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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 4: Utopia Beyond Our Ideals: The Dilemma of the Right-Wing Utopia

Extract

the freedom of writing implies the freedom of the citizen. One does not write for slaves. The art of prose is bound up with the only regime in which prose has meaning, democracy. (Sartre 1983: 47)

It may well be asked why so many “modern” utopias are socialist – indeed, the two categories almost became coextensive during the nineteenth century. A sociological account would connect the proliferation of socialist theories with the inception and development of capitalism and the visible injustices which resulted. (Goodwin and Taylor 1982: 45)

As has been pointed out many times, the categories of utopia and socialism, “almost became coextensive during the nineteenth century.” Since the revival of utopianism and utopian scholarship in the 1970s, there has been a growing realization that there are also utopias which eschew and even reject socialist ideals; and some critics have begun to argue that the “coextensiveness” of utopianism and socialism might be the result of historical factors rather than evidence of an essential and intrinsic political content of the utopia.1 The existence of “capitalist” ←53 | 54→and, more generally, of “right-wing” utopias poses a dilemma for those scholars who, like myself, came to the study of utopia as a continuation of an involvement in socialist and feminist politics. In the following I will probe this dilemma, before examining some typical right-wing utopias.

A reading of the standard definitions of utopia does little to resolve the question of the political “contents” of the imaginary society,...

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