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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 2: The Utopian Imagination

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CHAPTER 2

The effectively ideological is also, at the same time, necessarily Utopian. — FREDRIC JAMESON

Be realistic, demand the impossible.

— WALL SLOGAN (Paris, May 1968)

The revival of the utopian impulse in the latter half of the twentieth century may seem useless in the face of the cooptation of utopia by consumer capitalism on one hand and the destruction of a hopeful future by the threat of nuclear holocaust on the other. In these days of false promises, hard times, and dire fears, utopia often is unable to find a place in people’s imaginations or actions. Yet, since the 1960s especially, the utopian impulse has played an important role in the politics and culture of the many movements opposed to society as it is structured by the modern phallocratic capitalist system and the bureaucratic state. The power of subversive imagining to move people beyond the present toward a more fulfilling future is now expressed and understood as a more complex mechanism than those writing and working for radical change during the last wave of utopian discourse in the 1890s might have experienced.

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