The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature: Fiction as Social Criticism

By M. Keith Booker | Go to book overview

And it looks like we're doing the same thing, over and over, but we've got one damn thing the phoenix never had. We know the damn silly thing we just did. We know all the damn silly things we've done for a thousand years and as long as we know that and always have it around where we can see it, someday we'll stop making the goddamn funeral pyres and jumping into the middle of them. We pick up a few more people that remember every generation. (177)

Granger's conclusion is ultimately a hopeful one, but like much of Bradbury's book it appears rather questionable. Learning from the past, especially the distant past, requires more than individual memory, and Bradbury's individualist approach fails to account for the ability of those in power to distort official history, even though his own book-like many dystopian fictions-describes this ability quite well.


NOTES
1.
Dystopian fictions like Burgess A Clockwork Orange and Le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven were written at least partially to illustrate the dark aspects of Skinner's behaviorist vision.
2.
Skinner's attitude here strikingly recalls that attributed by Marx and Engels to nineteenth-century utopian socialists like Fourier, St. Simon, and Owen in The Communist Manifesto: "They reject all political, and especially all revolutionary, action; they wish to attain their ends by peaceful means, and endeavor, by small experiments necessarily doomed to failure, and by the force of example, to pave the way for the new social gospel" (111).
3.
Roemer argues that Skinner includes the parallels between Walden Two and Christianity as "blatant attempts to make his arguments seem acceptable," though Roemer acknowledges that this comparison with God goes too far and may alienate Christian readers (141).
4.
Marcuse's book deals with many of the same aspects of modern society as many dystopian fictions. It was published in 1964, more than ten years after Player Piano. However, many of the ideas expressed in One Dimensional Man have their roots in work of Marcuse and other Frankfurt School thinkers that goes back to the early 1940s.
5.
The naming of this computer is indicative of Vonnegut's sometimes wistfully comic satire, deriving from a combination of ENIAC (the first large-scale computer) and Ipecac (a common emetic).

-112-

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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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