Stanisław Lem, The Futurological Congress

The Futurological Congress (Ze wspomnien Ijona Tighego. Kongres futurologiczny) was first published in 1971; our translation (by Michael Kandel!) dates from 1974. The hero, Ijon Tichy (last name means "peaceful" or "quiet;" it's the word for the Pacific Ocean), shows up in a number of works by Lem: The Star Diaries (1971), Memoirs of a Space Traveler (a continuation of The Star Diaries), Observation on the Spot (1982), and Peace on Earth (1987). Tichy has all kinds of adventures, usually humorous, and he generally plays the role of a somewhat naïve observer. On the other hand, his career as a space explorer gives him great cachet on earth: secret government organizations try to manipulate him, scientists vie to have him involved in their projects, and of course things happen to him that few other human beings will ever experience. In Peace on Earth in particular the novel gives Lem a chance to comment bitterly on the degraded state and foreboding future tendencies of human culture in general.

Questions for reading:

  1. How would you compare/contrast this work to other utopias and dystopias we have read in class so far?
  2. If you have read the work of Philip K. Dick, how would you compare his dystopian futures to this one?
  3. How does the novel depict Costa Rica? How the various nationalities at the Futurological Congress? The press?
  4. Why do you think the last section of the novel is set in New York City?
  5. Is there anything Eastern European or Polish about this novel?
  6. I always feel tremendously depressed after finishing the book. Should it be included in future iterations of this course?