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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 13: Violence and Utopia: John Norman and Pat Califia


I sometimes stop to think while I am reading a science fiction or fantasy novel, and wonder why it is I don’t see more erotically driven material than I do […] It makes me wonder only because erotic and sexual fantasies are among the most powerful and universal fantasy experiences human beings have. It seems only logical to me that the literature of wildest fantasy, f/sf, should be not only full of sex and eroticism, but focused on it.

(Tan 1992: “Introduction,” n.p.)

The key word to understanding S/M is fantasy. The roles, dialogue, fetish costumes, and sexual activity are part of a drama or ritual. The participants are enhancing their sexual pleasure, not damaging or imprisoning one another.

(Pat Califia 1994: 168)

The tendency to consider the fictional utopia, if not as an explicit blueprint, then at least as a sketch of some of the principles and ideals the reader would like to see (in a better world) continues to interfere with purely formal definitions of the genre.2 While the “critical utopias” of the 1970s included a critique of the limitations of an older tradition and of the drawbacks of reading literally, nonetheless by fleshing out their vision of an alternative, they also invited literal readings. Even as these works tried to move away from the depiction of the rules and ←231 | 232→structures of the new society, toward the evocation of the lived experience of the alternative, and a more fluid,...

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