Utopian Effects, Dystopian Pleasures

by Peter Fitting (Author) Brian Greenspan (Editor)
©2021 Others XXIV, 436 Pages
Series: Ralahine Utopian Studies, Volume 21


This collection brings together for the first time Peter Fitting’s writings about the utopian impulse as expressed in science fiction, fantasy, cinema, architecture, and cultural theory. These wide-ranging essays trace the constant reconsideration of the utopian project itself over the past four decades, from its mid-twentieth century period of decline to its revival in counter-cultural science fiction of the 1960s and ‘70s, its second decline with the «dystopian turn» in film, and the rise of feminist pessimism in the 1980s.
These pages reveal what popular utopian, dystopian, and science-fiction narratives tell us about today’s most pressing political issues, including gender equity, education reform, technological change, capitalist excess, state-sanctioned violence, and the challenges of effecting lasting political change. Through analyses of various popular genres and media, the author demonstrates how utopian visions written from particular political perspectives transcend narrowly partisan concerns to stoke our collective desire for another world and a more adequate human future, teaching us how to become the citizens and subjects that a utopian society demands.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures
  • List of Tables
  • Acknowledgments
  • Editor’s Preface
  • Introduction
  • PART I: History and Genre
  • CHAPTER 1: The Modern Anglo-American SF Novel: Utopian Longing and Capitalist Co-optation
  • CHAPTER 2: Contemporary Fantasy and the Utopian Impulse
  • CHAPTER 3: Ideological Foreclosure and Utopian Discourse
  • CHAPTER 4: Utopia Beyond Our Ideals: The Dilemma of the Right-Wing Utopia
  • CHAPTER 5: Buried Treasures: Reconsidering Holberg’s Niels Klim in the World Underground
  • CHAPTER 6: Fredric Jameson and Anti-Anti-Utopianism
  • CHAPTER 7: A Short History of Utopian Studies
  • PART II: Gender and Audience
  • CHAPTER 8: Positioning and Closure: On the “Reading Effect” of Contemporary Utopian Fiction
  • CHAPTER 9: “So We All Became Mothers”: New Roles for Men in Recent Utopian Fiction
  • CHAPTER 10: The Turn from Utopia in Recent Feminist Fiction
  • CHAPTER 11: Reconsiderations of the Separatist Paradigm in Recent Feminist Science Fiction
  • CHAPTER 12: Beyond the Wasteland: A Feminist in Cyberspace
  • CHAPTER 13: Violence and Utopia: John Norman and Pat Califia
  • CHAPTER 14: Utopian Effect / Utopian Pleasure
  • PART III: Cinema, Space, and Technology
  • CHAPTER 15: What Is Utopian Film? An Introductory Taxonomy
  • CHAPTER 16: The Second Alien
  • CHAPTER 17: Futurecop: The Neutralization of Revolt in Blade Runner
  • CHAPTER 18: You’re History, Buddy: Postapocalyptic Visions in Recent Science Fiction Film
  • CHAPTER 19: Urban Planning/Utopian Dreaming: Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh Today
  • CHAPTER 20: Beyond This Horizon: Utopian Visions and Utopian Practice
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series Index

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Like More’s Utopia, this collection documents an extended dialogue between countless scholars, artists, and friends of the author who have helped to shape the field of Utopian Studies, and not all of whom could ever be acknowledged here. For my own part, I am thankful to Tom Moylan, with whom I first discussed the idea of the “Fitting Reader” some years back over dinner in Belfast, and who, along with Raffaella Baccolini and Michael Kelly of the Ralahine Utopian Series editorial board, ensured it would not remain a merely abstract utopian project. Nor could this volume have been realized without the skilled assistance of Anthony Mason, Christabel Scaife, and Philip Dunshea at Peter Lang. I am also grateful to Fredric Jameson, whose influence is tangible throughout many of these essays, for agreeing to pen the Introduction. Above all, I am indebted to Peter Fitting, who many years ago tracked me down within the cloisters of the University of Toronto, where I was laboring away on my doctorate, in order to discuss the pressing matter of hollow earth utopias. Over countless dinners and bottles of wine shared with he and Barb, Peter offered his friendship and guidance, showing me that I was already a utopian in spirit, and indoctrinating me into the mythical “Peter Fitting group.” He also recruited me into the Society for Utopian Studies, where I’ve met so many brilliant and generous scholars who remain among my strongest influences and closest friends, and who together have guided my editorial judgment in preparing this volume.

The essays collected here were previously presented at many scholarly meetings around the world, or published in journals and collections:

Chapter 1 was originally published in Science Fiction Studies 6 (1979), 59–76.

Chapter 2 was presented at the Seventh Annual Conference of the Society for Utopian Studies, Saint John campus, University of New Brunswick, in September, 1982.

←xv | xvi→

Chapter 3 is a revised version of a paper read at an international conference on “Teorie e Prassi Utopiche nell’Età Moderna e Postmoderna” cosponsored by the University of Rome and the University of Reggio Calabria in May 1986; and, in a different form, at the eleventh annual meeting of the Utopia Studies Association in Monterey California (October 1986). It appeared in Sociocriticism 7 (1988): 11–25, and in Utopia e Modernità: Teorie e prassi utopiche nell’èta moderna e postmoderna. Ed. Giuseppa Saccaro Del Buffa and Arthur O. Lewis. 2 vols. (Rome: Gangemi editore, 1989), 1: 541–52.

Chapter 4 is a revised version of a talk given at the 1989 meeting of the Society for Utopian Studies at Asilomar, in Monterey, CA, and appeared in Utopian Studies 2.1 & 2 (1991): 95–109.

Chapter 5 originally appeared in Utopian Studies, 7(2) (1996), 93–112.

Chapter 6 was originally published in Arena Journal 25/26 (2006), 37–51.

Chapter 7 was first published in Science Fiction Studies 36/1 (March 2009), 121–131.

Chapter 8 appeared in Caliban 22 (1985), 43–56, and in Utopian Studies 1 (1987), 23–36.

Chapter 9 originally appeared in Science Fiction Studies 12/2 (July 1985), 156–183.

Chapter 10 is an expanded and revised version of an article, “The Decline of the Feminist Utopian Novel,” written for Border/Lines [Toronto] 7/8 (Spring/Summer 1987), 17–19. Earlier versions were presented at the Eaton Conference on Science Fiction and Fantasy held at the University of California at Riverside (April 1987) and at the twelfth annual meeting of the Utopia Studies Association at Media, Pennsylvania (October 1987).

Earlier versions of Chapter 11 were read at the annual meetings of the Society for Utopian Studies (Lexington, KY) and the Modern Language Association (Chicago), and at an international conference on “L’Utopie et ses métamorphoses” in Yverdon-les-Bains, Switzerland. This version was published in Science-Fiction Studies 19.1 (56) (March 1992): 32–48.

Chapter 12 is a revised version of a paper read at the 1993 meetings of the Popular Culture Association (New Orleans) and the Society for Utopian Studies (St. Louis), and appeared in Utopian Studies 5.2 (1994): 4–15.

←xvi |

Chapter 13 appeared in Utopian Studies 11/1 (2000), 91–108.

Chapter 14 is a revised version of a paper read at the annual meeting of the Society for Utopian Studies in Boston in October, 1988. It was published in Utopian Studies IV, Ed. Lise Leibacher-Ouvrard and Nicholas D. Smith (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1991), 90–96; and appeared in revised form in Styles of Creation: Aesthetic Technique and the Creation of Fictional Worlds, Eds. George Slusser and Eric S. Rabkin (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1992), 153–64.

Chapter 15 is a longer version of a paper read at the sixteenth annual meeting of the Society for Utopian Studies, which appeared in Utopian Studies 4.2 (1993): 1–17.

Chapter 16 appeared as part of a Symposium on Alien with Jackie Byars, Jeff Gould, Peter Fitting, Judith Newton, Tony Safford, Clayton Lee, Charles Elkins and M.A., published in Science Fiction Studies 7/3 (November 1980), 278–304.

Chapter 17 is an expanded and revised version of a paper read at an international conference (July 1986) on “Philip K. Dick et la Science Fiction Moderne,” cosponsored by the Université de Paris IV (Sorbonne), Le Centre Franco-Américain Universitaire (Paris), and the University of California at Riverside, and published in Science-Fiction Studies 14 (1987): 340–54.

Chapter 18 is a revised and expanded version of an article originally published in Cineaction 11 (Winter 1987–1988), pp. 42–51, and reprinted in George Slusser and Eric Rabkin, eds., Fights of Fancy: Armed Conflict in Science Fiction and Fantasy (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1993, pp. 114–131).

Chapter 19 appeared in Utopian Studies 13/1 (2002), 69–93. The photographs of Chandigarh appear courtesy of the Fondation Le Corbusier.

Chapter 20 appeared in Utopia Method Vision: The Use Value of Social Dreaming, edited by Tom Moylan and Raffaella Baccolini (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2007), pp. 245–266.

←xviii | xix→

Editor’s Preface

This collection assembles twenty essays by Peter Fitting, Professor Emeritus of French and Cinema Studies at the University of Toronto, and a leading global expert in Utopian Studies. Written over a span of thirty years (1979–2009), these essays provide an unprecedented glimpse into the changing currents of utopian thought and expression in recent times, as well as the formation of both Utopian and Science Fiction Studies as scholarly fields in their own right, developments in which Fitting has been instrumental.

Throughout his career, Peter Fitting has been at the forefront of ongoing debates and developments in utopian literature, film, and popular culture. An active member of the Society for Utopian Studies since 1976, he served as President from 1994 to 1998, has organized more annual meetings than any other member, and keeps in close contact with the Society’s Executive. This long-standing affiliation has brought Fitting into close contact with the field’s most influential scholars over the years, including Darko Suvin, Ruth Levitas, Jean Pfaelzer, Fredric Jameson, Lyman Tower Sargent, Hoda Zaki, Kenneth M. Roemer, and Tom Moylan, to name just a few of the voices engaged within this volume. In fact, no matter what areas of Utopian Studies has interested Fitting at any given moment – whether it be eighteenth-century Norwegian literature, colonial architecture, postapocalyptic cinema, or lesbian biker fiction – the Society was for him always the most important experiment of all. He continues to serve as an Editorial Board member of the journal Utopian Studies and a Consultant for Science Fiction Studies, in which several of the chapters collected here were first published. Other essays were presented at meetings around the world, or have appeared in diverse journals and collections, in both French and English, many of which are currently out-of-print.

Many of these works have already taken on a life of their own as reprints and critical touchstones. Fitting’s early work on the science fiction of Philip K. Dick was the subject of a 2001 feature article in Lingua Franca, ←xix | xx→which describes his visit to the famed author’s California home in May of 1974. After that cordial afternoon discussing science fiction, the notoriously paranoid Dick wrote to J. Edgar Hoover’s successor to warn about the “weird Marxist talk” of “the Peter Fitting group,” which he believed was following orders from Stanislaw Lem (Heer 2001). While Fitting in fact never met the Polish author, his understanding of utopia has been informed by his long-standing personal connections with some of the most highly respected authors writing in the genre today, including Margaret Atwood, Peter Watts, Nalo Hopkinson, Carl Schroeder, and Kim Stanley Robinson, as well as many of the formative scholars of science fiction and utopia.

The utopian genre is a motley collection of eclectic projects and designs for living across the eras, and Fitting is at heart a collector – of lesser-known authors, rare books and stamps, industrial thrash albums, foreign films, and French wines. The essays collected here are similarly diverse in their subjects and concerns, yet coalesce around several major themes within Utopian Studies, including gender politics, technology, ideological closure, and the crucial question of how to transform utopian visions into social practice. These essays touch on numerous aspects of utopian and dystopian fiction, cinema, criticism and theory, raising questions about the meaning and value of Utopia in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Though written years apart, their concerns and theoretical approaches often overlap and intersect, returning to and reopening earlier debates with a fresh eye, and developing themes in a long theoretical arc that often extends over decades. Together, they weave a compelling account of the origins and development of Utopian Studies as a field over the past four decades.

As the first collection to bring Fitting’s writings together in one place, Dystopian Pleasures will make his most influential and salient essays about utopian, dystopian, and science-fiction narratives available to a new generation of writers and scholars. The essays collected here are particularly notable for their approaches to twentieth- and twenty-first-century utopian fiction and film, including cyberpunk, space opera, invasion narratives, and feminist utopias. However, Fitting’s range of reference is exceptionally broad, extending across the history of utopian literature, from Thomas More’s Utopia, to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century writers and planners, to modernist and postmodernist SF, all the while making fascinating forays ←xx | xxi→into architecture, popular music, and other media. This long historical view allows him to trace what he calls the constant “reconsideration of the utopian project itself,” from its mid-twentieth-century period of decline to its revival and migration to SF in the 1960s and 1970s, followed by its second decline with the “dystopian turn” in film, and the rise of feminist pessimism in fiction of the 1970s and 1980s.

Re-reading these essays today, one cannot help but be struck by their relevance to current popular literature and film, which has for some time been dominated by decidedly pessimistic, dystopian, and anti-utopian visions, as Fitting shows in his chapters on utopian violence and postapocalyptic film. Even when exploring utopias of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s in his “Short History of Utopian Studies,” or discussing the role of men in feminist utopias, his essays have a strikingly contemporary and urgent tone that stems from their unwavering focus on the material effects of utopian expression on the here and now. Likewise, his chapters on the original Alien and Blade Runner films hold renewed interest following the recent reboots of these franchises, while his previously unpublished essay on “Contemporary Fantasy and the Utopian Impulse” sheds light on the significance of the current boom in fantasy novels, films, and TV shows.

These essays offer endless insights into the history of utopian novels and films, while constantly drawing connections to social and political issues of the day that remain just as relevant to the twenty-first-century reader: from women’s rights and gender equity to violence and gun control, capitalist excess, education reform, the state of the publishing industry, Middle Eastern conflict, and the challenges of effecting lasting political change. Such considerations lead him to examine the full spectrum of utopian politics, ideologies, and modes of representation. Whether in his clear-eyed assessment of right-wing utopias as genuinely utopian, rather than merely satiric or anti-utopian in “Utopia Beyond Our Ideals,” or in his insistence on comparing feminist and anti-feminist utopias in his “Reconsiderations of the Separatist Paradigm,” Fitting never shies away from exploring the less obviously hopeful forms of social dreaming, the cultural surplus that exceeds the immediate mystifications of any given text. This unflinchingly dialectical approach ensures that Fitting’s writing is attentive to the rise of new, ambiguous forms of utopian expression that depict “the struggle ←xxi | xxii→for utopia rather than the image of a finished and harmonious utopian society.” His essays are ever alive to this struggle within utopianism itself, which is manifest in narratives that present only partial solutions, and that feature characters who (unlike the blithely happy mouthpieces of conventional utopias) are fully aware of the contradictions of their own society and subjectivity, yet uncertain of how to improve them.

Part I explores the history and development of utopian literature and film, with an emphasis on utopia both as narrative genre and as method of ideological and cultural critique. Whether discussing the history of “hollow earth” travel narratives (which he explores in his 2004 critical anthology, Subterranean Worlds), contemporary fantasy novels, or the disciplinary contours of Utopian Studies itself, these essays coalesce around the critique of capitalism, and an insistence on the urgency of searching for alternatives to the political status quo.

Part II has a dual focus. The central group of essays addresses the role of gender relations in utopian narratives by women, including cyberpunk novels, dystopias, novels about BDSM and violence, and feminist separatist novels that envision worlds by and for women which are largely devoid of male influence. The latter category inevitably raises questions of audience, and of whether or not such narratives need to appeal to readers of all genders. Accordingly, this group of essays is bookended by two chapters theorizing the reception of utopian narratives that challenge their readers’ normative expectations. For readers immersed in a contemporary climate of media bubbles and ideological Balkanization, these essays refreshingly consider how utopias written from the perspective of particular social groups or political tendencies (whether radical or conservative) transcend narrowly partisan concerns to stoke our collective desire for another world and a more adequate human future. And for those with little hope of witnessing real social progress, Fitting’s focus on gendered violence leads him to an understanding of how such a patently counter-factual genre as the utopia can compel concrete political action in the real world.

The final section examines the utopian role of media and technology, considered as both represented spaces and spaces of representation. It opens with the 1993 essay that first defined the genre of utopian film, followed by chapters about several high-profile SF films of the 1980s and 1990s, and an ←xxii | xxiii→account of urban planning in Chandigarh that considers modernist utopian spaces from an architectural perspective. All of these essays explore how new narrative media and technologies manage to negotiate the competing demands of utopian wish-fulfillment and ideological containment. The volume closes with the author’s account of his progress as a utopian scholar alongside the emergence of the field itself, with a retrospective summary of his own general theoretical and methodological framework, reasserting his understanding that the Utopian Moment arrives only when the text goes “beyond some estranged representation of the present, […] to give us a glimpse of what an alternative might actually look and feel like.” Here, Fitting poses one final time the urgent question of how we might become the citizens and subjects that a utopian society demands.

←xxiv | 1→


The historical situation in which these essays were written will demonstrate how central Peter Fitting’s work has been within the development of science fiction. We cannot call the 1960s (a period that roughly ran from 1953 to 1975) SF’s “golden age”: that term is already taken, and rightly designates the emergence of a whole SF-Pulp culture in the 1930s and 1940s, organized around scientific gadgets, narrative twists, more credible visions of aliens, space ships, outer galaxies, and the like – a period that produced a generation of remarkable writers of whom Asimov and Heinlein were only the most ambitious. Anthologies old and new can still demonstrate the durability of many of these gems, whose spirit was then prolonged in the television era by the immortal Star Trek series.

In the 1960s, however, something new began to happen in this field, which it would be abusive to characterize in any simple way. Yes, writers appeared of a very different kind than their predecessors – Philip K. Dick and Ursula Le Guin come to mind, the first emerging from unsuccessful mainstream novels expressing the boredom and desperation of the Eisenhower years; the second from a different kind of dissatisfaction, which would gradually become the second feminism (Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness was published in the same year as a book by her college roommate called Sexual Politics).

It would not be quite right to see the new generation in terms of a high art/ Mass culture division, although there may be something to that. Nor should one concentrate entirely on the way in which the genre pioneered in the Golden Age was appropriated for what will later on be called social issues; but in retrospect, Dick’s preoccupations with drugs and schizophrenia can be seen as the initial trickle of a flood of new and hitherto taboo themes involving sexuality, race, and politics. Yet it is with something of that transition that we tend to think of the 1960s in general: certainly the postwar younger generation had more mature interests than the popular mechanics that absorbs its prewar equivalent.

←1 | 2→

But the 1960s were also a period of formal innovation; and it sheds a different light on the new SF of the period to remember that it was contemporaneous with the nouvelle vague in film, and that Brian Aldiss, one of the emergent British practitioners, actually wrote something you could call a “nouveau roman.” Happenings, abstract expressionism, rock ’n’ roll, Black Mountain, Beckett’s plays – all those marked the appearance of new forms of SF that were not the least achievements of the new period; and Peter Fitting wrote on all of those, in a catholicity of taste and interest that characterized so many of us at the time, and that prepared the later work collected here.


XXIV, 436
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2021 (May)
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2021. XXIV, 436 pp., 4 fig. b/w, 1 table.

Biographical notes

Peter Fitting (Author) Brian Greenspan (Editor)

</i>Peter Fitting is an emeritus Professor of French at the University of Toronto and the former Director of the Cinema Studies Program. Author of more than fifty articles on science fiction, fantasy and utopia—from critical analyses of the works of various SF and utopian writers (from P.K. Dick to Marge Piercy); to theoretical examinations of the reading effect in utopian fiction, the problem of the right-wing utopia, or gender and reading; to overviews of cyberpunk, feminist utopias and the turn from utopia in the 1990s, or the Golden Age and the foreclosure of utopian discourse in the 1950s; as well as articles on SF and utopian film and architecture. He has also completed a critical anthology of subterranean world fiction. He has had a long-time commitment to the study of utopia through his work with the Society for Utopian Studies (for which he has twice served as president).</i>


Title: Utopian Effects, Dystopian Pleasures
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