The Swiss Riveter: UNE TOILE LARGE COMME LE MONDE (‘A Web as Wide as the World’) by Aude Seigne (ÉDITIONS ZOÉ, 2016), translated by Alexis Bernaut, introduced by the publisher

What if the World Wide Web were to disappear? This is the secret wish of a few people scattered around the world. The author, herself part of the generation she depicts, plays on her characters’ contradictions. Without ever condemning the WWW or its users, she makes the virtual world real by describing the huge data centres and data flow. Playing with the idea of a world without the internet, she makes it very obvious that this new world will be nothing like the old one.

It lies at the bottom of the ocean. It is motionless, slender, and tubular; gray – or maybe black; it’s hard to tell in the darkness. It looks like what we have in our living rooms, behind the baseboards, between a wall and a lamp, between the socket and the computer’s input connection. It’s just a wire, really.

Let’s call it FLIN.

The bottom of the ocean looks like snow, just like when the screens of the old cathode ray-tube TV sets got scrambled. It’s both poetic and organic: crumbled bodies of fish and pulverised detritus from the whole wide world fall from the surface.

In the pitch blackness of the ocean depths, it takes these graceful flakes six months to sink towards the wire; but the analogy with the snow breaks down here, because they neither cover it nor make up fluff.

It all began with a bathyscaph. This submarine, designed for great depths, was meant to cross the Atlantic Ocean and find the perfect path for FLIN’s long body – 7,000 kilometres, no less – to reach the coasts of America from the beaches of Brittany, free of any obstacle, abyssal canyon, or submarine volcano. Still, the mid-Atlantic ridge, like a backbone crossing the Atlantic from north to south, bonding both continental plates, had to be crossed. It was a mere logical need. FLIN would be discreet, ever so deep, slim, and peaceful, but it would reunite what had been separated: two continents which an ocean had set apart.

In the vicinity of FLIN dwell the kind of creatures one only sees in a documentary.

The marine snow feeds arthropods, which are wisps of repulsive legs and mix with metre-wide toad crabs and giant marine sea lice, busy feasting upon the body of a sperm whale. It’s actually so challenging to conceive of the death of such an enormous animal that there is really almost no such thing as the body of a sperm whale. This one will take months to decompose, and will long be a part of this ecosystem of the shadows, forcing eels and monkfish to skirt it. Thanks to a vampire from hell – such a devilish red octopus that it looks like a baddie straight out of a Disney movie – the whole scene shines, lit by bioluminescent bacteria at the edge of the octopus’s tentacles, a halo of white light in black waters – 3,000 metres deep.

For decades, sperm whales have been victims of FLIN’s ancestors, the first transatlantic undersea cables to link Europe to America. Was it because cables were less solid then, more loosely tied up to the ocean floor? Did sperm whales mistake them with seaweed or toys? The fact remains that they choked on them, thus terminating their tremendous life expectancy. Which goes to show that the saying ‘the small don’t eat the big’ is utter nonsense.

By Aude Seigne

Translated by Alexis Bernaut

Aude Seigne is a French-speaking Swiss novelist. Her first novel, Chroniques de l’occident nomade won the 2011 Nicolas Bouvier Award in Saint-Malo (Festival Étonnants Voyageurs).

Poet and translator Alexis Bernaut was born in Paris. He has translated the poetry of US poet Sam Hamill and Trinidadian novelist Earl Lovelace. His own poetry has been translated into English, Hebrew, and Korean, and published in reviews in France and abroad.

Photo of Aude Seigne © Romain Guélat

Category: The Swiss RiveterTranslationsDecember 2018 - The Swiss RiveterLiterally SwissLS Extracts


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