La traduction de L’Outre-blanc en américain par Sheryl Curtis avance à raison de 5 chapitres par semaine.
La publication aux États-Unis est prévue pour Mars 2018 chez Black Coat Press.
En attendant, voilà déjà la traduction de la préface coécrite par Bernard Werber et Jean-Claude Dunyach.
Jean-Claude Dunyach: One thing struck me when I read « Outre-blanc« , as well as your books too: you love to go beyond the impassable barriers, where no one has gone before you. Beyond death, beyond the depths of sleep and, in this case, beyond the borders of the universe… Science fiction has already sent us into space, far from Earth, sometimes even beyond our galaxy, but there we shift squarely into metaphysical fiction. Where does this desire to cross over the last barriers come from?
Bernard Werber: In the past, science fiction thought we were going to be saved, or at least revolutionized, by machines. Think of Jules Verne, or H. G. Wells. But in the fifties and sixties, a science fiction appeared that began to say: it is not machines that will revolutionize the world, it is our brains, it is our thoughts, our ways of viewing reality. For me, there are three, in order thar started to introduce this kind of ideas: Asimov with psycho-history, where history is conditioned by psychology, which is a way of rethinking it; then Frank Herbert with his reflection on religion and spirituality as forces reshaping the world; and finally Philip K. Dick, with his reflection on the madness and limits of our perception. These are truly three revolutions in thought and not technology. With that, we could cross through all the barriers.
Jean-Claude Dunyach: There were also all literature, comics, the films… dedicated to mutants, superpowers. This also opened up possible paths for free ourselves from our limits.
Bernard Werber: That too. In any case, we have more or less admitted that we will not be saved by machines, because technology is also the atomic bomb and greenhouse gases. Even if rockets carry us to other planets, we start from the principle that things are generally usually worse there than here. Computers, rockets, nuclear power, all these demonstrations of power will not save us.
What will save us –because we want to be saved– is our way of perceiving the world. Our way of dreaming.
And this perception is limited by death… So, there is a new science fiction that appears to be banging its head against this border, which is truly the ultimate border. As much as one can imagine that, in physical space, we will eventually understand everything, or at least have a good vision of things and a far-reaching view, as far as the afterlife is concerned, we must perhaps admit that we will never understand what is going on there and that one will never know anything about it. So, it is an extraordinary and irreplaceable topic for novels.
Jean-Claude Dunyach: I agree with you on the principle. But all these places, the beyond, the sixth sleep you mention in your last book, are uncharted places. We receive nothing, no reliable information reaches us from the beyond (I’m stting aside ghosts and other spiritual manifestations which I don’t believe in). Of course, religions have mapped, to some extent, the path that leads to it I’m thinking of the Egyptian Book of the Dead or the Tibetan Bardo, but once there, you literally have to imagine everything… Is it this challenge that appeals you? Or the total freedom that it gives you? The fact that we will never be contradicted, that we can’t get it all wrong?
Bernard Werber: It’s true that writers have an advantage over scientists because we never have to prove what we talk about. We just have to propose a credible explanation or scenario, a path the reader will agree to take with us. As you say, this is an uncharted path, which is perfect for the imagination. The work of the novelist consists in saying: since there are no beacons, let’s invent them, let’s act as if we were able to make the journey. Our status as an author legitimizes our role as a pioneer in this world.
Now, as there are no limits in the interpretation of what may come after death, we must not let ourselves get carried away by this whirlind of possibilities and we must make our way with a great deal of rigor. The Tibetan or Egyptian books of the dead are handbooks with extremely precise descriptions. You will reach this or that territory, you will meet this or that divinity, which is described and drawn, your soul will be weighed on a large scale against a feather… All this is very technical and I believe that the science fiction author must reproduce an approach that is as precise as that of the Egyptian or Tibetan book of the dead. Above all, he must not become delusional.
One of the great dangers of science fiction is that everything is possible at the outset. Above all, this freedom must not be abused. For my part, and I know that you work like this too, I base my work on actual myths, on shamanism, on everything that can be known as explorations of the invisible world. So, even if our message is original, it remains linked to what has been produced by other people who have thought about such matters before us and who have established their own beacon. We don’t have a territory created randomly, there is already something similar to maps, even if they are inaccurate.
Jean-Claude Dunyach: If you want to face the inexpressible, where science has not charted anything, where the reader has no landmarks, you have to know how to be an explorer, cartographer and popularizer, all at the same time. As Oksana and Gil have done for that matter. You said it yourself, it takes rigor. How do you keep from misleading those who read you in these strange territories?
Bernard Werber: We need to talk to them about imaginary worlds as we would a new continent. That’s what I did for the Thanatonautes. I relied on Christopher Columbus discovering America and I imagined the same mechanism. We land on a beach, we head into a forest, we discover a clearing… I just replaced the beach, the forest, clearings, with levels of consciousness in the world of the afterlife. I also used Dante’s Divine Comedy as a landmark. In fact, there is an enormous map of Paradise and Hell. They have been described in many religious or mythological texts, in epics. It is often very precise. Take Greek mythology: we are familiar with the description of Tartarus, there is the Styx, Charon who will take your soul across in his boat, for a fee of course, Cerberus the three-headed dog of the underworld…
Jean-Claude Dunyach: as you present it’s almost like a TV report?
Bernard Werber: Maybe not, we have to use our imagination, but at least we have very precise descriptions. Someone who does a little research, even on a subject as bizarre and esoteric as death and the beyond, will find a lot of information, very detailed assumptions. I try not to mislead the reader, I say to him: « See, you already knew all this, you learned it at school or from books, you saw paintings in museums, you look at them like something imaginary, now I suggest you see it as a possibility. »
Then, the second approach, apart from myths and religions, is to use science. We have scientific theories, machines that analyze brain function, which helps us to explore our sleep, which materializes our alpha, theta waves and son on. There are also the beginnings of a map, or at least landmarks.
I use both, simultaneously. As a result, my readers who are of a more scientific bent can find landmarks that suit them and those who are more mystical in nature can also find some. The important thing is to leave nothing « in floating ». The reader is directed, there is a left and a right, a scientific map and a mythological one. And in the middle there is the reader’s personal intuition, depending on whether he has had experiences with the hereafter or with particular states of consciousness, depending on whether he has lost a loved one and has the impression that that person is still there and to him… The very idea of the hereafter resonates differently for each reader and we must give the reader the means to find himself there.
I believe that each book is a mirror that allows the reader to be conforted in his convictions and occasionally to develop them, to enrich his intuitions with what the writer proposes to him. But we need a starting point, a seed of curiosity on the reader’s part. I don’t believe it is possible to have a reader who completely ignorant of the subject and who says at the end of a book like Thanatonautse: « I’m convinced, I have become a believer, I believe in the existence of heaven and hell… » I don’t see it at all like that. If he’s already on the path, some books can help him travel faster and farther. If he is resistant to this kind of approach, he will either feel like he is reading a fairy tale or he will be bored. And he will never get lost, which is the first step.
Jean-Claude Dunyach What you say strikes me, with respect to the book by Oksana and Gil. The characters in « Outre-blanc » also start to lose their way; more exactly, they are captured and dragged outside the maps, beyond the reach of surveillance systems and satellites. They are lost in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, one of the places on Earth where it is easiest to disappear. They are scientists, some collapse, others find unsuspected resources in themselves. But each of them experiences it as the beginning of the loss of self.
And that, literally speaking, also involves voluntarily misleading the reader… By warning him: « From now on, we will have to make the maps we need together. And for that, I need you to trust me. « This requires a certain state of mind when writing, doesn’t it? There is a jubilant side, at least from my point of view, in telling the reader : « I’m going to take you out of your comfort zone and lead you to a place where sensations, perceptions, the very idea you have of reality, will evolve. And you’ll have to do the same ». And that also means that the characters we create to explore this type of universe are unique. This is something that has always struck me in your novels: your heroes are endowed with an immense sense of curiosity, they want to know. This is a reflection of what you are, it’s the same for me with my own characters. They say to themselves: whatever happens to me, at least I learned something.
Bernard Werber: This also means that the reader must have a certain amount of courage to get into this kind of book and stay with it to the end. I see the writer as someone who is on the edge of the forest and who says to the reader: « Come on, I’ll take you by the hand and we’ll cross through it together. » And the reader says to himself: « Wait, in the forest there are wolves, snakes, all kinds of dangers… » But the writer replies: « As long as I’m there, you risk nothing. » This is a reading contract based on trust.
At that moment, the reader says to himself: « I want the forest to surprise me, to frighten me, it’s the game, but the author must not let me down. He must explain what is happening and protect me at the same time. » There are forests where the reader can go astray, get completely lost, there are forests where he can be bored or understand nothing. And the reader can also say to himself: « I should never have come here, this place is too dangerous… » He will wonder if he has enough strength to turn around and find his way, amid the terrifying noises that come from all sides at once, from above him… He is afraid of everything the author has helped him imagine.
This is the principle of the forest. And the author tells the reader: « Let’s keep going, you’ll see, it will please you. « You’ll see, it will please you » is what keeps the reader in suspense, but it is also a contract that can go wrong. The reader may have the impression that the author has lied to him, that the place where he is taking the reader is not going to suit him at all. That’s the risk. But, at the same time, it means that a bond has been created between them, the start of a complicity that the author will strive to make stronger.
That is where we authors feel pressure. There is no Writer’s Association that makes sure the author has done his job well, there is no writing code of ethics, it’s really a one-on-one contract. At any given moment, we must find a way of convincing our reader to turn another, to accompany us a longer. We are all guides in dark forests, but we each have our own.
Jean-Claude Dunyach: It’s true that sometimes you take strolls during which, if someone did not hold your hand, you would run away. Yet, when you come out on the other side, you say « Wow! I’m annoyed, but it was worth it. »
Bernard Werber: A good novel is a baptism. An initiation. The interest in taking walk, beyond being surprised, is that we come out of it transformed. Someone sleeping learned to dream. Someone who knew nothing, learned to know the forest. And he will be able confidently set out to cross through darker, more dangerous forests.
That’s it initiation by book. And it is a real joy for us writers to bring forests into being. And to stroll through them with our readers…
Bernard Werber and Jean-Claude Dunyach 2015