110 years ago, EM Forster imagined the internet, video meetings and even confinement

How is it that at one time some writers have visions? Something in the air of the time they smell or shock makes them glimpse what might happen to society. Thus of the British Edward Morgan Forster (1879-1970): member of the Bloomsbury group with Virginia Woolf, Keynes and Clive Bell, author ofWith a view of the Arno and D’Howards End, he published, exactly between these two novels, a story that detonates. Premonitory, The Machine stops imagine the internet, social networks and even to a certain extent confinement… Published for the first time in The Oxford and Cambridge Review in November 1909 – EM Forster is thirty years old – it was translated into French in 2014 by the small publishing house Le Pas de cote and is now included in the collection of the same name at L’Echappée.

“Imagine, if you can, begins Forster mischievously, a small hexagonal chamber, like a honeycomb. “ In a future world, where nature has been largely destroyed, humanity has retreated underground. Each individual is isolated in a standard room which provides for all their needs thanks to the Machine. There are switches everywhere to control food, clothes, music or the installation of the bed (the cold bath button, the button that produces literature, etc.). Vashti is found somewhere in the southern hemisphere while his son Kuno lives in the north. Travel is rarely practiced, or when it is really necessary, aboard airships with closed shutters so as not to be exposed to natural light or to look, what a horror, at the surface of the Earth.

A counterpoint to Wells

Carnal contact has become unbearable. It is totally improper to help someone get up. Communication takes place through a kind of instant messaging. Vashti even gives videoconferences that are much more practical than physical gatherings (!), And finds herself fulfilled by her obviously totally virtual network of relationships … “She knew several thousand people, human relations having improved considerably in some aspects.” Kuno on the other hand embodies the awakening conscience, the criticism against the system, against this mega-machine that has become the object of a quasi-religious devotion. But whoever wants to escape the Machine risks “Homeless” : “The victim is exposed to the open air, which kills her.”

EM Forster said he wrote The Machine stops as a counterpoint to optimistic visions of progress, in particular texts by HG Wells such as The Time Machines. He was born “In a troubled time, where disillusionment with the development of science and technology accompanies the considerable changes at work in the economic as well as political field”, write Philippe Gruca and François Jarrige as an afterword. This worry sparked brilliant news, spanning the worst nightmares that unites many attributes of today’s world.

The Machine stops, by EM Forster, preface by Pierre Thiesset, translated from English by Laurie Duhamel, postscript by Philippe Gruca and François Jarrige, L’Echappée, 109 pp., € 7.


Frederique Roussel

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