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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 20: Beyond This Horizon: Utopian Visions and Utopian Practice

Extract

In the following essay, I want to explain how I came to the study of Utopia as well as to outline the theoretical and methodological framework of my work. Simply put, my interest in Utopia (the literary utopia as well as utopianism) grows out of some crucial friendships and out of the merging of my interest in science fiction (sf) with my own political evolution – developments which have shaped my academic career even as they have led me to the study of utopianism. My utopian method and approach have evolved, following from my discovery of utopian fiction, in terms of what I understand it to be and the role I see it playing in the world. To describe this method, I will outline three overlapping moments in my study of Utopia, before concluding with some thoughts about the place of the utopian today.

To begin at the beginning, I do not come from a politically active background, but from a solid middle-class family. Until graduate school, I attended private Catholic schools in California, first with the Carmelite nuns, and then with the Jesuits in high school, and with the Christian Brothers in college. While I retain little of the religious part of that Catholic education, and while there was little in the way of explicit politics in the California schools of the 1950s, or at home, for that matter, I somehow became aware of the social message contained in a certain Catholic tradition – certainly against the grain of...

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