Scraps of the Untainted Sky: Science Fiction, Utopia, Dystopia

Scraps of the Untainted Sky: Science Fiction, Utopia, Dystopia

Scraps of the Untainted Sky: Science Fiction, Utopia, Dystopia

Scraps of the Untainted Sky: Science Fiction, Utopia, Dystopia

Synopsis

A cultural studies examination of the 20th-century genre of dystopian fiction in the political and scholarly context of the evolution of science fiction studies and utopian studies since the 1960s.

Excerpt

Hunger cannot stop continually renewing itself, but if it increases uninterrupted, satisfied by no certain bread, then it suddenly changes. The body-ego then becomes rebellious, does not go out in search of food merely within the old framework. It seeks to change the situation which has caused its empty stomach, its hanging head. The No to the bad situation which exists, the Yes to the better life that hovers ahead, is incorporated by the deprived into revolutionary interest. This interest always begins with hunger, hunger transforms itself, having been taught, into an explosive force against the prison of deprivation.

--ERNST BLOCH, THE PRINCIPLE OF HOPE (75)

Dystopian narrative is largely the product of the terrors of the twentieth century. A hundred years of exploitation, repression, state violence, war, genocide, disease, famine, ecocide, depression, debt, and the steady depletion of humanity through the buying and selling of everyday life provided more than enough fertile ground for this fictive underside of the utopian imagination. Although its roots lie in Menippean satire, realism, and the anti-utopian novels of the nineteenth century, the dystopia emerged as a literary form in its own right in the early 1900s, as capital entered a new phase with the onset of monopolized production and as the modern imperialist state extended its internal and external reach.

From that early period, and throughout its varied and shifting history, this negative narrative machine has produced challenging cognitive maps of the historical situation by way of imaginary societies that are even worse than those that lie outside their authors' and readers' doors. In the hands of E. M. Forster, Yevgeny Zamyatin, Aldous Huxley, Katherine Burdekin, George Orwell, Ray Bradbury, Margaret Atwood, and others, the classical dystopia flourished in societies besotted by greed, destruction, and death. In the "new maps of hell" that science fiction (sf) . . .

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