New Maps of Hell
It is a truism that one of the most revealing indexes to the anxieties of our age is the great flood of works like Zamyatin's We, Huxley's Brave New World, and Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. Appalling in their similarity, they describe nightmare states where men are conditioned to obedience, freedom is eliminated, and individuality crushed; where the past is systematically destroyed and men are isolated from nature; where science and technology are employed, not to enrich human life, but to maintain the state's surveillance and control of its slave citizens.
-- MARK HILLEGAS, THE FUTURE AS NIGHTMARE (3)
Published in 1909, E. M. Forster story "The Machine Stops" reminds us that it is literary utopia's shadow, the dystopia, that most often flourished in that the twentieth century. 1 Before Yevgeny Zamyatin critique of the Soviet state in We ( 1924), Aldous Huxley critique of consumer capitalism in Brave New World ( 1932), and well before the cautionary despair of George Orwell Nineteen Eighty-Four ( 1949), Forster wrote against the grain of an emergent modernity. 2 In his portrayal of a totalizing administration that "mechanizes" every dimension of daily life (from the organization of nature and industry to the standardization of the person), he develops an abstract yet critical account of the new social spacetime of the twentieth century. Yet even as he foregrounds his apocalyptic horror at the unraveling of the world he knows, he clings, at least in his closing paragraphs, to the prophetic possibility that one day humanity will again prevail. He grounds his narrative in a familiar satiric tradition, but he also draws on the more detailed systemic accounts of utopian narratives by way of an inversion that focuses on the terrors rather than the hopes of history. Although his perspective is based in a residual romantic humanism that collapses all the dimensions of modernity into the single mystifying trope of the Machine (with its anti-urban and anti-technol-