TMI Seminar – Dr. Brian Sudlow – Technology, Techno-pessimism and Techno-politics: Bernanos, Marcel and Ellul on the Challenges of Technological Civilisation

26 February 2014

The headlong rush of modernization in recent centuries has reached hyper-spatial qualities. While the time window between invention and commercial application has become ever smaller, new technologies are often noted not only for intrinsic rapidity but also for rapid popularization across territories geographically and culturally remote. Technology shapes and governs almost every human activity from education to employment, from information to communication, from industry to leisure, and quite literally from womb to tomb. The globe seems to have achieved a technological velocity which has become the internal reactor of politics, society, culture and even religion. If these conditions of technological civilization are new, the anxieties that accompany them have historic roots but are yet cast as excessive mythologies of catastrophe, rather than as serious contributions to technological debate. Their authors are seen as progenitors of disaster movies and cyberpunk literature, not as contributors to political, cultural and religious development. Technological pessimism is believed sterile like ‘back-to-the-land’, or quaint like ‘arts and crafts’. While many question the 21st-century status of the myth of progress, a proof of its continuing success is that intransigent critics seem but marginal eccentrics. This paper opened a case study on techno-pessimism in post-war France which was a kind of laboratory of modernization for emergent technologies and their systematic political and social application. Considering selected writings by Georges Bernanos, Gabriel Marcel and Jacques Ellul, it outlined objections to emergent technological civilization, and asked in what ways such convictions about technology and techno-politics remain valid.

The speaker is Lecturer in French with Translation Studies at Aston University, Birmingham. He is author of Catholic Literature and Secularisation in France and England 1880–1914 (MUP, 2011) and editor of National Identities in France (Transaction Press, 2012). He is currently writing a book on technological pessimism in France between 1930 and 1960.