Examining the complex relationships between the political, popular, sexual, and textual interests of Nathaniel Hawthorne's work, Lauren Berlant argues that Hawthorne mounted a sophisticated challenge to America's collective fantasy of national unity. She shows how Hawthorne's idea of citizenship emerged from an attempt to adjudicate among the official and the popular, the national and the local, the collective and the individual, utopia and history.
At the core of Berlant's work is a three-part study of The Scarlet Letter, analyzing the modes and effects of national identity that characterize the narrator's representation of Puritan culture and his construction of the novel's political present tense. This analysis emerges from an introductory chapter on American citizenship in the 1850s and a following chapter on national fantasy, ranging from Hawthorne's early work "Alice Doane's Appeal" to the Statue of Liberty. In her conclusion, Berlant suggests that Hawthorne views everyday life and local political identities as alternate routes to the revitalization of the political and utopian promises of modern national life.
In Black Utopias Jayna Brown takes up the concept of utopia as a way of exploring alternative states of being, doing, and imagining in Black culture. Musical, literary, and mystic practices become utopian enclaves in which Black people engage in modes of creative worldmaking. Brown explores the lives and work of Black women mystics Sojourner Truth and Rebecca Cox Jackson, musicians Alice Coltrane and Sun Ra, and the work of speculative fiction writers Samuel Delany and Octavia Butler as they decenter and destabilize the human, radically refusing liberal humanist ideas of subjectivity and species. Brown demonstrates that engaging in utopian practices Black subjects imagine and manifest new genres of existence and forms of collectivity. For Brown, utopia consists of those moments in the here and now when those excluded from the category human jump into other onto-epistemological realms. Black people—untethered from the hope of rights, recognition, or redress—celebrate themselves as elements in a cosmic effluvium.
"I read Peter Y. Paik’s lucid, graceful, ruthless book in one single astonished sitting. I scarred it all over with arrows and exclamation points, so I can read it again as soon as possible." —Bruce Sterling
Revolutionary narratives in recent science fiction graphic novels and films compel audiences to reflect on the politics and societal ills of the day. Through character and story, science fiction brings theory to life, giving shape to the motivations behind the action as well as to the consequences they produce.
In From Utopia to Apocalypse, Peter Y. Paik shows how science fiction generates intriguing and profound insights into politics. He reveals that the fantasy of putting annihilating omnipotence to beneficial effect underlies the revolutionary projects that have defined the collective upheavals of the modern age. Paik traces how this political theology is expressed, and indeed literalized, in popular superhero fiction, examining works including Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s graphic novel Watchmen, the science fiction cinema of Jang Joon-Hwan, the manga of Hayao Miyazaki, Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta, and the Matrix trilogy. Superhero fantasies are usually seen as compensations for individual feelings of weakness, victimization, and vulnerability. But Paik presents these fantasies as social constructions concerned with questions of political will and the disintegration of democracy rather than with the psychology of the personal.
What is urgently at stake, Paik argues, is a critique of the limitations and deadlocks of the political imagination. The utopias dreamed of by totalitarianism, which must be imposed through torture, oppression, and mass imprisonment, nevertheless persist in liberal political systems. With this reality looming throughout, Paik demonstrates the uneasy juxtaposition of saintliness and cynically manipulative realpolitik, of torture and the assertion of human dignity, of cruelty and benevolence.
Many feminists love a utopia—the idea of restarting humanity from scratch or transforming human nature in order to achieve a prescribed future based on feminist visions. Some scholars argue that feminist utopian fiction can be used as a template for creating such a future. However, Sally L. Kitch argues that associating feminist thought with utopianism is a mistake.
Drawing on the history of utopian thought, as well as on her own research on utopian communities, Kitch defines utopian thinking, explores the pitfalls of pursuing social change based on utopian ideas, and argues for a "higher ground" —a contrasting approach she calls realism. Replacing utopianism with realism helps to eliminate self-defeating notions in feminist theory, such as false generalization, idealization, and unnecessary dichotomies. Realistic thought, however, allows feminist theory to respond to changing circumstances, acknowledge sameness as well as difference, value the past and the present, and respect ideological give-and-take.
An important critique of feminist thought, Kitch concludes with a clear, exciting vision for a feminist future without utopia.
Hope Isn’t Stupid is the first study to interrogate the neglected connections between affect and the practice of utopia in contemporary American literature. Although these concepts are rarely theorized together, it is difficult to fully articulate utopia without understanding how affects circulate within utopian texts. Moving away from science fiction—the genre in which utopian visions are often located—author Sean Grattan resuscitates the importance of utopianism in recent American literary history. Doing so enables him to assert the pivotal role contemporary American literature has to play in allowing us to envision alternatives to global neoliberal capitalism.
Novelists William S. Burroughs, Dennis Cooper, John Darnielle, Toni Morrison, Thomas Pynchon, and Colson Whitehead are deeply invested in the creation of utopian possibilities. A return to reading the utopian wager in literature from the postmodern to the contemporary period reinvigorates critical forms that imagine reading as an act of communication, friendship, solace, and succor. These forms also model richer modes of belonging than the diluted and impoverished ones on display in the neoliberal present. Simultaneously, by linking utopian studies and affect studies, Grattan’s work resists the tendency for affect studies to codify around the negative, instead reorienting the field around the messy, rich, vibrant, and ambivalent affective possibilities of the world. Hope Isn’t Stupid insists on the centrality of utopia not only in American literature, but in American life as well.
"""Engaging, provocative in the best sense, Cooke's is an excellent book."" --George Gutsche, University of Arizona
""The virtuoso merging of sociobiological ideas and standard critical techniques is an important vindication for the whole idea of a sociobiological literary criticism. This is a highly accomplished piece of literary scholarship. It will long stand as a landmark."" --Joseph Carroll, University of Missouri "
Learning from Other Worlds provides both a portrait of the development of science fiction criticism as an intellectual field and a definitive look at the state of science fiction studies today. Its title refers to the essence of “cognitive estrangement” in relation to science fiction and utopian fiction—the assertion that by imagining strange worlds we learn to see our own world in a new perspective. Acknowledging an indebtedness to the groundbreaking work of Darko Suvin and his belief that the double movement of estrangement and cognition reflects deep structures of human storytelling, the contributors assert that learning-from-otherness is as natural and inevitable a process as the instinct for imitation and representation that Aristotle described in his Poetics. In exploring the relationship between imaginative invention and that of allegory or fable, the essays in Learning from Other Worlds comment on the field’s most abiding concerns and employ a variety of critical approaches—from intellectual history and genre studies to biographical criticism, feminist cultural studies, and political textual analysis. Among the topics discussed are the works of John Wyndham, Kim Stanley Robinson, Stanislau Lem, H.G. Wells, and Ursula Le Guin, as well as the media’s reactions to the 1997 cloning of Dolly the Sheep. Darko Suvin’s characteristically outspoken and penetrating afterword responds to the essays in the volume and offers intimations of a further stage in his long and distinguished career. This useful compendium and companion offers a coherent view of science fiction studies as it has evolved while paying tribute to the debt it owes Suvin, one of its first champions. As such, it will appeal to critics and students of science fiction, utopia, and fantasy writing. Contributors. Marc Angenot, Marleen S. Barr, Peter Fitting, Carl Freedman, Edward James, Fredric Jameson, David Ketterer, Gerard Klein, Tom Moylan, Rafail Nudelman, Darko Suvin
This book aims to put the fiction back into utopian fictions. While tracing the development of fiction in the writing of modern utopias, especially in Britain, it seeks to demonstrate in specific ways how those utopias have become increasingly literary--possibly as a reaction not only against the "social scientification" of modern utopias but also in reaction against the modern attempt to institute "utopia" in reality, notably in the former Soviet Union but also in consumerist, late-twentieth-century America.
This fascinating study is the first to examine the history of gender and science fiction and the first to discuss science fiction pulp magazines' images of women, as well as postmodernism and feminist science fiction. Robin Roberts begins with Shelley's Frankenstein, in which a female alien appears, and continues through H. G. Wells, the 1950s pulp science fiction magazines, Doris Lessing and feminist utopias, and the new generation of science fiction writers, including Joan Vinge, Sheila Finch, Vonda McIntyre, Ursula Le Guin, and Octavia Butler.
Writers have created fictions of social perfection at least since Plato’s Republic. Sir Thomas More gave this thread of intellectual history a name when he called his contribution to it Utopia, Greek for noplace.
With each subsequent author cognizant of his predecessors and subject to altered real-world conditions which suggest ever-new causes for hope and alarm, “no place” changed. The fourteen essays presented in this book critically assess man’s fascination with and seeking for “no place.”
“In discussing these central fictions, the contributors see ‘no place’ from diverse perspectives: the sociological, the psychological, the political, the aesthetic. In revealing the roots of these works, the contributors cast back along the whole length of utopian thought. Each essay stands alone; together, the essays make clear what ‘no place’ means today. While it may be true that ‘no place’ has always seemed elsewhere or elsewhen, in fact all utopian fiction whirls contemporary actors through a costume dance no place else but here.”—from the Preface
The contributors are Eric S. Rabkin, B. G. Knepper, Thomas J.Remington, Gorman Beauchamp, William Matter, Ken Davis, Kenneth M. Roemer, William Steinhoff, Howard Segal, Jack Zipes, Kathleen Woodward, Merritt Abrash, and James W. Bittner.
Notes on Nowhere was first published in 1997. Minnesota Archive Editions uses digital technology to make long-unavailable books once again accessible, and are published unaltered from the original University of Minnesota Press editions.
The term utopia implies both "good place" and "nowhere." Since Sir Thomas More wrote Utopia in 1516, debates about utopian models of society have sought to understand the implications of these somewhat contradictory definitions. In Notes on Nowhere, author Jennifer Burwell uses a cross section of contemporary feminist science fiction to examine the political and literary meaning of utopian writing and utopian thought.
Burwell provides close readings of the science fiction novels of five feminist writers-Marge Piercy, Sally Gearhart, Joanna Russ, Octavia Butler, and Monique Wittig-and poses questions central to utopian writing: Do these texts promote a tradition in which narratives of the ideal society have been used to hide rather than reveal violence, oppression, and social divisions? Can a feminist critical utopia offer a departure from this tradition by using utopian narratives to expose contradiction and struggle as central aspects of the utopian impulse? What implications do these questions have for those who wish to retain the utopian impulse for emancipatory political uses?
As one way of answering these questions, Burwell compares two "figures" that inform utopian writing and social theory. The first is the traditional abstract "revolutionary" subject who contradicts existing conditions and who points us to the ideal body politic. The second, "resistant," subject is partial, concrete, and produced by conditions rather than operating outside of them. In analyzing contemporary changes in the subject's relationship to social space, Burwell draws from and revises "standpoint approaches" that tie visions of social transformation to a group's position within existing conditions.
By exploring the dilemmas, antagonisms, and resolutions within the critical literary feminist utopia, Burwell creates connections to a similar set of problems and resolutions characterizing "nonliterary" discourses of social transformation such as feminism, gay and lesbian studies, and Marxism. Notes on Nowhere makes an original, significant, and persuasive contribution to our understanding of the political and literary dimensions of the utopian impulse in literature and social theory.
Jennifer Burwell teaches in the Department of English at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.
Passing and the Rise of the African American Novel restores to its rightful place a body of American literature that has long been overlooked, dismissed, or misjudged. This insightful reconsideration of nineteenth-century African American fiction uncovers the literary artistry and ideological complexity of a body of work that laid the foundation for the Harlem Renaissance and changed the course of American letters.
Focusing on the trope of passing--black characters lightskinned enough to pass for white--M. Giulia Fabi shows how early African American authors such as William Wells Brown, Frank J. Webb, Charles W. Chesnutt, Sutton E. Griggs, Frances E. W. Harper, Edward A. Johnson, and James Weldon Johnson transformed traditional representations of blackness and moved beyond the tragic mulatto motif. Challenging the myths of racial purity and the color line, these authors used passing to celebrate a distinctive, African American history, culture, and worldview.
Fabi examines how early black writers adapted existing literary forms, including the sentimental romance, the domestic novel, and the utopian novel, to express their convictions and concerns about slavery, segregation, and racism. Chesnutt used passing as both a structural and a thematic element, while James Weldon Johnson innovated by parodying the earlier novels of passing and presenting the decision to pass as the result, rather than the cause, of cultural alienation. Fabi also gives a historical overview of the canon-making enterprises of African American critics from the 1850s to the 1990s and considers how their concerns about promoting the canonization of African American literature affected their perceptions of nineteenth-century black fiction.
Perfect Worlds is an extensive, comparative study of utopian narratives in both the East and the West. Douwe Fokkema provides an elegant argument about the human impulse to imagine new and better worlds, astutely observing that the utopian imagination thrives in the context of secularization. Fokkema also tracks the rise of dystopian narratives, invoking authors as diverse as Margaret Atwood and Lao She, and provides a cogent evaluation of the role of imagined worlds in both Chinese and Euro-American fiction. A shrewd comparison of cultures, as well as a vivid account of cross-cultural influence, this volume is a welcome addition to the scholarly discourse on utopias.
Politics, Writing, Mutilation was first published in 1985. Minnesota Archive Editions uses digital technology to make long-unavailable books once again accessible, and are published unaltered from the original University of Minnesota Press editions.
Five twentieth-century French writers played, and continue to play, a pivotal role in the development of literary-philosophical thinking that has come to be known in the United States as post-structuralism. The work of Georges Bataille, Maurice Blanchot, Raymond Roussel, Michel Leiris, and Francis Ponge in the 1930s and 1940s amounts to a prehistory of today's theoretical debates; the writings of Foucault and Derrida in particular would have been unthinkable outside the context provided by these writers. In Politics, Writing, Mutilation,Allan Stoekl emphasizes their role as precursors, but he also makes clear that they created a distinctive body of work that must be read and evaluated on its own terms.
Stoekl's critical readings of their work—selected novels, poems, and autobiographical fragments—reveal them to be battlegrounds not only of disruptive language practices, but of conflicting political drives as well. These irreconcilable tendencies can be defined as progressive political revolution, on the one hand with its emphasis on utility, conservation, and labor; and, on the other hand, a notion of dangerous and sinister production that stresses orgiastic sexuality and delirious expenditure. Caught between these forces is the intellectual of Bataille's time (and indeed of ours), locked in impotence, self-betrayal, and automutilation.
Stoekl develops his critique through dual readings of each writer's central work—the first reading deconstructive, the second a search for the political meaning excluded by a deconstructive approach. Repeating this process on a larger scale, he shows how Derrida and Foucault are indebted to their precursors even while they have betrayed them by stripping their work of political conflict and historical specificity. And he acknowledges that one of the most painful questions faced in prewar and Occupied France—that of the unthinkable guilt and duplicity of the intellectual—may not be as remote from contemporary theoretical concerns as some would have us believe.
When did Americans first believe they were at the center of a truly global culture? How did they envision that culture and how much do recent attitudes toward globalization owe to their often utopian dreams? In Utopia and Cosmopolis Thomas Peyser asks these and other questions, offers a reevaluation of American literature and culture at the dawn of the twentieth century, and provides a new context for understanding contemporary debates about America’s relation to the rest of the world. Applying current theoretical work on globalization to the writing of authors as diverse as Edward Bellamy, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, William Dean Howells, and Henry James, Peyser reveals the ways in which turn-of-the-century American writers struggled to understand the future in a newly emerging global community. Because the pressures of globalization at once fostered the formation of an American national culture and made national culture less viable as a source of identity, authors grappled to find a form of fiction that could accommodate the contradictions of their condition. Utopia and Cosmopolis unites utopian and realist narratives in subtle, startling ways through an examination of these writers’ aspirations and anxieties. Whether exploring the first vision of a world brought together by the power of consumer culture, or showing how different cultures could be managed when reconceived as specimens in a museum, this book steadily extends the horizons within which late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American literature and culture can be understood. Ranging widely over history, politics, philosophy, and literature, Utopia and Cosmopolis is an important contribution to debates about utopian thought, globalization, and American literature.
What is utopia if not a perfect impossible world? Anahid Nersessian reveals the basic misunderstanding of that ideal. Applying the lessons of art to the rigors of life on an imperiled planet, she enlists the Romantics to redefine utopia as an investment in limitation—not a perfect world but one where we get less than we hoped but more than we had.