An Interview with Josselin Bordat
Josselin Bordat is a novelist, short story writer and television host and screenwriter whose work focuses on foregrounding the theme of sexuality in a humorous way. I decided to interview him about his latest collection 2069, a series of sci-fi short stories.
Among other things, you direct a TV show on the major private channel Canal + that’s based on comic discussions of sexuality. Your latest short story collection, 2069, also provides a humorous take on sexuality – a very welcome counterblast to the sexless, often humourless fiction on offer these days. You published the collection in Sex Appeal, Camille Emmanuelle’s imprint: given the resistance to sex within the French publishing industry, do you think you would have been able to publish 2069 with a non-specialized French publisher?
It seems to me that publishing a book that centres on sex from an intellectual or militant perspective is relatively easy to achieve in France these days. Lately, there have been quite a few female feminist authors, in publishing and in social media who evoke sex, the body, orgasms with great freedom of expression. In some Parisian bookshops there are now more books on the clitoris than on the Presidential candidate Éric Zemmour, which is a good thing. On the other hand, discussing sex frankly, coarsely, strangely and mixing that with fiction – or even worse, with humour! – is much harder within the French publishing industry. Thankfully, there are a few daring publishers like Anne Hautecoeur from les éditions La Musardine or Camille Emmanuelle. The aim of her collection Sex Appeal is to defend a cross-over, multidisciplinary, playful approach to sex, avoiding the pitfalls of too much seriousness or excessive grossness. So it’s more because Camille wasn’t focused on one genre or mode that she allowed me to conceive of an improbable literary object: science fiction with lots of sex and jokes. J.G. Ballard + Sasha Grey + a farting cushion … I know for a fact that there weren’t a thousand publishers who would have been willing to publish that sort of thing.
Is comedy inextricable from sexuality in your view?
In comedy for the last 3000 years, there are in the end relatively few great fundamental themes: birth, family, love, sex, death, and how my father uses the GIF on Whatsapp. So of course sex is absolutely inextricable from comedy. But the funny thing is precisely that laughter and sex are often also very contradictory: in films, stand-up comedy, TV series, you laugh a lot before and after sex, but rarely during it. If someone laughs while you’re making love to them in all earnestness, you need to start worrying all the same. Unless you’ve just cracked a joke and in that case beware: saying “pull my finger” during intercourse can prove to be divisive. There’s always a taboo about associating laughter and sexuality, as if sex had to remain grave and solemn.
On Pornhub, there’s a category called #clownporn, but most people agree it isn’t the most popular. I like the aphorism according to which “comedy is tragedy plus time” (I have no idea who said this, but I’ve been known to attribute it to Aristotle in great earnestness to impress a woman, when it’s possible that Woody Allen said it, but is he the best name to drop on a first date?). As far as I’m concerned, it’s a good description of the relationship between comedy and sex: shouting the name of your mother by mistake in mid-orgasm is really, really funny. But it’s funny a looooooong time after it happens. On the spur of the moment, you’d feel like putting your eyes out like Oedipus.
Is humour a form of political resistance in your work?
Yes, in my work humour is always directed against the oppressor, never against those who are oppressed. And generally I think that in my works you can tell I’m not right-wing. But I hate militant humour that is overtly political. Left-wing, right-thinking humour I find inoffensive, self-reassuring and addressed to people who already agree with you in every way. My vein is to borrow from the idiom of the opponent and try to turn it inside out. It’s why I wrote a lot of pieces parodying the right wing in my fiction but also on my site, Brain Magazine. This approach seems more fruitful to me and politically effective than to ridicule conservatism from a progressive pedestal, preaching to the choir. The same goes for science fiction, I’m not at all attracted to the technophobe, dystopian depictions of the future that dominate the market these days from Damasio to Black Mirror. In my future, time travel is a reality, but it’s used to solve erectile dysfunction ; there aren’t two or three, but six different genders (mascuminine, femineutral, etc) and they’re all equally well tolerated – it just means that there are too many different categories and the Olympic Games take eight months.
My future is rather optimistic in the sense that change isn’t necessarily a problem. If there’s resistance, even if that’s a big word for stories about robots fingering each other, it’s in the fact of offering counter-images that subvert the dominant SF tropes that are currently experiencing imaginative failure. And to act as if the world you wished to see was already there. Even if my themes and my tone is different, I feel quite close to “solarpunk” which offers ecological and technoptimistic stories that are refreshing and politically necessary.
Most sci-fi authors don’t intend their work to be predictive. Do you envisage that some of your scenarios will come true in the future?
It’s true there’s a trend in current Sci-Fi not only to refuse prediction, but also to even reject the future itself. Our age is fond of the “near future”, a very reassuring future, because it always looks like our time: you take an Uber, you give the chauffeur 5 stars, you go home and watch Netflix, whose algorithm suggests an episode of Black Mirror in which the taxis of the future are rated by algorithms. That kind of Sci-Fi is too predictive and predictable, since it merely repeats the present, or in some cases our past! We’ve already survived many speculative fiction catastrophes: Escape from New York is set in 1997, Blade Runner in 2019, Soylent Green in 2022. We’re now older than our future. And as Tristan Garcia (author of the magnificent novel 7) once said, we’re already living in second rate Sci-Fi of the 1990s. That’s why in mainstream Sci-Fi we should be thinking about very distant futures, like Dune set in the year 10191, or stories that offer an alternative time or a radical critique, like The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin, which is soon to be adapted by HBO.
In 2069, I have recourse to two strategies. Either I create zany futures destined to criticize the present, as with my connected underwear or my roboprostitutes with a southern French accent. In that case, predictive plausibility is not what I’m looking for. Alternatively, I seize upon a real current trend and I push it to the limit, and in that case the scenarios can be utterly credible and even probable. In one of my stories, I imagine a world in which there’s a shortage of sperm and artificial gametes reign supreme: you can be a biological co-mother or even impregnate yourself. This kind of technology is almost already possible in a lab and I’m convinced that in 50 or 100 years from now it will overturn the natural way of making babies.
Some surveys show that young people especially are having less interpersonal sex. Do you think this trend will increase drastically in decades to come?
I don’t want to sound like Nostradamus (his lesser-known brother who only predicts the future of sex), but what I try to argue in 2069 is that on the one hand the future of sex will not principally be influenced by technological advance, gadgets, flying dildos, but on the contrary on modifications in the notion of gender, filiation and sexual education.
As well as that, there’s a solid set of challenges facing human sexuality. In 2069, we might have fluorescent clothes with flashing lights, but we’ll continue to copulate, to be unfaithful, to dribble over each other. There might be a tendency to engage less in sexual intercourse, but do we really need to have 800 partners in a lifetime? Maybe a certain localism and sobriety in sexual behaviour will come back after the hubris of the cheap airplane and the instant assignations on apps. But the idea of a fleshless, computerized future seems to me to be nothing but a cyber-fantasy as dated as the telepathic sex that Sandra Bullock and Sylvester Stallone engage in in Demolition Man. On YouTube, people call that “corona sex”, but they’re wrong because if there’s one thing the pandemic showed it’s that we are a species that needs to feel present in the flesh. We need to see and touch each other, and I don’t think that anyone will ever want to spend their life fucking on Zoom, not today or in 3078.
Do you think climate change will have an effect on human sexuality?
Without a doubt. If we do nothing, in the future you can imagine the climate will shift let’s say 500 km towards the north in France. It means that people will be flirting in bikini all year round on the beaches of Béziers after the waters rise and there will be harems on the dunes of Dunkerque. But more seriously, it’s already the case, if you think about it. Climate has already had an influence on sexuality: the climate and energy engineer Jean-Marc Jancovici has pointed out that divorce in Western societies is the product of an ultra-carbonated world in which energy supplies are abundant, making it easy economically and in energy terms to separate, have two houses, two patterns of consumption, etc. In the most probable future in which we would be forced to engage in degrowth to limit global warming, it’s to be feared that sexual mores and freedom will be restricted once again. It’s not sure that the three degrees trajectory on which we are bound will offer humanity the luxury of being polyamorous.
Can you tell us a little about your latest projects?
As well as writing with comedians like Monsieur Poulpe, Thomas VDB or Ambre Larrazet, I lately created with Alex Ramirès a number of short-format films on the tropes of films and series. It started broadcasting on Canal+ in March 2022. And I’m currently developing several audio-visual fiction projects which include an adaptation of 2069 as an animated series.
Interview by Erik Martiny
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