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“What If” allows Fresh Observation of World

Posted July. 04, 2003 22:07,   


Trees (L`Arbre des possibles or The Tree of Possibilities). Written by Bernard Werber. Translated by Lee Se-wook. 304 pages. 8,800 won.

What if the walls in front of us disappear and the phrase of ‘wall, 50cm thick, concrete’ pops out? What if flying pigeons disappear and the phrase of ‘pigeon, 327g, male’ hangs in the air?

They might remind us of some Internet sites with transmission problems, like ‘x’ and ‘dino.jpg’ on our computer monitors instead of pictures of dinosaurs.

How do we interpret this? What if the world that we have believed to be true is a virtual reality? Then, who has been manipulating our senses? The Tree of Possibilities, written by Bernard Werber, who also wrote The Ants and L’Ultime Secret contains various short stories filled with such marvelous fantasies and shocking imaginations.

Luc, unmarried, grumbles over home appliances with artificial intelligence as soon as he wakes up. They just interrupt his life. Even when he doesn’t feel like eating, napkins are around his neck by themselves and a kettle pours tea. A video phone yells at him to welcome visitors.

“Do you guys have soul?” His desperate shout toward these machines represents his current suffocating situation. But, in the end, readers are meant to be surprised because Luc is also a machine with artificial intelligence. (from ‘The World is Too Good for Me’)

One day, a huge meteorite falls in Luxembourg Park, Paris. It stinks so bad that the city authority decides to put glass thick on the stone to get rid of the smell. All of a sudden, the beautifully shining stone disappears. It was a stone that aliens threw to the earth to make it accessories, like humans put foreign substance in pearls. (from ‘Smells’)

“Telling a story from the perspectives of other beings, not humans, is an endless source of reflection on humans,” says the author. This theme penetrates all of the 18 short stories. In his first novel, The Ants, he shows that there could be an independent universe even under our own feet, which we hardly take a notice of. In the novel, humans, which often show up in the novel, are seen as mysterious, omnipotent beings.

Meanwhile, in this collection of short stories, the author often reverses the imaginations that were used in The Ants. The human world becomes an object of observation by other superior beings or of mockery. Humans’ habits and characteristics are recorded as pets (from ‘Let’s Learn How to Love Them’). Moreover, the civilizations are homework assignment with many errors, which young gods mistakenly created during their practices (from ‘School of Young Gods’). The main character of ‘Perfect Hermit’ is a brain provided with nutrition after having amputating his nerves to pursue the truth, but he is only seen as a dog meal.

The author goes outside of the human world to better understand them. He confesses that it was like looking at them as a child. Since he looked into the human world with children’s eyes, it reveals immaturity of civilizations. From outside, humans are seen as belligerent and the most effective way to win love is to make more money.

“That’s not true. Human souls are invaluable and superior to any other creatures in the world,” some argue. But they surrender to the humorous reasonable insights of the author because it is certain that what happen in the human world is to intensify self-consuming immature divisions and slaughters everyday.

The book became the bestseller shortly after it was published in last October in France, excelling many other great works published in the so-called ‘Goncourt season.’ It also became the No. 1 bestseller in Korea even before its official publication. This suggests that the book popularized the contemplation on human nature.

Its Korean title “Trees” are after one of the short stories called ‘The Trees of Possiblilities.’ The author says that he can foresee the future more precisely by drawing trees of many possibilities of future such as ‘what if we cut working hours?’ and ‘what if mini-skirts revive?’ His suggestions are realized in the website called ‘Trees of Possibilities’ (http://www.arbredespossibles.com). Since it is currently under construction, the access is not allowed but experts on various fronts and highbrows are discussing the possibilities of mankind in this site.

Yoon-Jong Yoo gustav@donga.com