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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 11: Reconsiderations of the Separatist Paradigm in Recent Feminist Science Fiction


Utopian fiction is in fact one cultural arena in our society from which history has not disappeared. Utopia registers our fantasies of the future. But in a continual narrative process of repression and revolt, these fantasies embody our relationship to the realities of the present. The utopian impulse begins in the radical inadequacy of the present; it deconstructs our assumptions about social inevitability through representations that provoke a cognitive dissonance between the present as lived and the potentialities hidden within it. Utopia tempts us as an evocation of political desire. (Pfaelzer 1990: 198–199)

The general reaction to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) led me to the realization that the backlash of late against feminism has been paralleled by a slowing in the pace of feminist utopian writing. But while the production of feminist utopias has certainly slowed since 1985, works marked by feminism continue to be an important part of SF.2 In the following pages I want to look more closely at three novels published since Atwood’s dystopian classic, novels which have ←195 | 196→sometimes been cited as instances of an ongoing feminist utopian tradition: Pamela Sargent’s The Shore of Women (1986), Sheri Tepper’s The Gate to Women’s Country (1988), and Joan Slonczewski’s A Door into Ocean (1986).

In examining and discussing these works, I will concentrate on their thematic features and on the ways in which they respond to and develop some of the issues raised by the feminist utopias of the 1970s....

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