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Utopian Effects, Dystopian Pleasures


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 8: Positioning and Closure: On the “Reading Effect” of Contemporary Utopian Fiction


Fifteen years ago, the critical consensus seemed to be that there was “something of a paralysis of utopian thought and imagination” (Frye 1966: 29), while SF itself had become a predominantly “pessimistic” genre.1 Accordingly the recent revival of utopian themes in SF has been a surprising and, for many of us, an important and heartening development. The SF boom which began in the late 1960s – and which continues today – corresponds to the social upheavals in the developed capitalist countries and to the collapse of the dominant social consensus. The appearance of utopian themes within SF at that moment was a logical extension of SF’s own inherent possibilities and potential, for, more than any other contemporary genre, it was a literature of alternatives, one which offered the reader and writer alternate times and places in opposition to the dominant forms which seemed bound to our own social reality.2

Beyond the question of how or why SF became an important vehicle for the utopian imagination in the 1970s, this development raises a number of more political questions, not all of which I can attempt to answer here. The first would be to explain the apparent waning of this utopian moment,3 although it is perhaps too early to pass a final judgment. Another question would be to analyze the accompanying retreat into fantasy fiction, a development which has its political correlate in the projection of collective hopes and fears onto a president who represents a return to an imaginary lost...

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