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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 3: Ideological Foreclosure and Utopian Discourse

Extract

the incontrovertible point [is] that most 20th century writers who care to speculate about possible societies seem to have lost their utopian dreams.

(Walsh 1962: 17)

l’hégémonie discursive d’une époque ne sert pas tant à imposer des thèmes obliges et des formes canoniques qu’elle ne semble viser à refouler certaines “choses” dans l’impensable ou l’extravagant.

(Angenot 1984: 29)

My interest in recent utopian fiction has led me back to the 1950s and the recollection that only a short time ago, utopias had been declared obsolete. In this context, the revival of utopian themes in the 1970s raises questions about what can or cannot be written at a given historical moment and about how and why certain themes and genres enter or re-enter public consciousness and discourse.1 Although there were ostensibly no utopias during the 1950s, this “absence” can be charted and studied in the flourishing of its reverse – the anti-utopia. In this paper, I would like to present the first part of an investigation of the absence of utopias in English during the 1950s: a mapping of the permutations of utopian writing in this period, particularly anti-utopias ←41 | 42→and science fiction.2 For, according to most critics, the anti-utopia had, by the middle of the twentieth century, become the most important form of modern utopian writing; moreover such anti-utopian writing was now produced primarily within the generic boundaries of science fiction. However, while many critics have discussed this rise in anti-utopian...

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