The e(U)topian impulse

At the crossroads of utopian, dystopian, and anti-utopian thought we find ourselves with choices that will lead us on a path toward hope or despair. The choices we make are bound to the types of political action or inaction we are committed too. In our time those committed to fighting against the utopian impulse, such as writers like Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man and Oliver Bennett’s Cultural Pessimism: Narratives of Decline in the Postmodern World see utopian thought as a panacea against the political, social, and environmental degradation in our times. Both maintain that the utopian impulse leads to an illusionary set of values and ideology that offer “unrealistic expectations of what the future may bring“.

On the other hand many cultural critics, as well as sf writers, have brought about a Renaissance in Utopian thought and ideology. Two recent works shed light on this revival, dark Horizons Science Fiction and the Dystopian Imagination,Utopian Method Vision The Use Value Of Social Dreaming. These “Social Dreams” as Lyman Tower Sargent states it help us understand the “dreams and nightmares that concern the ways in which groups of people arrange their lives.” At the heart of the utopian impulse is the hope of a better life. Yet, as we discover from the cautionary tales of dystopian writers, from the early work of Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We to George Orwell’s novel 1984, on too such sf classics as Farenheit 451, The Telling, and the Gold Coast triptych we discover what Raffaella Baccolini and Tom Moylan call the ‘critical dystopia’, which, as a didactic form, teaches us “that choices have consequences, in helping us to see why and how things are as they are, and, perhaps, in showing how we can act to change the conditions around us: not simply to do no harm but utterly to transorm reality in favor of all(p. 241 dary Horizons).”

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