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Utopian Effects, Dystopian Pleasures

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Peter Fitting

Edited By Brian Greenspan

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.

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CHAPTER 2: Contemporary Fantasy and the Utopian Impulse

Extract

The basic perspective of this paper is my sense that there is a fundamental contradiction at work in contemporary forms of popular culture – a tension between “utopian” and “ideological” functions.1 By “utopian” I mean the ways in which a work speaks to and articulates, in however deformed or disguised a fashion, both a refusal of the world as it is presently constituted, and the yearning for a qualitatively different world, a realm of freedom in which repression and alienation are no more. In this context, the “ideological” is then the work’s contrary function as a reaffirmation and legitimization of the status quo, the ways in which the work defuses and co-opts the contestatory and as a reaffirmation and legitimization of the status quo, the ways in which the work defuses and co-opts the contestatory and emancipatory tendencies it has aroused.

I began this examination of recent fantasy with some familiar preconceptions shared by many SF fans and critics, namely that fantasy is more shallow and “escapist” than SF; and that the increasing popularity of fantasy – relative to SF – was a regressive and worrying development. Certainly the fantasy with which I was familiar – from Tolkien and Conan through Stephen King and Donaldson – seemed to confirm this opinion. But as I read further, I began to realize that feminism has had an influence on fantasy similar to its effect on SF since the 1960s. In this attempt to present an overview of recent fantasy fiction, I have limited myself to...

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