NIGHT SCHOOL BOOK CLUB: Satire and the City Review

by Chloé Rivière, AA 3rd Year

 

17 May 2013
AA Bookshop, London

 

In the current global capitalist economy and amidst the ongoing obsession with advances in technology, science fiction novels have become the best method of predicting where our civilisation is heading. Looking at science fiction literature give us an idea of what our ancestors were thinking about the technological shift taking place at the time, the same condition that defines our existence nowadays. The first session of the Night School’s Book Club: Satire and the City investigates our relationship with technology through the reading of the major dystopian novels of the 19th and 20th century, written by J.G. Ballard, Philip K. Dick, Jules Verne and E.M Forster.

 

Term 3 is always a hectic time with the final weeks dominated by the production of studio work in advance of the end of year tables. The Night School sessions on Tuesdays were a great escape from this stress; creating the opportunity to share, debate and discuss how literature can become a political commentary on history. The thorough selection of books presented each week created an immersive atmosphere for an ambitious debate! The challenge was to unearth the deep-rooted perceptions that we might have about the future of our civilisation and the alienation of the individual that is symptomatic of technological development. Another part of the discussion was to address the longevity of science fiction novels; looking in detail at the way authors set the scene for their revolutionary ideas to play out. Jules Verne, in his book Paris in the 20th century, elaborately depicts how technological progress is becoming a prosthesis reshaping the city of Paris. E.M Forster, in The Machine Stops, takes a significantly different position as he describes a world in which humans have decided to live below ground under the control of “The Machine” – an entity that is never precisely defined. It is up to the reader to imagine what this machine might look like as well as to understand how the human race became wholly subservient to it.

The two other dystopian novels that were presented by 4th year student Jack Self were Hello America from J.G. Ballard and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by American writer Philip K. Dick. Both the novels are critical of the future impact of technology on our cities. On the one hand, Ballard explores satire by immersing the reader in the psyche of his mundane characters and in that way, he is able to make a subtle parody of American culture. While on the other hand, Philip K. Dick’s book revolves around an ecological crisis, which constituted a majority of the synopsis, and raises the question of pristine nature. As humans are realising the extent to which their activities have had a significant global impact on the earth’s ecosystem, the question of pristine nature has never been more important than it is today.

 

Despite dealing with an unknown future, each book resonates with the reader because of its plausible content. Although purely speculative, the power of the science fiction novels discussed at the Night School Book Club is that they embody our deepest fears regarding the future of our civilisation.

 

For more information:

Night School Programme Brief

Night School Microsite

 

AA 4th Year Jack Self who led the Book Club alongside Night School Director Sam Jacob and Meneesha Kellay
Image Credit: Valerie Bennett

Night School Book Club Session 3: The Production of Space
Image Credit: Meneesha Kellay