On Jules Verne’s Paris in the Twentieth Century and the decline(?) of the Arts
“Must I abandon all hope at the door?” (Verne, 55).
I never thought I’d be living in a world where one of my favorite dystopian novels is actually coming true, little by little. It is a weird time in human history, and, while I wish the plot of the book was merely fantasy, it is sort of nice to have something relatable of art to hold onto.
Paris in the Twentieth Century was written in the 1860s, imagining what the later 1960s might be like. To those who are unfamiliar, this book wasn’t published until the 1990s, as Verne’s publishers did not think the book would do well in his time.
The protagonist, Michel, is a young poet who has just graduated school with a degree in classics and literature. In this imagined 1960s, though, the arts have become obsolete, with technology and machines and numbers dominating Paris (sound familiar?). Throughout this bleak future, Michel strives to find where he fits in, finding few artists like him trying to eke out a living. In the end, he becomes lost in the electrical, unfeeling streets of 1960s Paris.
Jules Verne’s 1960s Paris is a land devoid of imagination and emotion — which is not how Verne always envisioned futuristic periods of Earth. While we are not there yet in our timeline, there are certain things that make it seem like such a world is possible, and it would not take too long. I am only going by my own observations and experiences as a Canadian-American individual, of course, so take everything with some grains of salt.
People are very afraid now — with good reason — that AI is causing the Arts to decline more rapidly, in that there is no humanity in such productions and AI could be cheap enough to cause the career and learning to become obsolete. I, personally, don’t think that it will become obsolete, but it will become harder in this oligarchical society we have found ourselves in. In some ways, we are luckier than if we were in Michel’s Paris, where all thoughts of the Arts have all but gone. We here still have and want art, but there are people in charge who have decided how it should fit into our world. Yet, people still make art. Art is part of what makes us human. In Michel’s Paris, those who have shunned art have become cogs in the machine of their society, have given way to “a mechanical, methodical, and puritanical unconcern”…