Publish at May 17 2016 Updated December 16 2021

Pseudos and virtual characters to develop creativity

Michel Serres sends his doubles to discover the world

A pseudonym is a beginning of creative writing

Pseudonyms have often been the means of saving oneself from the dungeon or the stake. It is a game with censorship when it pays particular attention to an author.

But in a lighter way, pseudonyms provide a distance between the author and the person writing. It blurs the game of interpretations, or becomes a tool for marketing positioning, as with musicians.

In his work, ... goes further. He quotes Gérard Genette for whom the pseudonym constitutes the beginning of literary creation or Italo Calvino who writes: 

" The preliminary condition of any literary work is the following : the person writing must invent the first character who is the author of the work. "

the pseudonyms

The author plays the critic by using a pseudonym, like Romain Gary who signs Emile Ajar, and sends his nephew to play the role of this writer on a literary show. 

But the pseudonym has mostly a creative function. It allows one to explore writing choices. One thinks of the cartoonist Jean Giraud. Under his name, he adopts a very flexible inking, with a realistic treatment of costumes, accessories, trognes, and the western atmosphere of Blueberry. When he signed Moëbius, his dreamlike universe relied on a finer line, shadows marked by small strokes and less vivid colors.

Changing names encourages a change of universe and style. In literature, Queneau writes under the name of Sally Mara an Irishwoman with a rather poor command of French. Pierre Louys publishes The Songs of Biltis and attributes it to a poetess of Greek antiquity and Michelet signs his first book with the name Clara Gazul, a young Spanish actress...

Female names, in different cultures and eras immerse the reader in a world consistent with their text. Michel Serres, like other philosophers creates characters to help him understand the contemporary world and its inclusion in "the grand narrative".

Michel Serres: sending imaginary characters to visit the world

While classical philosophy proceeds by constructing concepts, Michel Serres creates characters. Some serve as a common thread throughout an entire book, while others make only a brief appearance, sometimes as declensions of the former. These characters do not have a fixed appearance, they can be translated into various occurrences. Little Thumb is a student at Stanford University, but probably also a young Asian executive or anyone who approaches the world with his or her thumbs and a tablet or a phone.

Michel Serres uses these characters to engage and pursue a reflection. He presents them as messengers to whom he would say "go and discover this or that aspect of the world, and come and tell me about it."

Michel Serres

In this way, Hermes allows Michel Serres to explain how the role of messenger is essential in our society. He succeeds Prometheus, who represented the triumph of industry, and embodies a society where communication is the real wealth. He announces "Little Thumb". The philosopher also creates some secondary characters, such as the angels or "the parasite", who produces noise, and he quotes La Fontaine in passing. By staging these characters, by making them dialogue and by confronting them with various environments, he pursues a singular, pictorial and very personal reflection.

In Pantopia, from Hermes to Little Thumb, Michel Serres explains his creative process and details some of these characters: Hermes, the Hominiscent, the Unclean, Little Thumb, the Great Fetish, the Thanatocrat, the Third-Instructed or the Parasite. So many characters that take shape in many ways and illustrate facets of our history. They organize themselves into families and even constellations, as the philosopher himself says.

Writers who change the reader's perspective by inventing an author far removed from themselves, or philosophers who create characters to better think about the evolution of the world... These detours stimulate the creativity of their authors, but also that of the reader.

Internet users engaged on forums or social networks have a similar experience by creating avatars for themselves. These can also be the starting point of a coherent and original world that is built as contributions are made. The avatar becomes an opportunity to create a second life...

Illustrations: Frédéric Duriez


Sauramps Libraries Michel Serres - Petite Poucette September 2013

Michel Serres Pantopias, from Hermes to Little ThumbEditions le Pommier 2014

Canopé Michel Serres - Our Virtual Bodies - accessed May 11, 2016

Catherine Argand "Why do writers change their names?" Lire -September 1995

David Martens "Under a pseudonym, forging your avatar online" - Literary Magazine - July August 2014 - 

Christine Vaufray "With the avatar, everyone can create a second life" on Thot

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