Political fiction, a form of European activism

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Emmanuel Macron and Jean-Claude Juncker's respective speeches were broad outlines of the future, where was the detail? [European Commission]

Writing fiction, especially science fiction, can become an act of political activism. After all, as Giuseppe Porcaro asks, if we can’t imagine multiple future scenarios for Europe how do we expect to build a better one?

Giuseppe Porcaro is the head of communications of the Bruegel think tank and the author of DISCO SOUR, a novel set in a parallel timeline where, after the financial crisis, a civil war ravaged Europe and nation-states collapsed, leaving the EU as the only entity preventing anarchy.

When I look at the past few years of Europe’s political trajectories – with Brexit, mounting Euroscepticism, and the claims by various populist movements to discard representative democracy – the future comes prominently to my mind.

In his latest State of the Union speech, Juncker managed to bring this question back in the political arena. He reclaimed the possibility to have a different political narrative within the system, provoking a political discussion within the European Union framework.

The speech might not score for its realism, but as an attempt from the institutional core to leave behind the toxic logic that the only alternative should be against the system.

A similar claim can be made about the speech Macron delivered on 26 September. The main failing of the speech was that what it had in breadth, it lacked in detail, but it should be read as another signal of the need to bring back a politics that looks to the “horizons” rather than the “red lines”.

The need to multiply our visions for the future is more than a circumstantial exercise and should involve the wider citizenry. It’s a call to work on the very essence of our European imagination, including its emotional appeal. And we should not shy away from creating bold utopias, and fictional universes.

When I mention utopias, some might frown thinking about its negative connotations within our continental historical heritage.

But the way I refer to that concept here is the specific idea that utopias are best understood as anthropological constants, as expressions of desire for a better future that is inherent in human culture.

I take this from Ernest Bloch’s The Principle of Hope, in which he lays out the myriad ways in which hope and the human desire for liberation and fulfillment appear in our everyday lives.

Amidst Europe’s post-war reconstruction, in 1954, Bloch restored honour to the idea of utopia by seeing it not as a pre-existing programmatic state which had to be reached under wise and all-knowing leadership either of the party or the church, but as a process driven by human beings, driven on by their material hunger as well as their dreams of overcoming that hunger.

In a nutshell, what drives us on are our daydreams of a better and brighter world.

That is why I propose to consider fictions and utopias as a methodological tool, rather than end-goals.

In the political sphere, the success of most of the populist and neo-nationalist movements comes from the emotional appeal they have on citizens who are disillusioned about the future and they find the only grip in the promise of a past that was never really true, neither great.

Writing fiction, especially science fiction, can then become an act of political activism. There are many close and evident connections between science fiction and utopias, yet the relationships between them are exceptionally complex.

What interests me here is the way we can use it to create an alternative thinking about Europe, through a leap of imagination. Writing fiction becomes an exercise to test scenarios, to open the discussion, to reach out through a more immediate language, to create a shared imaginary.

Such form of activism can help counteract anti-European discourses through fictional stories that are accessible and emotionally appealing to the larger public. This goal originates from the idea that the transformative power of political action passes through various media and channels.

Engaged authors could contribute to challenge current visions of Europe and multiply the perspectives by addressing the following questions: how do fictional narratives shape our perceptions of the future? What are the implications of political imagination for articulating alternatives towards multiple and open visions of the future?

If some political movements insist on moving back to nationalism and populism, we have a responsibility to do the opposite.

If more authors and filmmakers can give Europe the richness of character it deserves, I hope the gradual shift in perception will be enough to overwhelm the negative trend currently taking hold.

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