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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 5: Buried Treasures: Reconsidering Holberg’s Niels Klim in the World Underground

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Who in this country ever hears of Baron Holberg’s Journey of Niels Klim to the World Underground, in spite of the fact that since the book appeared in 1741, it has been translated into thirteen languages and published in more than sixty editions? […] Even though Klim is one of the best examples of the imaginary voyage – only Cyrano de Bergerac’s Histoire Comique de la Lune and Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels are more famous – the author’s name is unfamiliar to most students of eighteenth-century literature. (McNelis 2004: vii)

I will speak first of Subterraneous Cavities and Waters, because they will be of easier dispatch, and an introduction to the rest. That the inside of the Earth is hollow and broken in many places, and is not a firm and united mass, we have both the Testimony of Sence and of easie observations to prove. (Burnet 1965: 93–94)

In 1836 the United States Congress passed a bill establishing what would become the first and most famous American naval scientific exploration, the “United States Exploring Expedition” which lasted from 1838 to 1842 and which led to the establishment of a national museum of natural history – the Smithsonian Institution – to house the more than 50,000 specimens collected. This expedition began in what the historian William Stanton has called the “fervent foolishness” of one man, John Cleves Symmes, Jr., a self-educated former soldier who in 1818 issued his “Circular Number 1,” “sending copies to ‘each notable foreign government, reigning prince,...

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