September 19, 2023

The Clouds, a novella

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Our Prof. Stefano Gualeni just released a new book with Routledge! This work is titled The Clouds and is a philosophical sci-fi novella that takes place in Malta. One of its scenes is even set in the University of Malta!

The Clouds is a unique kind of publication: it is not only a work of fiction, but also a philosophical text. Its narrative premises set the stage for the exploration of a handful of philosophical ideas. Two among the key philosophical ideas presented in The Clouds are:

- an analysis of the fictional trope of ‘unhappening’ and
- the articulation of a theodicy for virtual worlds.

The first refers to an unnatural narrative trope that resonates with more established speculative scenarios such as those of time travel and memory erasure, while the second proposes a morality-based approach to the questions raised by the simulation hypothesis.

Another reason why The Clouds might be a relevant new work for philosophers has to do with its editorial structure. The novella is only the first half of a larger book titled The Clouds: An Experiment in Theory-Fiction, which contains

- eight parts of fiction (the chapters of the novella),
- three parts of non-fiction (three canonical essays), and
- a dash of meta-reflection (the afterword by the author).

The various philosophical themes of the book are, thus, first presented as fictions (weaved into the narrative of the novella, typically as key components of its development), and then in the more traditional form of the essay (that is, explained argumentatively by leveraging actual facts as well as existing works on related themes).

Hybrid efforts of this kind are relatively common in the context of philosophy. Examples of combined uses of theory and fiction abound throughout the history of philosophy, harnessing the unique qualities of each expressive form and challenging clear distinctions between the two. Thought experiments and fictional cases are obvious examples of philosophical tools that capitalize on the imaginative and speculative potential of fiction. Plato’s Socratic dialogues are also egregious instances of this overlap. Recent works that experimented with mixing fiction and theory in the context of philosophical enquiry include the 2021 volume Philosophy through Science Fiction Stories, edited by Helen De Cruz, Johan De Smedt and Eric Schwitzgebel, but also Federico Campagna’s Prophetic Culture: Recreation for Adolescents (also published in 2021) and Jack Bowen’s The Dream Weaver: One Boy’s Journey through the Landscape of Reality (2006).

Will The Clouds: An Experiment in Theory-Fiction work for you? Will it convince philosophers that there is more to their discipline than academic texts, lectures, or blog posts like this one? Well, pick this new book up and find out!

Physical hardcopies of 'The Clouds-An Experiment in Theory-Fiction'