The Eighth World Futurological Congress was held in Costa Rica… Each speaker was given four minutes to present his paper, as there were so many scheduled-198 from 64 different countries. To help expedite the proceedings, all reports had to be distributed and studied beforehand, while the lecturer would speak only in numerals, calling attention in this fashion to the salient paragraphs of his work. To better receive and process such wealth of information, we all turned on our portable recorders and pocket computers (which later would be plugged in for the general discussion). Stan Hazelton of the U.S. delegation immediately threw the hall into a flurry by emphatically repeating: 4, 6, 11, and therefore 22; 5, 9, hence 22; 3, 7, 2, 11, from which it followed that 22 and only 22!! Someone jumped up, saying yes but 5, and what about 6, 18, or 4 for that matter; Hazelton countered this objection with the crushing retort that, either way, 22. I turned to the number key in his paper and discovered that 22 meant the end of the world.
Stanislaw Lem “The Futurological Congress”
“The Futurological Congress” is Ijon Tichy’s grotesque report written by Stanislaw Lem in the early seventies. It presents an overpopulated and overexploited Earth of the first half of the 21st century, whose herded residents seek refuge in pharmacologically synthesized collective hallucinations. Lem’s satirical vision contesting popular futurological visions of that time remains a clear warning against the greed of consumer societies willing to yield to their desires at the irreversible expense of our planet’s ecosystem.
Half a century later, Lem’s message becomes even more relevant. This is shown by the Ninth Futurological Congress project, a form of an artistic manifesto, whose authors took the book’s appeal seriously: we don’t stand idly by when we hear the cry of “Man the pumps!”.
The initiators and main organizers of the conference are Mareike Dittmer (co-publisher of the “Frieze Magazine”) and the artist Julieta Aranda (the founder and editor of www.e-flux.com) — both influential in the art world.
Whatever positive things we can say about our civilization, we can be sure of one thing: its development has certainly not been harmonious.
… we are talking about Intelligence! Yet it would have been impossible to reach the Atomic Age without the Age of Coal and the Age of Electricity that preceded it. Or a different environment would have at least required a different sequence of discoveries, which would have involved more than just rearranging the calendars of Einsteins and Newtons from other planets. In an environment with a high degree, of disturbance that exceeds the regulatory capacity of a society, Intelligence can manifest itself not in an expansive form, as a desire to take control over the environment, but rather as a desire to subjugate itself to that environment. I am referring here to the emergence of biological technology prior to physical technology: creatures inhabiting such a world transform themselves to function in a given environment, instead of transforming that environment so that it serves them—the way humans do. “But this is not intelligent behavior any more; this is not Intelligence!” we hear in response. “Every biological species behaves in this way in the course of evolution …”
The books were crystals with recorded contents. They could be read with the aid of an opton, which was similar to a book but had only one page between the covers. At a touch, successive pages of the text appeared on it. But optons were little used, the sales-robot told me. The public preferred lectons – like lectons read out loud, they could be set to any voice, tempo, and modulation.
I was close to the circular chamber from which corridors branched off like the spokes of a wheel. As I was passing a narrow side hallway leading, I think, to the bathrooms, I caught sight of a large, indistinct figure that almost merged into the background.
I stood rooted to the ground. From the far end of the side passage a huge black woman was coming towards me with an unhurried waddling gait. I saw the whites of her eyes glinting and at almost exactly the same moment I heard the soft slap of her bare feet. She had nothing on but a skirt that glistened yellow, as if it were made of straw. She had massive pendulous breasts, and her black arms were as thick as a normal person’s thighs. She passed three feet from me without so much as a glance and walked off, her elephantine rump swaying like one of those steatopygic Stone Age sculptures found in anthropological museums. At the place where the corridor curved, she turned to the side and disappeared into Gibarian’s cabin. When she opened the door, for a split second she stood in the brighter light coming from inside. Then the door closed softly and I was on my own. I took my left wrist in my right hand and squeezed with all my might, till the bones cracked. I looked around distractedly. What had just happened? What had that been? All at once, as if I’d been struck, I recalled Snaut’s warning. What was it supposed to mean? Who had that monstrous Aphrodite been? Where had she come from? I took one, only one, step towards Gibarian’s cabin, and froze. I knew only too well I wasn’t going to go in there. I sniffed the air with flared nostrils. Something was wrong, something was out of place. That was it! I’d instinctively expected the distinct, repulsive odor of her sweat, but even when she passed a couple of feet from me I hadn’t smelled a thing.
Feoktistov and I were answering questions during the meeting at the Gorky Library. Then we went backstage and were given coffee by a lady constantly bowing in front of us. Somewhat surprisingly we talked about „ The Trilogy” [by Henryk Sienkiewicz] which Feoktistov had read. He was a truly smart man (and he shared my criticism with respect to Tarkovsky’s „Solaris”). At one point the door opened and the chauffeur entered, who was to take me to a TV studio for an interview. When I sat in his car I noticed he was sweating profusely.
„What’s wrong? Are you sick?” I asked.
„No. It is just that for the first time in my life I saw a cosmonaut”.
Elevated position gave me various opportunities. I once had a meeting with students of the Lomonosov University in a giant building in Leninskie Gory. There were over one thousand people in the grand auditorium. I received questions written on little cards. A professor of laser technology, an outstanding specialist, quietly asked whether he should forward all the questions, or should some of them be omitted.
„I shall answer all the questions!” I declared bravely.
And then someone asked: „Are you a communist”?
I read out the question aloud and thought for a while. I intended to answer along these lines: „I am not a communist, however the vision of the future presented by the communist ideology seems beautiful”. Yet I managed only to say: „I am not a communist,” since there was such a thunder of applause that I could not finish the sentence. Youths pushed so hard at the podium behind which I was standing that I started to move slowly to the blackboards. The professor caught me by the collar and dragged me out through a little door. Later backstage we drank coffee brewed in glass flasks. It seemed that the Komsomol organization that arranged the meeting was not particularly impressed by my answer, however they could not openly criticize me — I was untouchable.
„The World on the Edge”, Wydawnictwo Literackie, Kraków 2007, p. 120, transl. by Tomasz Lem