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Demand the Impossible

Science Fiction and the Utopian Imagination

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Edited By Tom Moylan

Although published in 1986, Demand the Impossible was written from inside the oppositional political culture of the 1970s. Reading works by Joanna Russ, Ursula K. Le Guin, Marge Piercy, and Samuel R. Delany as indicative texts in the intertext of utopian science fiction, Tom Moylan originated the concept of the «critical utopia» as both a periodizing and conceptual tool for capturing the creative and critical capabilities of the utopian imagination and utopian agency. This Ralahine Classics edition includes the original text along with a new essay by Moylan (on Aldous Huxley’s Island) and a set of reflections on the book by leading utopian and science fiction scholars.

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Chapter 1: Introduction: The Critical Utopia

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Chapter 1 Introduction: The Critical Utopia For in struggling with new structures never before experienced, people also struggle with the old images and make new images: to distinguish that which has now become possible, to show the disappearance of that which is untenable as already accomplished. Thus, in great models they show themselves the New, which is difficult to imagine, already function- ing. Now since these new models were already made from the old, were formed from the given, the old appear to be false, but they aren’t. They only became that way. — Bertolt Brecht Images of desire. Figures of hope. Utopian writing in its many manifesta- tions is complex and contradictory. It is, at heart, rooted in the unfulfilled needs and wants of specific classes, groups, and individuals in their unique historical contexts. Produced through the fantasizing powers of the imagi- nation, utopia opposes the affirmative culture maintained by dominant ideology. Utopia negates the contradictions in a social system by forging visions of what is not yet realized either in theory or practice. In generating such figures of hope, utopia contributes to the open space of opposition. The phenomenon of utopian discourse is world-wide. Although it has ancient roots – including the Garden of Eden, the Buddhist Western Paradise, the Native American Happy Hunting Ground, Plato’s Republic, the Celtic Hy Brasil, and popular songs from “The Land of Cokaygne” to Joni Mitchell’s “Dreamland” – the specific western tradition of the literary utopia is generally agreed to have originated with Thomas More’s...

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