Un futur bien trop présent : La représentation de la science et du scientifique dans les romans Oryx and Crake (2003) de Margaret Atwood et Les Taches solaires (2006) de Jean-François Chassay

  • Author / Creator
    Bigras, Amélie
  • For many science-fiction writers from the twentieth century, such as Aldous Huxley and Isaac Asimov, the twenty-first century was going to be the era where technological advancements and scientific discoveries would change humans and their cultures in drastic ways. This is what I would like to observe through contemporary Canadian novels such as Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake (2003) and Jean-François Chassay’s Les Taches solaires (2006). Atwood gives an image of contemporary society through the pre-apocalyptic society of Oryx and Crake, which segregates “word people”, who are sensitive lost souls, from the “number people”, represented as indifferent and slightly autistic conquerors. Ultimately, this segregation will provoke the destruction of the human species, so says Atwood. Chassay, on the other hand, does not fall into the mad scientist stereotype and creates a more complex character. His astrophysicist Charles Bodry tries to master his desires and pains while keeping alive his curiosity for the natural world. The result is a man living his life in a more balanced and hopeful way. Yet at the same time, several intellectuals and supporters of the humanities, Martha Nussbaum, Jean-Marc Lévy-Leblond and Jacques Bouveresse, promote the importance of sensitivity, more investment in imagination and greater moral aspirations to obtain a better balance within the culture – of which science is a great part, if only because of the ethical challenges it reveals. Is Western culture going through a metamorphosis caused by ever-growing advancements in science? How do authors apprehend the state of science in the present culture? Should science and literature communicate with each other? Some scientists strongly hold that view and many novelists write on that very subject, notably Margaret Atwood and Jean-François Chassay in Canada, but also, in France, Michel Houellebecq, whose novel Les particules élémentaires will serve as a bridge in the literary analysis section of the memoir. vi The present study is inspired in particular by the call that some scientists have made towards literature, and illustrated through the works of contemporary fiction writers. This master thesis will therefore not limit its analysis to a literary critique. Many authors of scientific articles and sociological essays will be part of this study, such as Jean-Marc Lévy-Leblond, professor of physics and epistemology. He claims that scientists have a vital dependency on the community and more specifically on word, image and idea creators. He also states in his book La pierre de touche that writers, philosophers, musicians and painters have something to say on the state of science, its resulting technology and its meaning, values and limits. (p. 37) Science is an integral part of culture, but it has slowly pulled itself away from the culture in the twentieth century. To facilitate this crossroad of disciplines, scientific discourses from many fields will be gathered to support the same idea, such as: Mario Beauregard and Simon Baron-Cohen in neurology; Katherine Hayles and Joachim Schummer in chemistry; Murray Gell-Mann, Thomas Samuel Khun and Jean-Marc Lévy-Leblond in physics; Ellen Dissanayake in anthropology and Edward Osborne Wilson in biology. Some scientific data from laboratory experiments will be used to show that Atwood extrapolates without inventing, which makes her fiction less fantastic and more speculative. The literary critique will be inspired and strengthened by the help of many literary publications concerned with the theme of science, such as studies by Jean-François Chassay, who specialize in the representations of science within literature; Brian Boyd and his book On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction, which gives a global view on the origin of language and writing; Elaine Desprès’ PhD dissertation, which questions why the scientist is often represented as mad; Marc-André Fortin’s article on “Jeffrey Moore’s The Memory Artists: Synaesthesia, Science, And The Art Of Memory” in which the relationship between science and art is explored through the theme of memory; the professor of Asian Studies vii Edward Slingerland and his book What Science Offers the Humanities: Integrating Body and Culture, which studies culture through the lense of both sciences and the humanities; the professor of philosophy of religion David Ray Griffin and his book The Reenchantment of Science: Postmodern Proposals, which describes the move from a modern, mechanistic science to a postmodern, organismic science; Danette DiMarco and her article “Paradice Lost, Paradise Regained: homo faber and the Makings of a New Beginning in Oryx and Crake,” which interrogates what science has given and taken away from our societies in general; Terence Moore’s article “The Untenable Dualism,” which retraces the philosophy behind the segregation of knowledge; and lastly the works of literary critic Jacques Bouveresse and philosopher Martha Nussbaum, who explore the usefulness of literature and the power of empathy. If science is to play fully its cultural role, this communication between disciplines needs to improve, and bridges of connection to be rebuilt and maintained. The present thesis is a contributing attempt to this goal.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2015
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Arts
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
  • Specialization
    • Études Canadiennes
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Sing, Pamela (Canadian Literature)
    • Snauwaert, Maïté (Littérature contemporaine)
    • De Montigny, Marc (Physics)
    • Fortin, Marc-André (Comparative Canadian Literature)