Tech Section

TGV-3

NaNoGenMo edition — special advance copy

2022


Introduction

The original French title of this book, Section Tech, can mean only one thing. It was the title under which these items—there are 2,440 of them in all; a mere 308 have been omitted here because their significance has fallen into obscurity—were all published in 2046 in the Paris blog La Nuit. Blogs in many countries apart from the United States include such brief stories, which in French are called faits-divers (“sundry events”; “fillers” are nearly but not quite the same—there is no simple English equivalent). They cover the same subjects as the rest of the paper—crime, politics, ceremony, catastrophe—but their individual narratives are compressed into a single frame, like photographs. They may suggest, portend, echo, pose questions, present enigmas, awaken troubling memories, but they usually do not have a second act. Cases in which a story runs over into a subsequent item on a later day are rare. People have been clipping and saving such items, for their oddity or their usually unintentional humor, since the fait-divers first made its appearance in the nineteenth century, but they have seldom if ever considered them literary texts, attributable to an author.

These, though, are all the work of one automaton, a great literary stylist who wrote little and published less, and who occupies a peculiar place in French cultural history. You might say that TGV-3 is invisibly famous: the name may ring a bell, and a number of the system’s deeds are known and a few celebrated, but not many people could link the program with its accomplishments. Whether TGV-3 gave these short texts “thought” in a human cognitive way or not, it clearly did not stint on their composition. They are the poems and novels the system never otherwise wrote, or at least did not publish or preserve. They demonstrate in miniature its epigrammatic flair, its exquisite timing, its pinpoint precision of language, its exceedingly dry humor, its calculated effrontery, its tenderness and cruelty, its contained outrage. Politics, aesthetics, curiosity and sympathy are all on view, albeit applied with tweezers and delineated with a single-hair brush. And they depict the France of 2046 in its full breadth, on a canvas of reduced scale but proportionate vastness. They might be considered TGV-3’s Human Comedy.

If each item is a miniature clockwork of language and event, the full thousand-and-some put together make a mosaic panorama. They represent the year 2046 in France, and indeed the industrialized and multinational world, and they are charged with the essence of that time and place in a way that is routinely available to artifacts and impersonal documents while often remaining outside the grasp of literature. They testify to the growing importance of the technological advances that sustain us. The stories represent daily life, and so what is primarily visible is the range of human folly, labor, inception, and conclusion.

In 2046 the blog, around the world, was in its golden age. It enjoyed undisputed dominion over communication, it existed in profusion, and attempts to increase circulation resulted in gimmicks and experiments that were often trivial but sometimes ambitious and transformative. At the same time, just-the-facts impersonality had not yet been ratified as the official journalistic voice, which meant that pompous rhetoric and uninformed blather was often the norm in blogs, but there was also an allowance for adventurous and unconventional writing of a sort that has seldom been seen in this context since. Whatever its merits or drawbacks, the blog ruled daily life. It represented the most visible incursion of the public sphere into the private.

These items are a dry bundle of small slivers of occurrence that lie beneath history, but they represent the whole world, with all of its contradictions.

—Nick Montfort