The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature: Fiction as Social Criticism

By M. Keith Booker | Go to book overview

Postscript: Literature and Dystopia

Writing of Robert Silverberg The World Inside, Merritt Abrash declares the book "among the best utopian novels, even though rather less than a masterpiece is necessary to join that particular company" (225). Similarly, Robert O. Evans acknowledges the dystopian strain that runs through many of Anthony Burgess's works but argues that, as Burgess is a "great novelist," we should not "dismiss his books as latter-day examples of the dystopian convention cut rather finer than the predecessors" (264). Such comments as those by Abrash and Evans are not uncommon, and there has long been a critical tendency to see utopian and dystopian fiction as sacrificing artistic merit in the interest of content. Many critics consider dystopian fiction as a pop culture genre roughly in the same category as science fiction; their dismissal of the genre can thus be partially attributed to an elitist rejection of popular culture. Other critics see dystopian fiction as a didactic and utilitarian category that frequently pays little attention to aesthetic form or technique.

On the other hand, such dismissals have moved other critics to defend utopian and dystopian literature as meriting serious critical attention. It is not especially central to my purpose here, however, to make such a defense, though I do hope this survey demonstrates the flexibility of dystopian fiction and its ability to be adapted to a broad range of literary styles and political viewpoints. The dystopian impulse in modern literature is confined neither to the marginal pop cultural realm of science fiction nor to texts that are little more than

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The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature: Fiction as Social Criticism
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Contributions to the Study of Science Fiction and Fantasy ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction: Utopia, Dystopia, and Social Critique 1
  • Notes 22
  • 1 - Zamyatin's We: Anticipating Stalin 25
  • Notes 44
  • 2 - Huxley's Brave New World: The Early Bourgeois Dystopia 47
  • Notes 66
  • 3 - Orwell's 1984: The Totalitarian Dystopia after Stalin 69
  • Notes 89
  • 4 - The Bourgeois Dystopia After World War II 91
  • Notes 112
  • 5 - Postmodernism with a Russian Accent: The Contemporary Communist Dystopia 115
  • Notes 138
  • 6 - Skepticism Squared: Western Postmodernist Dystopias 141
  • Notes 170
  • Postscript: Literature and Dystopia 173
  • Works Cited 179
  • Index 193
  • About the Author 199
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