mieville has recently extended this argumentto state that "Neoliberalismcollapsed the social imagination. However. as his work from the 1990s onwards makes clear. Mieville fleshes out the role of a philosophicallyrigorousfantasyin imaginingalternativesto the accountof an empoweredmodernsubjectthatis distinctin andfor itself andthat representsthe world as a playgroundfor its projects. In the last chapterof Le Contrat naturel (1992.but Mieville's fantasticallyimaginedcorporeality. of "situatedknowledges" (in Donna Haraway's terms) that refuse to speak globally in one stridentvoice. millions of people are remembering what it is to imagine" (qtd in Luckhurst 240).combinedwith the supernatural power of the object world.the radicalisation the world. Mieville assertsthatthe "New Weird" is a genre that both imagines and "is born out of possibilities. constitutive relations between subjectivity and the world of others. Of Air and Angels. and it grows at the expense of the integrityof the witch's body.

money. even within which..the cordthroughwhich "information. however. paper....however. a postal service. [T]oday's interconnectednesspierces vertically throughthe stack..Nevertheless. and through the contractsthey create. every day we invent billions of new ones. or punches throughbetween vertices. These "immutable mobiles" that "thinkfor us." (Angels 293). and translatedthroughgeographical space by telecommunications. illuminated. .. FICTION. and that history lives nowhere" (109). which also appearsin Les cinq sens.The first quasi-objectsconstructedthe social contract.. because we now exchange increasingamountsof informationwith "objectsthat appear more as relations. We are able to function in multiple localities throughthe use of media that are no longer bound. in the global sense of the word" (109). and.renderedairborne. forces.tokens. gives us new contemporary quasi-objects. as he hints in The Natural Contract. Serres goes on to write a book on angels because they are the airborne "message bearers"of the world of global telecommunications:"Each angel is a bearer of one or more relationships. cartography. is called in Atlas (1994) the "hors-la"-the multiple space of sensory experience. There was no totality of humans.. are not new. throughscientific progress. in which communication takesplace. In Angels. piled one on top of the other . inside out-there. the connection. among us. carryinformation reconfigure. will need to be rethought. with us. The modern social contract constructed around Enlightenmentscientific accounts of the world was also unaware of nature. and laws" (108) pass-and begins to see how. AND THESHAPE RELATION OF 47 contract-literally. to the earthand to each other.that a particularsubsetof quasi-objectshas enabledthis volatilization of matter into message. Nature was reduced to human nature. reformedas both a multiplylocalized and global network of matter-information. and . which break old contracts and produce new materialand social relationships. The world of globalized telecommunications. drawnby a modest number of members" (109). when we began to encounterquasi-objects. we think" (Angels 50). like "differentsheets. as books. Serres explores how technoscience has produced conditionswherebythe world. just as "there was no nature. This space is. more recently in Hominescence (2001). codes andtransmitters" (52). becausewe interactwith quasi-objectssuch as computers. This space of elsewhere. but but thatcontract"comprehended a few objects. Serres insists that the "artificial intelligence revolution dates from at least as far back as neolithic times" (50). as Nick Binghamexplains." which. These objects are what Latour calls "immutable mobiles. isolated in their own dimension. thus enablingthem to communicate" (68).navigation... the bonds and relationsthatattachhumansto objects. and telephony have all generated new forms of immutablemobiles and (consequently) the potential for new configurationsof centres where they may be combined and peripheriesfrom which they may be gathered"(Bingham253).new tools that link local to global.we are "living like angels" (62).SERRES: SCIENCE. print.requires that those traditionalcords be both detached and reattached in ways that bring metrically distant spaces into a topological contiguity. "for the collectivity live[d] only in its history. the metrical spatialityof distant and near: "writing. Serres states in Angels.

as much as we threatenits: "Bound togetherby the most powerfulweb of communicationlines we have ever spun.48 SCIENCE FICTION STUDIES. Some recent science fictions have also begun to pay attentionto this space of exclusion. who is excluded from both the hardware and the software? Serres remains hopeful.. (188) Perhaps. Local spaces andculturescan easily find a way to become global by means of the network.His text thus attemptsto do justice to andmap the relationshipsof the local to the global. The "angels" of the virtual community inhabit what Marcel Henaff calls the "telepolis" (187) and Serres calls "Newtown"-a sphere that floats above and is illegitimatelyopposed to the fourthworld.turbulent. more multipleaccountsof globalizationandthe global contemporary." thatoffers to bring the benefits of . It concentrates on the introduction a new technology. controls. to destroy ancient cultures in the name of a technical and centralizingmodernity. VOLUME 33 (2006) It is becomingincreasinglyclear thattheoryis moving away from the overlytotalized versions of postmodernity.Serres considers the way in which the network of global telecommunicationsinauguratesa new contractwith the earth in its totality-a symbiotic relationshipthat reveals our responsibilityto and for the naturalworld and makes it all too clear that the earththreatensour survival. "Air.It remainsto be seen whetherthe informationthat is fed into the global network from the third and fourth worlds will be heard as languageand sense ratherthan filtered out as inevitable static within the system. which kept such a strangleholdon the humanities in the latter part of the twentieth century. Geoff Ryman's novel Air (2005) is an account of a village in the imaginedterritoryof Karzistan.a text such as Angels might also be seen as an attemptto considerthe relationsand linkageswithinthe global contemporary that bring together spaces and times other than the dominant. but irrational and even criminal to erase in landscapes orderto insertthem in mass production.for as Henaff rightlyobserves.circulating information.Although Serres has shared certain kinships with the postmodern. that this newly networkedworld will make it harderfor the soundof the local to be drownedout completely. As Henaff points out (whilst reserving some doubt as to whetherthings will really turn out like this): It has become not only useless. So there are importantquestions to be asked of the new contractsforged by quasi-objects:who stores. Serres's suspicion of "the empire of signs" remainseven in this new world orderof expanded. In TheNatural Contract. Some of the frustratinglyeuphoricpanegyrics to the possibilities of global communicationin Angels are similarly tempered by Serres's concern for the exclusions and bonds that necessarily attend technological connection. however. which is excluded from the world of telecommunications(Angels 59-78). for Serres "languagehas remained the best and the worst of things" (188).the last in the world to go online. and programs information.. towards more flexible. createindustrial to conglomerateswhere work is Taylorizedand dwellings are stupidlyuniform. in an enormousplay of energies that could become deadly to those who inhabitthis contract"(110). we comprehendthe earth and it comprehendsus .

The final vision of the novel also brings the warring factions of Mae's extended communitytogether as they "[turn]and [walk] together into the future"of Air (390).in the sense thathis work represents a fundamental and productive deviation or swerve from philosophies of modernity. By doing away with the need for hardware. more fundamentally. FICTION. as a space and time of desire and fear. and see for the protagonistMae's burnedand profoundly disabledbaby. He is not interested in Habermasian rational communication dialogue. however. the loss of culturalspecificity. Serres representsthis technologizedworld. hope and terror. it thus mystically allows communionbetween all bodies and all souls.a new world. which some physicists believe will offer a totalized explanation of the world. Serres thus attempts. 49 of the Internetinto the nonspaceof the mindby formattingthe brainto interface with communicationstechnology.not always successfully. Ryman negatively articulates the problems facing an increasingly networked global society-exclusion from that network. as many sf texts have done.instead. hear.in the separationof the social and naturalinto neatly separable categories that Latour sees as a fundamentalpart of the modern settlement. It could be arguedthat this utopianismcritiquesjust how far the present networkof communicationsreally is from being either truly global or infinitely accessible. And perhapsit will become more significantin the future to listen to the ways in which culturesthatare newly assuminga place withinthe networkof global communications begin to write andimaginethese reconfigured relationshipsin their own fictions of science. their own anxieties about technologicalchange. Despite exploringvariouspolitical anxietiesconcerning who controls these formatting structuresand the loss of indigenous cultural formations. not simply because it offers another theoretical language with which to describe the global contemporary. Air can speak. just as it has been science fiction's role to map and describe. the lack of connectionbetweenpeople who live in geographicalproximityto one another. turbulentspace of the relation between objects andhumans. the planetand its inhabitants. or nor. in brightly colored relief. Michel Serresremainsan authentically perversethinker. the multiple. In a world that materializes itself more and more as exchanges of information within plural and chaotic networks. to do justice to the complexity of the relation without writing out the scenes of local and global injustice.AND THESHAPE RELATION OF SERRES: SCIENCE.For the amodernSerres. Of course. the severing of the cord thatconnects people both to their location andpast-by finally renderingthem obsolete in the impossibleworld of Air. but there remains an unexamined assertion that the free trade in which Mae is now able to take part can simply evaporate social and cultural exclusion. there is also a political problemin imaginingthe space of thirdand fourthworlds as a new territory.a way of reading the .is philosophy'svital task to explore. Air seems to evaporate the material problems of exclusion from the technologizednetwork. in the notion of history as progressor even regress.the novel presentsAir as a fundamentally utopianpossibility. it offers. thatenables first-world writers of sf to explore. placinghim withinan infinitelyaccessible networkof others. more fundamentally. Serres's work may be useful for sf studies. Air works in the eleven dimensions projected by contemporary string theory. past and future.

2." Virtual Geographies: Bodies. Nick. Serres tells Latourthat he "respect[s]"philosophiesof language-"I recommend them to my students. The five volumes of Herme'shave not yet been translatedinto English in their entirety. between discourses. 6. Phil Crang. and Jon May. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P. the single-volume anthology Hermes: Literature. 7. Serres does not dismiss Newton's theories. He simply states: "I have never participated the in Heideggerian tradition" (38). Cyberpunk and Cyberculture. since it is "algebraic in origin" (35). See also "The Stylist and the Grammarian"in The Troubadourof Knowledge (English translationof Le Tiers-instruit)for more on the relationshipof Serres's thoughtto Derrida's. Dani. Steven. Cavallaro. "'IncertoTemporeIncertisque Locis': The Logic of the Clinamenand the Birth of Physics.be heard. Bingham. New York: Routledge. 5. but he seems more interestedin how his system of "reverberation" partiallyreprisestheoriesof Lucretianturbulence(Natural Contract 108-109). Connor."the key effect of specialists(scientists/priests)in constructing and controlling the event. 1999. Hanjo. "Topologies: Michel Serres and Shapes of Thought. WORKS CITED Berressem. between science and fiction. 244-62. 8. 3. For ease of reference. As Serres points out to Latour.50 SCIENCE FICTION STUDIES. The Birth of Physics). as a passage of productiveandunpredictable exchangein which both the message and the untranslatable static can. 4. 51-71. Mike Crang. Niran Abbas. 2005. Spaces. Serres makes a connectionbetween the enormouscost incurredby both societies in erecting such "statues. and Relations. Ed. VOLUME 33 (2006) space between humans and others. . He will not be drawn by Latour on the relationshipof his work to Derrida's. Nick Bingham notes the extent to which Gibson's work has influenced the formulationof problems and the agendaof researchinto cyberspace and virtual reality in both science and the humanities(248-49). momentarily.I have even practicedthem"-but that he finds the results obtained to be "fairly weak" (Serres and Latour 131). Cavallaro also notes that "the Gothic and cyberpunk inaugurate an "anarchitecture" confuses the conventionalseparationbetween inside and outside. Ed. all citations from Hermes derive from the translatedsections in Harariand Bell's anthology. Serres tells Latour that he knows structuralismwell. NOTES 1. the French language preserves the connection between time and weather systems by using the same word to indicateboth: les temps (58). the shared goal of reachingthe heavens. The English translationof this text will be publishedin 2006. Serres uses these similaritiesto argue that our technology contains repressedarticulationsof atavistic violence. edited by Harariand Bell. and the importance of performancein front of watchingcrowds." Anglistik 15 (March 2004): 105-17. "UnthinkableComplexity: Cyberspace Otherwise.London: Athlone. contains selected chaptersfrom all five volumes plus a section from La Naisance de la physique dans le texte de Lucrece: Fleuves et turbulences(1977." MappingMichel Serres. 9. Philosophy. that challenges the codes of perspective and underminesthe very foundationsof Euclidean geometry" (177). Serres's first degree was in mathematics. Science. 2000.

" Mi6ville. 1997. Ed. Burning Chrome. Ed. Baltimore:JohnsHopkinsUP. "Symposium:Marxismand Fantasy. Hermes I: La Communication. 1995. London:Macmillan. Ryman. 2005. William. . Genevieve James and James Nielson. 2005. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P. 1977. China. Science Fiction. Lookingfor Jake.Roger. Hermes V: Le Passage du nord-ouest. Bell. LawrenceR. 1980. 1989. Genesis. Josue V. Gibson. Journala plusieurs voies. Hermes II: LI'nterference. Trans." Lookingfor Jake.4 (2002): 39-316. Schehr." MappingMichel Serres. 1975. 1974. 1969. Angels: A Modern Myth." The ThirdAlternative35 (Summer2003): 3. . Michel. 1977. Felicia McCarren. 1983. and OtherStories. Trans. London: Voyager-HarperCollins. 1980. Historical Materialism 10. ElizabethMacArthur William Paulson. 1972. 1998.Paris: Minuit. 1982. Science. Paris: Hachette. Hermes III: La Traduction.Josue V. Francis Cowper. 84-98. "Introduction: Literature. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP. 2005." MappingMichel Serres. Ed. London: Macmillan. Serres. 2005. . TheBirthof Physics. 170-89. Cambridge:Polity. 1974. Luckhurst. Paris: Grasset. . 2000. "JulesVerne's StrangeJourneys. TheTroubadour Knowledge. Ann Arbor: U of MichiganP. and Other Stories. FICTION. . Trans. . JackHawkes. 195-220. 1990. Feux et signaux de brume:Zola. "Of Stones. Atlas. David Webb. . China Mieville. Baltimore:Johns Hopkins UP. By Michel Serres. Phillippa Hurd. Statues:Le second livre des fondations. Angels. Air (or Have Not Have). 2005. Trans. Harariand Bell. Ed. of Ann Arbor: U of Michigan Press. Andrew. 1991. TheNatural Contract. and Humans:Michel Serres and the Global City. Bell. and Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P. 2001.Science.Paris: Minuit. "Burning Chrome. London: Grafton. 1994. Hermes IV: La Distribution. 1986. Ed. Henaff. Philosophy. Ed. 1984. Hermes: Literature. NiranAbbas. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P.SERRES: SCIENCE. Niran Abbas. . London: Gollancz. TheParasite." Hermes: Harari. NiranAbbas. and David F. 153-69." YaleFrench Studies 52 (1975): 174-88. of ("Reports CertainEvents in London. FariaGlaserandWilliam Paulson. Le cinq sens. ix-xl. 2005." MappingMichel Serres. 1993." Ed. Philosophy. New York: Flammarion. 1982. Gibson. "Long Live the New Weird. "Serresat the Crossroads.1995. Paris: Minuit. Manchester: Clinamen.Trans. Marcel.Paris: Minuit. 1982. Neuromancer. Trans. AND THE SHAPE OF RELATION 51 "Michel Serres's Les Cinq Sens. 1995. Trans. Paris: Editions Juillard. 79-96. 2005. Harariand David F. Paris: Flammarion. Ed.Stanford:Stanford UP. Paris: Minuit. Paris: Minuit. 1995." 1982. Ann Arbor:U MichiganP. 1982. Paris: Le Pommier. 53-77. "Familiar. Rome: TheBook of Foundations. and Other Stories. Jouvences sur Jules Verne. Geoff. Hominescence:Essais.

ABSTRACT This article offers a synoptic introductionto the thoughtof Michel Serres and suggests how his work might be used to read science fiction.the article finally uses this work to read Geoof Ryman's recent novel Air (2005). "Onthe Poetics of the Science Fiction Genre. 57-71.opens up a way of reading the topologically complex relationshipbetween embodiment and objects. 1989. found in the work of China Mieville. as Conversationson Science. 2003. Oxford: Oxford UP. New York: Prentice Hall. The article argues that such a topological method offers sf studies a theoretical language for mapping its own generic transgressions." Science Fiction: Twentieth CenturyViews. such as science and fiction. "Topology. Ed. New York: Norton.and Time." The Compact OxfordEnglish Dictionary. Paris: Flammarion. Culture. articulatingthe vital relationship between the local and the global. Stevenson. Serres's intensely topological form of analysis explores the complex relationshipbetween realms that are normallyheld to be distinct within modern thought.it also suggests that topology can be used to readthe disturbinglycontinuouscognitive andimaginativespaces found at once in the Gothic and in cyberpunk. 2081. . Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P. 2nd ed. Mark Rose. RobertLouis. Trans. Darko. alongsidehis conceptof the quasi-object. 1995.52 SCIENCE FICTION STUDIES. VOLUME 33 (2006) and Bruno Latour. subjectivity and the world of social relations. TheStrangeCase of Dr Jekylland Mr Hyde. Serres's most recentwork on globalized telecommunications explores the ungainsayable social bonds within this network of quasi-objects. Trans. Eclaircissements:cinq entretiensavec Bruno Latour. Exploring Serres's accountof quasi-objectsthat reads technological communication as constitutive of a philosophically reconfigured intersubjectivity. mathematics and mythology. 1994. 1976. Suvin. 1886.The article goes on to argue that Serres's lateruse of informationtheory. Roxanne Lapidus.

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