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Contributions to the Study of Science Fiction and Fantasy Out of the Night and Into the Dream: A Thematic Study of the Fiction of J. G. Ballard Gregory Stephenson "More Real Than Reality": The Fantastic in Irish Literature and the Arts Donald E. Morse and Csilla Bertha, editors The Dark Descent: Essays Defining Stephen King's Horrorscape Tony Magistrale, editor The Lost Worlds Romance: From Dawn Till Dusk Allienne R. Becker The Aesthetics of Ambivalence: Rethinking Science Fiction Film in the Age of Electronic (Re)Production Brooks Landon State of the Fantastic: Studies in the Theory and Practice of Fantastic Literature and Film: Selected Essays from the Eleventh International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, 1990 Nicholas Ruddick, editor The Celebration of the Fantastic: Selected Papers from the Tenth Anniversary International Conference on the Fantastic in The Arts Donald E. Morse, Marshall B. Tymn, and Csilla Bertha, editors Staging the Impossible: The Fantastic Mode in Modem Drama Patrick D. Murphy, editor Robert Silverberg's Many Trapdoors: Critical Essays on His Science Fiction Charles L. Elkins and Martin Harry Greenberg, editors Ultimate Island: On the Nature of British Science Fiction Nicholas Ruddick Science Fiction for Young Readers C. W Sullivan Ill, editor Science Fiction and the Theatre Ralph Willingham Odd Genre: A Study in Imagination and Evolution 101m .I. Pierce
Rohhc-Grillct and the Fantastic: A Collection of Essays virginia /I(//"gl'/"-(;/";1I1i1l1: 01111 Jimy Chadwick; editors
'The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature Fiction as Social Criticism M. Keith Booker
~The paper used in this book complies with the Permanent Paper Standard issued by the National hiformatiun Standards Orgnnizauon (ZJ9.48-1984). 10 9 8 7 6 ~ 4 J 2
For Dubravka, Adam, and Milja
Introduction: Utopia, Dystopia, and Social Critique 1.
Zamyatin's We: Anticipating Stalin
2. Huxley's Brave New World: The Early Bourgeois Dystopia
3. Orwell's 1984: The Totalitarian Dystopia after Stalin
4. The Bourgeois Dystopia after World War II
5. Postmodernism with a Russian Accent: The Contemporary Communist Dystopia (I.
Skepticism Squared: Western Postrnodernist
141 173 179 193
Introduction: Utopia, Dystopia, and Social Critique
On the outskirts of the once-sleepy hamlet of Orlando, Florida, lies the vast Disneyworld theme park, a marvel of technology and efficiency that ostensibly serves as a major modern embodiment of the kinds of utopian dreams that have inspired visionary thinkers throughout the history of Western civilization. In one area of the park lies a fairyland of castles and cartoons (appropriately called the Magic Kingdom) where childhood fantasies come to life. In another area lies the Epcot Center segment of the park, dramatizing in more adult fashion the potential of technology to build a better tomorrow. Still another area of the park takes visitors behind the scenes of Disney Studios to see movie magic at work firsthand. As a whole, I>isneyworld is a dazzling combination of magic and machinery, the double nature of which mirrors the nature of the utopian project itself, which takes its inspiration from both fantasy and technology. The worldwide proliferation of theme parks in recent decades demonstrates the allure of the kinds of utopian fantasies represented hy Disneyworld and similar parks. Part of this allure is pure escapism, of course, and Disneyworld clearly represents both the negative image 1.1' utopian dreaming as escape from reality and the positive image of II top ian thought as the practical Aristotelian entelechy of the ideal Platonic potential that already lies in reality. Indeed, the park has a mult ifaceted significance that illustrates the complexity of the utopian project as a whole. Disneyworld is an impressive display of human imaginative and technological capability in which visitors to the park rhcmsclves contribute to this utopian atmosphere, coming from around
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
the globe to gather for relaxation and enjoyment in an idealized mood of peace and harmony. One is struck not only by the technological marvels of the park itself, but also by the smoothness and efficiency with which the entire operation is run, allowing massive crowds to flow from one attraction to the next with clockwork precision. Yet one could also find a sinister hint of dystopia in the ease with which these docile crowds mill antlike about the park under the watchful eyes of uniformed overseers-even if those uniforms disguise the overseers as loveable cartoon creatures. Indeed, dystopian films like West world and Futureworld derive directly from this dark side of Disney, dealing with the fear of domination of humanity by its machines by depicting fictional theme parks in which technology runs amok.! Jean BaudrilIard argues of Disneyworld's precursor Disneyland that such parks represent a negative escapism that is specifically designed to divert attention from social problems in the "real" world. Proclaiming the "hyperreality" of modern American society, Baudrillard sees a carefully gauged attempt to set Disneyland off as a fantasyland separate from the surrounding reality. But to Baudrillard, this separation is pure ruse: Disneyland is there to conceal the fact that it is the "real" country, all of "real" America, which is Disneyland (just as prisons are there to conceal the fact that it is the social in its entirety, in its banal omnipresence, which is carceral). Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real, when in fact all of Los Angeles and the America surrounding it are no longer real, but of the order of the hyperreal and of simulation. (172) Baudrillard has a point, though it is also true that parks like Disneyland or Disneyworld do not present themselves as being entirely apart from reality. While blatantly calling attention to their own f'ictionality, such parks openly advertise themselves as the projection of a potential that is inherent in existing reality. In particular, they openly present themselves as the apotheosis of consumer capitalism. Many of the attractions in Disneyworld have explicit corporate sponsorship and purvey themes that glorify corporate America. Visitors are even given the option of trading in their legal currency for special "Disney Dollars" bearing pictures of characters like Mickey Mouse so that the expenditure of money in the park can itself participate in the fantasy effect-the buying of goods becomes a mere simulation of the buying of goods, and spending money becomes a game. Indeed, the park is a locus of conspicuous consumption, as
visitors frantically purchase useless items like hats bearing plastic mouse ears, then wear those items around the park to announce their participation in the Disney economy.I The docility with which visitors conform to such conventions is frightening, and perhaps the most sinister aspect of the park is the way its many millions of visitors succumb so meekly to being herded about the park like cattle (or inmates), buying what they are supposed to buy, seeing what they are supposed to see, and spending countless hours standing in queues waiting for the privilege of doing so. Disneyworld is both the idealization of the American dream and the ideal carceral society of consumer capitalism. Among other things, the doubleness of Disneyworld indicates the simple fact that what one person considers an ideal dream might to another person seem a nightmare. It also indicates why so many modern thinkers have become suspicious of utopian thought, fearing that such visions can ultimately work only to the advantage of the status quo. Still, utopian visions of ideal alternatives have long formed an important part of criticisms of contemporary society. In an influential study Karl Mannheim considers "utopia" precisely that complex of energies that work for change in society, as opposed to "ideology," which he considers (following the Marxist tradition of ideology as false consciousness) as the complex of energies acting to preserve and support the existing order of things. And later Marxist critics like Fredric Jameson still maintain that a utopian notion of a desirable alternative future is necessary to empower meaningful political action in the present. Jameson thus notes that in our contemporary social climate "[t]he Utopian idea ... keeps alive the possibility of a world qualitatively distinct from this one and takes the form of a stubborn negation of all that is" (Marxism 111). Elsewhere, Jameson emphasizes the importance of utopian impulses both to bourgeois society and to Marxist critiques of that society: all class consciousness-or in other words, all ideology in the strongest sense, including the most exclusive forms of ruling-class consciousness just as much as that of oppositional or oppressed classes-is in its very nature Utopian. (Political 289) Of course, Jameson's statements of the power and ubiquity of utopianism are made partially out of his embattled recognition of the extreme suspicion toward utopian impulses shown by many modern thinkers, who have equated utopian ideals with nostalgia, conservatism, and a desire to escape from the contingency of history. Jameson sees dystopian thought as less politically responsible or
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
effective than utopian thought, but these thinkers see just the reverse. As Gary Saul Morson puts it, "Whereas utopias describe an escape from history, these anti-utopias describe an escape, or attempted escape, to history, which is to say, to the world of contingency, conflict, and uncertainty" (128). Indeed, despite the strongly utopian orientation of Marxism, Marxist critics from the very beginning have consistently attempted to distance themselves from the more naive versions of utopian thought. The Ur-text of this project is Socialism: From Utopia to Science, where Friedrich Engels contrasts the "scientific" approach of Marxism with the unscientific approaches of previous schools like the French utopian socialists. Marx himself consistently argued that his vision of the coming ideal socialist society was not a utopian dream. Instead, he attempted to show that the seeds of this society were already beginning to grow within capitalist society. For Marx socialism was not a fantasy but an inevitable reality, and he attempted to demonstrate through a scientific analysis of capitalist society that Communism was the natural, even necessary result of the historical evolution of capitalism. However, it is not at all clear that the distinction between socialism and utopianism is as sharp as Marx and Engels would indicate. Utopian visions go back at least as far as the attempts to envision ideal societies in ancient Greek works like Plato's Laws and Republic, but in their modern formulation such visions are largely an Enlightenment phenomenon, an extension of the Enlightenment belief that the judicious application of reason and rationality could result in the essentially unlimited improvement of human society.f In short, modern utopianism is closely related to the kind of faith in science and rationality that Marx and Engels themselves show. Despite their critical stance toward the bourgeois ideology that is so closely involved with Enlightenment thought, Marx and Engels retain numerous echoes of the Enlightenment worldview in their philosophy.f Marx and Engels, of course, are not alone among modern thinkers in placing a great deal of faith in scientific thinking. Jiirgen Habermas, one of the leading contemporary theorists of "modernity," has suggested that the idea of being "modern" as we know it began only with the rise of modern science in the seventeenth century. In particular, the new science opened exciting new possibilities and inspired a belief in "the infinite progress of knowledge and in the infinite advance towards social and moral betterment" ("Modernity" 4). This faith in the potential of science to build an increasingly better world clearly has much in common with the aspirations of utopian thinkers. On the other hand, the drive for scientific progress described by l labermns is clearly at odds with the stability usually
associated with idealized visions of utopia. Moreover, as Scholes and Rabkin point out, much utopian thought is clearly related to an atavistic desire to return to what is perceived as an earlier better time in history or in one's own life (perhaps the idealized world of childhood). Forward-looking science and backward-looking utopia, then, are uneasy bedfellows: In the twentieth century our world is shaped by science. It is only reasonable then that our atavistic urges to escape must deal with science. But science and atavism are enemies. Science allows no retreating in time, and insists on contemplating the consequences of actions. In our time the utopian impulse has been largely replaced by dystopian projections of disastrous current trends. (Scholes and Rabkin 174)5 Science has played a major role in the history of utopian thinking and in the modern turn from utopia to dystopia." Thomas More, in the work that gave the genre of utopian fiction its name, includes "natural science" among the pursuits that bring moral and cultural improvement to the citizens of his ideal society. And while More's notion of "science" may differ somewhat from our modern one, science has been linked to utopian thinking since the very beginnings of modern science in the seventeenth century. Francis Bacon, one of the founding fathers of the new science, was quick to see its potential for revolutionizing human life, and his partially completed New At/antis remains one of the most optimistic imaginative projections of the beneficial impacts that science and technology might have on human society. The society Bacon depicts reaps numerous practical benefits from the application of advanced technologies, but perhaps even more important is the sense of purpose and direction that scientific thinking gives to his idealized society. Anticipating Habermas on the drive for innovation that informs modernity, Bacon's New Atlantis is a society that revels in the joy of scientific inquiry, a world whose raison d'etre is the discovery and invention of the new. On the other hand, utopian thinking is quite ancient, dating back thousands of years before the rise of Enlightenment science." Moreover, there has historically been a great deal of suspicion of science and technology in utopian literature. Plato's Republic, one of the earliest utopian works still widely read in modern times, proclaims Ihc value of the development of specialized skills and divisions of labor in ways that are clearly forerunners of modern technology. But Plato's later Laws, another exploration of an ideal vision of society, warns that the innovations brought about by technological
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advancement might potentially be disruptive and upsetting. Similarly, even during the triumphant rise of science to cultural hegemony in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, writers like Jonathan Swift were already warning of the potential dangers (especially spiritual) of an overreliance on scientific and technological methods of thought and problem solving. By the nineteenth century many of the technological achievements predicted by early scientists like Bacon were being realized, but many of these achievements already offered hints that science would not have an entirely emancipatory effect on humanity. Most obviously, the technological advances made possible by the evolution of science contributed to an industrial revolution in Western Europe that made worldwide imperialism a practical reality even as it proved to be anything but liberating for the masses of exploited European workers who suddenly found themselves harnessed to machines in the service of industry. These technological advances well illustrated Bacon's dictum that "knowledge is power" by providing concrete demonstrations of the amazing capabilities of the human mind to understand, dominate, and control nature-but these same advances were dominating and controlling people as well. Meanwhile, nineteenth-century scientific discoveries like the Second Law of Thermodynamics and Darwin's theory of evolution were suggesting strict limits on the Enlightenment notion of unlimited progress and of the boundless power of the human mind to overcome all obstacles set before it. By the end of the century science and technology had become symbols not only of human capability, but of human weakness and limitation, a situation of which Henry Adams standing with almost religious awe before the huge dynamos in the Gallery of Machines in the Paris Exposition of 1900 can stand as representative+ Not surprisingly, nineteenth-century utopian visions showed a powerful ambivalence toward science and technology. For example, mechanization plays an important role in the industrial efficiency of the socialistic utopia of Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward (1888), but in Samuel Butler's Erewhon (I 872) machines have been banished altogether because of their tendency to tyrannize the men who made them. Given the growing skepticism toward the utopian promise of science in the late nineteenth century, it is not surprising that many twentieth-century neoMarxist thinkers have not shared Marx's faith in the coming socialist paradise. Especially in the critical theory of Frankfurt School thinkers like Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, this suspicion of the inevitability of socialism takes the form of a suspicion of the Enlightenment itself. In The Dialectic of
Enlightenment Horkheimer and Adorno argue that in the Enlightenment reason is conscripted in the interest of power and that as a result Enlightenment reason is ultimately enslaving, rather than liberating to humanity: "What men want to learn from nature is how to use it in order to wholly dominate it and other men" (4). This position leads Horkheimer and Adorno seriously to question the legitimacy of rational arguments, including their own. As a result, their critique becomes not so much a rational analysis of the Enlightenment as an intentionally contradictory performance that dramatizes the contradictions that are inherent, in their view, to rational arguments as a whole.P As Albrecht Wellmer notes, this suspicion of Enlightenment rationality also causes Adorno to look away from rational argument in search of a locus of genuine reason, finding a potential for such a locus in art:
through the configuration of its elements the work of art reveals the irrational and false character of existing reality and, at the same time, by way of its aesthetic synthesis, it prefigures an order of reconciliation. (Wellmer 48) Both Adorno's suspicion of rationality and his privileging of art indicate the important influence of Friedrich Nietzsche on his work. Indeed, Nietzsche's philosophy as a whole represents an important founding moment in the modern turn to skepticism and dystopian thinking. Nietzsche rails against the self-seriousness and the unflagging demand for final truths that he sees as characteristic of science, calling instead for a "gay" science that would be enriching, rather than impoverishing, that would maintain an appreciation for the strangeness of the world without demanding that all things be explained and understood in rational ways. Anticipating many of the works of dystopian fiction, Nietzsche strikes out against the growing mechanization of life brought about by the epistemological imperialism of science, deriding science as a new form of religion, worshipping the god of machines and crucibles, that is, the powers of the spirits of nature recognized and employed in the service of a higher egotism; it believes that it can correct the world by knowledge, guide life by science, and actually confine the individual within a limited sphere of solvable problems. (Birth 109)
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
Elsewhere, Nietzsche argues that science and Christianity are more alike than different, since both involve an overarching and fundamental drive toward truth: It is still a metaphysical faith that underlies our faith in science-and we men of knowledge of today, we godless men and antimetaphysicians, we, too, still derive our flame from the fire ignited by a faith millennia old, the Christian faith, which was also Plato's, that God is truth, that truth is divine. (Genealogy 588, Nietzsche's emphases)
The most life-denying drive, says Nietzsche, is the drive toward univocal truth that categorizes both science and religion, a drive that can also be equated to a quest for mastery and dominance of the kind that makes totalitarian regimes possible. For Nietzsche both science and religion impose simplistic interpretations on an infinitely complex world, confining the individual within a "limited sphere" that shuts out alternative possibilities. One of Nietzsche's privileged means of avoiding such confinement is, of course, art; here he anticipates Martin Heidegger, who likewise sees art (especial1y poetry) as the weapon of choice in this battle against dehumanizing technology, arguing that essential reflection upon technology and decisive confrontation with it must happen in a realm that is, on the one hand, akin to the essence of technology and, on the other, fundamentally different from it. Such a realm is art. ... The more questioningly we ponder the essence of technology, the more mysterious the essence of art becomes. (35) Both Nietzsche and Heidegger turn to art as an alternative to science. It is thus not surprising that this Nietzschean suspicion of science and rationality can also be found in much of the radically experimental art of the early twentieth century. Indeed, Habermas identifies Nietzsche, with his radical challenge to the authority of the past, as the central philosophical influence on aesthetic modernity, noting that "he is the first to develop the concepts of aesthetic modernity even before the avant-garde consciousness actually materialized in the literature, painting and music of the 20th century .... The anarchical intention of the Surrealists to explode the continuum of history is already effective in Nietzsche" ("Entwinement" 25). Nietzsche's late-nineteenth-century challenge to the authority of the past also has much in common with the project of Sigmund Freud,
who himself in many ways exemplifies the twentieth-century turn from utopian optimism to dystopian skepticism.I" Freud's work is centrally inspired by the scientific impulses of the Enlightenment, but it is also very much of its time, converting the early Enlightenment faith in the power of reason to a severe doubt that reason will ever prevail in human affairs. At the same time, Freud's pessimism about the future is anything but a call for a return to the past, despite the fact that his own researches so often centered on antiquity. Indeed, his call for a subversive challenge to the authority of the past resembles Nietzsche's in many ways: Freud shares the retrospective impulse of Romanticism, without, however. sharing its nostalgia; the past. for him. is condemned as permanency. burden. neurosis. His standing as a rationalist equally depends on this hatred of the past. ... The past is not simply dead weight to be cast off by enlightened minds. but active and engaged. threatening to master the present. (Rieff 187) As his career proceeds, Freud seems to become more and more pessimistic about the ability of human society to move beyond the limitations of the past. By the time of Civilization and Its Discontents (1930) he produces a skeptical description of human society that resonates with the works of dystopian fiction in many ways. Here Freud enumerates a number of strategies through which individuals seek happiness in the modern world (26-32). He suggests that these quests for happiness, driven by the pleasure principle, are an integral part of being human, and as human beings we have no choice but to pursue such strategies. On the other hand, Freud emphasizes that the exigencies of life in the real world are such that this "programme of becoming happy ... cannot be fulfilled" (32). He then suggests three reasons why human happiness is impossible. The first two of these reasons-"the superior power of nature and the feebleness of our own bodies"-are things that we can ultimately do very little about, despite advances in technology that have made certain inroads into the human ability to oppose the fundamental hostility of nature. But the third of these reasons-lithe inadequacy of the regulations which adjust the mutual relationships of human beings in the family, the state, and society"-would seem to be a difficulty of human making, and therefore one that should be surmountable by human effort (36). However. in the bulk of Civilization and Its Discontents Freud argues that the reform of social institutions and conventions cannot in fact lead to human happiness, because civilization is by its very nature
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
antagornsnc to certain basic human impulses and therefore fundamentally a source not of happiness, but of unhappiness. What civilization does provide is security, and Freud's comments on the way strong leaders function as a sort of a social "superego"-made at a time when figures like Stalin and Hitler were just beginning their rise to power-take on a frightening intonation. Freud's comments elsewhere (in works like Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego) on group psychology and the "herd instinct" are even more suggestive of the coming wave of twentieth-century totalitarianism, a phenomenon that provides the basis for many dystopian fictlons.U From Totem and Taboo (1913) through Group Psychology (1921) and Civilization and Its Discontents and on to Moses and Monotheism (1939), Freud remained concerned with social and political issues. And most of Freud's meditations on society have a distinctively pessimistic tone informed by the conviction that social order is fundamentally inimical to individual desire. Freud's various comments on the inherent conflict between the desires of individuals and the demands of society suggest that human sexual desire arises from natural instinctive impulses and that the orderly conduct of civilization requires that these impulses be repressed, then sublimated into socially productive areas like politics, science, or art. For Freud, the whole point to civilization (and particularly to government) is to limit individual liberty. But he suggests that primitivism or anarchy would be even worse, so there can be no ideal society, and any attempt to establish one is likely to do more harm than good. Indeed, in Civilization and Its Discontents Freud specifically addresses (and dismisses) the utopian energies informing both Soviet and American society. Actually, he rather haughtily avoids comment on the American case, because "I do not wish to give an impression of wanting myself to employ American methods." Instead, he merely suggests that American civilization has been damaged by a conformist impulse informed by what he describes as the "psychological poverty of groups" (70). Freud's critique of Soviet Communism is more explicit. In particular, he suggests that the communal energies of Soviet society are generated more through hatred of the bourgeois than through love of their own ideals. Indeed, he damningly compares the "persecution of the bourgeois" in the Soviet Union directly to the persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany, then links both to a fundamental phenomenon of Western civilization that he refers to as "the narcissism of minor differences." For Freud, the human instinct for aggression typically finds its outlet in the identification of scapegoats (like Jews or the bourgeoisie) who are in fact only marginally different from the
official norm. This kind of scapegoating frequently occurs in dystopian fiction, whose governments typically enforce their intolerance of difference through persecution of specified marginal groups. But for Freud this phenomenon is not so much an aberration associated with specific totalitarian regimes as a founding premise of civilization itself. He argues that one can always "bind together a considerable number of people in love, so long as there are other people left over to receive the manifestations of their aggressiveness" (68). Freud specifically links this tendency to focus aggression on a clearly identified Other with modern totalitarian regimes in Nazi Germany and in the Soviet Union, but he traces the tendency back to the beginnings of Christianity: When once the Apostle Paul had posited universal love between men as the foundation of his Christian community, extreme intolerance on the part of Christendom towards those who remained outside it became the inevitable consequence. (69) Indeed, for Freud (as for Nietzsche) it is probably religion that represents the single most oppressive force in civilization, though Freud would no doubt see Soviet Communism as a reinscription of religion rather than as a denial of it. Even in works like The Future 0/ an Illusion (I 928), ostensibly inspired by an evolutionist faith in the possibility of a more rational future, Freud's polemic against religion is powerful and at times bitter. He leaves no room for doubt that he sees religious belief not only as misguided, but as potentially sinister and seriously damaging to human life. As a scientist Freud condemns religion because it is irrational and false; as a sociologist he sees religion as a central tool of the forces of repression (and oppression) in society. In Civilization and Its Discontents Freud thus clearly implicates religion among the forces that make modern civilization directly inimical to human happiness and to the fulfillment of human desire. For Freud the need for religious belief arises directly from the infant's sense of helplessness and longing for a strong and protective father figure, but it is also this longing that endows totalitarian leaders like Hitler and Stalin with a sort of erotic fascination. Moreover, the dystopian governments of fiction and the totalitarian governments of modern reality generally depend on precisely the sort of mass-delusion that Freud associates with religion as an attempt to gain a "protection against suffering through a delusional remoulding of reality" (30). Finally, Freud attributes to religion precisely the sort of monologic demand for conformity that typically informs dystopian regimes. He
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
notes that religion (despite the traditional Christian emphasis on free will) systematically deprives its adherents of choice and imposes equally on everyone its own path to the acquisition of happiness and protection from suffering .... At this price, by forcibly fixing them in a state of psychical infantilism and by drawing them into a mass-delusion, religion succeeds in sparing many people an individual neurosis. (34) Meanwhile, whether it be through religion or other means, for Freud the powers that be in society derive most of that power through the repression of sexual desires, and the frequent focus on sexuality in dystopian fictions can be at least partially attributed to Freud's influence. But for both Freud and dystopian governments, sexuality functions as a central focus for repressive energies largely because it is also a potential source of powerful subversive energies. This insight especially informs the work of neo-Freudians like Herbert Marcuse and Norman O. Brown who follow Freud in figuring sexuality as a central locus of social oppression, but who emphasize the inverse side of this figuration. These thinkers see sexuality as a potential source of inherently transgressive energies and regard the attainment of sexual liberation as an important step toward a more general freedom from social and political repression. And there is a decidedly utopian orientation to many of these arguments, as when Marcuse finds in Freud's work the basis for a sort of socialist utopia along the lines of Fourier's vision of an ideal society founded on the cooperative application of libidinal energies to the greater social good. On the other hand, Michel Foucault has more recently argued that this kind of harnessing of sexual energies is precisely what official authority already does as a matter of course. Contrary to what he calls the Freudian "repressive hypothesis," Foucault suggests that modern society seeks not to repress or even to extirpate sexuality, but instead to administer sexuality and turn sexual energies to its own advantage. In short, sexuality does not necessarily stand in direct opposition to official power and may in fact stand in direct support of it: "Pleasure and power do not cancel or turn back against one another; they seek out, overlap, and reinforce one another" (History 48). For Foucault, sexuality is not so much a matter of natural instinctive impulses as of socially and discursively conditioned responses. He describes sexuality as "an especially dense transfer point for relations of power" (History 103). In particular, sexuality functions as a focal point for an entire array of practices through wh ich modern society has attempted to constitute the individual as a
subject of administrative control. Psychoanalysis itself is one of these practices, and Foucault especially argues that the psychoanalytic project of categorizing certain sexual practices as normal and others as deviant contributes to general strategies for the manipulation of individual behavior in modern society. Thus society does not seek to eliminate even "deviant" or marginal sexual behaviors; on the contrary it is in the interest of society to assure that such behaviors continue in order to provide negative models against which to define proper conduct. Foucault is not alone among modern social and cultural critics in seeing a complicity between psychoanalysis and oppressive practices in modern society. For example, Freudian psychoanalysis is singled out by Adorno as one of the central culprits in the Enlightenment destruction of true individualism, a destruction disguised by the bourgeois myth of the strong, autonomous individual. For Adorno, "unenlightened enlightenment plays into the hands of bourgeois disillusion" (Minima 60). In particular, Adorno notes the conventional tendency to see a connection between the development of psychology and the rise of the bourgeois individual, both in Antiquity and since the Renaissance. This ought not to obscure the contrary tendency also common to psychology and the bourgeois class, and which today has developed to the point of excluding all others: the suppression and dissolution of the very individual in whose service knowledge was related back to its subject ... The principle of human domination, in becoming absolute, has turned its point against man as the absolute object, and psychology has collaborated in sharpening that point. (63) In particular, Adorno indicts modern depth-psychology as participating in a general cultural separation between people and experience, routinizing and banalizing individual experience and converting individuals into mere examples of standardized case histories (65). Despite Adorno's notorious pessimism, his turn to art as an alternative to Enlightenment science and rationality suggests that he still harbors certain utopian urges, even if he believes that utopian goals will not naturally evolve from the progress of history but only through some radical rupture in the existing order. Meanwhile, Terry Eagleton charges that the modernist art so important to Adorno is a "sphere largely disconnected from the major social forces of a given power-structure," and therefore concludes that Adorno displays a "bad" escapist utopianism (Ideology 407). But, in point of fact,
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
utopianism and literature are closely aligned. Utopian visions are in a fundamental sense literary in character; they have most commonly arisen within the realm of literature, and they are informed (like literature) by fictionalized visions that empower alternative modes of thought. From More's sixteenth-century text that gave utopianism its name, through nineteenth-century visions like Bellamy's Looking Backward, to more recent works like Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed (1974) and Ernest Callenbach's Ecotopia (1975) literary texts have served as an important source of inspiration for utopian thinking. And, far from being escapist and disconnected from reality, these texts tend to participate in reality in an active and productive way. More's book was written at a time of great social and political change and turmoil; it attempted to intervene in its contemporary historical moment by indicating desirable directions that these changes might take. Bellamy's text participated in his own political activism and served as an inspiration for his Nationalist Party. And the texts of recent writers like Le Guin and Callenbach arise directly from the leftist political activism of the sixties and early seventies. Utopianism by its very nature tends to bespeak a certain social and political optimism, but Adorno's utopianism is colored by a final pessimism that the rupture he envisions will actually occur, perhaps aligning his version of utopianism with R. N. Berki's definition of utopia as an "ideal that is incapable of realization ... not reality but the mere fruit of imagination" (221). Adorno's pessimism is no doubt related to his thoroughgoing rejection of Enlightenment rationality, a rejection that tends to inform the work of many of his poststructuralist heirs. On the other hand, critics like Jameson and Eagleton show that a certain amount of utopian energy survives in contemporary Marxist thought. Habermas, Adorno's Frankfurt School successor, seeks to recover (in what Eagleton labels a "good" utopian move) what was valuable in the Enlightenment and to restore the sense that a better future can in fact derive logically and dialectically from the present. In many ways, then, Adorno anticipates not so much Habermas as the questioning of history as a smooth, narrative progression that informs the work of later poststructuralist thinkers like Foucault. But Foucault is even more skeptical than Adorno of utopian visions-for Foucault ideal goals are not only incapable of realization in practice, but impossible in principle. In a sense, Foucault reverses Pope to argue that whatever is is wrong, and he sees his role as a radical opponent of the "system," regardless of what system that might be. Importantly, Foucault continually argues the need to oppose the existing order of society, but he refuses to propose an alternative order
as the goal of this opposition. For Foucault (showing a clear Nietzschean influence), "to imagine another system is to extend our participation in the present system" (Language 230). This stance would appear to be an a priori rejection of utopianism. However, as Allan Megill notes, Foucault's rejection of the status quo makes of continual change a sort of alternative utopian model with no final "vision of happiness or liberation .... Foucault thus opts for a peculiar brand of permanent revolution-permanent because it seeks to realize no image of an ideal society" (197-98). Clearly, though, Foucault's oppositional stance goes well beyond Jameson's suggestion that modern utopian thought functions as "a stubborn negation of all that is"; even the most critical utopian thought inherently includes the positing of alternatives in a way that Foucault refuses to endorse. Foucault's emphasis on continual change arises from an intense sense of cultural crisis that might be termed "dystopian" more rightly than utopian, embodying a fundamental suspicion of any and all idealized visions of society.P Indeed, much of the history of recent utopian thought can be read as a gradual shift from utopian to dystopian emphases, while utopian thought itself has come more and more to be seen as escapist or even reactionary. However, as the Disneyworld example shows, utopian and dystopian visions are not necessarily diametrical opposites. Not only is one man's utopia another man's dystopia, but utopian visions of an ideal society often inherently suggest a criticism of the current order of things as nonideaJ, while dystopian warnings of the dangers of "bad" utopias still allow for the possibility of "good" utopias, especially since dystopian societies are generally more or less thinly veiled refigurations of a situation that already exists in reality. Moreover, dystopian critiques of existing systems would be pointless unless a better system appeared conceivable. One might, in fact, see dystopian and utopian visions not as fundamentally opposed but as very much part of the same project. For example, Jameson, acknowledging Mannheim's opposition of ideology and utopia, goes on to argue that a Marxist critical practice should involve both a "negative hermeneutic" involving traditional ideological analysis and a "positive hermeneutic" involving the exploration of utopian impulses (Political 296). One might restate Jameson's dual Marxist hermeneutic as an argument for the value of both dystopian and utopian thought in social criticism, and much modern criticism does have a great deal in common with both dystopian and utopian thought. But if there has been a general drift toward emphasis on the dystopian pole in recent theory and criticism, such a trend seems even more clear in twentieth-
The Dystopian Impulse in Modem Literature
century fictional depictions of alternative societies. Thus, in a study first published in 1962, Chad Walsh notes, "The reader looking for current utopias is likely to find them bumbling and unconvincing. But if he wants expertly-presented nightmares, he can choose among a greater variety of horrors than Dante on his pilgrimage though the nine circles of hell" (15).13 Trends in literature and in social criticism are, of course, not unrelated. As Mark Hillegas notes, the modern turn to literary visions of "the future as nightmare" is "one of the most revealing indexes to the anxieties of our age" (3). Indeed, the modern suspicion toward utopian thought comes about largely because of an intense skepticism that such dreams can ever be realized, or because of what Judith Shklar calls the modern "decline of political faith." In his history of the genre of utopian fiction, Robert C. Elliott thus notes that developments in the twentieth century have led to widespread skepticism toward the possibility of utopia: To believe in utopia one must believe that through the exercise of their reason men can control and in major ways alter for the better their social environment. ... To believe in utopia one must have faith of a kind that our history has made nearly inaccessible. This is one major form of the crisis of faith under which Western culture reels. (87) In the imagination of the modern skeptic, in short, it is much easier to visualize nightmares than dreams of the future, and in support of this point Elliott points toward the "anti-utopian" vision of George Orwell's 1984 (1949). Orwell himself provides support for this point, having one character in 1984 describe the fictional society of Oceania as "the exact opposite of the stupid hedonistic Utopias that the old reformers imagined" (1984 220). In addition, Elliott notes that many modern thinkers have been worried not that utopia cannot be realized, but that it can. Acknowledging the turn to dystopian visions in modern literary depictions of imaginary societies, Elliott diagnoses a suspicion of utopian concepts themselves: "Utopia is a bad word today not because we despair of being able to achieve it but because we fear it. Utopia itself (in a special sense of the term) has become the enemy" (89). In support of this thesis, Elliott adduces Aldous Huxley'S Brave New World (1932) and Yevgeny Zamyatin's We (1924), which he refers to as "negative utopias"-societies in which utopian dreams of the "old reformers" have been realized, only to turn out to be nightmares. Indeed, numerous works of modern literature have been suspicious not only of the possibility of utopia, but of its very desirability, equating
conventional utopias with paralysis and stagnation. For example, in the recent Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End 0/ the World (1985) Japanese writer Haruki Murakami describes a seemingly utopian society, though it is a society that exists only in the mind of his protagonist. It is a society without death or violence or inequality. But it is also a world of unchanging sameness where "the absence of fighting or hatred or desire also means the opposites do not exist either. No joy, no communion, no love. Only where there is disillusionment and depression and sorrow does happiness arise; without the despair of loss, there is no hope" (334). In the same way, a character in Alexander Zinoviev's The Yawning Heights (1976) argues that utopias are logical contradictions because the positive characteristics they entail cannot exist in reality without their negative opposites (532). Zinoviev's book arises directly from his own experiences as a member of the Soviet intelligentsia, while Murakami's book is informed by a number of sophisticated contemporary technological concepts (especially from computer science). But their common suggestion that the utopian fulfillment of all desire leads to a dehumanizing stagnation is a motif that runs throughout modern literature. One thinks, for example, of Wallace Stevens, who in poems like "Sunday Morning" rejects the very notion of an eternal paradise and opts instead for the real, physical world, with all its imperfection, flux, and mortality. This attitude is also nicely expressed by the narrator of Salman Rushdie's Grimus (1975), who visits an imaginary island mountain where all of the inhabitants are immortal, but finds immediate hints that this island is anything but a paradise. The narrator, however, welcomes imperfection: "If Calf Mountain was not perfect (and it was no Utopia), then what matter? Perfection was a curse, a stultifying finality" (J 04). While there have been specific cases of localized resurgences in utopian literature (especially among feminist writers and other leftist writers inspired by the political activism of the 1960s), twentiethcentury literature has generally envisioned utopia as either impossible or undesirable. Powered by the horrors of two world wars, the grisly excesses of totalitarian regimes in Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia, and the specter of global nuclear holocaust, "negative" texts like We, Brave New World, and 1984 have been far more prominent in modern literature than the positive utopias of earlier centuries. Even genres like science fiction, initially informed (especially in America) largely by optimistic visions of the possibilities inherent in technological progress, have taken a dystopian turn in recent years with works (like the cyberpunk fiction of William Gibson and others) that show an
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
attitude toward future technology that is ambivalent at best. And, in what may be even more indicative of a widespread pessimism, recent decades have seen the rise of a dystopian mood in popular culture as a whole. Many dystopian fictions have inspired popular films, with Stanley Kubrick's version of A Clockwork Orange being perhaps the best example of a group that also includes film versions of books like 1984 and The Handmaid's Tale and films like A Boy and His Dog and Rollerball, based on short stories. Dystopian visions have in general constituted a popular and important modern film genre, including films as various as Fritz Lang's seminal Metropolis, Woody Allen's comic Sleeper, Terry Gilliam's Brazil, the Mad Max movies, Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, the Arnold Schwartzenegger vehicle Running Man, and George Lucas's THX 1138. As one would expect, this growing wave of dystopian visions has generated a certain amount of critical attention, and numerous individual fictions and films-from the classics of Zamyatin, Huxley, and Orwell on up to the most contemporary of works-have been prominently discussed by critics in recent years. Several book-length studies have focused on both utopian and dystopian fiction during the last decade or so. Among the more notable of these studies are Morson's The Boundaries of Genre (1981), which is distinguished by its sophisticated attention to questions of genre theory raised by utopian and dystopian fiction, and Krishan Kumar's Utopia and AntiUtopia in Modern Times (1987), which is especially good in its delineation of the historical backgrounds of certain specific works. A recent study by Dragan Klaic (I991) is also good in the scope of its coverage of utopian and dystopian visions in modern drama. Numerous essay collections have also been published on utopian and dystopian fiction, of which the one edited by Rabkin, Greenberg, and Olander is particularly useful. Curiously enough, though, there seem to have been no book-length studies devoted exclusively to dystopian fiction since Hillegas's 1967 book, which itself was somewhat limited in scope by its insistence on relating all of the dystopian works discussed directly to the work of H. G. Wells. This study is intended to rectify this absence by presenting a detailed and reasonably comprehensive study of dystopian fiction, organized by certain specific key ideas and perceptions about the genre. For example, I maintain an awareness of certain special literary issues raised by dystopian fiction, including the relationship of the genre to the tradition of utopian fiction that precedes it and to literary movements like modernist and postmodernist that surround it. But first and foremost, I wish to underscore the role of dystopian fiction as social criticism. In particular, I emphasize throughout this study
that the treatment of imaginary societies in the best dystopian fiction is always highly relevant more or less directly to specific "realworld" societies and issues. As Andrew Ross usefully puts it, utopianism is based on a critique of the "deficiencies of the present," while dystopian thinking relies on a critique of perceived "deficiencies in the future" (143). Indeed, dystopian fictions are typically set in places or times far distant from the author's own, but it is usually clear that the real referents of dystopian fictions are generally quite concrete and near-at-hand. We is set in an undisclosed location a thousand years in the future, but it is very much about certain ominous trends that Zamyatin sensed in the postrevolutionary society of Soviet Russia. Brave New World takes place in a far future England, but its satire is directed at excesses that were already brewing in Huxley's contemporary world. And 1984's prediction of a future totalitarian state gains its energy largely from its echoes of the Stalinist and fascist states of Orwell's own present and recent past. The principal technique of dystopian fiction is defamiliarization: by focusing their critiques of society on spatially or temporally distant settings, dystopian fictions provide fresh perspectives on problematic social and political practices that might otherwise be taken for granted or considered natural and inevitable. This exploration of alternative perspectives obviously recalls the technique of defamiliarization that the Russian Formalists saw as the literary technique par excellence and as constitutive of the difference between literary and nonliterary discourse, but it even more directly recalls the alienation effect of Bertolt Brecht in the way it denies this difference and links the emergence of new perspectives on literary themes to specific social and political issues in the real world. In this sense, dystopian fiction also resembles science fiction, a genre with which it is often associated. One recalls, for example, Darko Suvin's useful emphasis on "cognitive estrangement" as the central strategy of science fiction (Metamorphoses 3-15).14 Clearly there is a great deal of overlap between dystopian fiction and science fiction, and many texts belong to both categories. But in general dystopian fiction differs from science fiction in the specificity of its attention to social and political critique. In this sense, dystopian fiction is more like the projects of social and cultural critics like Nietzsche, Freud, Bakhtin, Adorno, Foucault, Habermas, and many others. Indeed, a major thrust of this study is the exploration of dialogues between dystopian fiction and the work of such critics. To bring more sharply into focus the close connection between dystopian fiction and contemporary political reality, I have organized 1 his study principally according to social and political, rather than
The Dystopian Impulse ill Modern Literature
literary criteria. In particular, I work on the assumption that the modern turn to dystopian fiction is largely attributable to perceived inadequacies in existing social and political systems. From one point of view, these systems in the twentieth century have been largely organized according to one of two basic strategies: bourgeois capitalism (exemplified by the United States) and Communism (exemplified by the Soviet Union). In retrospect, the bourgeois societies seem to have been more successful, and certainly more durable, but both kinds of societies have proved susceptible to serious abuse. The nightmarish specters of Nazi Germany (which might be described as bourgeois society run amok) and Stalinist Russia (which might be described as Communism run amok) provide haunting reminders of the potentially disastrous consequences of unchallenged authority under any system. These real-world dystopias, with their millions of real human victims, also lend a poignancy and an urgency to the warnings of dystopian fiction. On the other hand, the many fundamental similarities between the regimes of Hitler and Stalin suggest that the real political dichotomy in the twentieth century societies is between totalitarianism and democracy, where "democracy" implies the individual liberty (real or illusory) presumed in conventional bourgeois societies. Many dystopian fictions, meanwhile, suggest that even these "democratic" societies can have their nightmarish sides. In order to relate the literary history of dystopian fiction more closely to the social and political history of the modern world, the dystopian fictions discussed in this study have been grouped primarily according to whether their social critiques seem aimed principally at bourgeois societies or at totalitarian ones.'! I have also arranged these texts in roughly chronological order in order to trace the historical development of the genre in conjunction with historical developments in the world at large. I begin with a detailed discussion of Zamyatin's We, a postrevolutionary Russian text that almost uncannily foresees the coming totalitarian abuses of Stalinism. In the second chapter I focus on Huxley'S Brave New World, a text I read primarily as a warning against runaway capitalism and as an anticipation of coming developments in Western consumer society. Next I look at Orwell's 1984, which I discuss principally as a commentary on Stalinism (and to some extent on fascism)-or as a look back after the fact at many of the same abuses warned against by Zamyatin more than a quarter of a century earlier. Together, these three novels are the great defining texts of the genre of dystopian fiction, both in the vividness of their engagement with real-world social and political issues, and in the scope of their critique of the
societies on which they focus. The issues explored by these three texts can be grouped roughly under the six rubrics of science and technology, religion, sexuality, literature and culture, language, and history. For purposes of parallelism and comparison, I discuss each of these issues in turn in these first three chapters. Perhaps because of the inherent plurality of bourgeois society itself, there is no single post-World War II dystopian critique of bourgeois society that is roughly analogous to 1984. In the fourth chapter, then, I discuss a number of bourgeois dystopias that have roughly the same relationship to Brave New World that 1984 does to We, in terms of both literary influence and historical context. In particular, I treat a number of post- World War II American dystopian fictions, including texts by B. F. Skinner (Walden Two), Sinclair Lewis (It Can't Happen Here), Kurt Vonnegut (Player Piano), Gore Vidal (Messiah), and Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451). In the fifth chapter I look at a number of recent Russian texts that aim dystopian critiques directly at the totalitarian excesses of the Soviet system in Russia. Writing from perspectives of two or three decades after the death of Stalin, these texts differ from historical predecessors like 1984 in their post-Stalinist point of view, though they tend to suggest that the legacy of Stalin still haunted the Soviet Union as late as the mid-1980s. These texts also differ from their literary predecessors in their use of distinctively postmodernist textual strategies, typically taking comic and parodic stances despite the seriousness of the issues with which they deal. These texts include Boris and Arkady Strugatsky's Roadside Picnic and The Ugly Swans, Andrei Sinyavksy's The Makepeace Experiment, Vassily Aksyonov's The Bum and The Island 0/ Crimea, and Vladimir Voinovich's Moscow 2042. I follow with a discussion of a number of Western post modernist dystopian fictions, including Samuel R. Delany's Triton, a number of texts by William Gibson, Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, and Thomas Pynchon's Vineland.l6 These texts demonstrate the effectiveness of dystopian fiction within the context of postmodernist techniques and attitudes. Together, the six chapters that follow provide an introduction to the plots, scenarios, and concerns of many of the major dystopian fictions of the twentieth century. In addition, these discussions indicate the close kinship between the social criticism contained in dystopian fiction and that carried out by important modern social and cultural critics from Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud to Bakhtin, Adorno, and Foucault. Finally, the arrangement of these chapters should help to elucidate the relationship between dystopian fiction and developments in modern history, as well as suggesting a general shape
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
to the literary evolution of the genre of dystopian fiction during the past century. NOTES 1. Heldreth notes that the relationship between the parks of Westworld and of its sequel Futureworld mirrors that between Disneyland and its "sequel" Disneyworld (217). 2. Visitors to the Orlando area should not be surprised to see such hats outside the park as well, though more popular in this regard are the various T-shirts bearing pictures of Disney characters (especially Mickey Mouse) that one can find on proud display not only all over Orlando but all over America. 3. On the contrast between this modern "realistic" utopian project and the earlier "ancient" utopian project, see Weinberger. 4. For an extensive treatment of the complex relationship between Marxism and utopianism, see Geoghegan. 5. Various terms have been employed to indicate the range of skeptical treatments of utopianism depicted in modern fiction and film. Designations like "dystopia," "negative utopia," "antiutopia," "heterotopia," and "cacotopia" have variously been used to describe this phenomenon, though the terms have not always been employed interchangeably. However, rather than quibble over terminology, in this study I use the term "dystopia" throughout to subsume all of the others, with the understanding that I consider "dystopia" as a general term encompassing any imaginative view of a society that is oriented toward highlighting in a critical way negative or problematic features of that society's vision of the ideal. 6. For a useful overview of the role of applied science in a variety of utopian and dystopian visions, see Frietzsche. See also Fogg for a discussion of the role of technology in various utopianjdystopian visions. 7. For an historical survey of utopian thought that indicates its ancient origins, see Kumar (2-32). 8. See the chapter "The Dynamo and the Virgin" in The Education of Henry Adams. 9. For a fuller description of this phenomenon, see Jurgen Habermas's essay "The Entwinement of Myth and Enlightenment." 10. Indeed, Freud and Nietzsche have a great deal in common, despite their obvious differences. See Anderson.
11. See Beauchamp ("Of Man's") for a discussion of both 1984 and We in terms of Freud's comments on the erotic displacement involved in loyalty to figures of authority. 12. In the preface to The Order of Things Foucault specifically criticizes the notion of utopia as characterized by homogeneity, suggesting as an alternative his own notion of the "heterotopia," which he sees as being characterized by the juxtaposition of disparate and incongruous elements (xviii). 13. Walsh's study is largely a narrative of the turn from utopian to dystopian thought in the past century, though he ends by insisting on the importance (and possibility) of keeping utopian thought alive. 14. Suvin specifically links this technique to the alienation effect of Brecht. 15. This strategy necessitates the exclusion of some important dystopian fictions, including certain modernist works that seem to be aimed less toward critiques of a given kind of political system than do most dystopian texts, either because they include elements of critique of different systems or because they are more concerned with the general philosophical concerns of modernity. This group of texts includes works by E. M. Forster ("The Machine Stops"), Karel Capek (R.U.R. and War With the Newts), Vladimir Nabokov (Invitation to a Beheading and Bend Sinister), Anthony Burgess (A Clockwork Orange), and Samuel Beckett (The Lost Ones). 16. Atwood's text participates in a recent turn toward dystopian thinking in feminist fiction, though a full discussion of that trend is beyond the scope of this study. Important feminist texts significantly informed by dystopian energies include Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed, Suzette Haden Elgin's Native Tongue, Joanna Russ's The Female Man, and Marge Piercy'S Woman on the Edge of Time and He, She, and It.
1 Zamyatin's We: Anticipating Stalin
As Yurij Striedter points out, dystopian fiction was a particularly popular genre in postrevolutionary Russia. Despite the "dictatorship of the proletariat," the social and cultural environment of the postrevolutionary years was well suited to the production of such fiction because of the massive changes that were under way in Soviet society, changes that were inspired by the utopian goals of Marxism but which were producing anything but utopian conditions. Moreover, the cultural climate of the early Soviet years was relatively open, allowing a wide variety of literary voices to be heard, though most dystopian works of this period (like Alexei Tolstoy's Aelita and Andrei Platonov's Chevengur) were basically supportive of the new regime. However (not surprisingly, given the inherently antiauthoritarian nature of the genre), dystopian fiction soon fell out of favor with the Soviet regime, though dystopias by foreign writers ranging from Wells to Bradbury were permitted as anticapitalist. However, potentially problematic dystopias from outside the Soviet Union like 1984 and Nabokov's Invitation to a Beheading and Bend Sinister were forbidden (Loseff 68), Yevgeny Zamyatin's We, often considered to be the first genuine modern dystopian text, is one of Striedter's central examples, though Zamyatin's book is relatively unusual during the early Soviet period in its direct warnings of the potential abuses of power by the new Soviet government. In stark contrast to the faith shown in science and technology by Lenin and the other early Soviet leaders, We is centrally
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
informed by a fear of the dehumanizing potential of technology." The book depicts a sterile and stagnant society ruled so thoroughly by scientific and rational principles that its citizens have been stripped of any real humanity. Life in Zamyatin's "One State" is strictly regimented, virtually all activities being scheduled for mathematical efficiency according to the principles of effective industrial management laid down by the early-twentieth-century American efficiency expert Frederick Winslow Taylor.f The inhabitants of Zamyatin's glass-enclosed city thus have numerical labels instead of names, and they are even referred to as "numbers" rather than people. These "numbers" have lost all true individuality; they are merely interchangeable parts in the giant machine of the State. As the book's narrator D-503 explains, "Nobody is 'one,' but 'one of'" (7). Zamyatin's suggestion of the dehumanizing effects of an excessive reliance on rationality in We echoes one of the most hotly contested issues in nineteenth-century Russian literature, when antagonists like N. G. Chernyshevsky and Fyodor Dostoevsky engaged in literary debates over the relative merits of Westernized reason and of native Russian mysticism. For example, that all of the structures in the One State are made of glass recalls Chernyshevsky's suggestion in his utopian What Is To Be Done? of England's Crystal Palace as an early prototype of the rational, technological society of the future. And Zamyatin's hidden polemic against Chernyshevsky derives considerable energy from Dostoevsky. Jackson, for example, argues that the One State of We "could be regarded as a realization of the utopia outlined by the Underground Man" (150).3 Indeed, echoes of both Notes from Underground and The Brothers Karamazov run throughout Zamyatin's text; his revolutionaries derive much of their spirit from the Underground Man, and the "Benefactor," ruler of the One State, is a clear descendant of the Grand Inquisitor envisioned by Dostoevsky's Ivan Karamazov." The One State of We is ostensibly set a thousand years in the future, but-as with all good dystopian fictions-the real referent of Zamyatin's book is his own historical present. When Zamyatin wrote We in 1920-21, the utopian fervor of the revolution was already beginning to take on dark undertones. The power of the new Communist government was still extremely tenuous; a full-scale postrevolutionary civil war raged until the end of 1920, and the society remained in considerable turmoil throughout most of the twenties. Lenin's dictatorship of the proletariat was still fragile and unstable, but Zamyatin already seems to have seen in that dictatorship a turn away from revolution and toward conformity. And, in light of later developments (notably Stalin), Zamyatin's warnings in We of the
potential degeneration of any revolution into stagnation and tyranny show a striking foresight. That Zamyatin chose to make science the central focus of his warning was highly appropriate as well; science itself was at the center of many of the controversies that surrounded the early years of the attempts of Lenin and the Bolsheviks to transform Russian society.f Echoing the confrontation between Chernyshevsky and Dostoevsky, the fierce turmoil of postrevolutionary Russia was centrally informed by a conflict between the scientific materialism of the Bolsheviks and the more Eastern mysticism of certain elements of indigenous Russian culture. Lenin, the master politician, was more than willing to compromise the purity of his materialist ideology in order to solidify the leadership of his Bolshevik faction in the Revolution, but such compromises between Marxist scientific materialism and Russian native cultural traditions did not prevent the rhetoric of postrevolutionary Marxism from taking an increasingly materialistic tone. By the mid-twenties the new government was strongly identifying itself with a certain kind of scientific approach, and Pavlov's work on conditioned reflexes was being extolled as an exemplary case of Marxist method (Thomson 69). This turn to science as a tool of politics was meanwhile being seriously complicated by developments in science itself. The science to which Marx and Engels appealed as a basis for their work was a classical, nineteenth-century science. But by the 1920s many of the tenets of this science had been overturned through Einstein's announcement of the special theory of relativity in 1905, his publication of the general theory in 1915, and the subsequent development of quantum mechanics, culminating in the Copenhagen Interpretation of 1927. Many developments in the new physics were actually accepted rather readily by most Soviet physicists, but the implications of these developments were seriously troubling to many conventional Marxist political thinkers. We reflects this confrontation between the new science and the old, figuring science both as a potential tool for the imposition of conformity and as a potential source of explosive revolutionary thought. Especially within its Russian context, We would at first appear to be a sweeping condemnation of rationality and science in favor of irrationality and mysticism. But a closer look at the book shows that Zamyatin's glassenclosed city is anything but efficient and that the book's seemingly antirationalist stance is far from unequivocal. Despite the appeals to scientific and mathematical principles as the ultimate good in the One State, it is clear that Zamyatin's glass-enclosed civilization (unlike Bacon's New Atlantis) is hardly an ideal environment for scientific
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
inquiry. The One State does possess a certain amount of advanced technology; they are able to synthesize their entire food supply, and their materials science is so advanced that all structures in the city are made of high-tech unbreakable glass. Moreover, they are apparently on the verge of interstellar spaceflight. 0-503 is the chief engineer involved in the design and construction of the Integral, a spacecraft with which the One State plans to colonize the universe. In fact, We is presented as a sort of diary written by 0-503 for consumption by the extraterrestrials whom the Integral will eventually encounter on its journey of imperialistic conquest. But there are serious shortcomings in the scientific achievements of this futuristic society. For one thing, the scientific advances that the State has made are purely instrumental; there seems to be no pure scientific research, but only research in support of very specific applications. And these applications are typically devoted to military conquest (as with the Integral) or to maintaining control over the State's own population. For example, the devotion to glass as a construction material comes about largely because it allows individual citizens to be kept under constant surveillance. And some of the State's most sophisticated technological "achievements" occur in areas like the development of surgical techniques for the prevention of aberrant thought or the construction of complex devices for the torture and execution of convicted criminals (especially those convicted of individualism, the State's most heinous crime). In addition, the scientists of the One State show a pronounced lack of creativity, severely limiting their progress in certain areas. Despite the claim to universality in its name and the ambitious goal of colonizing outer space, the One State actually rules only a small portion of earth. It consists of isolated and scattered cities, enclosed within glass Green Walls outside of which nature still rules supreme and "primitive" tribesmen roam about on horseback free of all bureaucratic regulation." Inside the cities, most activities of the State's citizens are strictly regulated by the Table of Hours, a schedule developed according to Taylor's theories of industrial efficiency. Yet, despite what are apparently centuries of work, this Table remains incomplete. It is still necessary to allow individual citizens two "Personal Hours" per day during which individual "numbers" pursue private activities (like sex) that the State has thus far been unable entirely to fit into its formula for efficient behavior. In short, the State's mathematicians seem incapable of the kind of imagination needed to deal with certain realms of human activity (like sexuality) and are therefore unable to develop mathematical descriptions of such
activities-though they are also unable to accept that such descriptions might be impossible in principle. The stagnant science of the One State reflects Zamyatin's belief in the tendency of thought in any given discipline to become more and more sterile and orthodox "until a new heresy explodes the crush of dogma and all the edifices of the most enduring stone which have been raised upon it" (Soviet 108). Science, however, provides some of his most important examples not only of stagnation, but of revolutionary change. Einstein functions as a particularly important figure of revolution for Zamyatin, who finds in Einstein's theory of relativity precisely the kind of tradition-shattering scientific breakthrough that leads to a widespread revolution in our conceptions of the nature of the world. Zamyatin suggests in his essay "Gryadushchaya Rossiya" that "all political revolutions shrink to puny dimensions" when compared to "the revolution in science brought about by the law of relativity discovered by Einstein" (Soviet 73-74).7 Zamyatin's complex figuration of science in many ways anticipates the comments of Horkheimer and Adorno on the potential dehumanizing dangers of the Enlightenment faith in the power of reason. Like Zamyatin, Horkheimer and Adorno do not oppose science itself, but merely the mechanical application of science. Enlightenment science, they argue, seeks not knowledge but information, not understanding but practical application, leading not to genuine enlightenment, but to reinscription within the new myth of the power of technology: "With the abandonment of thought, which in its reified form of mathematics, machine, and organization avenges itself on the men who have forgotten it, enlightenment has relinquished its own realization" (41). For Horkheimer and Adorno, as for Zamyatin, an uncritically accepted science leads not to discovery, but to mystification. And Zamyatin anticipates the Horkheimer / Adorno analysis of the effects of this mystification as well. For example, Horkheimer and Adorno argue that in the Enlightenment the growth of a purely instrumental science led to an increasing faith in the power of numerical computation to explain all aspects of life: "For the Enlightenment, whatever does not conform to the rule of computation and utility is suspect. ... To the Enlightenment, that which does not reduce to numbers, and ultimately to one, becomes illusion; modern positivism writes it off as literature" (6-7). As a result of this turn to computation, they suggest, modern men are increasingly incapable of (rue individualism or of independent thinking of any kind-in place of thought we have mere algorithms.
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
There are obvious parallels between this analysis and Zamyatin's figuration of the citizens of the One State as "numbers," The suggestion by Horkheimer and Adorno that Enlightenment science is merely a rein scription of pre-Enlightenment mythology is reflected in Zamyatin's book as well. In particular, many aspects of the ultrarational One State are ultimately based not on scientific, but on religious principles. Indeed, a link between political oppression and the Christian tradition is an especially important part of Zamyatin's work. In his early satire The Islanders (1918) Zamyatin depicts a sterile, conformist society that is clearly a forerunner of the one he will eventually describe in We. However, in The Islanders it is not science but religion that acts as an oppressive homogenizing force in society. The book's major bastion of conformity is the Vicar Dooley, author of The Testament of Compulsory Salvation, a schedule of strictly regimented behavior that will supposedly lead to spiritual salvation, but that in fact clearly embodies spiritual death. The religious schedules in Dooley's Testament foreshadow the scientific Table of Hours in We. As Dooley himself explains, his book insists that "life must become an harmonious machine and with mechanical inevitability lead us to the desired goal. Mechanical-understand?" (2). Zamyatin reinforces this link between religious dogmatism and the mechanical in We, where Christianity is continually compared to the monologic totalitarian regime in the book. The entire structure of We is informed by a sort of mythic method in which the eventual rebellion of D-503 against the State parallels the Biblical story of Eden. In a parodic retelling of the Biblical myth of the fall, D-503 is seduced from his mindless conformity to authority (and especially to Reason) through the sexual charms of a subversive woman, the mysterious 1-330. Importantly, however, the moral and ethical signs in this rebellion are reversed. Richard Gregg notes Zamyatin's inversion of the tradition Christian figuration of that myth: "For if the Biblical argument is that in order to be worthy of God, Adam should have resisted Eve's blandishments, the moral of We is that to be worthy of man the new Adam ought to succumb to them" (65),8 Similarly, if the glass city of We recalls Chernyshevsky's technological Crystal Palace, it also echoes the Biblical New Jerusalem, which is described in Revelations 21.18 as being "like unto clear glass"-except that what in the Bible is a glorious new earthly paradise is in We a sort of hell on earth, In keeping with the complexity of the book, We's comparisons between Christianity and the One State are often couched as contrasts, with D-503 seeking to explain the ways the One State differs from ancient religion. For example, he notes that the public rituals of the
One State bear certain resemblances to the religious services of the "ancients," but goes on to protest a fundamental difference-Christianity was based on irrational impulses and on the senseless sacrifice of its God, while the One State is based on purely rational principles and on the strictly sensible sacrifice of each individual in the service of the State (45-46). Yet a major public rite of this society is a sort of public sacrifice in which those who have transgressed against the rules of society are subjected to ritualistic executions that clearly echo the burning of heretics in the Middle Ages. The rationality of the One State is so extreme that it constitutes a form of irrationality. D-503 acknowledges a superficial similarity between the practices of the security forces (the "Operational Section") of the One State and those of the medieval Inquisition of the Church, then denies this comparison as absurd (80). Later, D-503 employs characteristic mathematical imagery in an almost desperate attempt to explain that the seeming return of the One State to the practices of the ancient Church is indeed a return full circle to "zero," but that "to my mathematical mind it is clear that this zero is altogether different, altogether new. We started from zero to the right, we have returned from the left. Hence, instead of plus zero, we have minus zero" (117). But this argument is clearly fallacious. "Right" and "left" are linear concepts and have no meaning on a circle; having traversed a circle to return to one's origin, one is then traveling in precisely the same direction as before. Despite his denials, D-503's continual comparison of the One State to the Church cannot fail to suggest that the two institutions have much in common. Indeed, D-503 often contradicts his own arguments, as when he acknowledges that "Unanimity Day," the most important State holiday, is quite similar to the ancient Easter holiday (136) or when he compares violations of the rules of the State to the ancient crime of blasphemy against God (116). Importantly, the Benefactor himself is very much aware of the parallels between his ideas and those of Christianity; he clearly agrees with D-503's statement at one point that the Christians are "our only predecessors" (128). Likewise, 1-330 describes the revolutionary Mephis as "anti-Christians" (165). Such parallels are further reinforced by the clear way the Benefactor is so obviously modeled on Dostoevsky'S Grand Inquisitor. As Edwards points out, a confrontation late in We between D-503 and the Benefactor can be read as a reinscription of the confrontation between Christ and the Grand Inquisitor depicted in Ivan's poem in book five, chapter 5, of The Brothers Karamazov (Edwards 53). D-503 is a figure of Christ as wel1 as Adam, but Edwards goes on to emphasize that Zamyatin's
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
figuration of Christ is complex: "Zamyatin's Christ and the devil are both good, because they are heretics, and the Christian God of We is evil" (54). For Zamyatin Christ the rebel is an exemplary figure, but Christ the figurehead of an established religion is institutionalized and stripped of all revolutionary force: "Christ victorious in practical terms is the grand inquisitor. And worse, Christ victorious in practical terms is a paunchy priest in a silk-lined purple robe, who dispenses benedictions with his right hand and collects donations with the left" (Soviet 22). Zamyatin warns that this institutional banalization is a danger in any successful revolutionary movement; having gained power erstwhile forces of emancipation tend to become forces of oppression and conformity. Zamyatin's bureaucratized conformist Christ is representative of the negative figuration of religion in many dystopian fictions, though Zamyatin's suggestion that Christ can also function as a revolutionary indicates the complexity of this motif. To a certain extent Zamyatin, Huxley, and Orwell all depict religion as inimical to the dystopian conditions depicted in their books, and it is significant that conventional organized religion is strictly forbidden in all three of the major defining texts of the dystopian tradition. But all three authors also draw significant parallels between their oppressive dystopian governments and the historical abuses of institutional religion; it is clear that one reason why religion has been banned in these dystopias is that it competes for the same space as the dystopian governments themselves. Zamyatin's treatment of religion is particularly powerful because it suggests re1igious resonances in a new Soviet regime that had supposedly rejected religion as superstition and mystification, much as Horkheimer and Adorno suggest a continuation of religious inclinations in the supposedly rational Enlightenment. However, Zamyatin responds here to very specific trends in his own contemporary context, where religious radicals 1ike A. A. Meier and Kseniya Anatolievna Polovtseva were already seeking to effect a fusion of Communism and Christianity in their attempts to "link religion and revolution, communism and Christ" (Clark and Holquist 128). Indeed, one of the most striking aspects of Zamyatin's dystopian vision is its intense rootedness in his own present. For example, one of the most seemingly "futuristic" aspects of the One State is its highly scientific attitude toward sex and sexuality. Sexual relations in the One State of We are not discouraged; "free" sex is openly approved, though strictly regulated by the official bureaucracy. The One State takes a thoroughly practical approach to sexuality, which it regards as
a purely physical process, so that the emotional upsets associated with sexual relationships in ancient times can be avoided, reducing sex to a "harmonious, pleasant, and useful function of the organism, a function like sleep, physical labor the consumption of food, defecation, and so on" (22). These attempts officially to administer and control sexual energies in the One State represent an obvious satire of the arrant rationalism and materialism advocated by many in postrevolutionary Russia and a warning of the potential consequences of the victory of this attitude. As Sheila Fitzpatrick notes, many young Communists in this period looked upon having sex as a fulfillment of natural needs roughly equivalent to drinking a glass of water. For these young Communists this attitude was a sort of political statement, part of a general challenge to traditional morality that was regarded "almost as a Communist rite of passage" (79). Ironically, the Soviet regime (especially after Stalin's accession to power) would soon adopt a prudishly repressive attitude toward sexuality and other conventional moral issues. In short, both the young Communists of the postrevolutionary period and the older Communists of the later Stalinist period seemed to accept a Freudian repressive hypothesis concerning the workings of sexuality in society, the difference being that the first group saw themselves as enemies of authority while the second group had already become authority. This rapid turn from revolution to conservatism and repression recalls Zamyatin's claims in essays like "Scythians?" that successful revolutions are always in danger of descending into institutionalized conformity (Soviet 21-33). Zamyatin's treatment of sexuality in We anticipates Stalin's apparent reversal of postrevolutionary attitudes toward sex and recalls Foucault's suggestion of a complicity between pleasure and power in modern society. After all, the amoral attitude toward sex in the One State turns out to be anything but liberating; even without traditional moral restrictions, sexual behavior in the One State is very strictly controlled. Granted, citizens of the One State can have sex with anyone they want-but only after filing the proper paperwork and only as often as the government has determined to be necessary. Citizens are examined in government laboratories to determine the level of sexual hormones in their blood. then they are issued a book of pink coupons authorizing them to have a specified number of sexual encounters with designated partners (22). Thus, according to this bureaucratic procedure, one need merely register to have sexual relations with another "number" (as the citizens of the One State are called, indicating the dehumanized condition of their lives) in order
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
to be granted permission to do so. That other "number" need not even be consulted; it is presumably his or her duty to the State to comply with any officially approved request for sexual favors. Instead of being forbidden to have sex, citizens of the One State may in fact be compelled to do so. This contradiction in the sexual practices of the One State parallels the similar difficulty in Foucault's figuration of sexuality as a locus for creative self -constitution in The Use of Pleasure, in which individuals demonstrate mastery in their sexual behavior at the expense of the partners who are being mastered.? Sexual behavior is further controlled in the One State by making families and marriages strictly illegal. 0-503, feeling an emptiness in his life, longs for the sense of connectedness that a family might supply. Attempting to romanticize the relationship among him, his frequent sexual partner 0-90, and his friend R-13 (also a sexual partner of 0-90), 0-503 envisions the three of them as constituting a sort of family (44). Yearning for a sense of himself as a unique individual, 0-503 fantasizes about what it would be like to have a mother, who would regard him not simply as a useful member of society, but as "a simple human being-a piece of herself" (216). Further reinforcing this suggestion that the bond between mother and child confers a genuine humanity that runs counter to the One State's cold drive for reason, one of We's most powerful images of rebellion against authority also involves motherhood. Late in the book 0-90 becomes illegally pregnant by 0-503, then escapes into the wild lands beyond the Green Wall that rings the crystalline city of the One State. Here, among primitive people who live free of the repressive civilization inside the Wall, she will be able to deliver her child and to function as its natural mother. Given the strict regulation of sexual conduct in The One State, it comes as no surprise that sexuality in We again functions as a focal point for subversive conduct. 0-503 is initially very much an establishment figure, a pillar of conformity and proper behavior, though there are hints that a primitive potential for passion lurks within. For example, his hands are "hairy, shaggy-a stupid atavism" (7).10 But it is in his vertiginous sexual encounters with 1-330 that 0-503 at last breaks free of his obedience to bureaucratic control, discovering for the first time the energies of a natural passion with no authorizing pink coupon from the State (74). 1-330entices 0-503 to join an organized revolt, a move that will eventually lead to his lobotomization and to her torture and execution. The practical effectiveness of their sexual revolt is thus open to question. Moreover, it may also be that 1-330 uses her sexual charms in a purely
calculated effort to win the extremely useful 0-503 over to the side of the rebellion.l! Still, We does seem to suggest a positive subversive potential in sexuality in the way the sexual relationship with 1-330 leads 0-503 to experience a genuinely humanizing emotion. And when the revolution does break out, sexual rebellion plays an important role in the apocalyptic breakdown in administrative control that ensues. As a stunned 0-503 walks through the tumultuous city, he sees "male and female numbers copulating shamelessly-without even dropping the shades, without coupons, at midday" (219). Indeed, the book ends with the revolution still in progress, its final outcome still in doubt.P Zamyatin figures sexuality in We as a locus of irrational energies that are ultimately beyond the control of the One State, despite its best efforts. Art and culture (especially poetry) function similarly. Early in the book, for example, we learn that music in the One State is composed according to strictly rational mathematical principles, devoid of all inspiration or feeling. It is produced by a machine called a "musicometer," as 0-503 learns in one of the many lectures that he and his fellow citizens are required to attend. This machine allows one to produce music simply by turning its handle, skipping the element of individual inspiration associated with art and music by the ansients (17). Poetry in the One State is still written by humans, but by specially trained State poets who construct their compositions for purely didactic purposes according to Taylor's principles of effective industrial management. These poems are intended not for private reading and meditation, but for performance at the various public spectacles that are periodically held to reinforce the power of the One State and its Benefactor. The One State has "harnessed the once wild element of poetry. Today, poetry is no longer the idle, impudent whistling of a nightingale; poetry is civic service, poetry is useful" (68). Indeed, the One State has great respect for the power of poetry, comparing its attempts to harness poetry to its high-tech ability to generate electricity from the power of ocean waves: "We have extracted electricity from the amorous whisper of the waves; we have transformed the savage, foam-spitting beast into a domestic animal" (68).13
This figuration, however, is highly complex. For one thing, the ocean is too powerful truly to be tamed; the One State has merely learned to make use of certain marginal aspects of the ocean's power. Poetry, too, may ultimately be beyond total state control, as is indicated by the way 0-503's rationalistic language becomes infected with poetic figures and images whenever he begins to write about
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
poetry-much as it does when he attempts to relate his sexual encounters with 1-330. Moreover, even if poetry (or the ocean) could truly be tamed, the reduction of a savage beast into a domestic animal suggests an element of taming in which something has clearly been lost. But if this project seems to suppress the imaginative energies traditionally associated with poetry, then so much the better, at least from the point of view of the One State. Creativity is the great enemy of the One State, which eventually even goes to the extent of requiring all citizens to submit to a surgical procedure for removal of the imagination. In a parody of the pressure exerted on Zamyatin and his fellow writers in postrevolutionary Soviet Russia to produce usefully didactic works in the service of the revolution, the unimaginative official poets of the One State are encouraged to produce such memorable works as Red Flowers 0/ Court Sentences, He Who Was Late to Work, and Stanzas on Sexual Hygiene. These works recall the figuration of modern popular culture as mind-numbing in the important essay "On the Culture Industry" in Horkheimer and Adorno's Dialectic 0/ Enlightenment. Horkheimer and Adorno see modern popular culture as produced and disseminated by a massive Culture Industry whose goal is to numb the minds of the populace with a constant flow of banalities and thereby render them incapable of the kinds of critical abstraction required to mount a meaningful challenge to the official ideologies of modern society. For Horkheimer and Adorno, popular culture entertains and enthralls, subtly imposing mass conformity at the expense of any real aesthetic content, meanwhile stimulating its audience to consume not only its own products, but those of its advertisers. But the popular culture of Zamyatin's One State also quite clearly represents a more specific comic slap at some of the more insipid pro regime works of the early Soviet years, and Zamyatin again draws his material from actual developments in his contemporary context. Much of the literature of postrevolutionary Russia was every bit as ludicrous as the works cited by Zamyatin. A 1918 poem by Alexander Gastev (entitled "The Factory-Hooters") indicates the nature of this literature in ways that are particularly suggestive for Zamyatin's book: When the factory-hooters sound in the workers' district of a morning, this is no summons to slavery. It is the song of the future. Once upon a time we all worked in dismal workshops and started our work at different times in the morning. But now each morning at eight o'clock the hooters call to a whole million of us. Now we all begin together at the identical minute. A whole million of us take our hammers at
the identical second. Our first hammer- blows resound in unison. What do the hooters sing of? It is our hymn to unity. (cited and translated into prose in Thomson 83) Zamyatin makes clear in essays like "Literature, Evolution, Entropy, and Other Matters" his distaste for such "useful" literature. He employs the thermodynamic concept of entropy as an image of stagnation, suggesting that "[d]ogmatization in science, religion, social life, or art is the entropy of thought" (Soviet 108). But for Zamyatin there is an inherent revolutionary potential in poetry that is not so easily subdued as the rulers of the One State of We might like to believe. The official poet R-13 turns out to be a secret dissident, and remembrances of writers past like Pushkin, Dostoevsky, and Shakespeare flicker through the world of the One State despite official attempts to suppress them. The "wild element" of poetry thus functions as one of many such elements that the One State seeks unsuccessfully to suppress. This notion that art is somehow inherently inimical to totalitarian authority is one of the energizing beliefs of dystopian fiction as a genre. Dystopian fiction is by design inimical to the authoritarian contexts of the societies depicted in it; such fiction is inherently critical, and such societies can brook no criticism. As Striedter points out, novels that investigate the utopian form are especially well-suited to the kind of antiauthoritarian autocriticism described by Bakhtin, which involves a rejection of utopian pretensions: "Unmasking political utopian pretensions by laying bare the utopian pretensions of the novelistic word destroys the utopian pretensions of the utopian novel itself. The history of the utopian novel leads to the antiutopian novel" (Striedter 186). Focusing on We, Striedter notes that 0-503 attempts to construct his diary in a rationally pure monological language, but that this authoritative language is continually disrupted as foreign voices intrude in 0-503's discourse (IS7). Such disruptions are indeed important to the undermining of authoritative discourse in We, as when poetic language breaks free in the midst of 0-503's attempts to describe the harnessing of poetry. 0-503's manuscript begins as a purely authoritative document, designed specifically to serve the ends of the One State. It is presented as the diary of 0-503, an important mathematician of the One State who is writing the diary as a sort of epistle to the extraterrestrials who are to be colonized via the Integral, a spaceship of which 0-503 is the chief designer. 0-503 continually strives for the kind of rational, authoritative style that one would associate with the practices of the One State, but Zamyatin undermines the mathematical purity and
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
authority of 0-503's language in a number of ways. Most obviously, as Striedter notes, the authoritative language in which 0-503 seeks to express himself is continually invaded by foreign voices. Such dialogic invasions are particularly powerful when 0-503 thinks of poetry or is with the subversive woman 1-330, when the irrational and passionate forces represented by poetry and sexuality suddenly invade his mathematical language, resulting in a dialogic mixture of the scientific with the poetic. As Bakhtin puts it, "When there is a deliberate (conscious) multiplicity of styles, there are always dialogic relations among the styles" (Speech 112). And in We the dialogic nature of these confrontations of styles is often especially clear, since different stylistic voices are often intermixed even within the same sentence. In his first sexual encounter with 1-330, 0-503's discourse soars into poetry, while maintaining vocabulary and imagery that might be associated with his job as a designer of spaceships: "I broke away from the earth and, like a separate planet, whirling madly, rushed down, down, along an unknown, uncalculated orbit" (56). Such encounters alter his perception of the entire world, which he sees with new eyes. Soon after this first encounter, he awakens on a foggy day, which he describes with a striking defamiliarizing combination of poetry and chemistry: Crazy clouds, now heavier, now lighter. There were no longer any boundaries between sky and earth; everything was flying, melting, falling-nothing to get hold of. No more houses. The glass walls dissolved in the fog like salt crystals in water. From the street, the dark figures inside the houses were like particles suspended in a milky nightmare solution. (70) Critics have attempted to explain these clashes of different styles and languages in We in terms of 0-503's internal contradictions (Rosenshield) or in terms of D-503's attempts to delude himself that he has really become more poetic and subversive than he really is (Barratt 358). But reference to Bakhtin indicates that the stylistic multiplicity of We can also be read as a matter not so much of 0-503's private psychology as of the One State's public politics. For Bakhtin, it is the very essence of the novel to include such linguistic mixtures. Indeed, employing a scientific metaphor reminiscent of Zamyatin, Bakhtin argues that the novel is the expression of a Galilean perception of language, one that denies the absolutism of a single and unitary language-that is, that
refuses to acknowledge its own language as the sole verbal and semantic center of the ideological world. (Dialogic 366) Bakhtin similarly states that "diversity of voices and heteroglossia enter the novel and organize themselves within it into a structured artistic system. This constitutes the distinguishing feature of the novel as a genre" (Dialogic 300). But, importantly, for Bakhtin the languages in a novel have specific sociopolitical connotations as well, each language representing an entire worldview. Bakhtin's key concept of "heteroglossia" refers not just to the words used by different groups in society, but to the entire social, cultural, and ideological context of the novel. In the novel, the languages interact in a dynamic way, typically with the development of an opposition between "high" languages and "low." The dialogue in the novel thus dramatizes ideological struggles in the society as a whole. In We the rich dialogic mixtures of scientific and artistic language create a heteroglossic texture that is especially subversive within the context of the strictly monologicallanguage originally sought by D-503, or of the monological ideology of the One State. Zamyatin thus enacts the conflicts in the society around him within the very texture of his language, clearly illustrating Bakhtin's conception of the novel as a linguistic microcosm of the social world.14 It is also important to note that We undermines the authoritative language of the One State not just through the presence of foreign languages, but also through the presence of that authoritative language itself, which by definition fails to complete its project once attention is called to it and once that language itself becomes an object of representation in the text. Even without foreign intrusions, D-503's description of the One State would hardly be attractive to any reader who was not already thoroughly indoctrinated in the values of that society. D-503's diary, intended to serve as official propaganda to convince colonized extraterrestrials of the greatness of the One State, demonstrates instead the oppressive and dehumanizing results of the State's policies. Moreover, 0-503's language quite frequently eludes his control, making points precisely opposed to those he seeks to make. For example, as in 1984, 0-503 often undermines his authoritarian project by tipping his hand, by revealing the quest for domination that is his goal. On the book's first page, 0-503 explains the purpose of his text by beginning with a quote from the One State Gazette which explains that the State intends to explore and colonize the entire universe and that it intends to use "the power of words" as a principal tool in this colonializing project (l). And the text acknowledges the power of language elsewhere as well, as when D-503 praises the strict
censorship policies of the One State and marvels at the inefficiency of the "ancients": "The enormous power of the literary word was completely wasted. It's simply ridiculous-everyone wrote anything he pleased" (67). But here, as throughout the text of We, Zamyatin subtly undermines 0-503's attempts to make authoritative statements. The irony of 0-503's paean to censorship is obvious, especially given that Zamyatin's book itself would be suppressed in the Soviet Union until the days of glasnost and that its publication abroad would eventually draw an angry reaction from Stalin when he learned of that publication in 1927. Zamyatin strikes an additional subtle blow at the Soviet literary establishment by making it clear that the officially approved literary productions of the One State (despite 0-503's praise for them) are insipid and lack all artistic merit. Thus, even as 0-503 proclaims the authoritarian potential of language, he inadvertently strikes a blow against that very potential. Participating in the Russian tradition of skaz narration, it is very much the project of Zamyatin in We to undermine the attempts of his narrator to portray the One State as an ideal paradise. 0-503's diary is ostensibly the ultimate defense of the status quo; he wants to show that the One State has reached (or at least almost reached) a condition of perfection in which no further change is necessary or desirable. The relationship between the One State and the Marxist vision of a future Communist paradise are obvious, as is Zamyatin's general rejection of such utopian visions of history as progression toward final perfection. The One State exists in a distant future when no one has memories of any earlier regime. Existing accounts of the past are designed merely to demonstrate the superiority of the present, indicating an "impassable abyss between the present and the past" and depicting the past as a savage time of misery and chaos (6). History in the One State stops with the establishment of the State itself, just as Marx believed that the irresistible dialectical march of history would cease once the ultimate Communist utopia was realized. As a result of this official belief that the One State is itself the pinnacle of historical development, any change can only be a change for the worse. Change of any kind is thus anathema to this State. But this emphasis on stasis runs directly counter to Zamyatin's own belief in the necessity of continual revolution. Regardless of the nature of the status quo, any attempt to freeze the process of history in the conditions of the present will for Zamyatin result not in the maintenance of desirable conditions, but in an en tropic decay toward paralysis and social death. In the essay "On Literature, Revolution, Entropy, and Other Matters" (1923) Zamyatin argues that the only remedy against the
entropic stagnation of thought resides in the "heretic," by which he means any thinker who is bold enough to challenge existing orthodoxies of thought and to dare to explore new intellectual territory. For Zamyatin any successful revolution will eventually lead simply to the establishment of a new orthodoxy, which then must be shattered by another revolution, and so on: Revolution is everywhere, in everything. It is infinite. There is no final revolution, no final number. The social revolution is only one of an infinite number of numbers; the law of revolution is not a social law, but an immensely greater one. It is a cosmic, universal law-like the laws of the conservation of energy and of the dissipation of energy (entropy). (Soviet 107-108) Zamyatin's philosophy of ongoing revolution clearly anticipates the radically oppositional philosophy of Foucault. This philosophy is directly reflected in the ideology of the subversive Mephi organization in We. When 0-503 protests that the revolution that established the One State was the final one, 1-330 replies that there can be no final revolution, just as there can be no final number: "Revolutions are infinite" (174).16 And she directly uses Zamyatin's energy-entropy distinction as well: "There are two forces in the world-entropy and energy. One leads to blissful quietude, to happy equilibrium; the other, to destruction of equilibrium, to tormentingly endless movement" (165). Later she makes it clear that the "quietude" of entropy leads to death, while the "movement" of energy leads to life (175).
Zamyatin's revolution-based model of scientific history contrasts strikingly with the conventional model of science as proceeding through a series of gradual improvements and refinements toward a steadily increasing accuracy in the understanding and description of nature. But Zamyatin's view quite closely anticipates the immensely influential notion of scientific "paradigm shifts" later introduced by Thomas Kuhn. For Kuhn, scientific research in a given epoch (what he refers to as "normal science") proceeds in accordance with certain generally accepted "paradigms" which largely determine the kinds of experiments that are done in a given period, as well as strongly influencing the interpretation of the results of those experiments. The power of these paradigms is so strong, in fact, that most scientific research will by definition produce results that are consistent with the paradigms. Gradually, however, inconsistencies between expectations associated with the paradigms and observations of physical phenomena will begin to accumulate, until eventually a crisis occurs that leads to
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
a "scientific revolution." In such a revolution, strikingly new theories arise that account for inconsistencies in the old paradigms, and a "paradigm shift" occurs. Soon, though, activity settles down, leading to a new period of "normal science" that proceeds according to the new set of paradigms. Kuhn's theory is, in short, very similar to Zamyatin's. Kuhn even echoes Zamyatin by noting the clear similarity between his notion of scientific revolutions and political revolutions: Political revolutions are inaugurated by a growing sense, often restricted to a segment of the political community, that existing institutions have ceased adequately to meet the problems posed by an environment that they have in part created. In much the same way, scientific revolutions are inaugurated by a growing sense, again often restricted to a narrow subdivision of the scientific community, that an existing paradigm has ceased to function adequately in the exploration of an aspect of nature to which that paradigm itself had previously led the way. (92) Kuhn's vision of history has sparked an immense amount of debate in the scientific community, as one might suspect given its thorough challenge to the Enlightenment vision of science as a process of discovery of preexisting fundamental truths. Not surprisingly, Kuhn's emphasis on paradigms as horizons of interpretation has gained considerable attention in literary studies as well. In fact, the Zamyatin/Kuhn vision of a history consisting of distinct periods separated by radical breakthroughs corresponds much more closely to our conventional notions of literary history than of the history of science. And rightfully so-in a 1969 postscript to The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Kuhn acknowledges that his theses are "borrowed from other fields," including political history and the history of literature, music, and the arts (208). Turnabout is fair play, however, and recent historians in these other fields have themselves been influenced by Kuhn. For example, Kuhn's paradigms bear obvious similarities to the epistemes suggested by Foucault in The Order of Things as characterizing the thought of a given period. In this book Foucault suggests that history proceeds via a series of radical (and ultimately inexplicable) shifts from one fundamental style of thought, or episteme, to another. And though Foucault himself significantly complicates this essentially structuralist model of history in his later turn to poststructuralism, his work continually challenges the conventional figuration of history as a smooth and continuous
narrative in which one event leads to another in logical and understandable ways. Critics have argued that Foucault, heavily influenced by Nietzsche, thus effectively reduces history to a series of disconnected presents and that the kind of "thick descriptions" associated with Foucauldian New Historicism in fact result in a denial of history by focusing on specific historical times rather than on the progression from one time to another. Indeed, Foucault is a central target of Habermas's critique of the "neo-conservative" strain in modernity, and Habermas has consistently argued that Foucault's ostensibly radical belief in perpetual revolution in fact works against the kind of genuine change that could lead the project of modernity to full fruition. Foucauldian history seems to leave little room for either conventional liberal or Marxist dialectical notions of progress, leading some to conclude that Foucault's historical vision is little more than a fatalistic acceptance that nothing can be done.l" One might thus argue that Foucault's vision of history directly mirrors the kind of dystopian histories depicted in works like We, 1984, and Brave New World, in which the past is divorced from the present and all hope of change in the future is effectively squelched. On the other hand, the dystopian governments depicted by Zamyatin, Orwell, and Huxley clearly believe that the study of history might potentially yield knowledge that would be liberating to their subjects, an Enlightenment notion that many dystopian fictions seem to accept as a premise but that Foucault seriously questions. Foucault rejects the conventional notion that a study of history can yield knowledge of truth that can then help enlightened individuals to resist power because for him knowledge itself is never "pure" but always inextricably involved with power.l? Moreover, Foucault argues that the past is ultimately alien to the present and that we can never hope to attain a view of history that is undistorted by our perspective in the present. However, this does not mean that we should ignore the past, but that we should engage in dialogues with the past in full consciousness of the necessary distortions that are involved in such dialogues. The New Historicism that Foucault importantly inspired has produced some of the richest dialogues with the past of recent times. And the very fact that the past is so different from the present provides a reminder that important historical changes do, in fact, occur, so that the future might be expected to be different still. Foucault's notion of history, enacted in works like The History of Sexuality, Discipline and Punish, and Madness and Civilization, thus potentially provides an interesting critical perspective on both the
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rejection of the past and the desire to freeze history in the present that informs many dystopian societies. The models of history as continual revolution espoused by both Foucault and Zamyatin clearly run counter to the utopian history of traditional Marxism. The historical vision of Zamyatin's We particularly suggests that the Communist appeal to a coming future paradise might ultimately be used merely as a justification for the status quo, a prediction that was to come all too true in the Stalinist years. On the other hand, the historical visions of both Foucault and Zamyatin in many ways recall bourgeois society, with its continual emphasis on change and innovation. However, there is a considerable difference between genuine revolution and mere renovation, and both Foucault and Zamyatin are ultimately antibourgeois thinkers. Indeed, if the work of radically oppositional thinkers like Foucault and Zamyatin highlights potential flaws in the Communist vision of history, it points toward possible problems in bourgeois society as well. These problems, of course, have been directly addressed in bourgeois dystopian fictions like Huxley's Brave New World, which indicates that the privileging of change in capitalist society may in fact merely be a superficial disguise for a deep-seated resistance to real historical progression. Together totalitarian dystopias like We and bourgeois dystopias like Brave New World suggest the complexity and difficulty of the major problems of modern society, which clearly cannot be solved by a simple appeal to either of the two principal social and political alternatives that have emerged in the modern world.
1. There were, however, other satires that warned against the abuse of science during this period, notably including Mikhail Bulgakov's The Fatal Eggs (1925) and Heart of a Dog. However, publication of the latter (written in 1925) was suppressed in the Soviet Union. 2. On the role of Taylor in We, see Beauchamp ("Man") and Rhodes. Zamyatin's use of Taylor prefigures Huxley's use of Ford in Brave New World, which suggests the sinister possibilities of an arrant capitalism. However, the American Taylor was also greatly admired by Lenin, who saw Taylor's work as a model for his project of industrialization in the Soviet Union. Stanley Aronowitz notes that Alexandra Kollontai and her "workers' opposition" fought against Lenin's introduction of Taylorist systems of factory management on the basis of the authoritarian management practices required by those systems (207).
3. The Underground Man warns that a rationalist utopia would reduce human civilization to the status of an anthill, an image that continues to sound throughout twentieth-century dystopian fiction (37).
4. The Benefactor can in fact be read largely as a direct reinscription of the Grand Inquisitor, with dashes of Lenin and other figures thrown in. Zamyatin's debt to Dostoevsky has been widely discussed by critics. On We and Notes from Underground see Warrick, Beauchamp ("Zamyatin's"), Gregg, Jackson, McCarthy, and Sicher. On the Grand Inquisitor as the forerunner of Zamyatin's Benefactor see Beauchamp ("Of Man's" and "Zamyatin's"), Brown, Edwards, and Gregg. 5. Joravsky presents an exceltent overview of the place of the physical sciences in the new Soviet system. See also Thomson for a succinct summary of the controversies over the new science in the postrevolutionary Soviet Union (64-74). 6. Only one city is actually described in the book, but 0-503 at one point describes the One State as consisting of "cities cut off from one another by green jungles" (11). 7. See Leatherbarrow for an extended discussion of the importance of Einstein to Zamyatin's work. 8. Zamyatin parallels the Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin in this reversal, which casts God as a tyrant and Satan as an admirable revolutionary. Satan, Bakunin suggests, is "the eternal rebel, the first freethinker and the emancipator of worlds," and the Satanic incitement of Adam and Eve to rebellion should be a model for us all (9-10). Meanwhile, Zamyatin's revolutionaries are called "Mephis" in a clear reference to Mephistopheles. 9. For a critique of Foucault's project along these lines, see Eagleton (Ideology 384-95). 10. Compare Kuno, the protagonist of Forster's "The Machine Stops," whose facial hair indicates a similar atavism: "The very hair that disfigured his lips showed that he was reverting to some savage type" (33). 11. The Benefactor makes this argument to 0-503 in their encounter late in the text (214). Critics, however, have disagreed over whether the Benefactor is not here himself merely trying to win 0-503 to his side. Owen Ulph, for example, presents an especially zealous argument in 1-330's defense. 12. 0-503 proclaims at the book's end that the forces of "reason" will certainly prevail, but his lobotomized condition at this point hardly makes him a reliable analyst of the situation.
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13. One might compare this emphasis on the generation of electricity to Lenin's famous 1920 slogan: "Communism equals Soviet power plus the electrification of the countryside." 14. For an extended discussion of We as read through Bakhtin, see Bakhtin, Stalin, and Modern Russian Fiction. 15. Compare also Bakhtin's famous declaration that there is no "last word" (Speech 170). 16. See Hoy for a succinct summary of some of these issues. 17. Here again one can contrast Habermas's view with Foucault's. Though Habermas grants that knowledge is always to a certain extent informed by human interests, he believes that emancipation from power can be one of the most important of these interests (Knowledge 287).
Huxley's Brave New World: The Early Bourgeois Dystopia
At about the same time that Zamyatin was writing We to warn against a possible dystopian turn in Russian Communism, the specter of fascism was already beginning to raise its head in Weimar Germany. The resulting social and political chaos in Germany during the 1920s produced a number of dystopian warnings in that society as well. For example, much of the work of Bertolt Brecht is informed by an attempt to delineate Communist utopian alternatives to the bourgeois nightmare that would eventually lead to fascism in Germany, but (especially in his early work) Brecht also often depicts bourgeois society itself in dystopian terms. This tendency is probably shown most clearly in the libretto to the opera The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahogonny, In this opera a group of fugitives found a potentially utopian community (based on complete individual liberty) somewhere in the American West, but the fundamentally capitalist inclinations of the settlers lead to disastrous consequences. Despite the American setting, the real referents of the play are Weimar Germany and capitalism in general: "Mahogonny is Germany. Mahogonny is the world of capitalism" (Ewen 197). Meanwhile, many of Brecht's later works (e.g., Roundheads and Peakheads and The Resistible Rise of Arturo Vi) are specifically directed at the Nazi regime in Germany, depicting Hitler's rule in clearly dystopian tones. The dystopian flavor of Brecht's early drama participates both in the sense of cultural crisis that informed modernist literature and in the more widespread sense of economic and political crisis that led to
The Dystopian Impulse in Modem Literature
the general economic collapse of 1929 and to the concomitant rise of fascism in Germany, Italy, and elsewhere. However, Brecht's work in this vein goes beyond a specific reaction to conditions in Germany to suggest that the development of violent and despotic conditions is inevitable in a capitalist system. Indeed, similar dystopian suggestions were being made as early as 1907, when Jack London published The Iron Heel, probably the first dystopian fiction directed specifically against bourgeois society. London's book features socialist activist Ernest Everhard, whose numerous speeches make the book as much a primer on socialist theory as a fictional narrative. Like Brecht's Drums in the Night (1918), which deals with the failed Spartacist rebellion in Germany in that year, The Iron Heel depicts the attempts of socialist revolutionaries to establish a just society in America and the concomitant brutal response of the capitalist structure, the "iron heel" of the title. In the book, London suggests that the establishment of a despotic totalitarian regime in America is inevitable as the only way of perpetuating capitalist power, though he does hold out the hope that the socialist revolution will eventually triumph in the long run. The book is presented as a journal that was written during the failed socialist revolution of (interestingly enough) October, 1917, but it has supposedly been edited and published four hundred years later, after the establishment of a socialist Brotherhood of Man. London's warnings about the coming of overt totalitarianism in America in the early twentieth century did not prove true, though his book does provide a striking anticipation of the rise of fascism in Germany. On the other hand, other dystopian fictions of the early twentieth century have suggested that bourgeois society can perpetuate its power through far more subtle means than those depicted by London. The classic bourgeois dystopia is Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932), which depicts a future society so devoted to capitalist ideals that its central hero is Henry Ford (himself importantly influenced by the same Taylor who is so important in We). This society is devoted to hedonistic pleasure (much like that in The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahogonny), but its official drive for universal happiness amounts to little more than a subtle form of tyranny and subjugation. Unlike the later Brecht, however, Huxley does not present Communism as a cure for the ills depicted in his book. Indeed, he incorporates numerous elements of Communism into his dystopian vision. Huxley's book thus resembles Zamyatin's We in numerous ways, though Huxley always maintained that he had not been aware of We when he wrote Brave New World. Like Zamyatin, who presents a "scientific" regime that is ultimately opposed to genuine understanding, Huxley similarly suggests that science (or at least scientism) can all too easily become
Brave New World
a mere tool of oppression. Krishan Kumar has gone so far as to call Brave New World "the most powerful denunciation of the scientific world-view that has ever been written" (242). Centered on a future London, Huxley's book depicts a society whose technological sophistication in many areas (especially genetics) is highly advanced. In this highly stratified and class-oriented society human infants are literally manufactured on assembly lines, designed according to the strict specifications of the class to which they will belong. The "Alphas"-members of the highest class who will occupy positions that require advanced intelligence-are thus endowed with high IQs, while low-class citizens like "Deltas" and "Epsilons" are produced with low intelligence but with high physical strength and endurance, so that they can perform menial tasks. In an echo of the lack of individual difference in We, these lower classes are mass-produced using a "Bokanovsky process" that allows up to ninety-six infants to be created from a single fertilized egg, a capability that the society's leaders consider an important source of social stability (4). In short, citizens of Huxley's bourgeois dystopia lack real individual identities, despite the myth of individualism that informs bourgeois society. Instead, they exist principally as specimens of their class. This custom design of citizens for social stability goes beyond their initial genetic makeup. Much of the society's technological capability is directed into a massive program of indoctrination designed to make them content with the roles that have been designated for them. Recalling the apotheosis of Pavlov in Soviet Russia, the citizens of Huxley's dystopia are conditioned to react automatically without thought or feeling. Both thought and feeling are strongly discouraged in this society, and much of the technology of this dystopia goes into the development and production of goods designed to promote a hedonistic pursuit of pleasure that will prevent the buildup of potentially subversive political energies. Advanced contraceptives are free to all so that the citizenry may engage in unrestrained sexual activity, sex being here a sort of opiate of the masses. And most of the citizens spend a great deal of time under the influence of more literal opiates, also produced and distributed by the government. In this dystopia, the official drug of choice is "soma," which has "[a]11the advantages of Christianity and alcohol; none of their defects" (42). The universally prescribed soma helps to keep the population in a happy stupor, incapable of mounting (or even conceiving) any assault on the status quo.! The official propaganda of Huxley's World Government glorifies science as a central value of the society, the technological capability of the giant government-industrial complex that rules the society
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functioning as a main symbol of its power. As Huxley points out in a retrospective essay on the book, the dictators of this society rule according to the principles of "miracle, mystery and authority" espoused by Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor, except that they have added science to this list, because high technology helps them to manipulate and control their subjects through genetic and psychological conditioning (Revisited 97). But, as World Controller Mustapha Mond points out late in Brave New World. science can be "dangerous; we have to keep it most carefully chained and muzzled." Mond goes on to explain that the "science" apotheosized by the World Government is of an insipid kind: "All our science is just a cookery book, with an orthodox theory of cooking that nobody's allowed to question, and a list of recipes that mustn't be added to except by special permission from the head cook" (173). Science in Huxley's dystopian regime involves little more than a complex of practices designed specifically to help the World Controllers assure the cooperation and obedience of the general population. Religion is very much the same. At first glance, the ideology of Huxley's future society is very much opposed to that of conventional religion. The self -indulgent, hedonistic environment of Brave New World is certainly a far cry from the asceticism often associated with religion. Moreover, Huxley opposes his ultraciviIized dystopia with the wild Savage Reservations (reminiscent of the areas beyond the Green Wall in We), the culture of which is strongly informed by traditional religious energies. The relatively uncivilized Indians who inhabit these reservations are typically quite religious, and religious ceremonies form an important of their culture. However, this "savage" religion turns out to be a strange hybrid of Christianity and native American Indian religions. For example, the Indians worship both "Pookong and Jesus" (89), and a key element of their ceremonies involves the dual icons of a wild eagle and a crucified Christ (87). This hybrid culture at first seems promisingly rich and diverse, but Huxley hardly presents it as an ideal alternative to his godless dystopia. The Indians on these reservations tend to be violent and cruel, and their religion, far from curbing this cruelty, actually contributes to it. The Indian religious ceremony observed by Bernard Marx and Lenina Crowne on their visit to one of these reservations centers on the brutal beating into unconsciousness of a human sacrificial victim, and the "savages" who attend this ceremony are savage indeed, experiencing a frenzy of sadomasochistic violence. It is thus no great surprise that John, a savage who returns with Bernard and Lenina to England, attempts to purify himself of the
Brave New World
spiritual contamination of civilization by beating himself with a whip, and then finally by hanging himself. The treatment of religion in Huxley's descriptions of the Savage Reservations in Brave New World could be taken as a commentary on the decay and perversion of Christianity in a world that has lost touch with authentic Christian values. But Huxley's book also suggests that the sadomasochistic tendencies of his Indians have always been a part of Christianity, a point that is easily seen in the typical Christian emphasis on depictions of the torture and execution of Christ, in the famed suffering of Christian martyrs, and in the sometimes graphic Christian visualizations of the torments to be suffered by sinners in hell. World Controller Mustapha Mond explains to John the Savage late in Brave New World why Christianity has been outlawed in the civilized world and why the Bible has been banned as a pornographic book. Religion, Mond explains, is intended to provide solace for the woeful state of life on earth. Faced with a miserable earthly existence in this world, the faithful can take comfort in the belief that there is a better world to follow. But in the society that Mond rules, worldly happiness and comfort are everything, and so religion becomes superfluous. Moreover, religion becomes potentially subversive because its very existence suggests inadequacies and shortcomings in the physical world: "God isn't compatible with machinery and scientific medicine and universal happiness. You must make your choice. Our civilization has chosen machinery and medicine and happiness" (180). In a reversal of the traditional Christian notion that human suffering arises as a direct result of free will (the choice of Adam and Eve having been freely made), this society has opted to forfeit free will in favor of universal happiness.i But religious echoes still sound in the atheistic dystopia projected in Brave New World. Huxley depicts a future England that is not religious in the conventional sense but that has made of physical pleasure and comfort a new materialist religion. In this society capitalism has run amuck; increased production and increased consumption are revered with a quasi-religious devotion. This society literally worships Ford, its great progenitor, and he functions in the popular imagination very much as a god. For example, the calendar is dated not beginning with Christ (A.D.), but with Ford (A.F.). And the linguistic stock of this society is filled with expressions carried over from earlier days in which "god" is replaced by "Ford"-a popular expression of contentment is "Ford's in his flivver; all's well with the world" (32).
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
This devotion to Ford and to his capitalist ideology is enacted in group ceremonies-part prayer meeting and part seance-in which the faithful attempt to invoke Ford's spirit and to meld into one in a denial of individuality. Like the later Two Minutes Hate of 1984 this ceremony is intended to further a feeling of solidarity among the populace, but (in a motif highly indicative of the difference between Huxley and Orwell) the ceremony of Brave New World is an orgy not of hatred but of sensuality. These ceremonies begin with a parody of the Eucharist in which a loving cup of strawberry ice cream soma is passed from hand to hand so that the group (whose twelve members parody the twelve apostles) can be properly prepared to receive Ford. "I drink to my annihilation," they chant as they pass the cup around, and as their intoxication grows they move to other chants, like "I drink to the imminence of His Coming." The excitement mounts as they chant and sing hymns to Ford, until the entire group becomes merged into the Greater Being with a crescendo that perfectly summarizes the nature of Huxley's thoroughly banalized world; tom-toms beat and the climactic verse rings out: Orgy-porgy, Ford and fun, Kiss the girls and make them One. Boys at one with girls at peace; Orgy-porgy gives release. (65) This carnivalesque travesty of Christian rituals can be taken to suggest how far from genuine Christian values this society has fallen. But the sense of merger inherent in this ceremony is one that is central to religion, recalling Freud's discussion of the "oceanic feeling" that "is the source of the religious energy which is seized upon by the various Churches and religious systems, directed by them into particular channels" (Civilization 12).8 The society of Brave New World thus utilizes many of the same energies as Christianity, even though it explicitly rejects Christianity as one of the "monstrous superstitions" that its sophisticated world has moved beyond. The numerous echoes of religion in the official ideology of this supposedly atheistic state irresistibly suggest (echoing Marx's designation of religion as an opiate of the masses) that Christianity always already contained many of the same elements of hedonism, intoxication, and mass indoctrination that inform Huxley's dystopia. Huxley's projected dystopia of six hundred years in the future clearly grows from seeds that were already present in his contemporary world of the J 930s; these seeds include not only ominous characteristics of advanced capitalism and of developing totalitarianism, but also certain negative aspects that have informed Judaeo-Christian culture all along.
Brave New World
Even the sexual permissiveness that is so fundamental to Huxley's dystopia does not necessary run as strongly against the Christian tradition as might first appear. After all, the open encouragement of promiscuity in Brave New World is intended not to stimulate sexual passions, but to reduce them by making sex a virtually meaningless activity. As William Matter notes in his discussion of the official suppression of human emotion in Huxley's Brave New World, this fear of passion as a threat to social stability as an important element of attempts to envision an ideal society dates back at least to Plato's Republic. However, whereas Plato regards the suppression of emotion as a positive good, modern dystopian fictions have tended to privilege the needs and desires of individuals over the demands of society. This conflict between passion and authority is especially central to the hedonistic dystopia of Brave New World, where flagrant promiscuity is not only permitted, but encouraged by the state, and where sexuality functions as only one among many activities for the attainment of pure physical pleasure. Here, however, there is no strict bureaucratic regimentation of sexual conduct as in Zamyatin's One State. Instead, citizens are simply conditioned from a very early age to regard sex as a pleasurable ludic activity, a sort of sport, and the pressure to participate in this sport comes largely from one's peers, who regard abstention or monogamy as a sign of aberrant antisocial behavior. In Civilization and Its Discontents Freud argues that modern society "does not like sexuality as a source of pleasure in its own right and is only prepared to tolerate it because there is so far no substitute for it as a means of propagating the human race" (58). Contrary to Freud's characterization of modern society, however, Huxley's dystopian society views sexuality exclusively as a source of pleasure, and it has indeed found a substitute means of propagating the race. For example, children in this world are produced via genetic engineering on factorylike assembly lines, then reared and educated in public institutions. The very notion of a live birth or of a "viviparous mother" is considered obscenely repellant, while the notion of a "father" is regarded as a kind of scatological joke. In the ultracapitalist society of Brave New World even human beings are thoroughly commodified. Sexuality is commodified as well. Deprived of any "use value" through universal contraception, sexuality becomes an area of pure "exchange value," with sexual favors being freely traded like any commodity. In this sense, Huxley'S vision of the devaluation of sex in Brave New World is consistent with Freud's analysis in a number of ways. The citizens of Huxley's dystopia do in fact derive a great deal of recreational pleasure from sex, but it is a
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
low-key pleasure devoid of any strong feelings." About the only sexual activity frowned upon in this society is monogamy, because exclusive sexual partners might begin to develop emotional attachments and to feel a loyalty to one another that supersedes their loyalty to the community at large. In short, Huxley's World Controllers seem to share the concern attributed by Freud to civilization that "sexual love is a relationship between two individuals in which a third can only be superfluous or disturbing, whereas civilization depends on relationships between a considerable number of individuals" (Freud 61). However, whereas Freud suggests that society seeks to undermine private sexual loyalties by repressing sexuality itself, the society of Huxley's book elects the alternative strategy of stigmatizing monogamy to defuse the emotional charge normally associated with sexual relationships. But Huxley's book is not a simple warning against the dehumanizing potential of free sex. Against the promiscuity of his dystopian civilization he sets the conventional sexual morality still practiced in the Savage Reservations, areas yet to be placed under strict government control. Among the savages, monogamous relationships are still the norm, but this situation leads as often to jealousy and violence as to humanizing love. When John the Savage comes to live in London he is repelled by the sexual freedom of the "civilized" world, but his repressive alternative is hardly preferable. The "pneumatic" Lenina Crowne develops an interest in John and attempts to seduce him, though the strongest expression of feeling she is able to muster as a product of her society is a quote from an insipid popular song that tellingly indicates the role of sex in her world as an opiate of the masses: "Hug me till you drug me, honey" (149). John, an avid reader of Shakespeare, violently pushes Lenina away from him and launches into an impassioned Hamletesque tirade on the disgusting physicality of women." John's revulsion to sex leads to violence not only against Lenina, but against himself. Taking Foucault's notion of self-mastery to an especially literal and violent extreme, at the book's end John flees to a remote location and attempts to rid himself of the contamination of civilization through repeated self-flagellation and finally through suicide. For Huxley, both the repression of sexuality in conventional Christian morality and the devaluation of sex in his amoral, materialistic dystopia represent obstacles to the achievement of genuine intersubjective attachments. It is such attachments that the World Controllers genuinely fear, as can be seen by the especially strong phobia of this society toward traditional family relationships. The philosophy of this official opposition to the family again recalls
Huxley's Brave New World
Freud, who suggests in Civilization and Its Discontents that family attachments can run counter to the interests of society at large: "The more closely the members of a family are attached to one another, the more often do they tend to cut themselves off from others, and the more difficult it is for them to enter into the wider circle of life" (56). Huxley's World Controller Mustapha Mond indicates his agreement with this attitude: "What suffocating intimacies, what dangerous, insane, obscene relationships between the members of the family group!" (27). Huxley'S World Controllers, like the rulers of Zamyatin's One State, clearly feel that they must attempt to channel sexual behavior in certain directions in order to prevent erotic energies from developing a subversive potential. Huxley's dystopia also resembles Zamyatin's in its treatment of art and culture, though with certain bourgeois twists. In an ultracapitalist society whose god is Henry Ford, it comes as no surprise that culture, like everything else, is thoroughly commodified. Every aspect of life in Huxley's future society is directed toward the efficient production and consumption of goods, including cultural ones. In this society even human beings are goods, produced like so many automobiles or bars of soap in factory assembly lines, different social classes corresponding to different models or brands. And popular culture is one of the central conditioning tools through which the genetic engineering of individuals is supplemented by conditioning. For a member of this society, as World Controller Mustapha Mond explains to John the Savage late in the book, "his conditioning has laid down rails along which he's got to run. He can't help himself; he's foredoomed" (171). In Brave New World Huxley's World Government thus relies more on conditioning before-the-fact than on surveillance after-the-fact to keep its citizens in line. This conditioning program brings to mind Louis Althusser's description of the "interpellation," or "calling" of the subject-of the way subtle forces in bourgeois society act literally to construct individual subjects in a way advantageous to the prevailing ideology of the society. For Althusser, we do not form our attitudes so much as they form us, and "the category of the subject is only constitutive of all ideology insofar as all ideology has the function (which defines it) of 'constituting' concrete individuals as subjects" (171 ). Althusser's suggestion that the subject is largely a direct product of prevailing ideologies arises from the same structuralist conceptions that so powerfully informed Foucault's early work. But Althusser's rather pessimistic vision of the strict positioning of the subject in society contrasts strongly with the kind of creative self-constitution
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
envisioned in Foucault's late explorations of technologies of the self. Foucault sounds much more optimistic than Althusser in The Use of Pleasure when he suggests that individuals (or at least free male individuals) in ancient Greece sought to constitute themselves as ethically admirable subjects after the model of aesthetically admirable works of art. But surely the criteria by which works of art are judged are to a large extent conditioned by the prevailing ideologies of a given society. Moreover, especially in totalitarian societies of the type typically addressed in dystopian fiction, the kinds of art that might be available for use as models remain under the strict control of official power. The opposition between society and individual that so centrally informs dystopian fiction in some ways parallels the opposition between the strict interpellation of the subject discussed by Althusser and the more flexible self -constitution discussed by Foucault. In dystopian fictions society generally wins this battle, indicating that AIthusser's vision may ultimately be more accurate. Indeed, the control over individuals exercised by dystopian states suggests that the creativity of the self -constitution envisioned by Foucault may be illusory, the Foucauldian technologies of the self thus degenerating into variations of Althusser's interpellation. Marxist critics have argued that such a movement lies at the heart of the bourgeois conception of the free autonomous individual. In what Michel Pecheux has felicitously called the "Munchausen effect" (after the legendary baron who was able to lift himself into the air by pulling his own hair), the bourgeois subject is convinced that he is his own cause and creator, being totally unaware that he is the result of ideological forces beyond his control (Pecheux 108-9). In the end, however, the meditations of both Althusser and Foucault usefully problematize the fundamental individual versus society opposition so common to dystopian fiction by suggesting that the individual is largely a social phenomenon and that the two poles of this opposition therefore cannot be neatly separated. The comments of Althusser, Pecheux, and other Marxist critics on the constitution of the subject in bourgeois society suggest that Huxley's dystopian government simply employs in an overt way techniques of conditioning that are already at work in more subtle ways in all bourgeois societies. This theme again recalls the work of Brecht, who was centrally concerned in plays like A Man's a Man with the malleability of human identity. In this play (written 1924-25), the meek Irish porter Galy Gay undergoes a transformation of identity that makes him into the British soldier Jcraiah Jip, a human fighting machine. In his own later comments on the play Brecht suggested that
Huxley's Brave New World
Gay's transformation was to be taken as an optimistic indication of the possibility of human change. However, the fact that Gay passively undergoes his transformation at the hands of others gives his change of identity a dark undertone. Thus Martin Esslin argues that the play shows that Brecht had "grasped the essence of later brainwashing techniques" (284). Similarly, Frederic Ewen reads the play in a highly dystopian vein, finding that "Brecht has foreshadowed the alienation of the machine-made man, and social conformism. The will to be metamorphosed into nonentity arouses in him, at this time, a mixture of admiration and contempt" (138). Brecht's own famed ambivalence is especially appropriate to this motif of identity transformation: clearly, the establishment of a better society requires that human behavior be modified, but modern history suggests that the availability of techniques for this behavioral engineering can have disastrous consequences in the wrong hands. Huxley does not appear to share Brecht's ambivalence, though he is willing to grant that the conditioning programs carried out by his World Controllers were at least initially intended to bring happiness to the general population. Of course, they also produce a population of enthralled citizens unable to think critically or challenge the official ideology of their society. In Huxley's dystopia, the government need worry very little about enforcing its policies through coercion, because their success is assured through subtle techniques of persuasion. It is therefore not necessary literally to keep the population under official surveillance, because the fierce suppression of individuality in this society produces a constant peer pressure that attaches a strong stigma to any deviation from the communal norm. Citizens of Huxley's dystopia are expected to spend virtually no time alone, so that they are constantly under observation by others. The roles that citizens are expected to play are quite well defined, and any deviation is immediately noticeable to their fellows. But, if this citizen based approach is significantly more subtle than the government surveillance programs of We or 1984, it is not necessarily less effective or more benevolent. In many ways, Huxley's World Controllers exert an even more thoroughgoing domination over their citizenry than do the more heavy-handed Benefactor and Big Brother. Conformity in Huxley's dystopian society is largely enforced through the proliferation of a passive mindlessness that renders the citizens incapable of the thought or feeling required to question the models provided for them by the ruling World Controllers. Not surprisingly, popular culture is an important element in this program, as a massive Adornian Culture Industry bombards the populace with a constant stream of mind-numbing stimuli not only for the senses of
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
sight and sound, but of touch and smell as well. This industry is administered by various "Bureaux of Propaganda," whose techniques are developed in a "College of Emotional Engineering.v" The products of this culture industry are devoid of any real content that might lead to analysis or thought. Books are almost nonexistent, because reading is a largely individual activity that is difficult to control and because books take too long to read, creating the danger of an extended exposure that might lead to thought and meanwhile diverting readers from more economically "productive" activities in this ultra-capitalist society. After all, "[y]ou can't consume much if you sit still and read books" (37). The culture of Huxley's capitalist dystopia is designed to suppress emotion and stimulate consumption, strongly anticipating what Fredric Jameson has called the "waning of affect" in postmodern culture, a general loss in the emotional power of art that Jameson associates with the arrant commodification of images in late consumer capitalism (Post modernism 10-16). Huxley emphasizes the degraded condition of mass culture in Brave New World by opposing that culture directly to the "high art" of Western tradition. In particular, John the Savage, whose rearing on a Savage Reservation largely exempts him from the strict interpellation of the "civilized" world, is a great reader and admirer of Shakespeare, who has been officially banned by the World Controllers. As Mond explains to John, it has been necessary to ban Shakespeare because his works (especially the tragedies) evoke the kind of strong passions that the World Government, in the interest of "happiness," seeks to suppress. According to Mond, his society has decided to do without high art in the interest of stability, substituted a banal popular culture that prevents, rather than encourages troubling thoughts (169). But Huxley'S contrast between the high art of Shakespeare and the banality of popular cultural products like these "feelies" is far from simplistic. Popular culture may aid in the interpellation of subjects into the positions demanded by official authority, but John the Savage has been just as thoroughly interpellated by the works of Shakespeare. John's expectations from and reactions to the experiences he encounters are almost entirely conditioned by his reading of literature. Huxley's world is a far different stage than Shakespeare's, though, and John's Shakespearean processing of the stimuli he receives is entirely inappropriate. Shakespeare's plays may be infinitely richer than the insipid feelies produced by the culture industry of the World Government, but John still lacks the powers of abstraction and analysis to be able properly to apply what he has learned from Shakespeare to conditions in the real world, or creatively to constitute
Brave New World
himself in terms of anything other than prefabricated stereotypes. The disjunction between John's Shakespearean expectations and the reality he encounters only increases his alienation in a society where he is already an outsider. He becomes a hermit, living alone in an isolated spot and attempting to "purify" himself through selfflagellation-which then becomes a media event, itself the subject of a popular feely. In the end he is driven-like Emma Bovary-to suicide. Literature for Huxley can be a powerful humanizing force, but it can be a negative one as well, especially if its readers lose the ability properly to distinguish between fiction and reality. In Brave New World the confrontation between the traditional cultural values represented by Shakespeare and the contemporary values of Mustapha Mond and his pop culture "paradise" is also very much a confrontation between languages. Against the poetic richness and emotional evocativeness of the Shakespearean language continually quoted by John the Savage is set the banal, cliche-ridden language of Huxley's dystopia. Just as the Party of 1984 engineers Newspeak to make it impossible to express subversive ideas, so too do the ruling powers of Huxley's dystopia carefully manipulate the linguistic resources of their populace. Huxley's World Government is designed above all else to prevent the development of strong emotions, and as a result they produce a language that is so devoid of any real content that it becomes almost impossible to express strong emotions in that language. Matter thus suggests that Huxley'S World Controllers "appear to agree with Whorf's theory of linguistic relativity, which suggests that people who have no words to express antisocial sentiments cannot think antisocially" (105-6). Huxley's World Government, however, is quite subtle in its program of linguistic domination. There is, it is true, a great deal of overt censorship in this society, and works of literature with incendiary emotional potential (like Shakespeare and the Bible) have been removed from circulation, replaced with the distractions of sex, drugs, and an incessant flow of mind-numbing popular culture. But this censorship occurs rather quietly, and these distractions make it hardly noticeable. Meanwhile, there is no official government language that is produced to replace conventional English. Instead, the populace are simply exposed to an endless barrage of content- and emotion-free language that gradually makes them unable to conceive of any other kind. The emptiness of the language of the popular culture of Brave New World is directly addressed by Helmholtz Watson, one of the "emotional engineers" whose job it is to compose the products of this culture. Watson senses that there is something missing in his compositions, and he expresses to his friend Bernard
The Dvstopian Impulse in Modern Literature
Marx the feeling that there is something within him that is not being expressed in the jingles he writes (54). As a professional writer, Watson has a great facility with language, but he himself is a product of this emotion-damping society, and even he finds himself unable to inject emotional content into his compositions. He senses the power of words, noting that "[w]ords can be like X-rays, if you use them properly-they'll go through anything. You read and you're pierced" (54). But in this society, free of any strong feeling, he has nothing to write about except banalities. Unlike Orwell's Party Huxley's World Government need not control language directly because they have created an environment in which there is nothing subversive to express, regardless of the extent of one's linguistic dexterity. Especially when set against John's frequent quotations from Shakespeare, popular "poetry" like that written by Huxley's Watson is clearly devoid of any real emotional force, as can be seen from the words of the song that tops the hit list during the action of the book: Hug me till you drug me, honey; Kiss me till I'm in a coma: Hug me, honey, struggly bunny; Love's as good as soma. (127) Such songs provide the only linguistic currency available to the citizens of this society, and this empty expression of "love" mirrors the vacuity of the emotions experienced by these citizens. But if Lenina can only quote this popular song in her attempts to seduce John the Savage, John himself has words of considerable emotional power with which to respond. Unfortunately, he has little control or understanding either of his language or of his emotions. John's violent rejection of Lenina is to a large extent triggered by his own conditioning via the element of sex nausea that runs through much of Shakespeare's work. As a child John had experienced considerable jealousy at the sexual relationship between his mother Linda and her lover Pope, jealousy to which he was only able to give voice after reading Hamlet. Placing Linda in the role of Gertrude and seeing Pope as Claudius, John develops a strong disgust with them both, inspired by the power of Shakespeare's words (10 I). Armed with the words of Shakespeare, John is able to give shape to his vague feelings of anger and revulsion, able to experience powerful feelings to which Lenina, with her relatively pallid linguistic resources, has no access. But the feelings triggered in John by Shakespeare's words are vicious and ugly. They lead to pain for both himself and Lenina; indeed, they contribute mightily to his eventual turn to masochistic self -flagellation and then suicide. The words of
Huxley's Brave New World
Shakespeare may help John to formulate certain emotions, but they are of little use to him in dealing positively with reality. John is able to find in Shakespeare a prefabricated battery of verbal responses to specific situations, but by taking those responses out of their original context he robs them of most of their original power. The richness and multiplicity of meaning that is the true power of Shakespearean language is largely lost in John's quotations, which are generally inadequate and inappropriate to the situations in which he uses them. John has been just as brainwashed by Shakespeare as Lenina has been by her popular culture; both his linguistic and emotional resources are in fact just as limited as hers. John attempts to find in Shakespeare a "natural" alternative to Huxley's highly culturated England, yet Shakespeare himself has often figured in the modern imagination as the epitome of English culture. Granted, Shakespeare functions as a golden image of past culture as opposed to the degraded modern culture of Brave New World, but it is at least arguable whether the society of Elizabethan England, with its squalor, starvation, and brutality, was at all preferable to that of Huxley's dystopia." Moreover, critics have extensively debated whether Shakespeare's work is informed by energies that run counter to the official structures of power in Elizabethan society or whether it does not in fact work fully in complicity with the official power of its day. Stephen Greenblatt has recently proposed in works like Shakespearean Negotiations an extremely attractive explanation for Shakespeare's highly complex and seemingly paradoxical relationship to Elizabethan authority, arguing that authority and power in Elizabethan society were themselves informed by complex and paradoxical energies and that Shakespeare's work absorbs this quality from its surrounding social and political context. An important implication of Greenblatt's argument is that Shakespeare's work is not special (as John the Savage would have it) primarily because it escapes its social context, ascending into the realm of universal human experience and fundamental human emotions. On the contrary, it is special precisely because it is so intensely embedded in its social and historical context and because it absorbs such powerful energies from that context. It is also relevant that Shakespeare's historical context included the early English colonization of North America, and numerous critics have demonstrated in recent years that plays like The Tempest are directly informed by the discourse of English imperialism in the Americas. Huxley overtly calls attention to the relationship between his book and The Tempest by taking his title from that play. The passage Huxley quotes is already ironic in Shakespeare's play,
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
reflecting the naive Miranda's admiring reaction to the sudden appearance of grand-looking strangers on her island, even though those strangers represent a veritable rogues' gallery. John himself quotes the title words with additional bitter irony to reflect his disgust at the mindless conformism of the people he meets in England (160). But there is even more irony in the fact that John, who himself represents the energies of Native American culture, would find his linguistic inspiration in the discourse of colonialism. Within the context of The Tempest John is not Prospero or even Miranda, but the "monster" Cali ban. Greenblatt in particular has argued that the colonial oppression of Native Americans was largely a linguistic phenomenon and that the inability of the Indians encountered by early English settlers to speak European languages contributed to the figuration of those Indians as wild and subhuman creatures.f Not surprisingly, language is also sometimes an issue in the treatment of imperialism in dystopian fiction, as when Zamyatin's One State seeks to convey its strictly rational language throughout the universe. John the Savage's turn to Shakespeare evokes not only the tradition of imperialism, but the patriarchal tradition as well. The antifeminine nausea triggered in John by his reading of Shakespeare points toward the masculine bias that feminist critics have seen in language as a whole. Feminists like Virginia Woolf have seen in Shakespeare the prototype of an androgynous language that escapes this masculine bias, but John's naive appropriation of Shakespeare is incapable of apprehending the dialogic complexities in Shakespearean language that make such readings possible.? However, if John is ill-equipped to understand Shakespeare, the citizens of Huxley's England may be even less so as they have been cut off from all contact with Shakespeare-or with anything from their past. In the bourgeois dystopia of Brave New World the kind of innovation demanded by the economic realities of a capitalist economy is pushed to an ominous extreme. Contrary to the Marxist emphasis on history as the central driving force of human civilization, Huxley's dystopian society rejects history and tradition altogether. Indeed, Huxley's World Controllers have attempted to short circuit Marx's vision of history by leaping to an end of history informed not by Communist utopian principles, but by capitalist economics and the most rigidly defined class society. Speaking to a group of schoolchildren, World Controller Mustapha Mond reminds them of "Our Ford's" declaration that "history is bunk." He then goes on to explain the official rejection of the past that constitutes such an important element of the official ideology of this Fordian society,
Huxley's Brave New World
arguing that the past is peopled by insubstantial phantoms who no longer exist (24). For Mond the past is insubstantial and immaterial, and therefore irrelevant to this society in which materialism is all. As Mond explains, one of the chief reasons that Shakespeare's work has been banned is simply that it is old, and particularly that it is both old and beautiful. "Beauty's attractive," Mond explains to John the Savage, "and we don't want people attracted by old things. We want them to like the new ones" (168). These new things, after all, are produced by the current system and therefore reflect the official ideology of that system. They are, as Mond goes on to say, "nice tame animals," as opposed to the potentially disruptive effects of Shakespeare or other old things produced outside the ideology of the current system. This complete rejection of the old in favor of the new is also largely an effect of the economic system of Huxley's dystopia, an exaggerated version of capitalism in which new products must constantly be developed and marketed to stimulate both production and consumption and thereby to keep the economy functioning. All aspects of life in this society are designed to increase consumption-even children are only allowed to play games that require the purchase of complicated equipment. Materialistic selfindulgence in this hedonistic society is openly encouraged, because those who are indulgent will consume more and thus keep the economy rolling. And a constant privileging of the new is a key element in the society'S strategies for the stimulation of consumption. Not surprisingly, the ideology of this society is conveyed largely through advertising-style slogans, among the most prominent of which are phrases like "The more stitches the less riches" and "Ending is better than mending"; any items that need repair are routinely discarded so that they can be replaced by new ones. Mending old goods rather than buying new ones is considered highly antisocial. Denials of history and tradition like those in Brave New World are quite common in dystopian fiction, where a lack of meaningful dialogue with the past often paradoxically plays an important role in the impoverishment of the present. But this issue is not a simple one. The suggestion that the present can be enriched through learning from the past is clearly based on traditional liberal notions of historical progress, notions that poststructuralist thinkers like Foucault (and to some extent Frankfurt School critical theorists like Horkheimer and Adorno) have seriously challenged. But other critical theorists like Habermas have seen serious problems with the suspicion of history shown by so many modern thinkers, believing that history can in fact hold valuable lessons. Habermas and others have argued that a denial
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
of history is central to modernity itself; the rejection of the past in so many dystopian societies thus represents another clear example of the participation of dystopian fiction in the phenomenon of modernity. Habermas argues that the emphasis on innovation in aesthetic modernity is informed by "the exaltation of the present" in which "[t]he new value placed on the transitory, the elusive, and the ephemeral, the very celebration of dynamism, discloses the longing for an undefiled, an immaculate and stable present" ("Modernity" 5). In short, the modern urge for continual, even radical change may in fact reveal a quest for stability and stasis, a thesis that would appear to be well illustrated by the ways dystopian societies often reject the old in favor of an arrant modernization designed to squelch political opposition and further ideological orthodoxy. Despite this continual emphasis on the need to replace the old by the new, Huxley's dystopian society seeks above all else to maintain stability. Here, however, Huxley's dystopia deviates significantly from the workings of real capitalist societies in the way the emphasis on change and innovation is enforced through direct government intervention rather than driven by market forces and subtle means of manipulation. In this way Huxley's book seems to attempt to encompass both bourgeois and totalitarian structures within a single system, a combination that has led critics like Orwell to charge Huxley with political naivete. It is certainly doubtful that a capitalist economy could thrive under such conditions. However, Huxley's purpose is not verisimilitude, but satire. For example, Huxley's dystopian society suppresses individualism of any kind far more blatantly than is allowed by the ostensible emphasis on individual autonomy in bourgeois societies. This contradiction could be read as a flaw in Huxley's conception of his dystopia, but it is probably more usefully read as a satirical move which suggests that the presumed liberty of individuals in bourgeois societies is in fact illusory.!" In their own eyes, the rulers of Huxley's dystopia have created a utopia in which the lack of personal freedoms is more than adequately compensated for by the physical and material comforts produced by a booming capitalist economy; they thus seek to prevent any disturbances that might threaten the status quo in any way. The drive for material change that fuels the economy veils a complete opposition to change in the realm of the political, and a principal function of the self-indulgent consumption, promiscuous sex, and ubiquitous drugtaking of Huxley's dystopia is to provide the populace with a diverting escape from the nightmare of history. The citizens of Huxley's dystopia, like Habermas's moderns, live entirely in the present, with no sense of either past or future. "Was and will make me ill,"
Huxley's Brave New World
proclaims Lenina Crowne as she pops yet another dose of soma. "I take a gramme and only am" (80). Similarly, the physician Dr. Shaw admits later in the book that constant soma holidays may have certain side effects that will lead to a shortening of life, but that the escape from time associated with these soma trips provides a sort of counter to mortality. "Soma may make you lose a few years in time," he explains. "But think of the enormous, immeasurable durations it can give you out of time. Every soma-holiday is a bit of what our ancestors used to call eternity" (I 18). This disengagement from time assures that the populace will be unable to formulate any notions of genuine political change that might threaten the existing system-and of course Shaw quickly points out that no one can be allowed to take soma-holidays when they are needed for important work. As part of this project the system does all it can to remove any reminders of historicity or temporality from everyday life. Old objects of any kind are strictly forbidden-even old people. Through the use of drugs, hormones, and even the transfusion of young blood people are kept as young-looking as possible, and all physical signs of aging are effaced (43). Presumably, this attempt to hide the aging process is part of the efforts of Huxley's Controllers to keep their citizens happy; but it is also clearly an effort to escape from time and from any suggestion of historical change. Through the elimination of the physical effects of aging, other changes can be minimized as well, keeping individuals as constant as possible throughout their lives (43). In short, the lucky citizens of this future society stay forever young-up until their sudden (and usually premature) deaths.'! Walter Benjamin has argued that a telling symptom of the depreciation of individual human experience in the modern world is that death has "declined in omnipresence and vividness" so that "dying has been pushed further and further out of the perceptual world of the living" (93-4). Huxley's dystopia vividly enacts this process. The lack of aging prevents the usual reminders of approaching death, and death itself is devalued as an insignificant event, the passing of individuals being of no consequence in a world where it is only the community as a whole that counts. Indeed, an important part of the conditioning process undergone by all children in this society has to do with the elimination of any sense that individual deaths are tragic or even meaningful. The denial of the past and of time itself by the dystopian society of Brave New World strikingly matches Habermas's description of aesthetic modernity. This rejection of the past has been associated by Habermas and others with the philosophy of Nietzsche, but in essays like "On the Uses and Disadvantages of History" Nietzsche
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
nevertheless maintains that it is necessary to confront the past in order to avoid being overwhelmed by it, which is far different from the attempts of Huxley's World Controllers to escape the past altogether. And Nietzsche's argument that the ability to escape the domination of the past is ultimately humanizing largely opposes Huxley's own project in Brave New World of demonstrating that a loss of connection with the past and with history in general is dehumanizing. Huxley's book presents a chilling picture of a future that has become more and more conceivable in the ensuing decades. Advances in fields like industrial engineering, genetics, medicine, psychology, computers, and communications have all combined to make the society of Brave New World seem technically possible.12 Indeed, much of the importance and continuing topicality of Huxley's book lies in the general accuracy of many of his projections of the future. Later bourgeois dystopias, written after many of Huxley's predictions were beginning to come true, continued to draw upon Brave New World as an important resource, thereby enacting the kind of connection with the past (albeit the recent past) that Huxley recommends in the book. Meanwhile, the many similarities between Huxley's book and primarily Communist dystopias like We indicate some of the most important similarities in the problems faced by bourgeois and Communist societies.
NOTES 1. On the other hand, Huxley's later Island, a more positive utopian vision than Brave New World, depicts drugs known as the "Moksha medicine" that lead to mystical enlightenment and spiritual growth. As Clark points out, Island was (not surprisingly) a sort of "Bible" of the sixties drug culture (112). 2. One might compare the suggestion by Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor that humanity wants not freedom, but happiness. Beauchamp argues that Zamyatin's Benefactor, Orwell's Big Brother, and Huxley's World Controllers are all incarnations of Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor ("Of Man's" 287). 3. The term "oceanic feeling," as Freud notes, actually comes from Romain Rolland. Freud himself predictably attributes this desire for merger to a desire to recover an infantile fantasy of fusion between the ego and the outside world (Civilization 16). 4. One might compare here George Lucas's dystopian film THX 1138, which obviously owes a great deal to Brave New World. In the society of Lucas's film all citizens arc legally required to remain on
Huxley's Brave New World
drugs that mute their emotional response to sex. A central instance of transgression against this society occurs when THX 1138 (as in We citizens have numbers, not names) and his lover illegally reduce their drug intake in order to have more meaningful sex. 5. John's speech is actually a collage of quotations from King Lear, Othello, and Troilus and Cressida. However, Hamlet is probably the Shakespeare character John echoes most throughout the book. In any case, all four plays are central examples of what Dover Wilson has called the "sex nausea" of Shakespeare's middle period. 6. Compare Stalin's famous suggestion that authors of literature should regard themselves as "engineers of human souls." 7. Note that Orwell uses Shakespeare in a similar way in 1984. At one point Winston Smith awakens from a subversive dream "with the word 'Shakespeare' on his lips" (29). 8. See especially Greenblatt's essay "Learning to Curse." 9. Drawing on Coleridge's suggestion that the truly great mind is an androgynous one, Woolf notes that "one goes back to Shakespeare's mind as the type of the androgynous, of the man-womanly mind" (102). Again, however, Greenblatt's recent readings, especially in Shakespearean Negotiations, would suggest that the doubleness of Shakespeare's writing has to do more with special qualities of Elizabethan society than with the unique capacity of Shakespeare's mind to see and understand alternative points of view. 10. The failure of the "rebellion" of John the Savage, Bernard Marx, and Helmholtz Watson in the book bears out this interpretation. 11. A similar motif is central to the film Logan's Run, in which the populace is kept forever young by the simply expedient of liquidating all citizens when they reach the age of thirty. 12. Kumar reviews many of these developments (273-77).
3 Orwell's 1984: The Totalitarian Dystopia after Stalin
If Zamyatin's We gains a special poignancy from the striking fulfillment of its dystopian warnings under Stalin, George Orwell's 1984 takes its energy from the ability to look back on the worst horrors of the Stalin years-with a side glance at Hitler as well. It may be because of this close contact with reality that Orwell's book has probably become more a part of the vocabulary and imagination of modern Western culture than has any other dystopian fiction. Phrases and slogans from 1984 like "Thought Police," "doublethink," and "Big Brother Is Watching You" are well known even to those who have never read the book. And the recent passing of the year 1984 was greeted with considerable popular and media reference to Orwell's masterpiece-and with relief that Orwell's "predictions" had not come about. 1 But 1984 gains its power not so much from its predictions of the future as from its bitter satire of the very real horrors of the Stalinist Russia upon which the book was principally based. Of course, 1984 is far more than a simple condemnation of Stalinist Russia. For one thing, fascism is clearly implicated as well; for another, Orwell himself later described the book as a warning against the excesses that might develop in England in the attempt to combat Stalinism-much in the vein of Sinclair Lewis's earlier warnings to America in It Can't Happen Here.2 Either way, 1984 is intensely embedded in contemporary history, though Orwell also draws upon a number of literary sources.i' Zamyatin was a particularly important influence, though echoes of other dystopian works (including
in Modern Literature
London's The Iron Heel and Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon) abound as well. In fact, one of the most striking aspects of 1984 is its ability to participate in so many of the conventions of the genre of dystopian fiction while deriving so much of its material from real events and situations. Like both Zamyatin and Huxley, Orwell suggests that certain mechanical applications of technology lend themselves directly to political oppression, even while science itself remains a potentially liberating realm of free thought. Technology is a key tool of the Party in the Oceania of 1984, but the politicization of science and technology in this society has in fact had a suffocating effect on science itself. There is a certain amount of advanced technology in Oceania, especially for the electronic surveillance of the behavior of individual citizens, but on the whole this dystopian society is rather backward technologically. Orwell's Party still conducts some research, but only in support of the development of weaponry, and even that is relatively primitive. The forbidden book of the Party enemy Emmanuel Goldstein notes that "[a]s a whole the world is more primitive today than it was fifty years ago" (156). Indeed, science as open inquiry into the unknown has ceased to exist in this oppressive society, being replaced by a purely instrumental technologism in the service of the state.! The probing, searching, questioning nature that presumably informs true scientific inquiry runs strongly contrary to the needs of this strictly controlled society where the very language ("Newspeak") is designed to make it impossible to describe reality in ways other those congruent with the official ideology of Ingsoc (English socialism). Indeed, the ideology of this society is much more in line with the monological world view of medieval Catholicism than with that of modern science, a situation that the Party itself acknowledges+ O'Brien, a member of the elite Inner Party, describes himself and his peers as "the priests of power" (217), and many of the Party's objections to science echo those of the medieval Church. For example, O'Brien denies the theory of evolution and argues that the earth is no older than the human race. And he declares that the Party can, if it so chooses, proclaim that "the earth is the center of the universe. The sun and the stars go around it" (219). Responding to the obvious objection that for certain practical purposes a heliocentric model of the universe seems necessary, O'Brien simply declares that Party can (as did the Church after Copernicus) produce a dual system of astronomy if it so wishes. Orwell's cynical O'Brien openly admits that his Party is interested purely in power, and this power is most clearly manifested in the Party's ability to make people believe even
blatant absurdities-their coldly calculated rational procedures turn out to be the ultimate form of irrationality. In her novel Darcy's Utopia Fay Weldon depicts a fanatical Catholic who gradually moves toward moderation by shifting his faith from Christianity to Communism. As Weldon's Darcy herself puts it, "Marxism is to Catholicism as methadone is to heroin" (83). Indeed, Orwell's suggestion of a confusion between science and religion among the leaders of Oceania's Party recalls numerous writers who have indicated parallels between Communism and Christianity, and especially between the Stalinist terror of the thirties and the Inquisitions of the medieval Church." Koestler's Darkness at Noon, doubtless an influence on Orwell, continually suggests this parallel, as when members of the Communist Party are compared to the monks in religious orders or when the excesses of "No. I" (Koestler's thinly veiled reinscription of Stalin and a predecessor of Orwell's Big Brother) are compared to those of corrupt medieval popes (209-10). In Orwell's Oceania (as in Stalinist Russia) conventional religious activity is strictly forbidden, at least to Party members, though Orwell suggests that the lowly proles would have been allowed to practice religion had they so desired. But it is clear in Orwell's book that the ban on religion comes about not because organized religion is so radically different from the Party, but because the two are all-toosimilar and would therefore be competing for similar energies. The Party actively works to appropriate the energies traditionally associated with religious belief and to use those energies for its own purposes, giving the Party itself a quasi-religious air. In his job as official government propagandist Winston Smith invents the story of "Comrade Ogilvy," an idealized Party leader who is intended to serve as an example for rank-and-file Party members. In a motif that recalls Koestler, Smith describes Ogilvy in terms with clear religious undertones, making Ogilvy a sort of Communist saint, totally devoid of sins or vices (42). The Party also furthers loyalty among its members through the use of numerous techniques borrowed from religion. As with many conventional religions, Party solidarity is furthered by communal rituals, but in a reversal of the Christian emphasis on love the central Party ritual is a phenomenon called the "Two Minutes Hate." In this rite of hatred, Party members gather before a telescreen as programming focused on the heinous treachery of official Party enemy Emmanuel Goldstein gradually whips the crowd into a frenzy the intensity of which might be envied by any Bible-thumping Southern preacher. The viewers jump up and down, screaming at the screen, and even those who are initially less than enthusiastic find themselves
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caught up in the mass hysteria (16). At the end, the incendiary focus on Goldstein shifts to a calming focus on Big Brother, and the frenzy of hatred turns to a frenzy of devotion and loyalty the religious echoes of which are unmistakable. At the end of one such session, a woman runs toward the screen and proclaims Big Brother her personal savior (17).
This scapegoating of Goldstein directly echoes the demonization of Leon Trotsky in Stalinist Russia, but it also recalls Freud's comments on the "narcissism of minor differences," and particularly on the Christian roots of the tendency to unify the majority in a given society through hatred of a designated Other. Foucault has also noted, in works like Madness and Civilization, this traditional identification of marginal groups against which mainstream society can define itself. And, like Freud, he also suggests the participation of the Church in this movement. In fact, Foucault, who so often reverses Freud's conclusions in surprising and creative ways, seems largely to agree with Freud on the complicity of Christianity in this scapegoating phenomenon, though for Foucault the phenomenon occurs for social reasons rather than as a result of human nature. In The Use 0/ Pleasure Foucault continually figures moral choice among the ancient Greeks as a matter of the internal relationship of the subject with itself. Thus sexuality becomes not the domain of unrestrained passion, but a means of demonstrating, through the exercise of moderation and restraint, that one's passions are in fact under control. For Foucault the essentially internal nature of this struggle makes mastery an ethical and aesthetic concept for the ancient Greeks, as opposed to Christianity, where the introduction of Satan leads to a new conception of mastery as defeat of an external enemy. But for Foucault there are obvious political implications in this Christian emphasis on mastery of the Other. In Christianity itself it leads to an oppressive code-oriented morality based on strict rules of prohibition of certain activities, rules which act to limit and constrain the creativity of the process of self-constitution. And in Western society in general, the notion that personal mastery is to be gained through domination not of oneself, but of the Other, clearly contributes to the kinds of ideologies of domination typically enacted in dystopian fictions. In 1984, for example, the Party demands a strict religiouslike devotion from its faithful members. But it is perhaps in its treatment of its enemies that the Party echoes the medieval Church most ominously. Not only does the Party focus hatred on official enemies like Goldstein as a means of securing fraternity among the faithful, but it also focuses considerable energies and resources on the
treatment of those who stray from the fold. The Party enforces its ideology with all the zeal of the medieval Inquisition, but with a considerably more sophisticated understanding of psychology and power. They are perfectly willing to use physical tortures that can rival anything imagined by Torquemada, but they rely primary on psychological tortures, and even these are administered under a veil of secrecy that works far differently from the spectacular public punishments inflicted by the medieval Church as a warning to potential opponents. Party official O'Brien thus explains to the incarcerated Smith late in the book that the torture chambers of the ironically named Ministry of Love differ from the public tortures of the medieval Inquisition in that the Ministry does its work in secret, giving their victims no chance to become martyrs (209)7 O'Brien goes on to note that the Russian Communists were somewhat more sophisticated than the Inquisitors, attempting to prevent martyrdom by breaking the spirits of their victims through torture and humiliation before their public trials and by obtaining detailed false confessions to any number of heinous crimes. But Orwell's Party goes beyond even Stalin. For one thing, in Oceania there are no public trials or punishments for Party members who go astray, and thus no opportunities for martyrdom. For another, the techniques of the Ministry of Love are designed not only to extract confessions, but to make the prisoners themselves believe those confessions and honestly repent. These techniques are designed not so much to inflict punishment as to elicit loyalty; the goal of the Ministry of Love is to convert its prisoners and to release them into society to function once again as loyal Party members. In this sense the Party once again echoes the traditional functioning of the Church, but in Orwell's dystopia this conversion motif takes a dark turn. Unlike repentant Christians who can still be welcomed fully back into the fold, once rehabilitated Party members have proven their new orthodoxy for a time (and thus demonstrated the Party's ability to make them loyal subjects) they are likely to be arrested and executed without warning. Orwell's Party is thus considerably more ruthless in its theory than the medieval Church, though not necessarily in its practice-victims of the Inquisition were often urged to repent and confess before being burned at the stake. And the Party's insistence that members must repent of their own free will rather than being coerced clearly echoes the Christian tradition; the Party, like the ('hristian God, wants not just to be obeyed but to be obeyed willingly and worshipfully. Interestingly, the movement described by O'Brien from the Inquisition to Orwell's Party is precisely the movement from medieval
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to modern methods of punishment as outlined by Foucault in Discipline and Punish. Foucault notes that medieval punishments typically involved horrific spectacles of physical torture administered in public settings as a way of reminding the populace of the ability of official power to inflict its will on the bodies of its subjects. However, Foucault suggests that in modern times official power has focused less on the bodies of its subjects and more on their minds, less on the ability to take away the lives of citizens than to manipulate and administer those lives. To a large extent, medieval power was largely negative and preventative; those who opposed it were spectacularly destroyed. Modern power, however, is designed not so much to prevent transgression as to produce obedience, not only by manipulating specific behaviors but also by literally engineering individuals as ideal subjects of power. Granted, Discipline and Punish deals primarily with secular medieval power, but Foucault's discussions here and elsewhere provide an especially strong link between the kind of power exercised by Orwell's Party and that exercised by the medieval Church. Foucault sees modern power as being centrally driven by knowledge and information, echoing the constant surveillance in Oceania.f But Foucault offers the Catholic emphasis on confession as a prototype of such modern surveillance and specifically cites the Inquisition as the "operating model" for modern epistemologically based structures of power iDisci pline 226). As Foucault summarizes in the first volume of The History of Sexuality, modern power retains the right to remove transgressors, but this power of "deduction" has tended to be no longer the major form of power but merely one element among others, working to incite, reinforce, control, monitor, optimize, and organize the forces under it: a power bent on generating forces, making them grow, and ordering them, rather than one dedicated to impeding them, making them submit, or destroying them. (136)
Orwell's O'Brien perfectly summarizes this shift in the operation of power: "The command of the old despotisms was 'Thou shalt not.' The command of the totalitarians was 'Thou shalt.' Our command is 'Thou art'" (210-11). Anticipating Foucault's central emphasis on power as the constitutive factor of modern society, the Party has no illusions about the nature of its mission. It seeks not to save humanity or to improve the quality of human life. Instead, it seeks only to perpetuate its own power, which O'Brien images (echoing London's The Iron /feel) as "a
boot stamping on a human face." In short, the Party is consciously seeking to create the ultimate dystopia, a world that "is the exact opposite of the stupid hedonistic Utopias that the old reformers imagined" (220). This world will be devoid of all love, all laughter, and all pleasure-except the pleasure that the Party itself takes in the intoxication of pure power. The world to be created by the Party will be a literal hell on earth, and the various echoes of Christian ideology that sound in the policies of the Party provide ominous reminders of the element of cruelty that has informed Christianity since its inception. Given the Party's opposition to pleasure, it is not surprising that they take a dim view of unrestrained sexual activity. Unlike the Foucauldian attempts of the dystopian governments of Zamyatin and Huxley to administer, rather than repress sexuality, Orwell's Party seems directly to enact the Freudian repressive hypothesis in its attempt to deny the fulfillment of sexual desire to its subjects. As opposed to the societies of We or Brave New World, families do exist in Oceania; in fact, sexual relationships are officially forbidden outside the traditional structure of marriage. But the Party is careful to assure that the kinds of private emotional attachments associated by Freud with the family do not occur in Oceania. Family members are effectively turned against one another, with children being encouraged to inform on their parents and spouses encouraged to spy on one another. In Oceania, "[t]he family had become in effect an extension of the Thought Police" (III). The attempts of Orwell's Party to use the family as a tool for the furthering of its own power recall the Stalinist era in the Soviet Union of the 1930s, which "involved not only an assertion of traditional family values, but also an extension of the principle of legitimate personal conduct from communists alone to the population as a whole" (Fitzpatrick 150). In this sense the strategy of Orwell's Party (and Stalin's) differs significantly from the antifamiIy stance of the dystopian governments in We and Brave New World, though it involves a similar recognition of the potential importance of the family structure. But Orwell's vision of the family as an extension of the Thought Police contrasts sharply with Freud's conception of the family as a natural human unit that potentially threatens the larger social structure. This suggestion of a potential complicity between the family and official structures of power has also been made by Foucault, who sees sexuality as a principal means by which modern society administers and controls the behavior of its citizens, while seeing the family as a focal point for the "production" of sexuality: "Since the eighteenth century the family has become an obligatory locus of affects, feelings, love; ... sexuality has
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its privileged point of development in the family" (History 108). The radical disagreement between Freud and Foucault over the role of the family in civilization is an aspect of a more fundamental disagreement over the nature of sexuality, which for Freud is a natural, instinctive (and therefore antisocial) drive, but which for Foucault is a social and discursive construct. But both thinkers agree that sexuality and the family are important spheres for the workings of power in society. Freud suggests in Civilization and Its Discontents that civilizations tend to repress sexuality so that sexual energies can be sublimated into activities that benefit society as a whole, society understanding that "a large amount of the psychical energy which it uses for its own purposes has to be withdrawn from sexuality" (Freud 57). The Party of Oceania accepts this same energy-based model of sublimation, feeling that "[w]hen you make love you're using up energy" that might be employed in the service of the Party. As a result, sexual pleasure is a waste of emotional energy, since "sexual privation induced hysteria, which was desirable because it could be transformed into war fever and leader worship" (I 10). The Party thus seeks strictly to control and limit the fulfillment of sexual desire. Echoing their predecessors in the Christian (especially Catholic) tradition, the Party sees sex as existing primarily for purposes of reproduction. Moreover, "sexual intercourse was to be looked on as a slightly disgusting minor operation, like having an enema" (57). As a result of this policy of official repression, enemies of the Party identify sexuality as a potentially powerful locus for transgression against the Party's rule. The would-be rebel Smith concludes that enjoyable sex constitutes a form of rebellion (59). And Smith later enacts his subversive tendencies through an unauthorized sexual relationship with Julia, a young woman who shares his view of intercourse as rebellion. After consummating their illicit passion, both partners conclude that sexuality is "the force that would tear the Party to pieces" and that their union "was a blow struck against the Party. It was a political act" (105). On the other hand, Smith later becomes concerned about Julia's lack of theoretical awareness, accusing her of being "only a rebel from the waist downwards" (129). Indeed, the sexual rebellion of Smith and Julia turns out to be entirely ineffectual. Both are arrested by the authorities, then tortured and brainwashed and forced to turn against each other. In the book's chilling conclusion, the official appropriation of Smith's passion for Julia becomes complete; he sublimates his desire for the woman in a socially acceptable direction, realizing that his only love is now directed toward "Big Brother," the book's Stalinesque personification of official power.
. The dismal failure of the sexual rebellion of Smith and Julia in 1984 casts considerable doubt on the validity of their identification of sex as an inherently subversive activity. In this sense Orwell's book, though thoroughly informed by the Freudian vision of repression, anticipates Foucault. And the strict control of sexual behavior exercised by Orwell's Party is only one part of a general attempt to control all aspects of the lives of its members, thus depriving them of any true individuality. A principal anathema of the Party is the Newspeak concept of "ownlife," or "individualism and eccentricity" (70). The belief of the Party that sexuality is an important area in which individuality might arise again recalls Foucault, particularly his exploration of the creative self-constitution of the ancient Greeks in The Use of Pleasure. Foucault suggests that sexuality for the Greeks functioned as one of several practices through which individuals could exercise a creative freedom in constituting themselves as individuals, "by offering oneself as an example, or by seeking to give one's personal life a form that answers to criteria of brilliance, beauty, nobility, or perfection" (Use 27). In short, Foucault sees the principal goal of Greek life as the making of one's life into a masterful work of art for appreciation, admiration, and potential emulation by others, and he sees sexual behavior as a principal means by which this goal might be achieved. However, if this figuration of sexuality as a realm of aesthetic practice seems to contradict Foucault's earlier notion of sexuality as a "transfer point for power relations," it is also true that power remains very much at the center of sexuality in his discussion of the Greeks. Foucault emphasizes that an important criterion for judging sexual "style" involved the notion of enkrateia, a process of self-mastery by which one demonstrates control of one's pleasures and desires through "domination of oneself by oneself" (65). But even in Foucault's ancient Greece self -mastery is also closely involved with a notion of mastery of others. In particular, the mastery exerted over oneself in sexual conduct is viewed as a mirror of the kind of mastery required successfulIy to govern a household or even a city- state. Thus, according to Foucault sexual relations-always conceived in terms of the model act of penetration, assuming a polarity that opposed activity and passivity-were seen as being of the same type as the relationship between a superior and a subordinate, an individual who dominates and one who is dominated, one who commands and one who complies, one who vanquishes and one who is vanquished. (Use 215)
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
One corollary of this attitude is that the freedom actively to author oneself as a sort of artistic or literary work belongs only to free males, who in fact define themselves largely in relation to passive groups like women and slaves. The element of domination of the Other that thus inheres even in Foucault's somewhat idealized depictionof self -constitution in ancient Greece illustrates the highly complex nature of the technologies of the self described by Foucault in his late work. In particular, if the process of creative self -constitution is largely a quest for self -rnastery, then this process will always be in danger of degenerating into the short-cut approach of achieving a sense of mastery through the domination of some weaker Other. Conversely, the subject in quest of mastery will constantly be in danger of becoming the object of domination by other questing subjects or by more impersonal forces like institutions and conventions. And, finally, the subject who is too successful in dominating himself through self-mastery will paradoxically experience a limitation on his ability to seek mastery by imposing overly rigid constraints on his own behavior. Among other things, Foucault's suggestion of the role of aesthetics in creative self -constitution provides an important theoretical framework within which to read the emphasis of dystopian governments on the control of art and culture. The Party of Oceania is no exception, and the ever-present telescreens through which the Party keeps track of its members constitute one of the most memorable aspects of 1984. The homes of all Party members in Oceania feature these video screens, as do all public places that Party members might frequent. The two-way screens allow the Party both to keep its members under surveillance and to bombard them with a constant barrage of video propaganda; these screens are on at all times, and can be turned off only in the homes of members of the elite "Inner Party." And Orwell's Party maintains a strict control over other cultural products as well. All culture in Oceania is produced directly by the Ministry of Truth, which works to supply Party members with "newspapers, films, textbooks, telescreen programs, plays, novels-with every conceivable kind of information, instruction, or entertainment" (39). Even the proles are not exempt from this strict cultural control, and one of the reasons they need not undergo constant surveillance is that they are effectively kept in line by the Ministry'S departments of proletarian culture, which produce "rubbishy newspapers, containing almost nothing except sport, crime, and astrology, sensational fivecent novelettes, films oozing with sex, and sentimental songs which were composed entirely by mechanical means" (39).
This Party control of culture especially recalls Brave New World and indicates that, despite their frequent use of overt physical violence, the Party foresees a day when such measures will be unnecessary, when the population will be conditioned to behave properly without overt government intervention. In short, the withering of the state foreseen by Marx might appear to occur, but only because Party power is already assured even without a visible state apparatus. Thus, Orwell's Ministry of Truth functions as the official organ of an Adornian Culture Industry that seeks to interpellate individual subjects within the ideology of the Party. Indeed, the telescreens of Oceania can quite literally call out to individual subjects, la Althusser. As Smith exercises under the direction of the screen, his halfhearted effort brings an immediate rebuke: "'Smith!' screamed the shrewish voice from the telescreen. '6079 Smith W! Yes, you! Bend lower, please! You can do better than that'" (33-4). Meanwhile, the element of surveillance in this interpellation directly recalls Foucault. A central image of Discipline and Punish, Foucault's important exploration of the history and philosophy of the modern prison, involves Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon, an experimental nineteenth-century prison design in which inmates could be kept under observation at all times. For Foucault, this design is symptomatic of a general tendency in modern society in which official power depends more and more on the ability to acquire a constant flow of information about the activities of the subjects of that power. This knowledge-based administration of power finds its model in the medieval Inquisition, but reaches new levels through the capabilities of modern technology. In Foucault's own rather dystopian vision of modern society, the typical citizen is constantly under surveillance in a way that differs very little in its fundamental nature from the plight of the inmate of the Panopticon. With so many modern institutions deriving from this same emphasis on the gathering of knowledge about individuals, Foucault suggests that modern "prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons" (Discipline 228). For Foucault modern society itself is carceral in nature and the difference between life inside a prison and outside is not so great as might first appear. This is certainly the case in Orwell's Oceania, whose Party members must live with the knowledge that they may be constantly under surveillance. As the book's memorable slogan announces, "Big Brother Is Watching You." Party members thus modify their behavior accordingly, assuming themselves to be under surveillance at all times (6-7). Among other things, this awareness of always being watched
helps to suppress individuality, since Party members know that they are never truly alone. The very nature of human subjectivity in Oceania is thus modified by this ever-present surveillance, increasing the interpellating power of the telescreens. But the most powerful interpellating force in Oceania is probably language itself. The attempts of the Party of Orwell's 1984 to produce conformity and obedience in its members through the proliferation of a new language designed for that purpose represent probably the best known and most overt example of this kind of dystopian control of language. Orwell's Party diligently works not only to produce mechanical cultural products but to make language itself mechanical through the development of "Newspeak," an official language the authoritarian intentions of which are made clear in the book. The basic goal of the Newspeak is simple-to deprive the populace of a vocabulary in which to express dissident ideas, and therefore literally to make those ideas unthinkable. As the linguist Syme explains to Smith, Newspeak is designed ultimately to make subversive thoughts impossible because there will be no words in which to formulate such thoughts (46). Not surprisingly, the Newspeak project extends to works of literature as well, since the classics of past literature are informed by precisely the kinds of polyphonic energies and human passions that the Party seeks to suppress. Thus, as Syme continues, the Newspeak project also includes the translation of the works of past writers like Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron into the new language, thereby stripping them of any potential subversive force (47). The Party's recognition of the ideological basis of language recalls the influential arguments of Bakhtin that the significance of any linguistic utterance is determined not merely by the words used in that utterance, but by its entire social context, including the ideological orientations of both speaker and listener. In fact, the resonances between 1984 and Bakhtin's theories of language point toward numerous important parallels between dystopian fiction and modern language theory. Despite otherwise major differences in ideology and approach, almost all major modern theorists and critics of both literature and society have shared a central emphasis on language. Bakhtin argues that the conflicts and rivalries among different groups in society can be fundamentally figured as a clash between different languages; Jacques Derrida claims that certain habitual methods of Western "logocentric" thought are embedded in the metaphysical nature of language itself; Foucault pictures society as a swirl of intersecting and competing discourses; Jacques Lacan suggests that even the unconscious mind is structured like a language; and numerous
feminist thinkers see a masculine bias in the conventional structure of language and attempt to explore feminine alternatives. Such theoretical studies of language are highly relevant to dystopian fiction; most of them in one way or another indicate that the kind of language we use powerfully impacts the way we think, and indeed the way we are. In this respect, both modern language theory and modern dystopian fiction have been powerfully informed by the work of American linguists Benjamin Whorf and Edward Sapir. The so-called Whorf or Whorf -Sapir hypothesis argues that the language we use powerfully influences the way we perceive reality, that the "real world" is largely a linguistic construct. As Sapir summarizes it, "We see and hear and otherwise experience very largely as we do because the language habits of our community dictate certain choices of interpretation" (162). Myra Barnes, in a study of the role of language in the imaginative visions of science fiction and fantasy writers, argues that "all dystopian languages technically belong to Whorf," because the dystopian control of language is specifically designed as a way of controlling the perception of reality, and "all dystopian languages involve a measure of thought control" (150-51). In a similar vein Gorman Beauchamp notes that in dystopian fiction, in order to limit "the range of permissible ideas to an orthodox few, societies would deliberately delimit and debase the medium of ideas, words" ("Future" 464). Dystopian governments tend to focus on language not only because it is a potentially powerful tool with which to control and manipulate their subjects but also because language may harbor powerfully subversive energies. For example, poststructuralist theorists like Derrida have argued that the inherent polysemy of language tends to create meanings that go well beyond the intentions of the speaker or writer, while socially oriented language theorists like Bakhtin have emphasized the historicity of language and the ability of language to evolve and change with changes in historical and social context. Noting the high percentage of utopian/dystopian fictions that deal centrally with language, Walter Meyers has thus proposed that the attitude taken toward language is the fundamental factor that distinguishes between utopia and dystopia. Utopias, for Meyers, will give language its head, allowing it to grow and develop as it will; dystopias will seek in every way possible to exert an authoritarian control over language, preventing linguistic changes that might lead to heterodox thought (198).9 The "Newspeak" project of 1984 is an integral part of the Party's ultraWhorfian belief that "reality" itself is a social-linguistic construct. For the Party our perception of reality derives not from any direct
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
access to reality itself; rather, what we think of as "reality" is merely the product of a whole system of preexisting concepts and beliefs about reality. For the Party all descriptions of reality are fictional, and "the very existence of external reality was denied by their philosophy" (69). By attempting continually to revise reality to match shifting political expediencies, the Party is thus not replacing truth with fiction, but merely replacing one fiction with another. As Smith works to modify the statistics of the Ministry of Plenty to meet the needs of the moment, he notes that his work cannot be considered falsification of reality, as that reality was itself already fictional (37). The Party holds that all access to "reality" is necessarily mediated. It therefore seeks to perpetuate its power by assuring that this mediation will occur through the Party itself. Party official O'Brien, denying the existence of any reality outside the human mind, declares to his prisoner Smith that "truth" is a function not of reality, but of Party policy (205). This Party belief in the fictionality of reality irresistibly recalls a central strain in recent poststructuralist thought, a strain that can be traced back to Nietzsche's early essay "On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense." This essay was never published in Nietzsche's lifetime, but it has been extremely important to recent theorists of language, serving as a sort of manifesto of the poststructuralist movement (Schwartz 75). In this essay Nietzsche anticipates not only Derrida and other poststructuralists but also Orwell's Party by arguing that all human knowledge of the world is unavoidably conditioned by the self-reflexive nature of language. For Nietzsche all knowledge is thus indirect and metaphorical and "reality" is nothing but "an X which remains inaccessible and undefinable for us" (83). Language does not refer to some external reality, but only to itself, and the same can be said for all knowledge. Any link between language and reality is purely metaphorical. In most poststructuralist figurations, Nietzsche's denial of absolute criteria for truth has been taken as an emancipatory and antiauthoritarian position-if no single position can be defended as "correct," then would-be totalitarian governments, which demand that their way is the only way, have no ground on which to stand. In this sense, Nietzschean poststructuralism also resembles the work of Bakhtin, who continually emphasizes the value of "heteroglossia," or linguistic multiplicity, as opposed to the sterility of a "mono logical" language that allows for only one view of the world. To a certain extent, 1984 ratifies such calls for linguistic pluralism by demonstrating the evils of a Party that demands that there can be only one language and one truth-those that are determined by the Party
itself. On the other hand, it is also easy to see how a too-easy acceptance of Nietzsche's deconstruction of absolute truth might play directly into the hands of those who, like Orwell's Party, would seek blatantly to redefine reality in the pursuit of their own unscrupulous ends. Examining the phenomenon of totalitarianism in the twentieth century Hannah Arendt concludes that "[t]he ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction ... and the distinction between true and false ... no longer exist" (474). After all, if there are no basic standards of truthfulness to which one can appeal, how is one to conclude that the proclamations of tyrants are without validity? Nietzsche himself does not opt for pure relativism but concludes that the choice among the many available "truths" should be made on the basis of pure pragmatism. Thus Breazeale notes that, while Nietzsche does deny the existence of ultimate, transcendental truths, he does not deny the fact that some interpretations of reality are more valuable to us than others. "Understood in this second sense, knowing is not an attempt to mirror an independently real world, but rather a process of accommodating ourselves to the world in which we live and that world to us: truths are humanly constructed instruments designed to serve human purposes" (xxxii). Said otherwise, Nietzsche concludes that one should pragmatically accept the "truth" that helps one to achieve his or her own ends. But behind this solution lurks the troubling specter of "might makes right"-with "truth" becoming whatever version of reality can be enforced by those with enough power to do so. In addition, while older forms of tyranny like the medieval Church at least paid lip service to truth as a legitimation for their power, more recent experience with twentieth-century phenomena like fascism, Stalinism, and McCarthyism has shown that abusive governments now tend to operate not through an unwavering dedication to unequivocal truths but through a cynical acceptance of equivocation in all aspects of life. In such instances truth becomes not a tool of official power but a potential weapon of subversion. And this goes not just for the blatant horrors of totalitarian governments but for the everyday business of "democratic" governments as well, as Watergate, Irangate and other recent scandals have shown. Echoing Brecht's favorite slogan that "Truth Is Concrete," Terry Eagleton also parallels many critics of the contemporary postmodern culture of capitalism when he warns against a facile rejection of "truth" as a purely authoritarian notion:
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
Gross deception, whitewash, cover-up and lying through one's teeth: these are no longer sporadic, regrettable necessities of our form of life but permanently and structurally essential to it. In such conditions, the true facts-concealed, suppressed, distorted-can be in themselves politically explosive; and those who have developed the nervous tic of placing such vulgar terms as "truth" and "fact" in fastidiously distancing scare quotes should be careful to avoid a certain collusion between their own high-toned theoretical gestures and the most banal, routine political strategies of the capitalist power-structure. (Ideology 379) Orwell's depiction of the cynical manipulation of reality by the Party of 1984 tends to support Eagleton's contention that a complacent disavowal of absolute truth may play directly into the hands of the powers-that-be. On the other hand, the Party's proclamation of the results of this manipulation as the one acceptable truth shows the danger in Eagleton's position as well. Who, after all, is to certify given "facts" as "true"? Once the Party is successful at completing its transition to Newspeak, there is a very real sense in which the Party's proclamations will literally be "true," because the only "truths" expressible in Newspeak are those in accord with Party doctrine. The Newspeak project is part of the Party's attempts to manipulate reality (and thus to gain complete control of the minds of its members) by manipulating language. This project reveals certain troubling difficulties in the poststructuralist discourse of linguistic relativism, but at the same time modern theory also indicates that the Newspeak project is inherently doomed. For Derrida, the words of Newspeak will inevitably generate meanings beyond the expectations of the Party, regardless of how impoverished and tightly controlled the vocabulary and syntax of that language might appear to be. Meanwhile, Newspeak itself epitomizes what Bakhtin calls "authoritative" language-language that can brook no questioning or disagreement: "The authoritative word demands that we acknowledge it, that we make it our own; it binds us, quite independent of any power it might have to persuade us internally; we encounter it with its authority already fused to it" (Dialogic 342). But Bakhtin's work also suggests that Newspeak may actually undermine the Party by demonstrating the severe contradictions that lie at the heart of the Party's ideology. For example, despite the monological ideology that lies behind the development of Newspeak, the language itself contains numerous words that are inherently multiple in meaning. Most obvious among these is the word (and the concept) "doublethink," a sort of dark version of Bakhtin's key concept of dialogism. The
technique of "doublethink" is one of the principle means by which the Party is able to manipulate perceptions of reality for its own purposes, encouraging its members to develop the ability simultaneously to entertain coompletely contradictory notlons.. Presumably Newspeak can support such contradictions because the members of the Party have been so thoroughly indoctrinated that they unquestioningly accept anything the Party says, no matter how nonsensical. But the doubleness of so many Newspeak words bears out Bakhtin's suggestion that no language is ever completely authoritative. For Bakhtin all language is dialogic to some extent, and no single group or attitude can ever dominate language entirely. In every society there will be a dominant discourse (actually, a family of discourses), but that discourse can only define itself in relation to other repressed discourses with which it maintains a dialogic tension. Thus, the very nature of language itself indicates that there will always be a possibility that opposing voices can arise, even if they must do so through parodic manipulation of the language of authority. Bakhtin sees language as a powerful political weapon, but it is a weapon that is inherently a two-edged sword-it may serve as a means of oppression, but it serves at the same time as a means of liberation. In particular, Bakhtin argues that there can be no authoritative language in the novel and that one of the most powerfully subversive aspects of the novel is its tendency to expose the pretensions of any authoritative discourse that is brought into it. In Bakhtin's view, the novel does not simply use language to represent reality in a transparent way. On the contrary, language itself is an object of representation in the novel, but authoritative discourse is stripped of its authority when represented in this way because the inherently dialogic and multivoiced linguistic environment of the novel is by its very nature inimical to such authority. Orwell's depiction of Newspeak in 1984 very nicely illustrates Bakhtin's comments on the representation of authoritative discourse in the novel. Newspeak is a language that is quite literally an object of representation in Orwell's novel. It is also an authoritative language that, in the context of the novel, is stripped of its authority. Orwell points to the central importance of Newspeak in 1984 by ending the book with an appendix describing "The Principles of Newspeak." Once these principles are explained, however, they are undermined; Newspeak can only do its work of shaping the minds of its users if that work goes undetected. Orwell's depiction of Newspeak in 1984 is, in fact, clearly antiauthoritarian, serving as a critical (and even humorous) commentary on certain developments in the official jargonese of his own contemporary world. At the level of the fictional
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
universe of 1984 Newspeak is designed to prevent its users from challenging the principles of the Party; but at the level of the encounter between the reader and Orwell's text, Newspeak serves precisely the opposite function, demonstrating not only the lengths to which the Party is forced to go to quell opposition, but also that such links are necessary because the ideology of the Party is so seriously flawed. As usual, the Newspeak project echoes actual events in the Soviet Union, where attempts to manipulate language were central to the authoritarian rule of the Stalinist regime. Indeed, the parallels between Newspeak and Bakhtin's discussion of authoritarian language may not be coincidental. In their critical biography of Bakhtin Katerina Clark and Michael Holquist note that Bakhtin's continual emphasis on linguistic energy and diversity had special significance in a Stalinist context that was characterized by official attempts to limit and control language: The official language had become homogenized and dominated all aspects of public life. Most literature and literary scholarship were mere subfunctions of the official rhetoric and myths. Official pronouncements were absolutely authoritative and final. (267) In a similar way, the attempts of the Party of Oceania to manipulate history recall a central Stalinist strategy. They also recall Nietzsche's discussion of antiquarian, monumental, and critical history. Nietzsche's main point in that discussion is that anyone of his three modes of history is ultimately destructive if pursued to the exclusion of all others. He himself emphasizes the critical mode largely because he believes that his own contemporary society is being strangled by an overemphasis on the monumental and antiquarian modes of viewing history. He felt that his present was thus being overwhelmed by the past, causing the past to become the "gravedigger of the present" ("Uses" 62, 1). Nietzsche thus suggests that the motto of monumental historians might be "let the dead bury the living" (72, 2) and that a purely antiquarian history "hinders any firm resolve to attempt something new, thus it paralyzes the man of action" (75, 3). The solution, according to Nietzsche, is not to turn away from the past, but to put it to use in the service of the present. He describes the ability to appropriate the past in this way as the "plastic power" of an individual or of a culture, where plastic power is defined as "the capacity to develop out of oneself in one's own way, to transform and incorporate into oneself what is past and foreign" (62, I).
This ability to conscript the past in the interest of the present is for Nietzsche a means of escaping paralysis, thus empowering genuine action and enabling genuine change, but Nietzsche also suggests that even this crucial "plastic power" can be abused. In the twentieth century such abuse has frequently occurred, and creative rewritings of the past have played an important role in the official propaganda of any number of governments. Sergei Eisenstein's film October shows a great deal of the kind of plastic power of which Nietzsche would probably approve, presenting a highly fictionalized account of the October Revolution in Russia that savages Kerensky and apotheosizes Lenin and the Bolsheviks. The film is shot in a sort of quasidocumentary style, but makes no pretense at historical accuracy, instead employing a number of blatantly artificial modernist film techniques in an effort not to narrate the events of the revolution but to convey its significance. Yet later Soviet propaganda film accounts of the Revolution abused this plastic power, quite routinely using footage from October as if they were genuine documentary shots of real historical events (Taylor 93). This appropriation of Eisenstein's film is only one of the milder examples of the rewriting of the past under the Soviet system, especially during the rule of Stalin. And, given the special implication of the Soviet system in the satire of 1984, it is not surprising that such abuses lie at the heart of the uses of the past by the Party of Orwell's book. Far from rejecting history entirely (in the mode of Huxley's World Controllers) Orwell's Party believes that history is important indeed. But they claim the authority to rewrite history at will in accordance with the political expediencies of the moment. In an obvious reference to the continual revisions of history under Stalinism (but also in a general reference to the fact that the official history of the past is always written by those who hold power in the present), the key element of the ideology of Ingsoc involves what they call the "mutability of the past." "Who controls the present," runs a related slogan, "controls the past." In his discussion of Nietzsche de Man presents a paradigmatic poststructuralist statement of the textuality of history, arguing that "the bases for historical knowledge are not empirical facts but written texts, even if these texts masquerade in the guise of wars and revolutions" (165). Such statements ostensibly act as warnings against the potential falsification of history like that which occurs when Eisenstein's film textualizes the Russian Revolution and contributes to propagandistic accounts of that event. But an overly sanguine acceptance of the textuality of history might actually make it easier for the powers-that-be to remake the past in their own image. In
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
another of Orwell's apparent anticipations of poststructuralism, the Ministry of Truth in 1984 literalizes de Man's observation, proclaiming that history is not recorded in texts, but that it is the texts in which it is recorded. The Ministry's Records Department (where Smith is employed as the book begins) thus continually "updates" history by editing official records, effacing all indication of the existence of problematic persons or events and creating fictional records of nonexistent persons or events that help to support the Party line. Extending the distortion of facts and manipulation of statistics that characterized the Soviet press under Stalin, Orwell's Ministry not only controls the content of all newspapers in the present, but also continually modifies the filed back issues of those newspapers according to the latest Party line, leaving no official record of anything that might run counter to current Party policy. The Party constantly appeals to history to legitimate its claims to authority, but in point of fact this continual editing of the past represents an effacement of history at least as radical as the denial of the past by Huxley's World Controllers. Smith suggests that in Oceania history has been reduced to a perpetual present (218). He thus strongly anticipates Habermas's description of the time-consciousness of aesthetic modernity. Indeed, the Party's belief in the social construction of reality is so radical that their project of reconstructing the past is quite literal. In their eyes they are not creating false histories that do not conform to a "true past." They are literally recreating the past, which exists only in "texts" of which they are fully in control. This textuaIization of history threatens to strip the experiences of the real people who live through history of all significance. With no tangible evidence to the contrary, Party members tend to accept official accounts of the past even when those accounts contradict their own memories. The dictatorship of the Party in Oceania is relatively new, and citizens can commonly still remember the days before the Party's rule. Yet the revisionary history of the Party has been so effective that even direct memory is becoming less and less effective as a counter to official fictionalizations of the past. Such failures of personal memory play directly into the hands of the Party, suggesting a dark reverse side to the creative forgetting apotheosized by Nietzsche. 1984 stands as an eloquent plea that we remember the past and learn from it, that we in modern England and America not forget (and therefore repeat) the excesses of dictators like Hitler and Stalin in our attempts to defend our democratic way of life. In the post-Cold War nineties these warnings may seem less urgent, but Orwell's message
should not be discarded simply because the Soviet system is no longer extant. At this writing no one can predict the future course of events in post-Soviet Russia. And if dystopian fiction tells us anything, it is that popular complacency is one of the surest roads to tyranny. NOTES 1. On the other hand, note Thomas W. Cooper's suggestion relative to Orwell's book as a warning of things to come that "the deepest danger is not that 1984 is coming, but rather that it has come in another guise, and we are unaware of it" (99-100, his emphasis). Kumar also suggests that many aspects of Orwell's vision are coming to be realized (345-6). 2. See Kumar for a discussion of Orwell's belief, solidified by the 1939 Soviet-German pact, that "nazism and communism were no more than variants of a single type" (305). 3. See Steinhoff (George Orwell) for an extended study of Orwell's relationship to other writers of utopian/dystopian fiction. 4. One of the most striking visual depictions of the backwardness of technology under dystopian conditions occurs in Terry Gilliam's film Brazil, which is at least partially a parody of 1984. Gilliam's dystopian London is highly technological, but its technology is typically clumsy, backward, and antiquated. 5. On the Catholic resonances of the regime in Oceania, see Steinhoff (George Orwell 184). 6. For a detailed treatment of one such case and a summary of several others, see Juraga and Booker. 7. Orwell's Party does maintain some medieval punishment practices, as in the public hanging of war prisoners. But such public punishments are strictly reserved for the Other, to provide a spectacle for the focusing of hatred. 8. The "secret" book of Goldstein explains that, because of the efficiency of this surveillance, the Party is able to demand far stricter adherence to its doctrine than could the medieval Church (169). 9. For a somewhat similar argument, see Philmus, who suggests that utopian societies become restrictive and authoritarian to the extent that they seek to impose unanimity by limiting access to outside influences and in particular to any language other than "a language of assent" (64),
4 The Bourgeois Dystopia after World War II
By the time of Orwell's 1984 it was becoming increasingly clear that the utopian dreams that had formed such an important part of the rhetoric of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath had already been devoured by the dystopian nightmare of the Stalinist terror. But during these same years there was an upsurge in the production of dystopian texts in the West as well, especially in America, where imaginative literature like science fiction had long been characterized by a strongly utopian slant. Several historical developments contributed to this trend. For one thing, the technology that had long been so central to Western utopian dreams had now brought about the advent of nuclear weapons with the concomitant threat of the sudden end of civilization. Meanwhile, Cold War hostilities between America and the Soviet Union dramatically increased the probability of a nuclear holocaust, triggering a McCarthyite anti-Communist hysteria that was in itself a sort of attenuated version of the Stalinist terror. Despite the recent victorious conclusion to World War II, the sense of cultural crisis in America in the late-1940s and early-1950s was so strong that even ostensibly utopian works of the period take on decidedly dystopian intonations. Perhaps the most important example of this trend is B. F. Skinner's Walden Two, which was first published in 1948, one year before the appearance of 1984. Skinner's book specifically presents itself as a reaction to the post- World War II sense of cultural crisis and as an attempt to delineate a utopian alternative
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
to the ills of Western society in the late 1940s. However, Skinner's book has been widely rejected as an example of utopian thought. For an example, in their massive 1952 anthology of utopian thought, Negley and Patrick declared Skinner's book an outrage to the utopian spirit and described Skinner's vision as a "shocking horror" (590). Indeed, many readers have found in the psychological determinism of Walden Two a nightmare dystopian vision in which human beings are reduced to unthinking automatons.' In the book, T. E. Frazier, a founder and principal planner of Walden Two, conducts a tour of a utopian community in the American countryside for a group of visitors who have come to see how the community functions. In the course of doing so, he also introduces Skinner's readers to the fundamental aspects of Skinner's utopian vision. Central to this vision is a respect for science, and Skinner's utopians have based their community on scientific principles of efficiency. This efficiency includes many elements within the purview of traditional utopian thought, including the usual social factors like education and economics, with a particular emphasis on undoing the negative effects of the traditional family structure. Skinner acknowledges his place in the tradition of utopian literature with frequent allusions to predecessors like More, Bellamy, Wells, and Morris. Indeed, Roemer suggests that it is impossible adequately to interpret Skinner's book without paying close attention to the "importance of Skinner's reliance on the conventions of utopian literature" (142-3). On the other hand, Skinner'S allusions to his literary predecessors are typically made in order to suggest differences between his vision and theirs, the most striking of which is Skinner's emphasis on modern techniques of psychological engineering. Skinner, himself a renowned behavioral psychologist, places psychological conditioning at the very center of his utopian vision. The utopia of Walden Two can work, he suggests, because it is based on a plan that produces citizens who are specifically conditioned to live happily and well within the structure of this particular community. Though Walden Two is still ruled by Frazier and other members of its founding generation, all of whom were adults at its inception, the community places central emphasis on the early formative years of childhood. In particular, children in the community are subjected to a detailed and carefully designed program of conditioning from the very moment of birth, so that by a relatively early age they have thoroughly absorbed the ideology upon which the community is based. This ideology itself seems vaguely based on a privileging of cooperation and the prevention of strong negative emotions, though
The Bourgeois Dystopia
Skinner's depiction of his ideological conditioning program is far more coherent and better thought out than the ideology itself. Skinner's main point seems to be that the technology is now available to produce a citizenry who have been conditioned to accept the values that experts have deemed optimal, but his own inability clearly to specify these values highlights the difficulty of such a specification. Skinner argues that a planned society is achievable, but (especially when read within the context of the warnings of dystopian fiction) his book ultimately fails convincingly to demonstrate that this achievability is a good thing. In this sense Walden Two recalls the epigraph to Brave New World, in which Huxley quotes Nicolas Berdiaff to the effect that the real danger to modern society is not that utopian plans cannot be realized, but that they can. The emphasis on conditioning in Walden Two clearly recalls Huxley's book as well, and it is important that Frazier specifically describes his engineered society as a "triumph over emotions" (I 3 1). Frazier is even beginning to lay the plans for experimental breeding programs that will allow children to be produced according to a genetic plan, though Skinner does not specify what that plan might be and who would make it. Indeed, Skinner is clearly aware that Walden Two resembles Brave New World in numerous ways. For example, he acknowledges that his program of conditioning seems similar to the one depicted by Huxley, but then has Frazier deny the parallel: "Walden Two isn't that kind of brave new world," Frazier tells a visitor who sees the conditioning as brainwashing. "We don't propagandize" (46). In short, citizens of Walden Two are completely free to make their own decisions without official persuasion or interference-once they have been initially conditioned to assure that those decisions will not disrupt the peace and stability of the community. Skinner defends this initial conditioning by pointing out that such conditioning in official ideology already occurs in an societies. The difference, he suggests, is that in most cases (especially modern America) this conditioning occurs rather haphazardly, while in his society it occurs according to a scientific plan laid down by highly qualified experts. Skinner's utopia, then, is based on a recognition of the process that Althusser calls interpellation and on an attempt to organize and administer that process according to scientific principles. In fact, the techniques used in Walden Two are often borrowed directly from existing bourgeois society, as when the community employs a number of the practices of conventional organized religion (itself irrelevant in Skinner'S scientific society) to inspire group loyalty and cooperation. Such a use of religion, as well as the general reliance
The Dystopian Impulse in Modem Literature
on science in Walden Two, has a clear negative potential from the perspective of dystopian fiction. Indeed, Walden Two echoes the treatment of topics like science, religion, and the family in the dystopian fictions of writers like Zamyatin, Huxley, and Orwell in a number of ways. For example, the "science" of Skinner's community is almost entirely empirical and instrumental-the emphasis is on practical application, not pure knowledge. Moreover, "science" in Walden Two principally means the human sciences rather than the natural sciences, and these applications are aimed principally at controlling the behavior of the community'S citizens. In this sense, Skinner's vision represents an exemplification of the turn toward human sciences that is so central to Foucault's description of modern society in works like The History of Sexuality. And Skinner specifically presents his utopian vision as a turn from physical punishment and brute violence to the use of psychological techniques to control the behavior of individuals, very much in line with the historical progression outlined by Foucault in Discipline and Punish. Indeed, Foucault's work provides an extremely useful framework within which to read Skinner's novel, though Foucault's emphasis on the use of human sciences as tools of power and manipulation in modern society gives Skinner's vision a decidedly ominous cast. The faith shown by Skinner in scientific reason comes dangerously close to that shown by the rulers of Zamyatin's One State and many other dystopian regimes. However, recalling Zamyatin's belief that science can be a force for change as well as stagnation, Walden Two presumably avoids the stasis that is traditionally associated with utopias by placing a central emphasis on the experimental aspects of science. The entire community is viewed by its leaders as a sort of scientific laboratory for the exploration of new ideas in social and psychological engineering. Plans that fail to work are discarded, while plans that succeed are continued and expanded: "The main thing is, we encourage our people to view every habit and custom with an eye to possible improvement. A constantly experimental attitude toward everything-that's all we need" (25). This emphasis on experimentation leads to an emphasis on progress and an ostensible orientation toward the future: "Happiness is our first goal, but an alert and active drive toward the future is our second" (194). All values in this society are ostensibly open to question and modification, and there is a general emphasis on progress and renewal, as when their library shelves are periodically scanned to remove old books and replace them with new ones (I 12). However, science itself functions in Walden Two as an unquestioned absolute, seriously undermining Skinner's claims to openness and flexibility. Moreover,
The Bourgeois Dystopia
this drive toward the future ultimately seems tantamount to a privileging of the present very reminiscent of that in Brave New World. Indeed, Frazier at one point openly declares his belief that both past and future are irrelevant and that only the present has value (I95). As a result, Walden Two rejects history and tradition quite as thoroughly as the World Controllers of Huxley. Skinner's society is interested only in scientifically verifiable facts, and-as the past cannot be known with adequate scientific precision-history has no place in this program. History is not taught in the schools of Walden Two, and citizens of the community are actively discouraged from having any sense of history or even talking about the past. Because of the lack of experimental controls, Frazier believes that there is absolutely nothing to be learned from history, which can in fact be used only for falsification in the hands of tyrants: Nothing confuses our evaluation of the present more than a sense of history-unless it's a sense of destiny. Your Hitlers are the men who use history to real advantage. It's exactly what they need. It obfuscates every attempt to get a clear appreciation of the present. ... What we give our young people in Walden Two is a grasp of the current forces which a culture must deal with. None of your myths, none of your heroes-no history, no destiny-simply the Now! The present is the thing. (224, Skinner's emphases, my ellipsis) Though he points specifically to Hitler in this passage, Skinner's warning of the potential abuses of history in the hands of tyrants seems especially apt in the light of the contemporary manipulation of history by Stalin, as reflected in the operations of Orwell's Ministry of Truth. Indeed, it is this rejection of the past and concomitant privileging of continual innovation that identify Skinner'S vision as bourgeois, despite the fact that Skinner often seems to regard his society as the antithesis of bourgeois society. For example, Frazier emphasizes that the highly developed techniques of conditioning used in Walden Two assure proper behavior by the citizenry without any need to enforce that behavior through overt official intervention: We can achieve a sort of control under which the controlled, though they are following a code much more scrupulously than was ever the case under the old system, nevertheless feel free. They are doing what they want to do, not what they are forced to do. That's the source of the tremendous power of positive reinforcement-there's no restraint and no revolt. (246)
Impulse in Modern Literature
The "old system" here is presumably bourgeois America, but in point of fact the continual emphasis on persuasion rather than coercion in Walden Two clearly parallels the workings of bourgeois societies in general, which fundmentally operate not by forcing individuals to behave according to the dictates of society, but by creating a situation in which such behavior will appear to the individuals to be their own choice. Where Walden Two does differ from bourgeois tradition is in its deemphasis on individual competition in favor of communal cooperation. Indeed, Skinner refuses even to give lip service to the notion of individual liberty, arguing that freedom is in fact an illusion and that all human beings are determined rather strictly by their environments. Moreover, Skinner suggests that democracy is an illusion as well, being tantamount to tyranny by a majority that is illqualified to make intelligent decisions. The government of Walden Two therefore makes no pretensions to democracy and is informed by a strict technological elitism that acknowledges the authority of specialized experts and dismisses popular rule as leading directly to the terrors of mob violence and fascism. Almost every aspect of life in the community is rigidly ruled by an official Code, the universal observance of which is the foundation of the community's stability. This Code can be changed only by an executive board of "planners," who are themselves selected by a group of "managers," technical specialists in charge of various divisions: food, health, education, and so forth. Citizens work their ways up through the hierarchy to management positions through achievement in related lower-level jobs very much as they do in conventional corporations; there are no elections within the community and the general population has no say whatsoever in the choice of management since rank-and-file members would lack the specialized expertise necessary to choose managers properly. Citizens who disagree with any element of the Code or with any aspect of the city's administration may appeal to the Managers, then to the Planners for relief, but there is no recourse should these groups fail to act. Meanwhile, the general population of the community is strictly forbidden even to discuss issues relating to its government among themselves. Steinhoff describes Orwell's work as informed by a clear feeling that "something in modern life has gone wrong, that human beings were not meant to be so ill at ease in the world, and that the explanation of the puzzle is somewhere to be found in politics" ("Utopia" 147-8). But a fundamental premise of Walden Two is that the problems of modern society are simply not amenable to political solutions and that any attempt at such solutions is likely to do more
The Bourgeois Dystopia
harm than good. "An important theme of Walden Two," Skinner suggests in a preface to the 1976 edition of the book, "is that political action is to be avoided" (xvi).:: Citizens of Walden Two can and do vote in local, state, and national elections outside the community itself, though even there (in an echo of the Unanimity Day of Zamyatin's One State) they are expected to vote as a bloc for candidates selected by the Planners as best for the interests of the community. In particular, this political activity is part of a plan of gradual (and ruthless) expansion that Frazier sees as leading in a relatively short time to control of the entire United States by Waldenesque communities. This project of imperial expansion, combined with the disavowal of individual liberty and democratic politics in favor of rule by a small elite, has all the earmarks of a classic dystopian regime. In many ways, in fact, Skinner's utopia is clearly reminiscent of Stalinist Russia; the attempt to create a population of ideal citizens through appropriate engineering particularly recalls the Russian attempts to create a New Soviet Man who would be able to function effectively in the new era of socialism. In his 1976 preface, Skinner describes his utopian plan as an alternative to Communist revolution, and at one point Skinner's Frazier similarly grants that Russia is his community's major rival, though this admission of rivalry presumably suggests not so much a direct similarity between Walden Two and Stalinist Russia as the possibility that Skinner's utopian has been conceived as an alternative that might stave off the threat of Communism. Indeed, Frazier immediately points out specific ways that his community differs from Stalinist Russia, the most important of which are a refusal to aggrandize official heroes and the use of positive reinforcement rather than overt power to enforce the will of the community's leaders (258-9). Yet Frazier himself is motivated in planning the community by a desire for domination and control, and at times he himself sounds very much like a Stalinesque figure. For example, both Frazier and Stalin presumably base their programs on science, yet both make central use of religious energies to gain support for their regimes. Frazier cites Jesus as one of the most important predecessors of his philosophy of positive reinforcement, a link which suggests that Frazier, like Stalin and Hitler, has clear illusions of grandeur. Accused by one of the visitors of being a dictator, Frazier replies that he may be a despot, but that he is one who wields his power in the interest of the happiness of his followers (248). Stalin made similar claims, and he and Frazier thus place themselves in a long line of "benevolent" dystopian rulers that includes Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor, Zamyatin's Benefactor, and Huxley's World
The Dvstopian Impulse in Modern Literature
Controllers. Later, Frazier even compares his role in planning the community to the traditional role attributed to the Christian God in the planning of human history. Again called a dictator, he replies, "No more than God" (279).3 Many of the more extreme aspects of Skinner's utopian vision clearly arise from the perception (after a half century marked by the rise of modern totalitarianism and by two world wars) that traditional liberal humanism had failed and that radically new approaches to civilization were needed in order to stave off a descent into either chaos or despotism. However, in his attempt to create an alternative to Stalinism, Skinner in many ways seems to have produced a duplicate of it. But then Sinclair Lewis had already suggested in It Can't Happen Here (1935) that overzealous efforts to repel Communism could lead to totalitarianism in America. Lewis's dystopian novel presents a detailed scenario through which right-wing extremists gain control of the government of the United States, justifying their totalitarian techniques largely through an appeal to the necessity of defending America against the Stalinist menace. However, in the course of the book, Lewis shows these anti-Stalinist zealots employing brutal methods that are virtually indistinguishable from those used by Stalin himself. Lewis's dystopian regime also resembles Stalin's in its important use of religious energies to solidify its power, though Lewis's treatment of religion has a distinctively American flavor. Buzz Windrip, the President-turned-fascist-dictator of Lewis's book, is elected largely through the support of a religious coalition that clearly anticipates the Silent Majority of the American eighties. This coalition, with Bishop Paul Peter Prang playing the Jerry Falwell role, shows much the same paranoiac sense of persecution as the Silent Majority, calling themselves the "League of Forgotten Men" and the "Dispossessed" to indicate their perceived lack of representation in the decisions of the American government. Thanks to the power of Prang's radio ministry (anticipating the development of modern televangelism), this League is able to contribute greatly to Windrip's election in 1936, much as the religious right played an important role in the Reagan coalition of 1980. The sinister nature of Windrip's own religious orientation is made clear in his campaign platform, which guarantees "absolute" religious freedom, provided, however, that no atheist, agnostic, believer in Black Magic, nor any Jew who shall refuse to swear allegiance to the New Testament, not any person of any faith who refuses to take the Pledge to the Flag, shall be permitted to hold any public office or to practice
The Bourgeois Dystopia
as a teacher, professor, lawyer, judge, or as a physician, except in the category of Obstetrics. (66) In short, Windrip will allow the practice of any religion as long as it is his own. Once elected, however, Windrip largely turns his back on his religious supporters, making it clear that his interest is not in promoting a spiritual program but in furthering his own political power. When Prang protests the excesses of the new regime he himself is imprisoned; when Prang's followers protest his imprisonment, Prang is transferred to a mental institution and it is explained that he has gone insane, just as Stalin routinely had his presumed political opponents (many of whom were former-or even current-loyal supporters) committed to insane asylums. Windrip's regime most clearly parallels the fascism of his contemporary Germany, though it contains numerous echoes of Stalinism as well. In general the Windrip administration pays little attention to religious principles during its rule; however, it is significant that when the "strict orthodox Christian" General Dewey Haik seizes control of the government via a coup his religion-inspired regime initiates a reign of terror (with the complicity of numerous clergy) beside which Windrip's former dictatorship seems relatively mild (308-9). Both Walden Two and It Can't Happen Here arise in one way or another as a response to tensions between American capitalism and Soviet Communism. But by the early 1950s certain aspects of American life were quite capable of generating dystopian visions on their own without any reference to the specter of the Soviet menace or possible excessive reactions to it. Kurt Vonnegut's Player Piano (1952) is one of the most striking of these, responding to a number of anxieties in contemporary American life with its depiction of a society in which human labor has been made superfluous by advanced technology, resulting in a populace that itself feels superfluous and without purpose. But Vonnegut's projections of the future are more social than technological-the technology depicted in his book is not particularly advanced, arising in an America of the not-tao-distant future that is recognizably similar to the early-1950s America in which the book was written. Player Piano responds to a growing fear among American workers that they are in danger of being replaced by automation, while the book also provides a counter to Marxist arguments about the value of freeing humans from physical labor. Such arguments were especially important to the Frankfurt School, eventually finding their most eloquent expression in Herbert Marcuse's One Dimensional Man. Marcuse argues that modern technology should eventually make it possible for humans to work only a few hours per
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
week, devoting the rest of their time to life-enriching recreational and cultural activities.t In an anticipation of the post-Cold War "new world order," the America of Player Piano stands unchallenged as the world's leading superpower, having triumphed through superior technology and organization in a third world war. But this international dominance is turned inward as well-the same forces that won the war have now revolutionized domestic society. Machines have replaced almost all human workers, except a small elite of engineer-managers who are still required to make the system operate smoothly. Here Vonnegut echoes the projections (dating back to the 1920s) of Thorsten Veblen, Emile Lederer, and others about the emerging potential of the technical intelligentsia as a powerful force in modern capitalism. Note, however, that Veblen argues in Engineers and the Price System that the comfortable material circumstances of such a privileged professional elite would likely lead to a complacency that would seriously reduce the likelihood of their taking any strong political action. The real political power of Vonnegut's engineer-managers is limited as well. Ultimate planning decisions in Vonnegut's machinelike society are made by a giant computer, EPICAC XIV, and there are signs that growing computerization will eventually replace even the top engineers and managers, resulting in a society ruled entirely by machines and a populace left entirely without purpose." None of the technology described in Player Piano is particularly farfetched, and the actual America of the nineties has already far outstripped most of Vonnegut's projected technological developments. For example, in the book computerized data processing still relies on punched cards and paper tape, and the computers are still based on vacuum tube technology-EPICAC is thus so large that it must be housed in Carlsbad Caverns. The relatively banal technological developments depicted in Player Piano might be attributed to a failure of Vonnegut's imagination, but perhaps they are more properly related to a failure of imagination in the machinelike future America described in the book. Moreover, the very similarity of the dystopian society of the book to the society of Vonnegut's contemporary America increases the power of Vonnegut's satire by making his warnings all the more believable." Player Piano focuses on the travails of Paul Proteus, a high-level engineer-manager in the suggestively named Ilium, New York, who becomes disillusioned with his own life and with a system that renders the lives of most citizens pointless." The loneliness, emptiness, and alienation felt by Proteus and the other characters in Player Piano would have already seemed all-too-familiar to his contemporary
The Bourgeois Dystopia
audience. Such symptoms are, in fact, results of the Industrial Revolution that had already been diagnosed nearly a century earlier by Marx and Engels. But the Marx-Engels critique of industrialization is primarily focused on production and on the dehumanizing conditions to which workers were exposed in the attempts of nineteenth-century factories to turn out larger and larger quantities of goods. Vonnegut (anticipating contemporary Marxist critics like Fredric Jameson) moves this critique into the realm of consumer capitalism, recognizing that modern technology has made production so efficient that humans are more and more becoming necessary not as workers who produce goods, but as consumers who buy them. Moreover, Vonnegut extends the Marxist analysis of the Industrial Revolution, suggesting that the technological developments depicted in Player Piano are part of a Second Industrial Revolution: whereas in the original Industrial Revolution human muscle was replaced by machines, in this new Industrial Revolution routine human thought is replaced by machines.' In addition, the book suggests that a Third Industrial Revolution may be just around the corner, in which even the most sophisticated intellectual work would be done by machines, making human beings obsolete altogether. If Player Piano thus recalls a number of sophisticated analyses of modern culture and society, it includes less sophisticated elements as well. In particular, the book seems to romanticize labor, depicting even work on a factory assembly line as spiritually fulfilling without paying attention to the fact that much of such work is degrading, mind-numbing, and anything but inspirational. Indeed, rather than contrast his ultratechnological dystopia with some romantic primitivist vision of nature, Vonnegut presents as an alternative not a time without machines, but a time when machines still required human operators to do their work. A principal image of the replacement of human workers by machines involves the story of Rudy Hertz, a gifted lathe operator whose movements are recorded on tape so that the machines can be programmed to function as if under his control but without his presence, resulting in a dehumanization that Vonnegut evokes with a string of sentimental cliches: "The tape was the essence distilled from the smail, polite man with the big hands and black fingernails; from the man who thought the world could be saved if everyone read a verse from the Bible every night; from the man who adored a collie for want of children" (9-10). Hertz is depicted more as an artist than as a factory worker, consistent with the central player piano metaphor-after all, player pianos represent a replacement of human artistic performance by mechanization. Indeed, a player piano is not far from the
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
musicometers and versif'icators of We and 1984. And the emphasis on industrial efficiency and mass production in Vonnegut's dystopian America leads to the overt mechanization of culture that is reminiscent of the visions of Zamyatin and Orwell. Efficient manufacturing techniques make books extremely inexpensive, and mass production similarly makes reproductions of the paintings of the Great Masters accessible to all. "It's the Golden Age of Art," proclaims government bureaucrat Ewing J. Halyard, "with millions of dollars a year poured into reproductions of Rembrandts, Whistlers, Goyas, Renoirs, EI Grecos, Degas', da Vincis, Michelangelos" (210). In this sense Vonnegut's book clearly recalls Walter Benjamin's comments on modern culture in his essay "The Age of Mechanical Reproduction." However, Benjamin sees a positive potential in the mechanical mass production of modern artworks, arguing that this phenomenon should lead to the destruction of the traditional religious "aura" associated with works of art, thus leading to a changed mode of aesthetic reception that produces a new kind of emancipated reader, able to resist the authority of received ideas and to read in challenging and critical ways. In Player Piano, however, the mechanical reproduction of art leads not to the development of an increasingly critical audience, but to a culture based on mindless conformity. Vonnegut's business-oriented dystopia echoes satires of capitalist conformism like Sinclair Lewis's Babbitt, though the culture Vonnegut describes turns out to be much like those depicted in dystopian satires of the Russian Soviet system. Culture in Vonnegut's dystopian America is completely banal, consisting mainly of insipid soap operas and works of official propaganda. Like everything else in this society, culture is thoroughly managed for industrial efficiency. But this efficiency requires strict censorship, and one episode in the book involves a loyal wife who has been forced to turn to prostitution to try to support herself and her novelist-husband, whose career has been ruined by his unfortunate encounters with official censorship. In particular, his writing has been rejected by the National Council of Arts and Letters because it is too well written for the literacy level of the average reader, because it has an antimachine theme, and because it is twenty-seven pages longer than the maximum length decreed by the Council for optimum economic efficiency (21 I). In short, Vonnegut's verdict on the effects of the mass production of culture ultimately accords not with the analysis of Benjamin, but that of Adorno. Like Adorno, Vonnegut seems to see in art (and particularly in the craftsmanship of skilled workers like Rudy Hertz) a potential resistance to the tyranny of technology. However, by depicting Hertz more in the mold of a medieval artisan than of a modern factory
The Bourgeois Dystopia
worker, Vonnegut ignores the fact that modern factory work is in general not nearly the creative activity that the book associates with Hertz's deft artistlike operation of his lathe. Vonnegut's use of Hertz as a romantic foil to the excessively technologized dystopia of the book suggests that (like most of the more sophisticated dystopian fictions) Player Piano does not denounce science and technology themselves as unequivocal evils; the dehumanizing effects described in the book occur only because technological development and the concomitant bureaucratic management have simply gotten out of control. In particular, Vonnegut depicts a society in which industry and technology have themselves become a sort of substitute religion; the citizens of his projected dystopia worship above all else industrial efficiency and productivity. Thus Kroner, a top industrial manager, is described as a rather incompetent engineer who serves primarily as a sort of spiritual leader , as an "evangelist" who "personified the faith, the nearholiness, the spirit of the complicated venture" of industrial capitalism (38). On the other hand, one of the principal leaders of the "Ghost Shirt Society" that leads a rebellion against Vonnegut's technocratic dystopia is the Reverend James J. Lasher, a Protestant minister who espouses traditional human values against the dehumanization of an increasingly automated society that is threatening to render humans obsolete. However, Lasher himself winds up as a symbol of the disengagement of religion from the individual lives of real people. The revolution fails miserably, with dire consequences for many of its participants, but Lasher himself is "contented." In the traditional spirit of Christian sacrifice (a spirit the sadomasochistic nature of which is encompassed in his name), Lasher had known all along that the revolution could not succeed, but merely wished to use it to make a point and to gain an opportunity at martyrdom: "A lifelong trafficker in symbols, he had created the revolution as a symbol, and was now welcoming the opportunity to die as one" (295). Vonnegut makes it rather clear, however, that the martyrdom of Lasher and his followers will produce nothing but their own suffering. Proteus represents a more moderate reaction to the dystopian present of the book. His nostalgic visions of the past are focused not on agrarian fantasies but on a shop in "Building 58," a building left over from the early days of the plant that Proteus now manages." This shop was once used by Thomas Edison, who functions for Proteus not as a villain whose work contributed to the arrant technologization of American society. but as an heroic image of human capability and ingenuity. Proteus has restored the shop as a sort of museum, where he can occasionally go to view its clumsy and antiquated machines and
The Dystopian Impulse in Modem Literature
thus to recharge his spirits, to remind himself that the present has progressed far beyond the past days of Edison: "It was a vote of confidence from the past, he thought-where the past admitted how humble and shoddy it had been, where one could look from the old to the new and see that mankind really had come a long way" (6). But this . progress is purely technological, and when Paul views a photograph of the shop's workers from the days of Edison, he is reminded of the relative spiritual impoverishment of the present; he sees- in their faces a strength, a determination, and a spirit that he himself has lost (7), The book's title image reinforces this same sort of nostalgia for a simpler past that was still somewhat mechanized. A player piano is precisely a machine designed to perform work that would normally be performed by a human, and its perforated rolls are analogous to the punched tapes that program the lathe once operated by Rudy Hertz. Yet player pianos are typically regarded in the popular consciousness not as warnings of the growing danger that mechanization will render humans obsolete but as Quaint reminders of a simpler past. Hertz himself seems fascinated by the player piano in the bar that he frequents, though his description of the machine to Proteus carries ominous undertones: "Makes you feel kind of creepy, don't it, Doctor, watching them keys go up and down? You can almost see a ghost sitting there playing his heart out" (28). Vonnegut's appeal to a time of more limited technology as an alternative to his dystopia is probably more realistic than would be a similar appeal to raw nature. On the other hand, Player Piano ultimately suggests that the development of technology may in fact be inherent in human nature. Late in the book a group of Luddite-like subversives (who recruit Proteus as their titular leader) violently revolt against the system; though the revolt fails in most of the country, the revolutionaries do manage to take control of Ilium, where they begin to smash every machine in sight. Yet by the book's end these same subversives are already beginning to repair the machines, simply to give themselves something interesting to do. This ending indicates that, even had the revolution succeeded, the progressive industrialization that brought it about would simply have been repeated. And the book as a whole suggests that the oppressed citizenry of America brought about their own predicament. As Thomas Wymer puts it, "Vonnegut goes beyond a simple attack on technology by suggesting that the real tragedy is that man has defined himself in a way that makes him replaceable by machines, that man has defined his own value as he defines the value of an object" (44),
The Bourgeois Dystopia
Vonnegut's model of a gradual movement of industrialization from the physical to the mental anticipates a number of contemporary discussions of a movement from the Industrial Age to the Information Age, though it does fail to anticipate the microelectronics revolution that made the Information Age a practical reality. Important neoMarxist thinkers like Raymond Williams have recognized the need to update Marx's work to include the growing importance of information relative to manufacturing, a phenomenon that Marx himself did not foresee.l" Mark Poster describes the historical progression from machine to computer: The computer stores not dead labor but dead knowledge. It replaces not the arms and muscles of the worker but his or her mental functions of memory and calculation, among others. It stands against the living worker, to continue the Marxist analogy, like his or her alien essence, dominating the work process. The reversal of priorities Marx saw in the factory whereby the dead (machines) dominate the living (workers) is extended by the computer to the realm of knowledge. (166) Much of the point of Poster's analysis of the move to an information-based economy is to suggest that Foucault can be viewed as a sort of Information Age successor to Marx. And Foucault's work is clearly relevant to Player Piano in a number of ways. Foucault's emphasis on surveillance and information gathering as modes of power in modern society, for example, provides an important theoretical gloss to the depiction by Vonnegut (and many other authors of dystopian fictions) of computerized information systems which keep track of the intimate details of the lives of individual citizens. In the America of Player Piano citizens are carefully screened, tested, and categorized during their school days so that they can be slotted for their proper place in society. And computerized systems keep up with these test results to ensure that their recommendations are followed. Meanwhile, even the most minor deviations from accepted behavioral patterns are recorded and stored in a massive police information system, so that potential "saboteurs" can be closely watched. All in all, however, Vonnegut's focus in Player Piano is still largely on manufacturing as the central driving force of capitalist society. Gore Vidal's Messiah (1954), on the other hand, places its emphasis squarely on the marketing and advertising aspects of consumer capitalism. Vidal's book depicts the tyranny that results from the rise to absolute political power of a cult based on the teachings of charismatic leader John Cave, a thinly veiled allegorical
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
reinscription of Christ. The Cavites supposedly oppose all religions, but their own organization grows into a new religion in its own right. Utilizing modern technology and techniques borrowed from such fields as business and psychoanalysis, the Cavites (under the cynical guidance of Cave's manager Paul Himmell) are able to gain political power in the United States. They then brutally suppress all opposition and embark on a program of domination that enslaves half the world. The obvious parallels between Cavism and Christianity imply a critique of the latter, but the real dangers indicated by the book are those of zealotry and blind obedience to anyone system or point of view, dangers that were especially real in the conformist fifties when the propaganda techniques of the Cold War were becoming available for domestic use as well. Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 (1953) also arises as a direct response to the cultural environment in America in the 1950s. Of all major dystopian fictions it is perhaps Bradbury's that focuses most intensely on literature and on the attempts of an oppressive regime to limit the access of the populace to literature, attempts that recall the strict censorship and the book burnings that inform the American fascist society of Lewis's It Can't Happen Here. Fahrenheit 451 is the story of Guy Montag, a "fireman" in a dystopian America of the future. In this society, firemen do not put out fires, but start them. Except for a few brief official pamphlets, books in this society are strictly forbidden, and it is the job of the firemen to burn any books they can find, along with the houses in which those books have been hidden. Instead of the barrage of mass-market books depicted in Player Piano, the bookless culture of Montag's America consists of an incessant electronic barrage of popular culture that seems designed partially to purvey the official ideology of the society, but mostly to stupefy the populace by saturating their minds with useless information. Citizens constantly go about with tiny "Seashell Radio" receivers in their ears so this popular culture can follow them wherever they go. And at home they are surrounded by sophisticated three-dimensional television broadcasts that bring the programs alive in their homes to substitute for the lack of any real emotional existence. Montag's wife Mildred, for example, is entirely enthralled by these programs, the characters in which she considers to be her "family." When Montag comes home after a particularly trying night at work in which an old woman was burned alive with her books, the benumbed Mildred shows no response, instead merely noting that she had a nice evening watching television, despite the fact that the programs she watched were clearly devoid of any real content. When
The Bourgeois Dystopia
Montag asks what she watched, she says "Programs," and when he asks which programs, she says "Some of the best ever" (52).11 The entire culture of this society seems designed precisely to numb the minds of the populace and to prevent them from experiencing any real thought or feeling, much in the mode of Brave New World. Jack Zipes summarizes Bradbury's goal: Bradbury wants to get at the roots of American conformity and immediately points a finger at the complicity of state and industry for using technology to produce television programs, gambling sports games, amusement parks, and advertising to block self -ref'lection and blank out the potential for alternative ways of living which do not conform to fixed national standards. (185) The popular culture of Fahrenheit 451 is effective not only at numbing the minds of its audience, but at positioning that audience through techniques of interpellation. For example, one of Mildred's favorite shows is an interactive one in which she is allowed to playa part. But this potentially promising opportunity for creativity is dulled by the fact that Mildred is limited to reading prescripted responses ("I think that's fine!", "I sure do!") that do little except indicate her agreement with what is being said in the program. In short, these programs are designed merely to extract the audience's agreement with the official ideology of the programs while creating the illusion that the audience themselves have a part in determining that ideology. This illusion recalls Marxist arguments (like Pecheux's "Munchausen effect" or Antonio Gramsci's concept of "hegemony") that it is typical of bourgeois society (in contrast to the violent coercion often practiced in totalitarian societies) to maintain its power by subtle manipulation of the citizenry to obtain their "voluntary" cooperation. But Bradbury himself seems to suffer from the "Munchausen effect," emphasizing throughout Fahrenheit 451 the voluntary participation of the populace in the oppressive policies of the government. Granted, a few marginal characters (like the old woman burned with her books) suffer violent persecution, but they do so with the full agreement of the vast majority of the populace, the antiintellectualism of which is such that they think it entirely fitting and proper that books should burn, even if their owners must burn with them. Bradbury's book as a whole seems to endorse the claim of Faber (an ex-English professor whom Montag consults after he himself begins to rebel) that the problem is not really with the system, but with the people:
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
"Remember, the firemen are rarely necessary. The public itself stopped reading of its own accord. You firemen provide a circus now and then at which buildings are set off and crowds gather for the pretty blaze, but it's a small sideshow indeed, and hardly necessary to keep things in line." (94) The book burnings of Fahrenheit 451 are pure spectacle, just another element of popular culture in Bradbury's dystopian America. In this sense they resemble the public executions that play an important role in the demonstration of official power in dystopian fictions like We, 1984, and Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. These spectacles again recall Foucault's Discipline and Punish, which begins with a description of the social importance of such displays of power in the Middle Ages. But in the modern world, Foucault suggests that power works in more subtle ways: "At the beginning of the nineteenth century, then, the great spectacle of physical punishment disappeared; the tortured body was avoided; the theatrical representation of pain was excluded from punishment" (14). This increasing subtlety corresponds to a turn from coercion to persuasion as a means of controlling the behavior of the populace in bourgeois society, and it is not surprising that Huxley's ultrabourgeois dystopia in Brave New World adheres to this practice, seeking not to display punishment, but to keep it out of sight-transgressors are not publicly punished, but merely exiled. The return to spectacular punishments in numerous other dystopias, then, represents a regression to more brutal and primitive forms of official power, and it is no accident that numerous writers suggest medieval analogues (especially the Inquisition) for the structures of power depicted in their dystopian fictions. Bradbury, on the other hand, seems to view the theatrical demonstrations of power in his book as a commentary not on official power, but on popular taste, suggesting that people simply like spectacles and that the government is merely giving them what they want. His stance ultimately seems to be informed by a cultural and intellectual elitism; as Zipes notes, "[tjhe dystopian constellation of conflict in Fahrenheit 451 is not really constituted by the individual versus the state, but the intellectual versus the masses" (I91). In a move that anticipates recent debates on "political correctness," Captain Beatty, Montag's superior in the fire department, explains to Montag that the burning of books had its roots in the original movement of various minorities to demand that certain works they found offensive be banned. Because of this pressure, authors began to turn out more and more insipid works, seeking to avoid controversy and thereby
The Bourgeois Dystopia
reach a larger audience. EventuaJJy, real books ceased to be written altogether, replaced by comic books, sex magazines, and television, because (says Beatty) that was what the public really wanted (61). Beatty, of course, is not presented by Bradbury as an exemplary figure, but in point of fact Bradbury indicates in a 1979 "Author's Afterword" to the book his own agreement with Beatty's analysis. Appealing to icons of the Western literary tradition like Shakespeare, Dante, and Milton, Bradbury demands that we not "allow the minorities, be they dwarf or giant, orangutan or dolphin, nuclear-head or water-conservationist, pro-computerologist or neo-Luddite, simpleton Or sage, to interfere with aesthetics" (183). If minorities do not like his books, Bradbury proclaims, let them write their own. The problem with Bradbury's analysis here (other than the obvious egotism of placing himself in the same category as Shakespeare, Dante, and Milton) is that it fails to address the difficulty that some minorities might have in gaining access to the complex and expensive modes of cultural production and dissemination in modern society. And a similar shortcoming weakens his entire book, which fails to confront many of the implications of the very commercialization of popular culture that it condemns. For example, once culture becomes big business, minorities without the resources to produce expensive programs or buy expensive air time are effectively locked out of the system. In Fahrenheit 45 J the masses are manipulated by a Culture Industry that invades and infects every aspect of their lives, but rather than examine (like Adorno or Jameson) the possible causes of this phenomenon in the workings of large commercial and state interests, Bradbury seems to suggest that it comes about largely because the bulk of the people simply have bad taste. And Bradbury's book never examines the possibility that this lack of taste may be a result, rather than a cause of the insipid culture to which the populace are exposed. This emphasis on free choice is distinctively American, and indeed the same suggestion resides in Vonnegut's American dystopia as well. As David Hughes puts it, in Player Piano "[t]he reason the Iliumites are servile is that they would have it no other way" (108). All of these American dystopias thus appear to fall prey to the popular American myth of the strong, independent individual, suggesting that the individuals of their dystopian societies are free to make their own political and cultural decisions and that they opt for a mind-numbing conformity that paradoxically runs directly counter to this individualist myth.12 But none of these works follows up on the obvious implication of this paradox that individual free choice may have been a myth to begin with.
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
For example, both Bradbury and Vonnegut suggest that bad literature is largely caused by the bad taste of the reading public. Yet literature is powerfully informed by the structures of power in the society around it, whether the author consciously understands the workings of those structures or not. Fahrenheit 451 illustrates this point especially well-in spite of itself. The book suggests that the oppressive conditions it depicts arise largely because the people do not challenge the culture and ideology that are spoon-fed to them by the powers that be. But Bradbury himself seems to have made much the same mistake, accepting without sufficient interrogation certain elitist assumptions derived from the mainstream Western tradition of "high" culture. His book is thus less sophisticated than Huxley's, which levels many of the same indictments against popular culture, but investigates the institutional power behind that culture while refusing to present "high" culture (as embodied by Shakespeare) as a simple alternative to the mindless pleasures engaged in by the denizens of Brave New World. And Bradbury's own seduction by "high" literature suggests that literature, and not just popular culture, can act in complicity with the powers that be. Both Bradbury's appeal to the cultural past and the widespread suggestion in dystopian literature that modern culture is becoming more and more commercial and less and less meaningful resonate with many of the comments on postmodern culture by critics like Jameson. It might, however, be useful to recall that dystopian critiques of the degradation of contemporary culture go back at least to the time of Jonathan Swift, whose Gulliver's Travels was an important predecessor of modern dystopian fictionP Clearly, dystopian diagnoses of the degradation of culture are not strictly a result of postmodernism. Indeed, Calinescu relates contemporary debates over the relative value of modernist and postmodernist culture to the age-old ancients versus moderns controversy, in which Swift so avowedly took the side of the ancients (139). Swift was particularly concerned that the rising cultural power of science might lead to spiritual degradation and a loss of Christian values. Similarly, Bradbury presents Christianity as a positive alternative to the oppressive conditions of the dystopian America of Fahrenheit 451. As in Player Piano (and Brave New World) this society is informed by thoroughly commercial values; everything, including people, has been reduced to the status of commodities. Faber explains that even Jesus Christ now functions as a sort of celebrity endorser of commercial products on television: "I often wonder if God recognizes His own son the we've dressed him up, or is it dressed him down? He's a regular
The Bourgeois Dystopia
peppermint stick now, all sugar crystal and saccharine when he isn't making veiled references to certain commercial products that every worshipper absolutely needs" (88). This commercialization of Christ functions for Bradbury as an image of the spiritual sterility of his dystopian America. The Bible itself has been banned in this bookless society, and when Montag joins a group of rebels who oppose the burning of books by memorizing entire texts he himself is assigned to memorize the Book of Ecclesiastes. Bradbury's dystopian society is destroyed in a massive nuclear war that is pictured in the book as a sort of cleansing that brings the potential of new birth. Indeed, this nuclear holocaust clearly figures as an image of the Christian apocalypse, with a new society (to be led by Montag and the book-people) arising from the ashes of the old as a sort of literate New Jerusalem. The book ends as Montag and his new friends trudge back from their exile in the wilderness toward the devastated city, with Montag recalling to himself a passage from the Book of Revelations. Bradbury's vision of a "salvation" that will require the destruction of most of humanity parallels Christian projections of the future quite closely, but it is certainly a questionable solution to the problems he saw in his contemporary America. Fahrenheit 451, apparently inadvertently, thus echoes a number of dystopian texts in the suggestion that religion, by focusing its energies on the promise of some better future (whether it be heaven or the New Jerusalem), may worsen, rather than improve conditions in the present. Even Bradbury is not entirely optimistic about the prospects for a New Jerusalem at the end of his book. For one thing, the history of Bradbury's dystopian America has been rewritten much in the manner of 1984, and most of the populace in the book believe that things have pretty much always been the way they are. For example, the official history books of this society claim that fire departments have always been organized for the burning of books, attributing the formation of the first book-burning fire department in America to Benjamin Franklin in 1790 (37). As a result, most of the survivors of the nuclear holocaust might be expected to attempt to rebuild a society much like the one that was just destroyed. After all, the death and rebirth myth that provides a structural model for Bradbury's plot itself implies a cyclic history, and the rebel Granger suggests at the book's close that the rise of civilization phoenix like from its own ashes is unlikely to result in any improvement over the disasters of the past unless people can somehow learn from their past mistakes:
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
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 I. Dystopian fictions like Burgess's 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),
The Bourgeois Dystopia
6. Segal argues that American dystopian fictions are typically less imaginative than their European counterparts, but he suggests that the "banality" of American dystopias often results in a realism that makes them all the more effective (172- 73). 7. Proteus is himself suggestively named, recalling both the Greek god Proteus (whose changing shapes reflect the instability of Paul's identity) and the well-known Charles Proteus Steinmetz (a pioneer engineer-manager in the General Electric Corporation for which Yonnegut himself once worked). 8. This model is presented in Player Piano by Proteus, who attributes it to the American mathematician and cyberneticist Norbert Wiener (13). Wiener observed in works like The Human Use oj Human Beings (1950) that machines were becoming increasingly capable of decision-making functions. But Wiener also warned that human beings who ceded the responsibility for decision making to machines were in danger of being enslaved by those machines. On Player Piano and Wiener see Hughes (109) and Segal (I 77). 9. At one point, Proteus purchases a primitive farm that lacks even electricity and running water in an attempt to escape there from the system. But this primitivist alternative is highly unsuccessful, and Proteus eventually abandons the farm in disgust. 10. Williams has argued, "The major modern communication systems are now so evidently key institutions in advanced capitalistic societies that they require the same kind of attention, at least initially, that is given to institutions of industrial production and distribution" ( 136). 11. Earlier in the book Mildred attempts to commit suicide, indicating that her pop culture "family" brings her no real happiness. 12. This suggestion in American dystopias that oppressive conditions arise from faults in people themselves goes back at least to Twain's depictions of the "damned human race" in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court and elsewhere. But this attitude is not limited to America. One might note, for example, the argument of Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor that humanity has a built-in instinct for slavery. 13. Steinhoff, for example discusses Gulliver's Travels as a predecessor of 1984 ("Utopia" 154).
5 Postmodernism with a Russian Accent: The Contemporary Communist Dystopia
In recent decades Russian writers-both in the Soviet Union and in exile in the West-have frequently turned to the dystopian form to express their reaction to the oppressive policies of the Soviet regime. Often these works have been informed by a combination of humor and skepticism that has a decidely postmodernist flavor, especially if one accepts the notion I have put forth elsewhere that a crucial distinction between the two is that modernist texts exhibit an abiding faith (or at least hope) that artistic form and technique can make powerful (and potentially influential) statements about reality, while postmodernist texts show a general skepticism toward the ability of art to make a positive difference in real world issues.! The extensive use of comedy and parody in recent Russian dystopian novels also points toward recent trends that might be described as a postmodern turn in dystopian fiction worldwide. One should not, however, ignore the influence on contemporary Russian writers of dystopian fiction of the rich comic tradition among Russian satirists from Gogol and SaltykovShchedrin onward. Modern writers like Mikhail Bulgakov, Yuri Daniel, Fazil Iskander, Andrei Sinyavsky (Abram Tertz), Vassily Aksyonov, Alexander Zinoviev, and Vladimir Voinovich continue this tradition with their attacks on Stalinism and on the Soviet system in general.
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
The comic intonations of such writers also derive at least partially from a parodic postmodernist challenge to the apparent selfseriousness of earlier dystopian works like Orwell's 1984. In addition, the comedy of recent Russian dystopian fiction has a mimetic function as well, suggesting the utter ridiculousness of the Soviet system, while remaining aware of the tremendous human suffering brought about by that system. An episode in Zinoviev's massive The Yawning Heights (1976) summarizes the seriousness of the comedy in such works. In reference to the famous beginning of Marx's The Eighteenth Brumaire, the text notes that the Ibanskian intellectuals have all been taught that "history repeats itself, but the first time as tragedy, the next time as farce. The tragedy has taken place, and the farce isn't anything like as terrible." However, Zinoviev's "Chatterer" (a sort of voice of sanity in the book) responds to this supposedly "consoling truth" by remarking that "[a] farce which constantly repeats itself is in fact a tragedy" (468). Aksyonov is one of the leading Russian writers whose work evokes comparisons with postmodernism, and his novel The Burn (1980) is one of the leading works of what is frequently considered Russian postrnodernism.f This book has a dystopian air throughout and can be read as a surrender of the utopian optimism of the youth rebellions of the 1960s. It also includes certain specific links to the dystopian genre. For example, in the book's surreal closing scenes, a number of characters continually find themselves being observed by the KGB agent Cheptsov from television screens, recalling the video screens from which Big Brother watches the populace of Orwell's Oceania. Earlier in the book Aksyonov specifically acknowledges Orwell as a predecessor in the depiction of the constant surveillance that informs Soviet life. Aware that anyone he meets might turn out to be a KGB informer, the writer Pantelei proclaims his disgust with the whole situation: "It's pure Orwell. And if that's the case, then it's time to get out of here! If that's so, it's impossible to live her any longer. We've got to get out!" (315). The works of Zinoviev, Aksyonov, and other recent Russian satirists indicate that recent Russian literature can frequently be read in a postmodernist vein, though postmodernism has most frequently been discussed as a Western phenomenon. Indeed, the most prominent postmodernist writers have been American-especially if by "American" one includes artists both from the United States and from Latin America. However, postmodernism, like modernism before it, is coming more and more to be recognized as a worldwide phenomenon, so it is not surprising that even the Soviet Union would boast a number of writers who seemed to take a postmodern turn in
The Contemporary Communist Dystopia
the last two or three decades. In addition to the satirists named, writers like Sasha Sokolov, Andrei Bitov, and Arkady and Boris Strugatsky all show many of the characteristics frequently associated with postmodernism during this period. Perhaps not surprisingly (given the nature of the Soviet society from which these writers draw their inspiration), many "postmodernist" Russian writers write in an identifiably dystopian vein, though the rampant irony of these writers generally gives their texts a feel far different from that of dystopian fiction. In addition to The Yawning Heights and The Burn, Russian postmodernist dystopian fictions of recent years include the Strugatskys' The Ugly Swans, Sinyavsky's The Makepeace Experiment, Aksyonov's The Island of Crimea, and Voinovich's Moscow 2042. Of course, recent American dystopian fiction seems to have taken a postmodern turn as well; together, the quality and quantity of postmodernist dystopian fiction produced on both sides of what was the Iron Curtain suggest the extraordinary adaptability and vigor of dystopian fiction as a mode of social critique through literature. Indeed, dystopian fiction in many ways represents an ideal postmodernist mode. As Gary Saul Morson emphasizes, dystopian (he uses the term "anti-utopia") literature is in essence a parodic "antigenre"; by its very nature dystopian literature is intended as a parody of utopian literature. Meanwhile, parody is a (perhaps the) central technique of postmodernist literature as well. However, post modernist texts tend to include a strong element of self -parody. As a result postmodernist dystopian fiction often takes a parodic approach not only to utopian literature but to dystopian literature as well. In this sense, postmodernist dystopian works have much in common with what Morson calls the "meta-utopia," which intentionally effects a confusion between utopia and antiutopia as a specific textual strategy, leaving the reader caught between the alternatives of reading the work as a parody or as a "parody of a parody" (142). However, in the cases Morson cites (Dostoevsky's Diary of a Writer is his most important meta-utopia) this confusion indicates a refusal to state a preference for one generic mode over the other, whereas postmodernist dystopian fictions are informed more by a more radical skepticism that one can ultimately distinguish between utopia and dystopia. In a Soviet context, the parodic aspects of dystopian fiction take on a special character due to the ready availability of the official utopianism of the Soviet regime as a parodic target. Indeed, the Marxist vision of a future Communist paradise has been a central focus of Russian dystopian fiction from Zamyatin onward. During the Stalinist years, official utopianism was particularly well established (and duplicitous). Stalin's regime continually extolled the wonders of
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the future in order to divert attention from the misery of the present, thereby using a utopian vision of coming change paradoxically to support the status quo. Writers in the Soviet Union could not openly attack this Stalinist utopianism during Stalin's reign, of course, but such utopianism has become a prominent target for Russian writers of dystopian fiction in recent years. Many recent Soviet dystopian fictions can in fact be taken as a direct assault on official Soviet projections of a coming paradise, and particularly of the technological utopianism that informed the official ideology of the Soviet regime throughout its existence. Many of the works of the Strugatskys and of Sinyavsky can be read in this way. However, rather than launch simplistic satirical assaults on Soviet utopianism, these writers interrogate utopianism in complex ways, maintaining an unstable and double-voiced attitude that identifies them as postmodernist works. The science fiction novels of the Strugatsky brothers show a consistent skepticism toward technological utopianism. Much of the Strugatskys' satire is aimed specifically at the West (as in their somewhat Huxleyan depiction of bourgeois decadence in the 1965 dystopian novel The Final Circle 0/ Paradise), and none of their work overtly criticizes the Soviet system. As a result, they managed to publish most of their works (and to have long and successful careers) in the Soviet Union despite producing complex and ambiguous fantastic novels that go well beyond the apotheosis of science and scientism that informs most Soviet science fiction. Indeed, the Strugatskys deliver a number of telling (if subtle) blows against the official Soviet ideology with their dystopian questioning of science and technology as unequivocally positive forces for progress. Almost all of the Strugatsky brothers' books feature scientists or engineers as prominent characters. For example, virtually all of the important characters in Definitely Maybe (1984) are prominent scientists or engineers; one is even a Nobel laureate. But though the "heroes" of this book are scientists, Definitely Maybe is a far cry from the Soviet tradition of apotheosis of scientists and their work. Instead, Definitely Maybe is a highly skeptical inquiry into the limitations of scientific progress." In the book astrophysicist Dmitri Alekseevich Malinov and several of his colleagues find themselves suddenly besieged by an array of strange events that seem designed to prevent them from continuing their scientific research. At first they suspect interference by an advanced alien civiJization, but eventually they conclude that their work is being impeded not by alien intelligences but by the nature of the universe itself. Citing the well-known law of the conservation of matter and energy as a particular case, mathematician and Nobel laureate Philip Pavlovich Vecherovsky proposes that the
The Contemporary Communist Dystopia
universe itself is inherently "homeostatic," that it is constructed in such a way that fundamental change is simply impossible. Vecherovsky hypothesizes that scientific progress on earth is becoming so advanced that it seems on the verge of working fundamental change; therefore, the universe reacts by assuring that such progress cannot continue. Definitely Maybe is a pessimistic parable that questions the possibility of unlimited scientific progress in ways that set up clear dialogues both with the long Soviet tradition of technological utopianism and with the fundamental belief in the possibility of radical transformation so central to the revolutionary rhetoric of the Soviet regime. In fact, the connecting thread that unites all of the Strugatskys' later work is the continuing suggestion that science and technology, no matter how dedicated or well-meaning individual scientists may be, cannot in themselves be expected to bring human enlightenment and happiness in the way claimed by Soviet leaders from Lenin onward. For example, in Roadside Picnic (1984) the Strugatskys warn that unbridled scientific and technological development might even make things worse, potentially leading to dire consequences for humanity. In this book, the earth has been visited by intelligences so alien to humanity that the purpose of this "Visitation" seems beyond human comprehension. The Otherness of these visitors is so extreme that the areas visited by them-collectively known as "The Zone"-are changed radically. Among other things, the Zone is left cluttered with an array of mysterious artifacts that remain inexplicable to the humans who find them, even though many of them are put to practical use. Roadside Picnic as a whole details various human efforts to explore this Zone and to recover these marvelous artifacts;' No one really knows why the aliens came or what their artifacts represent, though an entire "International Institute for Extraterrestrial Cultures" has been set up to study such questions. This institute can be read as a parody of the Soviet scientific establishment or of the bureaucratization of modern science in general, though what is probably more important is the way explorations of the Zone (official and otherwise) function as a sort of allegory of the kind of epistemological inquiry into the unknown with which scientific research is centrally involved. In relation to this motif, the book also raises a number of serious questions about the moral and ethical responsibilities of science, asking whether certain areas had not better be left unexplored. The Zone itself is extremely hazardous, and those who explore it are often killed or horribly maimed. Meanwhile, the artifacts themselves, though sometimes useful and valuable, can be quite dangerous. Physicist Valentine Pilman (another of the Strugatskys'
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Nobel laureates and a leading authority on the Zone) explains the items of alien technology found in the Zone in ways that make clear their allegorical functioning as commentaries on the advances of earthly technology: "These are objects for which we have found uses. We use them, but almost certainly not the way the visitors use them. I am positive that in the vast majority of cases we are hammering nails with microscopes .... Let's call this group of objects beneficial. It can be said that mankind has benefitted from them in some degree, even though it should never be forgotten that in our Euclidean world every stick has two ends." (Roadside Picnic 106) The other end of the "stick" represented by these technological marvels, Pitman goes on to explain, involves the use of these so-so's in the defense industry and for other negative and potentially destructive purposes. Even more dangerous, he suggests, is the fact that we understand these objects so little that it is virtually impossible to foresee all of the eventual consequences of their use. He points out, for example, the plague of mysterious bad luck that seems to follow inhabitants of the area near the Zone-whenever one of them moves away, the area to which he moves tends to undergo a rash of accidents, unexplained deaths, and natural disasters. Moreover, the Zone itself has a strong "mutagen" effect, and everyone who spends time in it undergoes a certain amount of genetic damage, generally leading to bizarre mutations in their offspring. The consequences of the Zone, in short, are similar to the potential negative consequences of science itself. One of the most directly dystopian of the Strugatskys' novels is The Ugly Swans (1972), though the title of the book-combining "ugly duckling" with "beautiful swan"-indicates the way it combines utopian and dystopian energies. The Ugly Swans exemplifies the Strugatskys' interrogation of the modern myth of scientific progress, suggesting that progress is the product neither of historical necessity nor of human agency, but of sheer chance. Of course, the Soviet privileging of progress, especially during the reign of Stalin, was itself far from simple. For one thing, progress and utopianism are in many ways at loggerheads. For another, Stalin loudly proclaimed the glory of scientific progress and of the historical march toward Communism, at the same time emphasizing the need to support the status quo amid a worldwide political environment that was hostile to Communist ideals. In The Ugly Swans the Strugatskys describe a similarly duplicitous attitude toward progress. The book's protagonist, the hard-boiled
The Contemporary Communist Dystopia
writer Victor Banev, suggests that all governments espouse a belief in progress while in fact seeking merely to consolidate their own power: "So every government is forced to use ... one foot to step on the brakes and the other to step on the gas. Like a racing car driver on a curve. The brakes keep you from losing control and the gas keeps you from losing speed, so that some demagogic champion of progress doesn't shove you out of the driver's seat." (24) The Ugly Swans is set in a nameless town somewhere in a totalitarian country ruled by a Big Brother-like "Mr. President." This country is not specifically Russia, but this ruler has much in common with certain Soviet leaders, especially Stalin. Moreover, the overall negative depiction of political conditions in this country has special resonances within a Soviet context; for example, spies of the secret police are everywhere, and individual citizens are liable to be arrested and taken away at any moment. Thus, while the Strugatskys' satirical target is broader than anyone regime, there is a strong implied suggestion in The Ugly Swans that Soviet promises of dramatic social and technological progress have gone largely unrealized. Change, however, does seem imminent. In fact, the town finds itself in the throes of an apocalyptic crisis. After two years of nonstop rain (echoing the Biblical Flood) the entire town is in an advanced state of decay: "Fences were falling in, white mold was breaking out under the cornices, paints were fading, and on the streets the rain held sway over everything" (09). And this decay is spiritual as well as physical. The adult citizens of the town are tired, jaded, and cynical; they seem to sense that an era is coming to an end. One of them, Pavor, explains his belief that all of humanity, not just this town, is in crisis, moving toward an abyss: "Humanity is bankrupt in the biological sense. The birthrate is falling, cancer is spreading along with feeblemindedness and neuroses of all sorts, people are turning into drug addicts. Every day they consume hundreds of tons of alcohol, nicotine, or simply narcotics, they started with hashish and cocaine and ended with LSD. We're degenerating. We've ruined the natural world and the man-made one is ruining us. (130) Meanwhile, the citizens of the town have lost all faith that the future will bring anything new, believing that "there's no future anymore, it's merged with the present, and now you can't tell the difference" (22). Banev sees the history of this town (and perhaps of
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humanity in a general) as an ongoing vicious circle in which children are taught the bad habits of their parents and then subsequently pass those same habits to their own offspring; the result is that contemporary humanity is still mired in attitudes and modes of behavior that can be traced all the way back "to the depths of the caves, to the hairy mammoth-eaters, carriers of spears" (165). It was, of course, precisely such age-old habits that the Russian Revolution was intended to break, effecting a rupture in the status quo that would eventually lead to a radically different brave new world. In this new world habit and superstition were to have been replaced by science and reason, but The Ugly Swans as a whole suggests that historical change occurs not through the conscious, reasoned efforts of human agents but through random accidents. Moreover, contrary to the use by writers like Zamyatin of scientific progress as an image of willed revolutionary change, this analysis applies even to scientific revolutions themselves. Banev suggests that Newton, Einstein, and Aristotle may have been mutants, so that their scientific work was at least indirectly the result of pure chance (196). Such mutations also function as an image of change in the contemporary crisis faced by Banev and his fellow townspeople. In keeping with the notion of a general crisis for humanity. a strange plague of "yellow leprosy" has descended upon the area, producing a group of victims/outcasts referred to by the locals as "slimies." There is evidence, however, that these slimies are the products of a strange mutation that heralds the beginning of a whole new race of advanced human beings. As a result, the slimies are able to break free of the past and to envision a bold new order for the future. Moreover, they are able to take the youth of the town with them. In a motif that (like Aksyonov's The Burn) clearly responds to the worldwide youth rebellions of the sixties, the town's young people turn their backs on the ways of their parents and, under the tutelage of the slimies, begin to develop superior intelligence that will enable them to build a new future. Revolution ensues and, at the book's end, the forces of change apparently triumph. Most of the town's adults flee, the youth take control, and the two-year rain finally ends, signalling the birth of the new order. But the resolution of the apocalyptic events depicted in The Ugly Swans is anything but unequivocally positive. For one thing, the overall structure of the book suggests certain parallels between the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the youth revolts of the sixties, parallels that clearly question whether the utopian ideals of either revolution can ever be realized. Moreover, the children's revolution
The Contemporary Communist Dystopia
of The Ugly Swans occurs only in a single isolated city; the rest of the country (to which most of the adult residents of the town flee) remains firmly in the hands of Mr. President and his cronies. And Banev, who seems briefly to emerge from his characteristic cynicism to welcome the coming new world, ends the book on a note of skepticism. "All this is fine," he says, "but I'd better not forget to go back" (234). Sinyavsky's The Makepeace Experiment (1963) resembles the Strugatskys' works in its use of the fantastic and particularly in its parody of the official Soviet apotheosis of scientific progress. Like the Strugatskys, however, Sinyavsky does not pose a simple alternative to Soviet technologism. Rather than effect a Dostoevskian privileging of the irrational, Sinyavsky's book instead suggests that the ostensibly rational, scientific ideology of Stalinism veiled a fundamentally irrational, even absurd system. Here the establishment of an ostensible utopia in the provincial Soviet town of Lyubimov in fact leads to dire dystopian consequences for the town and its populace. As the book begins, Lyubimov is ruled by the Town Party Committee and its Secretary, Comrade Tishchenko. Then, in the midst of the annual May Day Parade, Tishchenko experiences a sort of demonic possession that causes him to abdicate in favor of Leonard Makepeace, the town's leading bicycle mechanic.f After a series of surreal scenes in which Tishchenko vainly tries to resist the strange forces that have overcome him, Makepeace's power is established and the townspeople greet his coming rule enthusiastically, proclaiming their desire to see him declared the new tsar. But the loyalties of the crowd seem somewhat confused. Despite this call for a return to the tsarist past, they simultaneously proclaim their hope that the mechanic Makepeace will be able to bring technological improvements, greeting him with an orthodox Stalinist cry: "Long live technical and scientific progress throughout the world" (38). Technological progress continues to function at the heart of Makepeace's rhetoric as his reign proceeds. Thus, though Makepeace ostensibly supplants Communist rule in Lyubimov, it is clear that he functions largely as a parody of certain Soviet rulers and of their apotheosis of progress. Manya Harari thus describes him as "a man of peace like Khrushchev. an illusionist like Stalin, a tormented rationalist like Lenin" (8). Moreover, the mixture shown by the citizenry of Lyubimov of a nostalgic longing for the tsarist past with a belief in the scientific promise of the Communist future is typical of the entire text of The Makepeace Experiment. The book seems designed more than anything else to suggest that the Soviet regime has not in fact escaped the ideology of the past and that its rhetoric of science and rationality conceals a deep-seated lack of reason and logic.
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
Thus, while Makepeace's background as a bicycle mechanic seems to indicate a coming age of emphasis on technology, it is worth keeping in mind that he gains power by apparently supernatural means. Tishchenko's abdication and Makepeace's subsequent rise to power are engineered not by science, but by Samson Samsonovich Proferansov, the ghost of a nineteenth-century Russian intellectual who mayor may not be an ancestor of both Makepeace and the book's narrator, Savely Kuzmich Proferansov. This ghostly intervention in the affairs of Lyubimov already introduces an element of the supernatural into the text that undermines the figuration of Makepeace's regime as an era of Western scientific materialism. Moreover, Samson Proferansov's powers seem to have been gained largely through his reading of The Magnet 0/ the Soul, a mystical Eastern text acquired during a trip to India in his former life. This text explains "how to influence people and make a success of your life by using a mental force which is called magnetism" (52). Samson passes the Indian text on to Makepeace, who then uses its techniques (together with Samson's interventions on his behalf) as the basis for his political power. After taking power in Lyubimov, Makepeace consults two principal sources for counsel on how to proceed with this regime: The Magnet 0/ the Soul and Engels's Dialectics 0/ Nature. One could, of course, read this motif as a suggestion that Makepeace has been able to effect. a dialogic combination of the wisdom of the West and that of the East, going beyond the opposition between the two that had informed the Russian past. However, Makepeace uses Engels merely as window dressing and takes all of his real cues from Samson and The Magnet 0/ the Soul, even as he proclaims himself an advocate of science and keeps his reliance on the Eastern text a state secret. Moreover, as a result of Makepeace's numerous similarities to Soviet leaders like Stalin, his clandestine reliance on mysticism ultimately suggests a similar reliance by those leaders, especially the ex-seminarian Stalin. Soon after gaining power, Makepeace uses his "magnetism" to influence the aloof Serafima Petrovna Kozlova-who had previously spurned his advances-to marry him. The wedding then becomes a sort of public demonstration of Makepeace's power as the groom performs a series of miracles (turning water into champagne, etc.) so that the public can have a limitless supply of food and drink. If these miracles provide an obvious reenactment of those performed by Christ, they also echo the promises of coming prosperity that had so characterized the regime of Stalin. Indeed, as Makepeace distributes his largesse to the masses, he specifically invokes Communism by proclaiming "To each according to his need" (80).
The resulting conflation of Communism and Christianity is indicative of the dialogue between science and the supernatural that informs the entire text of The Makepeace Experiment, just as it also echoes the attempts of Stalin to endow his materialist regime with a religious aura. But Makepeace is no Christ, and there are clear indications that his miracles are merely psychological sleights of hand, iIIusions produced by his ability to control the minds of his constituents through "magnetism." And he continues to work such bogus miracles as his reign proceeds, discovering that it is far easier to create the iIIusion of progress than to work genuine change. Thus most of the innovations introduced by Makepeace turn out to be illusory, the result not of technological progress but of mass hypnosis. As Harari puts it, Makepeace discovers that "not only can science produce an ersatz for almost everything but the scientist can produce an ersatz for science itself once he gets to work on the mind" (10-11). Through his depiction of Makepeace's fakery and trickery, Sinyavsky obviously comments upon the long legacy of false claims and promises in the Soviet regime. But this motif is more complex than it might first appear. For one thing, Makepeace's hypnosis of the citizens of Lyubimov turns out to be even more politically effective than real progress, as it allows Makepeace to maintain strict control of the minds of his constituents. This control itself enacts a long-time fantasy of the Soviet regime; it is thus not surprising that the "universal agent" Vitaly Kochetov, sent from Moscow to spy on Makepeace, is so impressed that he becomes one of Makepeace's most loyal disciples. When Kochetov reports on Makepeace to his bosses in Moscow, he does so in glowing terms: "Do you remember the brain servicing apparatus we dreamed of-a device to photograph people's thoughts while they were still only in their minds? Well, listen to this: the device exists and it is even more technically perfect than it was in our Utopia! Instead of merely putting their thoughts down on film, it sets them on their proper course right from the start!" (147) Kochetov's admiration for this "brain servicing apparatus" recalls (but goes beyond) the emphasis on surveillance in many previous dystopian regimes, perhaps most particularly the video screens of 1984. Both books thus indicate that a great deal of the technological progress touted by the Soviet regime in fact went into the development of devices to monitor and control the behavior of the general populace. Meanwhile, the other great focus of Soviet technology was on defense, and it is not surprising that many of Makepeace's magical
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energies go into that area as well. One military assault after another is launched by Moscow against the upstart regime in Lyubimov, but Makepeace repels them all handily with his hypnotic powers. In the end, however, technology seems to triumph over trickery-remote controlled tanks are able to take the city, as such tanks have no drivers within the limited range of Makepeace's hypnotic powers. On the other hand, religion wins as well-the local peasantry retain their religious faith, and in the end we see the priest Father Ignatius ministering to a quintessential provincial Russian flock in a parish that is "the poorest imaginable, so tucked away in the wilds that the ancient church might have been standing at the end of the world" (I85). Ultimately, the perspectives of science and of religion/mysticism are so complexly and dialogically intertwined in The Makepeace Experiment that it is difficult to separate them. The book may function principally as a critique of Soviet technological utopianism, but it stops far short of granting an unqualified endorsement to the spiritualism of the traditional Russian peasant. One of the reasons that Makepeace turns more to magic than to science in running Lyubimov is that the townspeople actually seem to prefer it that way. When a group of peasant-supplicants from outlying villages come into town to ask Makepeace for help in averting the violent outbreaks of lightning that seem suddenly to be plaguing the area, he offers to build for them a lightning conductor. They decline, however, suggesting that they could build such a device for themselves. What they want is not science, but magic, and when he suggests that there is no longer a place for spells and miracles in the new scientific age, they respond that Father Ignatius is in fact quite capable of such magic and that the good priest has "only to hold a service for the sun or rain to be turned on according to need" (155). If Sinyavsky's suggestion of magical forces behind the supposedly scientific reign of Makepeace particularly recalls the attempts of Stalin to endow his rule with a mystical aura, one can also take the suggestion of an ongoing religious tradition among the Russian populace as an explanation for Stalin's adoption of such a strategy. True progress in Stalin's Soviet Union (and in Sinyavsky's Lyubimov) was impeded not only by wrong-headed leaders, but also by the stubborn superstitions of a populace that was not genuinely ready to accept the new. Samson is indeed a sort of representative of traditional Russian religious energies, but he is not merely a religious voice. As Michel Aucouturier puts it, Samson is "a vehicle of cultural tradition and a cluster of historical 'voices" (5). Politically, Samson is not a force for spiritual progress as opposed to material progress. Instead, he represents a return to the tsarist past.
The Contemporary Communist Dystopia
But this past carries resonances of tsarist oppression that make it far from an ideal source of inspiration for political progress. Because of the presumably radical break with the past effected by the 1917 Russian Revolution, Sinyavsky's invocation of an inspiration from the past might be read as making Makepeace an anti-Soviet figure. But one could also read Makepeace's inability to transcend the tsarist past as a suggestion that Stalin and the other Soviet leaders themselves failed to go beyond the centuries of oppression that the Revolution had supposedly ended. That Samson inspires and to some extent controls both Makepeace and Savely can be taken as an indication of the way the Soviet leadership never really broke free of the values of the past, despite their rhetoric of scientific progress. But it can also be taken as a suggestion of the stubborn power of old ways of thinking in the minds of the Russian people, a power that consistently undermined the attempts of the Soviet regime to bring scientific and technological progress to their backward country. The postmodern ambivalence that informs The Makepeace Experiment is even more pronounced in Aksyonov's The Island 0/ Crimea, which ostensibly suggests Western capitalism as a utopian alternative to the dreariness of Soviet Communism. The premise of The Island 0/ Crimea-a sort of "what if" alternative history-is that the Crimea is not a peninsula, but an island, and that its separation from the mainland has allowed the defeated forces of the White Army to retreat there after the Russian Civil War and to maintain their political independence from the Soviet Union. The island of Crimea is a sort of bourgeois utopia where an ethnically and culturally diverse populace live in an atmosphere of abundance and permissiveness. It is also a haven for political diversity in which literally dozens of political parties represent a wide variety of ideologies, all of which are tolerated in the island's democratic society. Aksyonov, in short, constructs his own alternative utopian vision to counter the official Soviet one. The fictional Crimean society is clearly presented as an image of what Russia might have been had the October Revolution never occurred and had the bourgeois reforms of the Kerensky government been allowed to develop and reach fruition. In particular, the emphasis on carefree sensual pleasure in Aksyonov's Crimea is reminiscent of Bakhtin's discussions of the medieval carnival in Rabelais and His World, discussions that themselves have a clear utopian tone.6 The Crimean island society consists of a richly heteroglossic mixture of different races, cultures, and languages, all of which is informed by a "carnival atmosphere: glamorous international living; glossy, self-indulgent sexual adventure; artistry; western consumerism; and general frolic" (Matich 644).
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
The carnivalesque nature of life on the island of Crimea is well captured in the Crimea Rally, a road race which, with the accompanying festivities, is the society's central cultural event. Huge multinational crowds gather to watch the annual race in an atmosphere of celebration and anticipation that corresponds very closely to Bakhtin's description of the carnival as a time when conventional social barriers break down, but in which difference and diversity still thrive: The Crimea Rally was an unofficial national holiday. It brought everyone together but at the same time heightened the rivalry among ethnic groups: Tatars backed Tatars, Anglo-Crimeans put their money on the local English, provacuees [descendents of the original White Army troops who fled their at the close of the Civil War] all had Russian favorites, and so on. (272) There is, however, trouble in this bourgeois paradise-so much so that the thrust of Akysonov's book is ultimately not utopian, but dystopian. For example, the society of Aksyonov's Crimea is so diverse that it has never developed a cultural identity of its own that can compete with the power of the island's Russian heritage. However, one group of young activists, the "Yakis," have made it their project to further such an identity. Despite the strongly international texture of Aksyonov's fictional Crimean society, most Crimeans of whatever political persuasion think of themselves as Russians, whether they support an attempt to overthrow the Soviet government or whether they seek simply to join the Soviet Union as an additional republic. But the "Yakis" are Crimean nationalists who refuse to regard themselves as Russian at all. For the Yakis the island is not Russian, but simply Crimean, and they want to pursue political and cultural independence from the Russian past. As part of this project they are developing their own language, somewhat in the fashion of Burgess's nadsats. This language is a complex patois of "mangled Russian, Tatar, and English with assorted Romance and Hellenic roots" (206). In short it is a language which reflects the heteroglossia of the fictional Crimean society itself while still allowing the Yakis to express their own distinctive cultural identity. The Yakis remain a small minority on the island, however, and never attain any real political power. The Westernized bourgeois culture indigenous to the island is no match for the power of Russian tradition. Even the air of sexual licentiousness that informs Aksyonov's Crimea society fails fully to escape the shadow of Soviet domination. Probably the central example of subversive sexuality in
The Contemporary Communist Dystopia
The Island of Crimea occurs when protagonist Andrei Luchnikov conducts an adulterous affair with his lover Tanya, the wife of a famous Soviet athlete (l.e, of an important Soviet cultural hero). This relationship would seem to strike a transgressive blow against Soviet authority, but (in a motif that recalls Foucault's discussion of administered sexuality) Luchnikov's affair with Tanya is secretly condoned and even encouraged by the Soviets, who even induce Tanya to leave her husband so that she can stay with Luchnikov as a KGB spy.7 Meanwhile, the carnivalesque Quality of life on the Crimean island highlights the austerity of life on the mainland, to which it stands in stark contrast. Thus one of the most sought-after prizes in the book's Soviet Union is a vacation, or even a work assignment, on the island. But, as usual in Aksyonov's work, the Soviet authorities are unable to tolerate this reminder of the impoverished quality of Soviet life, and the festive life of the island of Crimea comes to an abrupt end. Even though the island is taking steps to join the Soviet Union of its own accord (an apparent comment on Aksyonov's own earlier belief in the possibility of a merger of Soviet and Western cultures), the Soviets take the island by force through a massive military invasion. Tanya and Luchnikov's wife Krystyna are killed in the assault, Luchnikov's father is seriously wounded, and Luchnikov himself apparently goes insane. The only remaining ray of hope involves Luchnikov's son Anton, who escapes aboard a small boat with his own wife and daughter. The sudden and violent end experienced by Aksyonov's ostensibly utopian Crimea indicates that the thrust of the book may ultimately be anti-utopian. By contrast, the capitalist "utopia" on the island of Crimea casts the Soviet Union in a dystopian light, though the eventual end of the book calls into question the utopian pretensions of capitalism. The book's outcome indicates that, within the oppressive context of the Soviet Union, transgressive behavior generally leads not to emancipation but to swift and brutal retribution. Moreover, there is a suggestion that the material wealth and carefree Western life style of the island (and perhaps of the West in general) lead to a political naivete and complacency that make it easy prey for Soviet conquest. In a sort of reversal of the warnings of Lewis, Orwell, and others that excessive steps to combat the Soviet menace could lead to a Western society that was indistinguishable from the Soviet one, Aksyonov thus warns that insufficient attention to the Soviet threat could lead to worldwide Soviet domination. Subsequent events have apparently proved Aksyonov wrong in this respect, but his book remains an extremely interesting example of Russian postmodernist dystopian
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
fiction, especially in its highly unstable mixture of utopian and dystopian inclinations. Matich reads The Island of Crimea as a dystopian novel in the tradition of Orwell's 1984, though acknowledging that Aksyonov's playful tone contrasts sharply with Orwell's more somber vision (651). Indeed, Matich suggests that what she sees as an antiutopian turn in The Island of Crimea can be taken as a response to the more strongly utopian orientation of many of Aksyonov's early works. For Matich the book participates in a general critical mood in post-Stalinist Soviet literature, a mood that responds to the tendency toward mythologization with which the Stalinist regime sought to promulgate its authoritarian project. But she argues that, while The Island of Crimea is critical of official images of Soviet reality, it is first and foremost self -critical. This self-critical approach is in fact typical of post modernist skepticism. Such postmodernist self -parody is central to Voinovich's Moscow 2042, which may in fact be the best example of Russian postmodernist dystopian fiction, both because it seems to exemplify postmodernism and because it is so purely dystopian. Voinovich, probably best known for his comic assaults on Stalinism in works like The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin and Pretender to the Throne, provides an explanation of the similarly comic intonation of Moscow 2042 while placing his book in direct parodic relation to the dystopian tradition. Early in the book the protagonist Vitaly Nikitich Kartsev scoffs at the ability of imaginative fiction to foresee the future. In particular, he argues that 1984 was not so much a prediction of the future of England as a description of the present in Stalinist Russia-except that the cold efficiency of Orwell's Party is a far cry from the bumbling inefficiency of the real-world Soviet bureaucracy.P But if Orwell was parodying Stalin, Voinovich manages to parody both Orwell and Stalin (not to mention Voinovich himself) in a single work. Having dismissed Orwell's ability to foresee the future, Kartsev narrates the story of his own trip into the future to visit Moscow in the year 2042. Like much postmodernist fiction, then, Moscow 2042 partakes of elements of popular culture, in this case science fiction, though in keeping with the book's consistently self -parodic tone, Kartsev himself declares that science fiction "is not literature but tomfoolery like the electronic games that induce mass idiocy" (6). As might be expected, Moscow 2042 has much in common with Soviet dystopian predecessors like We and The Yawning Heights, though in fact 1984 is the book from which it seems to derive most directly.? For example, Moscow 2042 echoes the treatment of science
The Contemporary Communist Dystopia
and technology in 1984 by suggesting a society in which a gradual deterioration of technology has formed a general part of the downward trend in living conditions toward increasing squalor. This motif, like the deterioration of living conditions in 1984, is largely intended as a satire of the Soviet myth of continuing technological progress, especially as promulgated under Stalin. Indeed, Voinovich calls attention to the radical disjunction between the dystopian situation he depicts and the utopia of official projections by having his protagonist Kartsev dream of such a utopia midway through the book. In this dream, advanced technological capabilities like artificial gravity reduction and complete climate control contribute to a perfect Communist paradise (167-68).10 Unfortunately, Kartsev then awakes to find himself in a "Moscowrep" (Moscow Republic) in which fuel shortages make even such simple devices as gasoline engines available only to the military and in which even ordinary amenities like elevators and running water seldom work properly. In short, it is a Moscow very much like the one of 1982, only worse, thoroughly undermining earlier predictions of progress.l ' Despite the avowed Communist goal of increased industrial projection, the major "industrial" product of the Moscowrep is human waste material. To get food, all citizens must turn in their waste matter, which is then shipped by pipeline to the West for use as fuel.12 This motif serves as an obvious parody of the eighties hope that the Soviet Union's vast stores of oil and gas could be piped to the West to bring new economic prosperity: "As a joke the Communites now called the former State Order of Lenin gas pipe the Lenin shit-line" (211). Moscow 2042 also recalls a central Orwellian motif in its treatment of language. When Kartsev arrives from 1982 in the dystopian Moscowrep of 2042 to discover a society in which the authorities show an intense awareness of the ideological orientation of language. The committee that greets Kartsev communicates with him entirely through a translator, even though this translator is merely repeating the same Russian words used by the committee. Confused, Kartsev asks why a translator is necessary when they are all speaking the same language. He is then told that "though we were indeed using more or less the same vocabulary, words in every language have both a dictionary and an ideological meaning ... and the interpreter was needed to translate our conversation from one ideological system into another" (I22). Because of their recognition of the ideological nature of language, it comes as no surprise that the authorities in the Moscowrep put a great deal of energy into the manipulation and control of language itself. Indeed, they are in the process of implementing their own "communist language," which consists of a
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
series of bureaucratic abbreviations like "instcominst" (institution of Communist instruction) and the "Moscowrep" itself. Presumably, the more terse these abbreviations, the less opportunity for polyphonic variations in meaning. Voinovich's "communist language" is a clear descendent of the "Newspeak" of Orwell's 1984. The various government institutions visited by Kartsev recall Orwell's ministries as well. During his stay in the future Kartsev is guided by top government scientist Edison Xenofontovich Komarov on a tour of the Communist Scientific Complex (COMSCICOM), a clear descendent not only of Orwell's bureaucracies but also of Swift's Academy of Lagado. Here Kartsev finds an entire group of researchers ostensibly attempting to decode a floppy disk he had brought with him from 1982. But the computer technology of the Moscowrep is virtually nonexistent; the scientists Kartsev observes have cut the disk into small pieces and are subjecting the pieces to a variety of ludicrous tests, including dipping into chemical solutions and pricking with pins. But when Kartsev protests that such procedures can never succeed in decoding the disk, Komarov calmly explains that such success is entirely beside the point, meanwhile indicating the bureaucratic orientation of the Moscowrep: "What they need is to have an institute, a director, a deputy director, a party organizer, a priest, a SECO chief, and laboratory heads. They extract plenty of profit from those positions. Extracting information from those pieces of the disk is of no consequence" (310).13 Voinovich also parodies the Soviet hope (especially prevalent in the Stalinist period) that the new Communist system would trigger the evolution of a new kind of human being. In a motif that recalls Foucault's commentary on the functioning of sexuality as a focal point for epistemological inquiry in modern society Kartsev also observes in the COMSCICOM a project for sexual research in which scientists observe various couples copulating in order to attempt to ascertain the optimum breeding practices for the production of optimum Communist infants.l" In the spirit of Brave New World (but without the advanced genetic technology) the COMSCICOM scientists are hoping to learn techniques of selective breeding that will allow them to produce specialized human beings for specialized purposes. For example, to produce good farmers, they breed parents who are both themselves good farmers. (Writers are treated a little differently, however. In order to assure ideologically correct literature they breed male writers with female professors of Marxism.) There is some advanced technology in the Moscowrep, though bureaucratic judgments typically prevent that technology from developing into practical applications. Komarov's own
The Contemporary Communist Dystopia
Frankensteinian experiments have, for example, succeeded in producing a superbeing ("Supey") who is both physically and intellectually superior to normal humans. "Supey" has astonishing talents in fields ranging from athletics to mathematics to music to literature, but of course outstanding individuals run directly counter to the collectivist ideology of the Moscowrep. The powerful Editorial Commission thus decrees that Supey should not be allowed to reproduce, but instead be castrated and then maintained as a one-ofa-kind freak for display in a museum (323-25). Meanwhile, Komarov (in an echo of Freud's Eros and Thanatos) has discovered that human life arises from a mixture of two "plasmas," one representing life, the other death. Moreover, he has developed a technique for separating the two, so that a person may gain immortality by drinking from the life plasma. But (of course) this treatment is available only to top Communist officials, like Komarov and the Genialissimo himself (327-28).15 Religion is also an important motif in Moscow 2042. Voinovich continues the links between Communism and Christianity suggested by We, but this time it is the Russian Orthodox Church that is labeled as an ideological bedfellow of Communism. When Voinovich's Kartsev first lands at the Moscow airport in the year 2042, he notes that the front of the terminal is decorated with the portraits of the future society's five great heroes, including the expected Communist figures of Marx, Engels, and Lenin, in addition to the "Genialissimo," the Big Brother-like titular leader of the society. But the fifth portrait is of Jesus Christ. "We worship him," explains Father Starsky, major general in the religious service, "not as any son of God but as the first communist, a great predecessor of our Genialissimo, of whom Christ once rightly observed, 'But those who will come after me will be stronger than I!'" (127). Starsky, of course, gets the quote wrong, confusing Christ with John the Baptist and the Genialissimo with Christ, but this confusion is typical of the Stalinesque revisionary history of the Moscowrep, in which virtually all important accomplishments of the past are attributed to the Genialissimo, Indeed, Starsky appears to believe that the Bible itself was written by the Genialissimo. This use of Christ as a revolutionary figure echoes Zamyatin, but also recalls Zamyatin's argument that Christ remains such a figure only so long as he is a suppressed outsider. Voinovich conflates Communism and Christianity throughout Moscow 2042 in a motif that clearly recalls the quasireligious resonances of Soviet Communism, especially during the rule of Stalin. The power of the Communist bureaucracy is thus largely reinforced by the educational programs of the "Communist
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
Reformed Church," which "always instills its flock with the belief that the truly righteous man is the one who fulfills his production assignments, observes production discipline, obeys the authorities, and displays constant uncompromising vigilance to all signs of alien ideology" (224-25). But Voinovich's satire extends well beyond Stalinist Russia, suggesting that any regime whose rule is accepted unquestioningly will tend to become oppressive. Within the Russian context of Moscow 2042 the conflation of Christianity and Communism echoes The Makepeace Experiment by suggesting that the failure of Soviet Communism may have occurred partially because the Soviets lost sight of the supposedly scientific orientation of Communism, making it into an alternative religion, merely another opiate of the masses. It also suggests that Communism in the Soviet Union may have been undermined by the persistent underlying presence of religious feelings among the populace, and particularly by the continued underground strength of the Russian Orthodox Church. Like Sinyavsky, Voinovich offers this strength as at least one reason why the Communist system was never really able to win the hearts and minds of the Russian people. Moscow 2042 suggests that the Soviet system is rotten to the core, lacking any real support. Near the end of the book the Communist Moscowrep thus falls with a suddenness that makes Voinovich seem prescient in the light of the actual events of 1991. But the Communist system of 2042 is replaced by an even more abominable system headed by the megalomaniacal Sim Simych Karnavalov, who proclaims himself tsar and institutes a religious dictatorship in which all persons are required to convert to the "true Russian Orthodox faith" and to study only the Bible and the writings of Karnavalov himself'.l'' In short, nothing has really changed, a situation symbolized by the fact that a prominent statue of the Genialissimo on horseback (which itself had been created by replacing former rider Yuri Dolguruky on the same mount) is modified by replacing the figure of the Genialissimo with that of Kama valov. 17 Moscow 2042 pays a great deal of attention to art and culture as well, particularly to censorship of artistic production under the Soviet system. Perhaps Voinovich's most vivid satire of the Culture Industry in the Communist society of Moscow 2042 occurs when Kartsev tours the Communist Writers' Union, where all of the society's writers work in a sort of factory for the production of literature. Here the writers are housed in a single building, where literature can be manufactured like any other goods, giving writers the same status as other workers and making art a commodity in the mode of the productions of
The Contemporary Communist Dystopia
Orwell's "Ministry of Truth," which is engaged in a similar manufacturing operation. The recognition of both Orwell and Voinovich of the commodification of culture in Soviet society constitutes a particularly biting criticism of a system which is supposedly designed to prevent just such "bourgeois" tendencies. And if the factory atmosphere of Voinovich's Communist Writers' Union clearly does not encourage genuine creativity, then so much the better, since the output of writers can thus be more easily controlled. And this control is absolute, even though the official line is that everything is allowed in this "ideal" Communist society. The writers in the Union are allowed to write absolutely anything they want-as long as they write about the glory of the Genialissimo. Indeed, most of the writers are engaged in the compilation of the massive multivolume Genialissimoiana, detailing the Genialissimo's various ideas and exploits-most of which seem suspiciously similar to those of various other great figures of the past. There is, however, another group of writers-in the "Department of Paperless Literature"-where the artistic freedom is even greater. These writers can literally write anything they want. One, in fact, merely writes over and over, "Down with the Genialissimo.P'' The catch here is that, because of the Moscowrep's chronic paper shortage, none of these writers have any paper to write on. Instead, they compose at computer keyboards from which their work goes directly into a "central computer" which "collects everything, compares it, analyzes it, and then selects the most artistic, the most inspired, and the most ideologically impeccable works and reworks them into a single text of great artistry and ideological content" (236). This kind of computerized production is to be expected in a futuristic society, and the implied computerized censorship certainly has sinister implications. However, things are seldom what they seem in the Moscowrep, In this future society computers and technology are not as advanced as one might suspect. This central computer is no exception to the general decay of technology that makes conditions in the Moscowrep in general significantly more primitive than those in the Moscow of ]982. In fact, when Kartsev is later shown the topsecret computer room, he learns that this computer doesn't even exist. Instead, he finds an empty room, the wires from the terminals of the Department of Paperless Literature protruding through the walls into empty space. In short, this society has found the perfect method of censorship-the productions of its writers simply go unrecorded. This system, according to Dzerzhin Gavrilovich Siromakhin (a major general in the state security apparatus), is far superior to the Soviet system of censorship in Kartsev's own day, a system that often
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
figures as an object of satire in Voinovich's work. In his autobiographical The Ivankiad Voinovich recounts some of his own unfortunate encounters with publishing official Sergei Sergeevich Ivanko, under whose guidance the Moscow publishing industry can find sufficient paper to produce the complete works of a mediocrity like Anatoly Sofronov, but only enough for a very limited edition of Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, thus effectively suppressing the distribution of Bulgakov's book even after the long-term ban on its publication was officially lifted.19 Voinovich also addresses the implications of censorship in the castration of the "universal man" "Supey." In the Moscowrep, not just texts, but people themselves are censored.i'' The castrated Supey thus becomes an "edited superman," after which he loses most of his abilities and is used merely as a domestic servant (323-25). The heartless "editing" of Supey by the commission highlights the inhumanity of a Soviet system that treats human beings as manufactured artifacts, as well as suggesting a parallel between castration and the forced editing of literary texts. Kartsev himself emphasizes this link at the end of the book when (after returning to 1982) he complains about attempts to censor his novel for consumption in 2042: "They didn't like my novel either, and if I don't maim it like they did Supey ... they'll keep it in their safes for at least sixty years" (423). Moscow 2042 ultimately suggests that literature is one of the things that make us human and that the censorship and suppression of literature are tantamount to a censorship and suppression of our very humanity. This exploration of the implications of censorship takes an especially postmodern turn when the authorities of the Moscowrep attempt to censor Moscow 2042 itself. Kartsev is in 2042 Moscow gathering research to be used in writing Moscow 2042 itself upon returning to 1982. But the people he encounters in his research are already to some extent familiar with the book, which for them was written well in the past, but which for Kartsev is still in the planning stages." Indeed, one of the central ironies in Kartsev's encounters with the censors of the Moscowrep is that they are demanding changes in a book that he has yet to write. Among other things, this motif suggests that censorship in the Soviet system often occurs before the fact rather than after, with writers who wish to succeed already knowing full well the sorts of material they will be allowed to write. But again the resonances of Voinovich's satire go beyond the borders of the Soviet Union, indicating that all writers must work within historical contexts that already place certain limitations on the styles and motifs that are available to them.
The Contemporary Communist Dystopia
In a classic postmodernist mise en abyrne, Moscow 2042 appears within its own pages-Kartsev manages secretly to obtain a copy of the book, which he then reads, presumably including the passage in which he reads the book, and so on, initiating an infinite regression of selfreference. For example, at the end of one chapter in Voinovich's book Kartsev begins to read a chapter in his own book, entitled "New Word on Sim." The next chapter in Voinovich's book is then entitled precisely "New Word on Sim." The resulting confusion of ontological levels proliferates through the text, with dizzying consequence. As Kartsev puts it, "The whole business has my head reeling" (279). The self -reflexive motif in which Moscow 2042 narrates the process of Kartsev's writing of Moscow 2042 is a classic postmodernist gesture and combines with the use of material from popular culture, the emphasis on parody (including self -parody), and the generally playful tone to mark Moscow 2042 as a postmodernist text.22 In particular, Moscow 2042 is clearly in many ways a paradigmatic example of dystopian fiction, but in other ways it is just as clearly a parody of dystopian fiction that potentially calls the dystopian project into question. In the final analysis, Moscow 2042 is precariously poised between exemplification and parody, as postmodernist texts often are.23 Of course, one should be cautious about jumping to conclusions about the similarities between Russian writers like Voinovich or Aksyonov and Western postmodernists like Thomas Pynchon or Donald Barthelme. For one thing, "postmodernist" techniques like unstable characterization, elaborate self-parody, irreverent allusiveness, comically inconclusive endings, and eccentric mixtures of styles and discourses have been the stock and trade of Russian literature since the days of Pushkin and Gogo!. For another, as Peter Burger notes relative to the differing implications of the technique of montage in the hands of different modern artists, "It is fundamentally problematical to assign a fixed meaning to a procedure" (78). In short, artists in different contexts and with different personal ideologies may use quite similar techniques for very different reasons, something that surely should be considered when comparing the works of artists whose backgrounds are as different as America and the Soviet Union. These caveats aside, recent Russian dystopian texts have gone a long way toward demonstrating the adaptability of the genre of dystopian fiction to the radically skeptical and selfquestioning attitude typically associated in the West with postmodernism.
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
NOTES I. I explore this notion at length in Vargas L10sa Among the Postmodernists. Note, however, my contention there that whether a text is modernist or postmodernist is very much a matter of reading strategies and expectations, not simply an inherent characteristic of the text. 2. Superficially, at least, Aksyonov's work particularly resembles that of Thomas Pynchon, as Ellendea Proffer has noted (131). 3. The title itself conveys some of this skepticism, though it should be pointed out that this title was adopted for the English translation. The original Russian title translates roughly as A Billion Years Be/ore the End 0/ the World. 4. The title arises from a theory that the aliens had merely stopped on earth for a roadside picnic in the midst of their interstellar travels, with the items left in the Zone merely representing the detritus of that casual stop. S. In the Russian original, the protagonist is named Lenya Tikhomirov. The English translator of the book has chosen to translate the name in order to pick up some of its symbolic resonances. I have followed his practice here. 6. Morson and Emerson discuss the utopian orientation of Bakhtin's figuration of the carnival in the Rabelais book and note that this orientation conflicts with the anti-utopian bias of most of Bakhtin's work. They therefore treat Rabelais and His World as a sort of aberration in Bakhtin's career, even though that book has been central to much of the Western appropriation of Bakhtin's work. 7. The motif of the KGB "sex spy" appears frequently in Aksyonov's work. In The Burn the two young hookers Klara and Tamara participate in numerous scenes of illicit sexuality, but turn out to be KGB informers. And the Soviet authorities of Say Cheese! keep tabs on photographer Maxim Ogorodnikov by employing the woman Violetta to establish a sexual relationship with him, though he in fact turns the tables by using that relationship to help him escape from Moscow to the West early in the book. 8. Kartsev's comment recalls Terry Gilliam's film Brazil, a hilarious comic reinscription of Orwell's 1984 that nonetheless conveys in its depiction of a dystopian London much of the horror and squalor of Orwell's Oceania. Gilliam's dystopia differs from Orwell'S most strikingly in that Brazil's totalitarian government is a massively inefficient bureaucracy rather than a coldly efficient machine.
The Contemporary Communist Dystopia
9. The time travel motif of the book is common in dystopian fiction, but Voinovich has specific predecessors in the use of trips to the future to satirize the Marxist vision of a coming utopian paradise. These include Bulgakov's play Bliss and Vladimir Mayakovsky's play
The Bedbug. 10. Such developments are predicted earlier in the book by a Communist enthusiast whom Kartsev meets in ] 982 prior to his trip into the future (] 06). II. Among other things, Moscow 2042 is a parody of Lion Feuchtwanger's nonfiction Moscow 1937, a highly sympathetic account of Feuchtwanger's visit to Moscow during the worst of the Stalinist Terror. Feuchtwanger's main point is that, while conditions may be less than ideal in the Soviet Union in 1937, there is a tremendous sense of movement toward a better future. Voinovich's suggestion that things have in fact gotten worse by 2042 counters the Soviet myth of progress that informs Feuchtwanger's book. 12. Dalos employs a similar motif in 1985, calling attention to the Swiftian tradition of such satire by referring to a project for collection and marketing of human excrement as a "modest proposal" (72). 13. This suggestion that bureaucratic entanglements crippled the Soviet scientific establishment plays a major role in The Yawning Heights, where it takes on a special force from Zinoviev's own years of experience at Moscow University and the Institute of Philosophy of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. 14. Voinovich satirizes this same Soviet project in his earlier Pretender to the Throne as well (252-5). For a summary of the Soviet scientific controversies over the possibility of creating a new Soviet man, see Joravsky (296- 310). 15. This motif closely recalls Rushdie's Grimus, in which elixirs of life and death are recovered from an advanced alien society, the former of which bestows immortality. Voinovich's use of the motif may also echo the immortality research of Russian scientist lIya Mechnikov, work that most certainly influenced Karel Capek's play The Makropulos Secret. However, that Komarov is eventually killed by his own death plasma even more directly recalls the fate of Soviet biologist A. A. Bogdanov, who was killed in the process of his own immortality experiments. 16. Karnavalov is directly figured as a parody of Tolstoy. However, Voinovich has an additional agenda: Karnavalov also functions as a parody of the messianic pretensions of Solzhenitsyn, and his presence in Moscow 2042 participates in a feud between Solzhenitsyn and more liberal Russian emigre writers like Voinovich, Sinyavsky, and Akyscnov.
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
17. One might compare Joseph Conrad's 1920 assessment of Russian revolutionaries in general in his introductory note to Under Western Eyes: "These people are unable to see that all they can effect is merely a change of names. The oppressors and the oppressed are all Russians together" (xvii). 18. An apparent reference to Orwell's Winston Smith, who repeatedly writes in his diary (which also will never be read, except by the authorities) "DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER" (19). 19. Voinovich notes that a thirty-thousand-copy deluxe edition of The Master and Margarita did in fact come out, but that twenty-six thousand copies were shipped abroad and most of the other four thousand were distributed among loyal Party officials who put them on their shelves as status items, mostly without reading them (lvankiad 101-2). 20. Thus Jews and other marginal groups have been expelled from the city entirely. 21. The attempt to censor Voinovich's book thus echoes the frequent attempts of the Stalinist regime to revise the past, another way Moscow 2042 echoes 1984. 22. See McHale for a discussion of the use of such recursive structures in postmodernist fiction (112-130). 23. I discuss the confusion between parody and exemplification in postmodernist texts in Vargas Llosa Among the Postmodernists.
Skepticism Squared: Western Postmodernist Dystopias
If dystopian fiction is centrally informed by a skepticism toward utopian ideals, one might say that postmodernist dystopian fiction is informed by the same skepticism, but also by an additional doubt that this skepticism can be truly effective. One thinks here of the Woody Allen film Sleeper, which spoofs a science fiction trip to a future totalitarian society. Sleeper includes, but mocks, numerous traditional elements of the dystopian genre, though its comic orientation veils an almost nihilistic skepticism that dystopian cautionary tales can prevent an undesirable future from unfolding. The film's Wellsian premise has protagonist Miles Monroe (played by Allen himself) being frozen in 1973 and awakening two hundred years later in a high-tech dystopian America ruled by the despotic Leader. When Miles arrives, however, the Leader has been killed by a rebel bomb that leaves only his nose intact. The Leader's followers are attempting to clone a replacement from the nose, but the bumbling Miles (essentially accidentally) manages to destroy the nose and save the day. Despite the happy ending, however, the film carries dark undertones, with Miles maintaining a strong disbelief that traditional realms of hope like science, religion, and politics can never solve the problems of modern society. He believes, he says "only in sex and death-two things that come once in a lifetime. But at least after death you're not nauseous." The mixture of seriousness and silliness that informs Sleeper is typical of many postmodernist works, which often seek to make political statements while questioning their own ability effectively to
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
do so. Among other things, this mixture makes Sleeper both a dystopian film and a parody of dystopian films. It is, in short, a post modern work, centrally informed by the difficulty in distinguishing between parody and exemplification that is a principal constitutive feature of postmodernist art. This uncertainty suggests that generic boundaries will generally be blurred in a postmodernist context; for my purposes it particularly suggests that the line between utopia and dystopia can be extremely vague. Indeed, a typical characteristic of Western postmodernist "utopian" and "dystopian" works is that the classification of such works tends to be extremely uncertain. For example, science fiction writers like Samuel R. Delany and William Gibson present imagined futures that are difficult to place unequivocally within the traditional utopian-dystopian dichotomy. And more "mainstream" postmodernists like Thomas Pynchon produce works that straddle the boundary between dystopian projections of the future and relatively realistic descriptions of the present. At the same time, even a work like Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale (1985)-which seems unequivocally dystopian-contains considerable parody and humor that sets it apart from many of its dystopian predecessors. Delany's Triton is typical of the "New Wave" in science fiction that marked a turn away from the naive technological utopianism that often characterized the genre in its early decades. On the other hand, Delany's book displays many utopian characteristics. The book centers on the town of Tethys, a dome-enclosed settlement on a moon of Neptune that is in many ways a utopian community. The town's fundamental goal is to "make the subjective reality of each of its citizens as politically inviolable as possible," and as a result the society of Tethys is tremendously tolerant of individual eccentricities (269). Citizens routinely dress in a variety of outlandish costumes (including total nudity), participate in numerous bizarre religious sects, and engage in a wide range of sexual activities, all without the least interference by the government or disapproval by other citizens. The society of Tethys is one that "allows, supports, and encourages behavior that ... would have produced some encounter with some restraining institution if they were indulged in on Earth a hundred years ago" (269). The libertarian Tethys and other settlements on various moons throughout the solar system are presented in Triton specifically as a counterpoint to the comparatively authoritarian planetary societies on Earth and Mars. Among other things, this dichotomy allows Delany to contrast his envisioned society with current conditions in his own American society, and it is quite clear that much of Delany's vision
Western Postmodernist Dystopias
derives from the political activism of the 1960s and early 1970s in America. "Moons," with their peripheral status as satellites, thus function as emblems of marginality, and the privileging of moons over planets in Delany's book clearly suggests a call for acceptance of marginal, as opposed to official, ideologies and life styles in our own society. What little we see of civilization on Delany's Earth clearly has much in common with the societies of dystopian fiction. Citizens of Earth tend to get "hauled off for resocialization" for even the slightest deviation from the norm, and when protagonist Bron Helstrom visits Earth only to be inexplicably arrested and brutally interrogated for reasons he never learns (72). Tethys, meanwhile, is in many ways the antithesis of Earth, and thus of dystopia. Citizens of Tethys never have to choose between freedom and security-the society is rich, and all citizens can be confident that their basic needs will be met. Moreover, all taxation is voluntary, with citizens paying only for those services they actually use. As opposed to the monologic authoritarian regimes of dystopian fiction, the government of Tethys is extremely pluralistic. There are literally dozens of political parties, all of which share in governing the town-all candidates for office are automatically elected, with each citizen being governed by the candidate for whom he or she votes. Sexual freedom is particularly emphasized in Tethys. The society recognizes that individual sexual preferences can vary widely, and all behavior is openly tolerated as long as it is consensual. Plurality is again the keynote. As one social worker explains to a confused teenager, the basic philosophy of Tethys is that "anything, to the exclusion of everything else, is a perversion" (304, Delany's emphasis). Thus, not only do the citizens of Tethys tend to engage in a wide range of sexual activities with a variety of partners, but the society recognizes "forty or fifty" basic genders, and both surgical and psychological techniques are available to allow individuals to move freely from one sexual orientation to another according to their current preference. Meanwhile, there are perhaps a hundred different religions and a diverse assortment of cultural activities. In short, the government and society of Tethys are informed by tolerance in precisely the same areas where dystopian governments typically concentrate their oppressive energies. And for those who want even more freedom, the city even includes an "unlicensed sector" where there are essentially no official rules whatsoever. Tethys is a "politically low-volatile society" which can afford to tolerate any number of aberrant behaviors because it is specifically designed to be virtually impervious to transgression (148). Recalling Ivan Knrumazov's declaration that anything is allowed in a world without
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
God, anything goes in Tethys because there are no absolute standards of conduct to be violated. This tolerance of transgression separates Tethys from the authoritarianism typically associated with dystopian societies; it also presumably prevents the tendency toward stasis and conformity often associated with utopian societies. Indeed, Delany identifies his vision in Triton not as utopian or dystopian, but as heterotopian, acknowledging Foucault as the source of the term by employing as the epigraph to the second of the book's two appendices an extensive quotation from Foucault's description of heterotopia in The Order of Things. Foucault's heterotopia is a place of diversity and change and is specifically presented as a preferable alternative to the consolation of utopian visions. Moylan likewise treats Delany's Tethys as an image of a better society, suggesting that the heterotopia is to post-capitalist, post-modern, post- Enlightenment society as utopia was to capitalist, bourgeois society: it preserves the utopian impulse, releases it from the traditional utopian genre, and stakes out the terrain of a radically new development in that particular discourse where our dreams and our fictions intersect. (161) But Delany's heterotopia is not unequivocally positive, as indicated by Delany's subtitle "An Ambiguous Heterotopia," an obvious allusion to Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed (which is subtitled "An Ambiguous Utopia"). Delany tempers the ideality of his vision in numerous ways. For one thing, he suggests that the institution of his vision-or of any radical social change-might initially lead to considerable hardship. Triton and the other moons are forced to wage a war to defend their way of life against the planets. This war is quickly won, but at great cost, including the deaths of nearly 90 percent of the population of earth. Meanwhile, life in Tethys is far from perfect, and its citizens still have numerous problems and crises. Indeed, the main narrative line of Triton focuses on the experiences of Helstrom, an unhappy citizen who is poorly adapted to conditions in Tethys. Helstrom, a native of Mars, has never been able to transcend his planetary upbringing-as Teresa Ebert points out, he is essentially a "caricature of the 70's white male chauvinist" (103). In particular, Helstrom has been unable to overcome certain stereotypical expectations about sex and gender and is therefore unable to take advantage of the free sexual environment in Tethys. By focusing on an unhappy individual, Delany indicates that no society can ever be ideal for everyone. In addition, the focus on Helstrom allows Delany to construct a narrative in which readers can follow the adventures of
Western Postmodernist Dystopias
a single protagonist in the classic science fiction mode, while Helstrom's antihero status (he is perhaps the least exemplary figure in the novel) allows Delany's text to avoid the conventional individualism that is a central part of Helstrom's own ideology. Other aspects of the society of Tethys are equivocal as well. Among other things, the low "political volatility" of the society clearly has a dark side: if the society of Tethys is able to absorb any and all potentially subversive energies while maintaining its stability, then it is not clear that any program of genuine political change could ever succeed there. As Moylan emphasizes, Tethys is a postrevolutionary society the description of which treats the aftermath of dramatic social and political change. Unfortunately, this change may have been such that no further change is really possible. In this sense it is Tethys, rather than Earth, that mirrors Delany's own contemporary society. After all, the acceptance of individuality is a central value of bourgeois society, to the point that any attempt at transgressive behavior in such a society is always in danger of being appropriated as an example of the society's fundamental benevolence. In bourgeois society, there is nothing more conventional and conformist than being different;' As I have pointed out elsewhere, the acceptance of transgression in Tethys, especially in the unlicensed sector, has much in common with Bakhtin's vision of the medieval carnival as a locus of transgressive energies (Techniques 6). And both images partake of a similar ambiguity. There are clear utopian intonations in Bakhtin's image of the carnival, but numerous critics have pointed out that the subversive energies of the medieval carnival were considerably tempered by the fact that the various transgressions involved were condoned by official authority: Despite the significance of the carnival as an arena for the staging of subversive energies, one must not forget that the carnival itself is in fact a sanctioned form of "subversion" whose very purpose is to sublimate and defuse the social tensions that might lead to genuine subversion-a sort of opiate of the masses. (Techniques 5-6)2 In the final analysis, Delany clearly seeks in Triton to produce neither a utopian nor a dystopian vision, but to surmount the polar opposition between the two. Tethys is not a perfect paradise, and Delany's treatment of it suggests that no such perfection is possible. But this does not mean that all societies must ultimately be oppressive and totalitarian. In his article "Critical Methods: Speculative Fiction" Delany indicates the limitation of the traditional utopiarr/dystopian
The Dystapian Impulse in Modem Literature
opposition as a choice between thoroughly good and thoroughly evil societies and suggests that modern science fiction has gone beyond this opposition in its quest "to produce a more fruitful model against which to compare human development" (192). This same attempt to overcome polar oppositions is one of the central themes of Triton. One of Helstrom's major difficulties is that he habitually views the world in terms of the either-or oppositions of Aristotelian logic, even though he is (paradoxically) employed as a metalogician-metalogics being a sophisticated form of reasoning that transcends such oppositions. Meanwhile, Delany identifies his own project with metalogics through his description of the work of the leading metalogician Ashima Slade in Triton's second appendix. One of Slade's most important lectures is entitled Shadows, "from a nonfiction piece written in the twentieth century by a writer of light, popular fictions" (357). This writer, of course, is Delany, whose article "Shadows" did in fact appear in the journal Foundation. Indeed, Slade's name is a near-anagram for "Sam Delany," and the ideas discussed in the appendix in relation to Slade's career parallel those treated in the main body of Triton in important ways. The dialogue between this appendix and the narrative that constitutes the bulk of the novel indicates that Triton, which actively evades interpretive closure, is heterotopian in form as well as content. The narrative ends ambiguously, with Helstrom's troubles unresolved. It is then followed by an appendix containing "Work Notes and Omitted Pages" which extends the text and provides a reminder that the text was constructed through a process of writing and that it might well have been done differently. This appendix also includes selfreferential meditations on the project of science fiction, including allusions to Foucault that indicate the relevance of his work to Delany's. Such instances of self -conscious textuality in Delany's book, reminiscent of Bakhtin's emphasis on autocriticism in the novel, themselves run counter to conventional utopian stasis by disrupting any movement toward interpretive closure. The specific tone of this self -consciousness, along with the book's indeterminate message, also identifies Triton as a postmodernist work. Ebert thus discusses Delany's work within the context of postmodernism, concluding that such sophisticated works of "metascience fiction" may in fact eventually come to be recognized as the most influential strain in postmodernist fiction (104). One of the authors who have been most clearly influenced by Delany's selfconscious, theoretically sophisticated science fiction is William Gibson. Gibson's "cyberpunk" fiction has itself frequently been associated with postmodernism, and critics like Bukatman,
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Csicsery-Ronay, Fitting ("Lessons"), Hollinger, and Olsen have seen Gibson's novels as exemplary postmodernist works. Gibson's work also participates in the utopian-dystopian tradition in interesting, though complex ways. In some ways, for example, Gibson's striking visualization of the timeless realm of "cyberspace" has much in common with traditional utopian visions. Gibson introduces the concept of cyberspace, also known as the "matrix," in his short story "Burning Chrome," now published in a collection of his early stories by the same title. The matrix, he tells us, is "an abstract representation of the relationships between data systems." It is a "consensushallucination that facilitates the handling and exchange of massive quantities of data" (Burning Chrome 169-70). Gibson provides a more detailed description and definition of cyberspace early in Neuromancer (1984), his first and best-known novel: Cyberspace: A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts ... A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding .... " (51, Gibson's ellipses) In short, cyberspace is a kind of purely conventional spatial metaphor that allows computer users more easily to visualize their movement within the vast and complex network of programs and data bases that constitute the computing and telecommunications environment of Gibson's fictional world. The concept of cyberspace is striking for a number of reasons, not the least of which is its correspondence to actual developments in contemporary computer technology. Gibson acknowledges in Neuromancer that the concept has its roots in "primitive arcade games," and he himself has stated that he derived the concept from observing the absorption of players in the simulated environments of those games. Moreover, cyberspace clearly has much in common with contemporary research into computer simulation, particularly in the area of so-called virtual reality. The roots of cyberspace in computer games and virtual reality indicates the strong dimension of fantasy that informs it, and indeed skilled operators, or "matrix cowboys," can maneuver in cyberspace in ways that go far beyond the conventional limitations of the physical world, making it a potential locus of utopian thought. On the other hand, Gibson's depiction of future societies on earth has clear dystopian intonations. Gibson's work especially recalls
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
Morson's emphasis on dystopian fiction as an antigenre in the way that it clearly opposes itself to the technological utopianism of the early years of American science fiction. Gibson's early story "The Gernsback Continuum" (1981) exemplifies this opposition. The narrator /protagonist of this is a photographer who has been hired to shoot a series of photographs of buildings in 1980s America whose architecture recalls the optimistic projections of the future in the kind of 1930s science fiction promoted by Hugo Gernsback in publications like Amazing Stories. Such buildings are easy for the protagonist to find, but by this time they carry dark reminders of the events of the intervening half century: The Thirties dreamed white marble and slipstream chrome, immortal crystal and burnished bronze, but the rockets on the covers of the Gernsback pulps had fallen on London in the dead of night, screaming. After the war, everyone had a car-no wings for it-and the promised superhighway to drive it down, so that the sky itself darkened, and the fumes ate the marble and pitted the miracle crystal. (27)3
By the end of the story these negative associations lead the narrator to disavow utopian fantasies altogether. Reminded by the proprietor of a newsstand of the "human near-dystopia we live in," he acknowledges his agreement that our society has problems, but adds that perfection (i.e., the complete realization of utopian dreams) would be even worse (35). This final statement is a classic dystopian move. As Andrew Ross points out, however, Gibson's story draws its energy from "a contrast between the rough, savvy realism of contemporary SF's fondness for technological dystopias and the wide-eyed idealism of the thirties pulp romance of utopian things to come" (102). The story is thus emblematic of the mixture of utopian and dystopian energies that informs all of Gibson's work. Indeed, the story is representative of many of the aspects of cyberpunk fiction in general, so much so that Bruce Sterling selected it as the lead story in his cyberpunk anthology /manifesto Mirrorshades (1986). Gibson's later novels Neuromancer (1984), Count Zero (1986), and Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988) continue this distinctive cyberpunk utopian/dystopian mixture. In Gibson'S future, advanced technology (especially computer technology) makes possible the realization of a number of traditional human dreams, even including immortality. At the same time, these dreams are realized at a price: immortality achieved via computer may be bought at the price of a process of dehumanization that converts
the empowered and even immortalized humans into computer artifacts themselves. This encroachment of the technological into the human is, of course, a classic dystopian motif. In Gibson's fiction, however, this encroachment is particularly literal. Taking a path indicated most vividly in recent fiction by Pynchon's V., Gibson quite frequently depicts humans whose bodies (and even minds) are gradually replaced by machines. Almost all of Gibson's major characters carry some sort of implants or prosthetics, often with the effect of alienating them from external reality, or even from their own bodies. For example, the story "The Winter Market" features Lise, a woman whose body has been so debilitated by disease that she must wear an entire prosthetic exoskeleton that converts her into a sort of half -humari-half -robot: She couldn't move, not without that extra skeleton, and it was jacked straight into her brain, myoelectric interface. The fragile-looking polycarbon braces moved her arms and legs, but a more subtle system handled her thin hands, galvanic inlays. (Burning Chrome 122). This prosthetic array leads to a radical alienation of Lise from physical experience. Thus when she offers to perform sex with Casey, the story's narrator, she admits that she herself will not be able to feel anything, explaining that "sometimes I like to watch" (122). Eventually even the most ad vanced technology cannot protect Lise from physical death; her separation from her body becomes quite literal when she abandons her physical self and has her mind transferred to ROM storage so that her consciousness can live on in the form of computer memory. This motif, of course, raises serious questions about the nature of human identity. After Lise's transfer to ROM, Casey asks his friend Rubin whether the computer construct can really be considered to be Lise, to which Rubin responds, "God only knows" (l41). Such questions are raised through the artificial maintenance or reconstruction of other characters in Gibson's work as well. In Neuromancer Case is aided in his trips through cyberspace by the expertise of the "Dixie Flatline," a fabled matrix cowboy-or at least by a ROM construct of the Flatline, who is himself now, like Lise, physically dead. And Case himself winds up with a dual existence, living both in the "real" world and as a simulation in a computer world generated by the godlike artificial intelligence Wintermute/Neuromancer that arises at the end of Neuromancer. Moreover, flesh itself can be artificially grown in Gibson's future, making available an entire array of "spare parts" for human bodies. Count Zero presents the most radical example of this kind of
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
prosthesis, beginning by having its protagonist Turner blown to bits in the first paragraph, then hastily having him artificially reconstructed by a surgeon so that the story can proceed. Turner's mind is reconstructed as well; he recuperates in a simulated environment meant to invoke his childhood and thereby help to restore his past and thus his identity. Even the average person on the street in Gibson's work typically has one or more artificial enhancements, such as plug-in ROM sockets to expand memory and knowledge. But as far as the everyday lives of ordinary people are concerned, the advanced technology projected in Gibson's work leads not to a world of perfect bliss but to a world very much like our own. Life for most citizens of Gibson's future is if anything less pleasant than life in the eighties America from which Gibson makes his projections. For example, the entire Eastern United States is covered by a giant urban "Sprawl" whose social problems (crime, violence, pollution) are much like those of American cities in the 1980s, but on a larger scale. Moreover, Gibson's vision of the future seems to grow darker as his career proceeds; by the time of Mona Lisa Overdrive that vision takes on a distinctly dystopian flavor, focusing on a tawdry world of crime and environmental degradation. Much of the action of that book thus takes place in the ruins of an abandoned factory situated on the edge of the "Solitude," a vast wasteland created by a contaminated landfill. Fitting argues, however, that Gibson's work does not really belong to the dystopian genre in that it does not function as a cautionary tale intended to warn against a possible bad future ("Lessons" 300). After all, the "future" problems (like crime and pollution) on which Gibson focuses are not phenomena that might develop lest we take certain preventive measures; they are phenomena that are already with us. Gibson himself states in an interview that Neuromancer is "about the present. It's not really about an imagined future. It's a way of trying to come to terms with the awe and terror inspired in me by the world in which we live" (Leary 59). Of course, one might say the same for science fiction (or for dystopian fiction) in general; the imagined futures of such works are quite typically most interesting for the way they create new and defamiliarizing perspectives on the present. Sterling, in his introduction to Burning Chrome, thus praises Gibson for his "brilliant, self -consistent evocation of a credible future," in which "we see a future that is recognizably and painstakingly drawn from the modern condition" (x). Ross, on the other hand, is critical of Gibson's vision of the future for its seeming inability to go beyond visions of the coming bad future that have by now become stereotypical: Ross notes
Western Postmodernist Dystopias
that suggestions of coming ecological ruin or rampant crime are by now the stuff of cultural cliche and MTV videos. For Ross, Gibson's fiction thus lacks the critical edge of the best dystopian fiction because it accepts, rather than challenges the official notion of what the future is going to be like. In short, one might argue that Gibson's perspective on the present is simply not defamiliarizing enough, that his visions lacks the "cognitive estrangement" identified by Suvin as the central tool of science fiction for commenting upon reality. Suvin himself suggests that Gibson's projected future is in a sense too recognizably realistic. In Suvin's view Gibson too easily accepts the status quo when he might more productively explore the possibility of radical change. Or, as Hynes succinctly puts it, "Dystopia is already here, say the cyberpunks, and we might as well get used to it" (liOn Gibson" 18). In this sense, Gibson's work clearly recalls Fredric Jameson's wellknown indictments of postmodernism as having no real historical vision: if Gibson's future is all too similar to his present, perhaps that similarity simply indicates an inability to imagine any genuine historical development. Jameson himself specifically cites cyberpunk fiction as a symptom of the postmodern loss of historical consciousness, noting that in such fiction "a formerly futurological science fiction ... turns into a mere 'realism' and an outright representation of the present" (Postmodernism 286). Jameson would presumably have no argument with Gibson's emphasis on the present per se. He himself suggests that a true sense of history involves a representation neither of the past nor of the future, but "a perception of the present as history," that is, of the present as it participates in the flow of history from past to future (284). But it may be precisely this sense that Gibson lacks. Gibson's claim that he is really writing about the present thus does not free him from Jameson's charge that postmodernist fiction is unable to imagine the future; in fact, Jameson's characterization of postmodernism's inability to see beyond the present would seem to be substantiated by Gibson's claim. Gibson's latest novel is particularly interesting in this respect. The Difference Engine, coauthored with Sterling, depicts a society that has much in common with the tradition of dystopian fiction. It does, however, include an unusual twist, being set not in the future, but in the past. The Difference Engine focuses on Victorian England, asking what that society might have been like had Charles Babbage been able to make his "difference engine" (a mechanical forerunner of modern computers) into a practical reality. Many of the changes included in this ref'iguration of the past seem rather whimsical, as when we find that an aging Lord Byron is the Prime Minister of England. But in
The Dvstopian Impulse in Modern Literature
general Gibson and Sterling seem to conduct a relatively serious exploration of the historical changes and social upheavals that might have occurred had the Information Revolution thus prematurely arisen even as the Industrial Revolution was still under way. This recognition that history might have proceeded differently seems a positive step: a sense that things might have been, and thus still might be otherwise lies at the heart of the kind of historical consciousness upon which any positive political program must be based. The Difference Engine might even have value as a cautionary tale, despite being set in the past, especially if it is read as really being about the present. On the other hand, if Gibson's earlier work makes the future look like the present, one could argue that this latest book completes the collapse of any sense of historical change, making the past look like the present as well. If Gibson's vision of the future differs dramatically from that of some of his science-fiction predecessors, his work also stands out from most of the science fiction tradition in his use of sophisticated postmodern textual strategies. Gibson's work in particular recalls that of Pynchon, and the resonances between the work of Pynchon and that of cyberpunk writers like Gibson have been cited often by critics. Thus Richard Kadrey pronounces Gravity's Rainbow "the best cyberpunk novel ever written by a guy who didn't even know he was writing it" (83). Pynchon works like V. and Gravity's Rainbow seem to have influenced Gibson directly, and Gibson himself acknowledges Pynchon's influence, calling Pynchon "a kind of mythic hero of mine" (McCaffery 226). On the other hand, in a case of reversal of influence, Pynchon's latest novel Vineland (1990) seems in turn to have been influenced by Gibson. The dystopian landscape of Pynchon's fictional America has much in common with that of Gibson'S fiction, though Pynchon's book is set in 1984 rather than in the future. Meanwhile, Vineland, like all of Gibson's work, stresses the importance of the Japanese to modern global culture: Japanese businessman Takeshi Fumimota is a central character, and Fumimota's partner and bodyguard in the book is "ninjette" DL Chastain, who bears many resemblances to the "razor girl" Molly Millions of Gibson's work. There are also occasional intrusions into Pynchon's contemporary America of technology (especially computer technology) that would seem more at place in the future depicted by Gibson. Vineland's contemporary setting also focuses its dystopian statement on the present rather than the future, as in Gibson's work. Indeed, Vineland is so embedded in the here and now that the relationship between Pynchon's book and the genre of dystopian fiction is not immediately clear. Vineland is filled with real people,
Western Postmodernist Dystopias
real places, and real events from recent history, grving it a concreteness not typically associated with dystopian fiction. The books of Zamyatin, Huxley, and Orwell refer indirectly to real-world dictators like Stalin and Hitler, but totalitarian dictators like the "Benefactor," the "World Controller Mustapha Mond," and "Big Brother" certainly lack the specificity of Vineland, whose diabolical political leaders are figures like Ronald Reagan and George Bush. But a close comparison of Vineland with its major predecessors in dystopian fiction shows clear affinities with the genre, a recognition of which gives important added force to its negative figuration of cultural and political realities in contemporary America. Despite its comic-parodic tone, Pynchon's book presents America as a carceral society in which subtle manifestations of power keep the populace firmly under control without most of them ever realizing it. This carceral society is imaged most directly in Vineland by suggestions that the United States government has for some time been building a massive system for political incarceration in response to the revolutionary energies of the sixties. This "Political Re-Education Program (PREP)" involves the establishment of a system of camps where political undesirables can be taught to think appropriately, much as in the Stalinesque Ministry of Love in 1984. The dissident ninjette Chastain explains to teenager Prairie Wheeler that the machinery for such camps had been set up by Nixon and was still being held in reserve by Reagan (264). Moreover, like Foucault Pynchon suggests that this carceral system reaches far beyond the walls of actual prisons, extending into the society-at-large. In a motif especially reminiscent of Orwell's famed Thought Police, record producer and Pynchon veteran Mucho Maas explains to ex-hippie Zoyd Wheeler that official power has tightened its grip on American society to the point that nothing is beyond their grasp: "sooner or later they're gonna be coming after everything, not just drugs, but beer, cigarettes, sugar, salt, fat, you name it, anything that could remotely please any of your senses" (313). As with Orwell and Zamyatin, official surveillance plays a large role in the administration of this program of control. Many of the book's central characters are paid government informers, part of a network of domestic spies that stretches across the country. Thus government informer Flash Fletcher justifies his vocation by arguing that in the contemporary age of information, surveillance is automatic and universal anyway (74). Importantly, Pynchon specifically sets his dreary depiction of contemporary reality against former utopian dreams of what America might one day become. The title refers to the book's setting in the fictional (but realistic) town of Vineland, California, but it also
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
obviously refers to the original name given America by the Vikings, a name that conveys a sense of abundance, plenty. and promise. The United States, as the richest portion of the Americas, has particularly functioned for generations of immigrants as a land of hope and freedom where virtually unlimited opportunities await those who are simply willing to work hard enough to seize them. Vineland suggests that modern America is not nearly the land of dreams envisioned in this longterm utopian fantasy. having become "the spilled, the broken world" (267). At the same time, Vineland particularly focuses on the decade of the sixties, suggesting that the emancipatory political rhetoric of that decade (much of which Foucault questions as well) was largely a reinscription of these fantasies that lacked the theoretical sophistication to have any real hope of success:' In the course of his treatment of this theme, Pynchon deals with most of th classic issues of traditional dystopian fiction. For example, technology plays a major part in Pynchon's dystopia (though perhaps less so than in some of Pynchon's earlier novels). both in the communication system that makes universal distribution of a homogeneous, mind-numbing popular culture possible and in sophisticated information systems that make universal surveillance a practical reality. Thus Fletcher notes that the widespread use of credit cards allows the government to maintain an extensive computerized record of the purchasing habits of individual Americans (74). And Vineland suggests (echoing Player Piano) that computerized information management has given the government unprecedented capabilities for keeping track of citizens. In a motif reminiscent of the reduction of human beings to numbers in We this computerization reduces human lives to mere digitized strings of ones and zeroes. As with most other works in the dystopian tradition, Vineland thus suggests that the evolution of technology has proved not to be liberating but to be oppressive and dehumanizing. "We are digits in God's computer," ex-dissident and present government informer Frenesi Gates hums to herself in a parody of standard gospel tunes. "What we cry, what we contend for, in our world of toil and blood, it all lies beneath the notice of the hacker we call God" (91). Sexuality is another central focus of Vineland. Much of the book focuses on the would-be student revolutionaries of the American sixties, for whom the "sexual revolution" is central to their antiestablishment political and cultural ideologies. However, Vineland suggests that unrestricted sexual activity does not necessarily strike a blow against existing structures of political power; it may, in fact, support those structures by diverting subversive energies from the realm of politics into the relatively harmless one of casual sex. During
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one important episode of Vineland a group of previously-conformist college students-inspired by demon marijuana-decide to secede from the United States and to form their own independent countercountry, "The People's Republic of Rock and Roll" (209). As this somewhat frivolous-sounding name suggests, these students may not be the most profound political thinkers. "None of these kids," Pynchon's narrator tells us, "had been doing any analysis" (205). Indeed, most of the revolutionary activities of the members of the new republic consist of an unrestrained hedonism, presumably a sort of carnivalesque reaction against the repression of the society from which they have seceded." But if sexuality plays a big role in this rebellion it also plays a major part in the eventual fall of the new republic. The students are led by math professor Weed Atman, who becomes involved in a sexual relationship with leftist activist Frenesi Gates, who has come to film the revolt for the 24fps film collective, a group organized to provide alternative coverage of the revolutionary activities of the sixties." But Frenesi is also involved in a dark sexual relationship with government agent Brock Vond, who eventually uses her to undermine the republic and to trigger Atman's murder by one of his own lieutenants. We are told that, in his manipulation of the sexual relationship between Frenesi and Atman, Vond is revealing "a secret about power in the world" (214). For Vond the interests of official power are served not by repressing sexual energies, but by using those energies in the interest of authority. Pynchon further suggests this close complicity between sex and power in the sexual fascination exercised upon both Frenesi and her leftist mother, Sasha Gates, by figures of official authority. For example, both women experience an irresistible sexual attraction toward men in uniform (83). And Sasha openly wonders whether all of her various acts of resistance to official authority are merely attempts to deny the powerful erotic pull that it exercises on her. This Foucauldian complicity between sex and power is further suggested by various images of sadomasochism that run through the text." For example, early in the book we learn of a successful lawncare service with the whimisically Pynchonesque name of "The Marquis de Sad" that promises to whip the unruly lawns of its customers into submission. And Pynchon invokes a common cultural stereotype with his depiction of the mysterious dentist Larry Elasmo, who haunts Atman with sinister hints of what might go on in his dental office, "Dr. Larry's World of Discomfort" (228). The postmodernist comic tone of such examples undermines any pretensions to absolute authority by Pynchon's text, yet does not fully
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efface an underlying note of seriousness, a note that surfaces most clearly in Vond's sadistic treatment of Frenesi Gates, the sexual domination of whom he seems to regard as a demonstration of his ability to defeat the larger countercultural forces that she represents. Vond continually plays "power-and-sex games," and gets erections at the very idea of suppressing rebellion. When Vond visits a camp in which a number of dissidents (including Frenesi) are imprisoned he experiences a powerful sexual thrill at the abject subjugation of his enemies. And when Frenesi greets him sardonically from among the prisoners, he immediately reacts with fantasies of sexual control: "One day he would order her down on her knees in front of all these cryptically staring children, put a pistol to her head, and give her something to do with her smart mouth" (273). To a large extent Pynchon's version of the political conflicts of the sixties becomes a clash between rival theories of the workings of sexuality in modern society. Pynchon's rebels appear to adhere to a basically Freudian repressive hypothesis in which society seeks to thwart sexual desire and therefore to harness its energies for socially productive work. But Vond and other representatives of official authority are not at all convinced that sexual energies necessarily run counter to their attempts to dominate and control the populace. Like Foucault, they question the repressive hypothesis and appear to regard sexuality as a matter of power and thus as a potential tool of oppression. Events in Vineland clearly support Foucault's conception of sexuality over Freud's; attempts in the book to use sex as a means of subversion generally end in disaster, while the attempts of Vond and others to use sex as a tool of control generally lead to success. Pynchon's book is also more in accord with Foucault in its treatment of the family, and perhaps not surprisingly: the Stalinist exaltation of the family satirized by Orwell appears to parallel Foucault's vision of the family as a tool of the state, but it also foreshadows certain recent developments in America in ominous ways. Stalin's regime promoted marriage, outlawed homosexuality and abortion, and apotheosized children and family in "sentimental and sanctimonious tones" (Fitzpatrick 150). In short, the rhetoric of the Stalinist retreat of the 1930s bore some suspicious similarities to that of the new conservative values of Reagan-Bush America. It is not surprising, then, that Pynchon's treatment of the family in Vineland is in many ways consonant with Orwell's Stalin-inspired vision of the family as an arm of official power. Pynchon acknowledges that family life is a big part of the officially packaged American dream, as when Prairie Wheeler
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fantasizes about being a member of a traditional nuclear family (I 9 O. But this idealized vision of the family, supported by the powers that be and promulgated through the medium of television sitcoms, hardly corresponds to the real family lives of the book's characters. Families in Vineland in general function quite poorly-like the rest of the spilled and broken world depicted in Pynchon's book. Prairie herself has not seen her mother, Frenesi Gates, since infancy, and Prairie's acting father, Zoyd Wheeler, is a less than ideal, though loving parent. Moreover, when Prairie expresses envy for her friend Che who lives with her mother and the mother's boyfriend Lucky, Che assures her that life with her TY -addict mother and lecherous stepfather is far from ideal (329). Far from being a dream, Che's family life is a nightmare of sexual abuse at the hands of her would-be stepfather and undeserved blame from a mother who accuses the daughter of seducing the mother's boyfriend. The sexual and emotional energies associated with the family lead not to bonding and unity, but to conflict and recriminations. Yond recognizes the widespread desire for a family connection and believes that he, like Orwell's Party, can use this desire to further his official power. Reversing (but echoing) Orwell's picture of the family as an extension of the Thought Police, Yond views the state as an extension of the family. For Yond parents are images of authority, and individuals have a secret erotic desire for the kind of security that submission to authority can supply. Family "love" thus functions not as a counter to the demands of society but as a training ground for obedience to authority. All in all, Pynchon's figuration of family life in Vineland is highly complex. He appears to acknowledge a certain positive potential in family connection, while remaining extremely wary of the abilities of official authority to manipulate family emotions for their own ends." In Vineland the most important tool for this kind of manipulation is popular culture. As the book opens Wheeler prepares to do "something publicly crazy" in order to demonstrate that he still qualifies for the government mental-disability checks with which he supports himself and his daughter Prairie. In particular, Wheeler is readying himself to perform his annual act of "transfenestration," a carnivalesque exhibition in which he hurls himself through the plate glass window of some local business establishment. Pynchon makes it clear that Wheeler is not really crazy and that his annual act of lunacy is mere theater, staged for the benefit of the authorities. At first glance, then, it would appear that Wheeler has found a way with this scam to get the last laugh on the powers-that-be. But we discover as the book proceeds that the authorities are in full complicity with
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
Wheeler's staged act of transgression, which becomes a mere media event, complete with live television coverage and fake candy-glass window to ensure that all goes well. Realizing that his act of subversion has been appropriated by those whom it is designed to subvert, Wheeler characteristically turns to the tube for a metaphor to express his frustration, suggesting that he feels as if he were trapped in a game show (12-13). Wheeler's television allusion, together with the media coverage of his transfenestration, points toward the central role that popular culture will play throughout Vineland. And it turns out that Wheeler's transgressions are even more thoroughly administered and authorized than he at first realizes. In particular, the government uses Wheeler's annual demonstration of public craziness to help them keep tabs on his whereabouts, recalling Foucault's suggestion in Discipline and Punish that the prison system is not designed to eliminate crime but merely to establish a well-identified population of "delinquents" whose crimes can thus be monitored and kept within the limits of acts that are "politically harmless and economically negligible" (278). These delinquents also provide a marginal group against which society can define itself by exclusion, much along the lines of Freud's "narcissism of minor differences" or of those discussed by Foucault in relation to the insane in Madness and Civilization and in relation to homosexuals in the first volume of The History 0/ Sexuality. This need for an official Other frequently figures in dystopian fiction, as when the Party of Orwell's Oceania furthers solidarity among its members through organized hatred of the Trotskyesque Emmanuel Goldstein. Vineland similarly suggests that official authority needs a target group against which to exercise its official power, noting that Communists and drug users have been used in this way in America, and that homosexuals might be next (339). Pynchon (again echoing Foucault) goes so far as to suggest that the government is not above creating target groups artificially. In a conspiracy theory reminiscent of earlier Pynchon works like Gravity's Rainbow drug agent Roy Ibble suggests late in Vineland that the CIA-especially during the tenure of George Bush as Director-has in fact been working to stimulate the importation of drugs into the United States, thereby creating a population of drug users who can be defined as official delinquents (354). One reason why the government of Vineland is forced to stimulate transgression is that official power has done such a thorough job of suppressing any genuine resistance. For Pynchon this suppression is effected largely through an extensive program of interpellation carried out primarily via popular culture, especially television. Popular
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culture is important in all of Pynchon's work, but he specifically acknowledges the influence of Orwell on the sinister figuration of television in Vineland. In a scene late in the book the television addict Zuniga watches a television movie that is suddenly interrupted (apparently through a technical error) by a brief shot of some government agents in the process of planning a certain security operation, sending an ominous chill through Hector: "Could it be that some silly-ass national-emergency exercise was finally coming true? As if the Tube were suddenly to stop showing pictures and instead announce, 'From now on, I'm watching you'" (340). And if surveillance via television is not Quite a technological reality in Pynchon's 1984 America, television in Vineland is in many ways-even more effective at enforcing conformity than in 1984. In Pynchon's modern America, the persistent presence of television infects everyone, not just a Party elite. Orwell's television programming may be more blatantly directed toward control of the behavior of individuals, but Vineland suggests that the more subtle techniques of contemporary American television may make it all the more effective as an interpellating force. Virtually all of the characters in Vineland approach the world with expectations developed from popular culture, especially television, interpreting their experiences within the framework of programs like "Gilligan's Island," "Star Trek," and "Hawaii Five-D." And the mind-numbing effects of this constant exposure to television, by rendering the populace incapable of critical thought, make any genuine resistance to official authority virtually impossible. This negative figuration of popular culture in Vineland is not limited to television. Even the supposedly transgressive counterculture of rock and roll music turns out to be just another element in an endless barrage of images that keeps the minds of Pynchon's Americans occupied with a mere processing of data without analysis. As Maas explains to Wheeler late in the book, rock and roll turns out to be anything but an earth-shattering revolutionary tool. For Mass-who was himself not above using the power of rock and roll to seduce young girls in The Crying 0/ Lot 49-contemporary music is largely used to dull the minds and enthusiasm of would-be revolutionaries through a process of sensory and information overload (314 ). In Vineland popular culture is so successful at indoctrinating the populace with the official ideology that by 1984 the PREP project, begun in 1970, is cancelled as unnecessary. Popular culture and other mechanisms at work in society (what Althusser would call"Ideological State Apparatuses") are already so effective in molding the youth of
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
America into obedient citizens that there are no serious political undesirables left for the PREP camps to process. What is left in Pynchon's America of 1984 is a conformist nation of virtual zombies, a population of "drug-free Americans, all pulling their weight and all locked in to the official economy, inoffensive music, endless family specials on the Tube, church alJ week long, and, on special days, for extra-good behavior, maybe a cookie" (222). Pynchon's heavy reliance on images from popular culture is a typical postmodernist gesture, though Pynchon has come under a certain amount of criticism for his heavy emphasis on popular culture in Vineland. Joseph Slade suggests that the references to television shows in the book are "numerous enough to turn off academic audiences" (126). Cowart, meanwhile, is almost nostalgic when he recalls the wealth of allusions to high culture in Pynchon's earlier work; by contrast, he suggests that in Vineland "the density of reference to the ephemera of popular culture is almost numbing" (71). To an extent the popular culture depicted in Vineland deserves the apparent contempt shown by critics like Slade and Cowart. Pynchon seems to be suggesting that much of the deadness of the society he depicts comes about because of the emptiness and banality of contemporary culture. The lack of "high" culture in Vineland mirrors the situation in the society it depicts, where about the only culture to which the populace is ever exposed is a popular culture that hardly offers exciting models for the kinds of aesthetic constitution of the self described by Foucault in The Use 0/ Pleasure. Instead, the models offered by this culture seem designed specifically to undermine creative explorations of selfhood, encouraging the populace not to explore new possibilities, but to conform to preconceived stereotypes. For example, despite her own countercultural protestations, teenager Prairie Wheeler secretly desires to be like the idealized conventional teenagers she sees in television sitcoms and commercials (327). Both Cowart and Slade end up suggesting that Pynchon's book is not so much a symptom of the trivialization and commodification of popular culture as a critique of that phenomenon. Cowart, for example, concludes that in Vineland Pynchon "commits himself to imagining the relentlessly ahistorical consciousness of contemporary American society" (71). And Slade agrees, noting that many reviewers have seen Pynchon's use of popular culture as a series of "cheap jokes," but arguing that Vineland in fact gives us a fairly accurate picture of modern American culture, a picture that carries ominous warnings. Slade suggests that behind Vineland's barrage of images from popular culture "lies a renascent fascist state" (127),
Western Postmodernist Dystopias
In the final analysis, however, Vine/and is not nearly as pessimistic as many dystopian fictions. Pynchon in fact offers a number of suggestions that point toward possible avenues of resistance to the subtly totalitarian society that America has become. For one thing, popular culture in Vineland, like oceanic poetry of We, is not a force that is easily controlled, even by the titanic power structures that have created it. The mesmerizing effects of television turn out to be all too powerful, and even government agents like Zuniga succumb to Tubal addiction. As a result the government is forced to create agencies like the National Endowment for Video Education and Rehabilitation (NEVER) in an attempt to counteract the effects of popular culture run amok. There are also suggestions in Vineland that viewers with sufficient theoretical and analytical sophistication to understand how popular culture works will be less susceptible to its potentially insidious effects. Much of the problem with television in Vineland is that children are exposed to it so early, before they develop this sophistication. Prairie Wheeler first becomes fascinated with television while watching "Gilligan's Island" when she is less than four months old (368). Vineland is not an optimistic book, and its depiction of an American populace saturated with the products of a conformist culture indicates the extreme difficulty of mounting any genuinely radical program of political change. Yet the book goes well beyond a mere criticism of the mind-numbing effects of popular culture, offering positive suggestions on ways to combat these effects. The book continually suggests that the authorities have appropriated the subversive energies of the counterculture for their own use, but it also hints that the reverse is also possible, that officially endorsed culture might be conscripted in the service of rebellion. Frenesi Gates and her cohorts in the 24fps film collective are attempting this strategy when they try to capture the revolution on film as a means of combatting officials depictions of contemporary history. And the failure of that project in no way suggests that all such projects need fail. Indeed, in a mode of postmodern performance, Pynchon presents his own work as a possible alternative to his contemporary culture; he constructs Vineland itself as a sort of collage of references to popular culture, demonstrating that these images can in fact be turned against their makers. In this and other ways, he suggests that those with sufficient insight and awareness have access to a great deal of potentially subversive cultural energy in modern society. Vineland itself stands as an excellent example of the creative potential that still resides in popular culture, despite the attempts of
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the Culture Industry to make its products intentionally empty and banal. After all, Pynchon's book is itself constructed largely as a patchwork of bits and pieces of popular culture, seeking to turn that culture against its makers and suggesting the creative possibilities in an active reclamation of popular culture for the populace it supposedly serves. Despite its critical attitude toward contemporary popular culture, Vineland is anything but an elitist rejection of that culture in favor of some traditional notion of "high art." Popular culture for Pynchon may be produced and disseminated by an immense network of forces whose main goal is to stimulate conformity and mindlessness, but that does not mean that we must necessarily consume it in conformist and mindless ways. In the end we may have some opportunity to make popular culture into something useful. Pynchon makes it into an important element of a major new addition to the genre of dystopian fiction. Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale is another important dystopian fiction that grows out of many of the same political developments as does Vineland. In addition, Atwood's book indicates an important new source of dystopian energies in recent years, illustrating a turn toward dystopian fiction by feminist writers, who have traditionally written in more utopian veins. Indeed, as Peter Fitting notes, feminist visions of the future tended in general to show a dark turn in the 1980s, probably due to political reverses that dampened the feminist optimism of the seventies: "More recent fictions no longer give us images of a radically different future, in which the values and ideals of feminism have been extended to much of the planet, but rather offer depressing images of a brutal reestablishment of capitalist patriarchy" ("Turn" 142). The Handmaid's Tale reacts to the growing political power of the American religious right in the 1980s, projecting a nightmare future in which such forces have established control of the government. Though pockets of rebel resistance remain, the United States has been replaced by the Republic of Gilead, in which the ideology of religious fundamentalism is imposed by brute force on a stupefied poputace.? Gilead is a police state, with the movements and activities of its citizens closely monitored and controlled. But the new government also attempts to gain the "voluntary" loyalty of its subjects through a variety of measures that are reminiscent both of religious tradition and of the reinscriptions of religion in dystopian classics like We, Brave New World, and 1984. As one might expect in a feminist text, sexuality is a principal focus for the exercise of religious totalitarianism in Gilead, echoing Freud's suggestion that religion is one the principal forces that act to
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repress erotic energies in human society. But the attempts of Atwood's theocrats to administer and control the sexual behavior of their citizens finally suggest a Foucauldian interpretation of sexuality as a matter not of natural instinct, but of political power. In the Christian theocracy of the Republic of Gilead, marriage is promoted as a social goal, though it is only available to those who have a reached a certain social status in this strongly stratified society. Indeed, wives are literally "issued" to successful males as rewards for loyal service to the community, demonstrating the thorough commodification of women in Gilead. Suggesting the paucity of roles available to women in our own contemporary world, women in this society exist not as individuals but as members of well-defined groups, corresponding almost to brand names. Among the upper classes, women function principally either as wives (who serve as domestic managers), domestic servants ("Marthas"), or handmaids (sexual surrogates). In the lower classes, however, "Econowives" have to play all of these roles. There are also "Aunts" (who serve to train and discipline the handmaids) and "Jezebels" (officially, though covertly, sanctioned prostitutes used to service foreign dignitaries and important government officials). Woman who cannot or will not play one of these roles are labeled "Unwomen" and are exiled to the "colonies" where they are used for hazardous duties like cleaning up toxic waste. Atwood's book is presented as the diary of one of the handmaids. The handmaids are used strictly for breeding purposes; they are issued to important men ("Commanders") whose wives have proved unable to bear children so that those men might still have an opportunity to procreate. The narrator and title character of The Handmaid's Tale is labeled "Offred," indicating her service to a Commander named "Fred," and we never learn her real name. She succinctly describes her role as handmaid (authorized by the Biblical story of Jacob, Rachel, and Bilhah), noting that her sexual services are intended for breeding purposes only, with no hint of pleasure or affection: "We are twolegged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices" (176). The official fear that "love" will develop between Commander and handmaid echoes Freud's suggestion that sexual relationships lead to private loyalties that might supersede communal ones, just as the use of the handmaids for breeding purposes while seeking to avoid any emotional contact that might lead to private loyalties strongly recalls Freud's suggestion of the way modern society tolerates sexuality only as a means of propagating the race. And this propagation is highly problematic in Gilead. As a result of deteriorating environmental conditions, most of the women (or at least most of the Caucasian women) in this near-future society are sterile-as probably are most of
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the men, though in Gilead the infertility of a couple is always attributed to the woman. It is the function of the handmaids to be impregnated by the husbands while the wives look on during highly ritualized ceremonies that are supposedly sacred, but that strongly recall the sexual "enemas" of 1984. This ceremony is obligatory for both Commander and handmaid; it is strictly impersonal, and sexual pleasure plays no part, as "Offred" describes: My red skirt is hitched up to my waist, though no higher. Below it the Commander is fucking. What he is fucking is the lower part of my body. I do not say making love, because that is not what he's doing. Copulating would be inaccurate, because it would imply two people and only one is involved. (121) However, again recalling Freud's analysis, a private connection does in fact develop between "Offred" and her Commander. He induces her to start meeting with him privately, and in these sessions they enact various minor transgressions like playing Scrabble, a game forbidden to women because it promotes literacy. Meanwhile, the Commander's wife (a former gospel singer whose stage name was "Serena Joy") suspects the Commander of being sterile, so she recruits "Off red" to engage in covert sexual relations with the chauffeur Nick in the hope that the handmaid will thereby become pregnant and bring increased status to the family. "Offred" herself then becomes emotionally attached to Nick, and the couple secretly begin their own private series of sexual liaisons in addition to those arranged by Serena Joy. Sexual energies that are ostensibly transgressive thus circulate rather freely in the text, despite the repressive environment. But "Offred's" secret liaisons with the Commander are conducted strictly under his orders, and she remains a tool of his power. Similarly, her relationship with Nick is, at least initially, authorized by Serena Joy. Sexuality in The Handmaid's Tale is very much a question of political power. Indeed, despite the decidedly antierotic figuration of the handmaid's role in this Puritanical society, even exotic sexual pleasure is secretly endorsed by the powers that be in Gilead, in the form of the authorized brothels where the Jezebels ply their trade under strict government control and where the wildest fantasies of the clientele can be realized. Even lesbian relationships between Jezebels are openly condoned, though the society at large is violently homophobic. And when the Commander takes "Offred" to one of these brothels in order to have sexual intercourse with her outside the bounds of the impersonal fucking of the handmaid ceremony, she submits not out of private loyalty or feeling, but merely out of her
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firm understanding of the workings of power that are involved. Even the relationship between Nick and "Offred" turns out to be highly political; he is apparently an agent of the "Mayday" underground, and his interest in "Offred" may be largely due to his understanding that she is in a position to extract useful information from her Commander. In the final analysis, sexuality in general functions not as a counter to political power in Gilead, but as one of the most effective tools through which that power is manifested. Despite its numerous Freudian resonances, the book's analysis of the mutual implication of sex and politics in Gilead is ultimately more Foucauldian.l" Sex in the Republic of Gilead is a matter not of emotion or biology, but of pure political power. Similarly, the religious emphasis that centrally informs the society is concerned not with spiritual salvation but with political domination. Television programming in Gilead consists primarily of religious programs and of heavily biased news reports that are little more than official propaganda. And literature is even more strictly censored and controlled. Most women are not allowed to read at all; the signs in stores consist of pictorial symbols so that shopping will not require reading. Even the Bible is considered highly dangerous-as it was, in fact, in the Middle Ages. In family groups like the one around which A Handmaid's Tale is centered, the Bible can be read only by the Commander, though he does sometimes read passages aloud to his wife and female servants, for their group edification. As the handmaid "Offred" explains, "The Bible is kept locked up, the way people once kept tea locked up, so the servants wouldn't steal it. It is an incendiary device: who knows what we'd make of it, if we ever got our hands on it? We can be read to from it, by him, but we cannot read" (I12) This secrecy already hints that there may be something bogus about the religious ideology that rules Gilead, and indeed Atwood's text is full of such hints. The official policies of Gilead are invariably justified by Biblical precedent, but since no one but the leaders of the "republic" have access to the Bible they are able to claim Biblical precedent for almost anything they want. The Gileadeans have in fact imported a number of bits of spurious Christian ideology, as when the distribution of women as sexual objects among men in the society is justified by a perversion of Marx that is claimed to come from St. Paul himself, in Acts: "From each according to her ability: to each according to his needs" (l5l).u Such "Biblical" slogans, intended to evoke not spiritual elevation but political obedience, are often chanted in the various communal ceremonies thaI Gilead uses as a central means of indoctrination of its citizens. These ceremonies mimic Christian rituals, but they often
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have a dark tone that strongly recalls the Two Minutes Hate of 1984. One such ceremony is the "Salvaging," the name of which carries hints of Christian salvation of those who have strayed, but which is in reality nothing more than a public hanging of groups of subversives, who serve as a focus (it la Emmanuel Goldstein) for mass hatred. This hatred surfaces most violently in the ritual of "Particicution," a chilling reinscription of medieval public executions in which groups of women servants act not as spectators but as executioners; they are whipped to a frenzy by incendiary rhetoric, then turned loose on some transgressor against society and encouraged savagely to beat the victim to death, thus gaining their full complicity in the enforcement of the rules of the State. Even "sinners" who are not publicly executed still have their bodies put on public display, hanging for days from hooks set in a wall as an abject reminder of the fate that awaits such sinners. Atwood emphasizes the lack of a true spiritual basis for the religiosity of Gilead in a number of ways, as when "Offred" describes the "Soul Scrolls" shop, where one can order (for a fee) by telephone anyone of five prefabricated prayers. These prayers are then produced by machines, much like those which produce poetry and music in the dystopian societies of Zamyatin and Orwell: "There are no people inside the building; the machines run by themselves" (216). This shop serves as a fairly obvious symbol of the mechanical, dehumanized, and spiritually bankrupt nature of religion in Gilead, but this suggestion is made all the more powerful because of the way it closely parallels certain highly automated and commercialized religious activities (like dial-a-prayer telephone lines) that already exist in 1980s America. Indeed, while Atwood's book is a little vague about the mechanisms by which the theocracy of Gilead actually managed to supplant the United States government, her vision does gain a great deal of energy from the fact that the seeds of her dystopia clearly do exist in the contemporary efforts of the American religious right to enforce its beliefs through political power. Of course, an element of religious fundamentalism has always been present in American culture. Indeed, the numerous parallels between the practices of the Republic of Gilead and those of the medieval Inquisition suggest that the oppressive religious energies that inform Atwood's dystopia have been present in Western civilization for centuries. That a resurgence of these energies like that embodied in the Republic of Gilead could occur thus bespeaks an inability of Western society to learn the lessons of history. Indeed, the regime in Gilead, like so many dystopian regimes, works hard to prevent its subjects from learning such lessons,
Western Post modernist Dystopias
and one of the central strategies of the Republic of Gilead for stabilizing its power is to attempt to efface all memory of the recent past in which women enjoyed a more liberated existence. The issue of learning from history becomes particularly crucial at the book's conclusion, which seems to be optimistic. The book ends with an epilogue in which a group of historians in the year 2195 discuss "Off red's" manuscript in a way that makes it clear that the Republic of Gilead has long since passed from the face of history. We also learn in this epilogue that the ambiguous ending of "Offred's" narration did in fact result in her escape from the dystopian Gilead. The epilogue thus appears to add a hopeful note to the end of the book, especially since the symposium of historians described in the epilogue is chaired by a woman, indicating significant social and professional advancement for women since the demise of Gilead. Indeed, Fitting has argued that this relatively optimistic ending tempers the effectiveness of Atwood's dystopian vision as a cautionary tale: "The additional knowledge provided by the frame-that this society has come to an end-tells the reader not to worry" ("Turn" 151). Yet Fitting himself admits that the "sexist banter" that informs the historical symposium makes one question whether or not progress has really been made in 2195 relative to our own present (150). David Ketterer, in fact, concludes that this epilogue suggests a cyclical model of history. seeing in this banter "the seeds of sexism that could lead to another Gilead" (214). And even if it does not necessarily lead to another Gilead, 2195 already seems to be another 1985. Just as the pre-Gileadeans failed to learn the lesson of the medieval Inquisition, the post-Gileadeans seem to have been learned from the horrible lesson of the Republic of Gilead itself. Symbolizing this failure, even the professional historians of Atwood's epilogue seem to know very little about the history of Gilead, largely because the Gileadeans themselves (like Orwell's Party) destroyed that history: "The Gileadean regime was in the habit of wiping its own computers and destroying print-outs after various purges and internal upheavals" (385). The ending of The Handmaid's Tale may not be so optimistic after all. There is, however, a certain note of hope in Offred's continual attempts to resist the overwhelming oppression to which she is exposed. In particular, Atwood echoes Elgin by depicting language as an aspect of both patriarchal tradition and feminine resistance. The very fact that Offred records her diary indicates her insistence on her own articulateness and refusal to accept the official Gileadean line that women are vastly inferior to men in their linguistic abilities. After all, the brutal domination of women in The Handmaid's Tale is largely linguistic in nature. The handmaids in Gilead have no identity
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except as potential child bearers; they are even stripped of their original names, which are replaced with possessive nominations like "Ofglen," "Ofwayne," or "Of warren," indicating their status as mere property of their Commanders ("Glen," or "Fred," or "Warren"). This linguistic domination through naming recalls the labeling of the citizens of Zamyatin's One State by numbers indicating their function in society. And both recall Althusser's argument that the interpellation of the subject begins even before birth in the complex of expectations that the family and society develop concerning the infant-to-be. In particular, "it is certain in advance that it will bear its Father's Name, and will therefore have an identity and be irreplaceable. Before its birth, the child is therefore always already a subject" (Althusser 176). And if the renaming of the handmaids would appear to usurp the Name of the Father given them at birth, it is worth keeping in mind that this sort of renaming has in fact gone on in Western civilization for centuries through the use of the designation "Mrs.," whereby women are transferred from the jurisdiction of the Father to that of the Husband (and presumed Father-to-be). "Offred" herself clearly finds this renaming a significant threat to her identity, and she jealously guards her former name (though it, too, was given her by someone else) as an almost magical emblem of her former identity: I tell myself it doesn't matter, your name is like your telephone number, useful only to others; but what I tell myself is wrong, it does matter. I keep the knowledge of this name like something hidden, some treasure I'll come back to dig up, one day. I think of this name as buried. This name has an aura around it, like an amulet. (108) The Handmaid's Tale clearly bears out the arguments of many recent feminist critics concerning the masculine bias of language, especially written language. Indeed, men in Gilead maintain an especially strong control over written language, and women are generally forbidden either to read or write. Atwood directly relates this motif to psychoanalysis; one of the mottoes of the center where the handmaids are trained is "Pen Is Envy" (241). Women in this society have limited access to spoken language as well. Expected mechanically to occupy predetermined roles without deviation, they are also expected to speak in mechanical and predetermined ways. Thus when "Offred" meets her shopping partner "Of'glen," the two respond to each other in thoroughly determined ways, speaking only in cliches like "Blessed be the fruit" and "Praise be." But, as is usually the case in dystopian fiction, language functions
in The Handmaid's Tale as a potentially powerful locus of transgression as well. For one thing, the linguistic practices of Gilead are exposed in the book as the blatant attempts at domination that they are. For another. language specifically functions in the book as a locus of subversive practice. When "Offred" is called to secret (and illegal) meetings with her Commander in his office she expects that he will demand illicit sex, but instead they play "Scrabble," a language game. And it is precisely to the plurality of language that "Off red" turns in order to rebel against the strict monologism of Gileadean society. She frequently employs puns and other wordplay in her narration, seeking thereby to demonstrate an ability to manipulate the complexities of language that goes far beyond the linguistic disenfranchisement legislated for her by this masculine society. Musing on the openness of showers in men's locker rooms, "Offred" comments on the "public display of privates" (94). And when she thinks of her friend Moira who escaped from the handmaid training center, she sardonically describes her as "a loose woman" (172). This postmodern play with words is highly serious; it bespeaks an almost desperate attempt to create calming humor amid horror. But, more importantly, it also represents an attempt by "Offred" to maintain an identity of her own, apart from the one prescribed for her in this ultimate patriarchal society: I sit in the chair and think about the word chair. It can also mean the leader of a meeting. It can also mean a mode of execution. It is the first syllable in charity. It is the French word for flesh. None of these facts has any connection with the others. These are the kinds of litanies I use, to compose myself. (140) The plurality of language embedded in the multiple meanings of the syllable "chair" comforts "Offred" with a reminder of alternatives to the strictly monological society of Gilead. And "compose" is itself here a pun, indicating "Offred's'' attempts to calm herself, but also suggesting her project of using language in subversive ways to construct an independent sense of herself. This attempt to construct a feminine identity free of the constraining definitions of patriarchal society is, of course, the central project of feminist utopias, thus indicating a link between Atwood's feminist dystopia and its utopian sisters. But the suggested conflict between individual liberty and social control clearly links Atwood's book to the masculine dystopian tradition as well,
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I. I discuss this issue at more length in Techniques of Subversion. 2. Terry Eagleton is only one of many who have pointed out this fact: "Carnival, after all, is a licensed affair in every sense, a permissible rupture of hegemony, a contained popular blow-off as disturbing and relatively ineffectual as a revolutionary work of art" (Benjamin 148, Eagleton's emphasis). 3. Gibson here alludes to the opening sentence of Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, which begins as a German V-2 rocket lands on London in World War II, after which (because the rockets traveled faster than sound) "a screaming comes across the sky" (3). 4. On Vineland's suggestion of the lack of theoretical and political sophistication of the oppositional movements of the 1960s, see my article "America and Its Discontents." 5. This episode bears several striking similarities to Aksyonov's depiction in The Burn of a student rebellion at the University of Sussex in England, where the students seem more interested in partying and media coverage than in politics. They thus spend their time "lighting campfires, dancing the hula, playing cards, smoking grass, working themselves up, discussing the problem of union with the working class-which for some reason seemed very undesirous of such a union-and, of course, fucking one another on all the steps of the vice-chancellor's staircase. They were waiting for the arrival of the mass media, for who makes a revolution nowadays without the television cameras?" (252). 6. One could read Pynchon's math professor Atman as a reinscription of Zamyatin's mathematician 0-503. For example, it mayor may not be coincidence that Frenesi's compatriots in the 24fps film collective, observing her sexual attraction to Atman, "thought she was into 'a number,' as they called it back then, with Weed Atman" (209). But Atman may have other referents as well. Slade, for example, identifies Atman with French revolutionary figure and mathematician Evariste Galois (138-40). It is, of course, conceivable that Galois was a model for 0-503 as well. 7. Sadomasochism often appears in Pynchon's work as a demonstration of power, as in the sadistic treatment of African natives by European colonizers in V. or in the "Domina Nocturna" episode of Gravity's Rainbow. 8. See Hayles for a discussion of possible positive intonations in Pynchon's treatment of family in Vineland.
9. Atwood's book does not depict organized religion as being universally in complicity with the oppressive regime in Gilead. Many of the rebels who oppose this regime are themselves motivated by religious principles, and the regime itself has brutally oppressed a number of religious groups, especially Catholics. 10. Amin Malak thus suggests that the reader of The Handmaid's Tale should appeal to Foucault's work on sexuality in order to "contextualize" the book, though Malak does not then elaborate on this suggestion (9). II. Of course, the appropriation of Marx via St. Paul is entirely appropriate, given Paul's own suggestion that pagan texts can be appropriated for Christian use, that "whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope" (Romans 15.4).
Postscript: Literature and Dystopia
Writing of Robert Silverberg's The World Inside, Merritt Abrash declares the book "among the best utopian novels, even though rather less than a masterpiece is necessary to join that particular company" (225). Similarly, Robert O. Evans acknowledges the dystopian strain that runs through many of Anthony Burgess's works but argues that, as Burgess is a "great novelist," we should not "dismiss his books as latter-day examples of the dystopian convention cut rather finer than the predecessors" (264). Such comments as those by Abrash and Evans are not uncommon, and there has long been a critical tendency to see utopian and dystopian fiction as sacrificing artistic merit in the interest of content. Many critics consider dystopian fiction as a pop culture genre roughly in the same category as science fiction; their dismissal of the genre can thus be partially attributed to an elitist rejection of popular culture. Other critics see dystopian fiction as a didactic and utilitarian category that frequently pays little attention to aesthetic form or technique. On the other hand, such dismissals have moved other critics to defend utopian and dystopian literature as meriting serious critical attention. It is not especially central to my purpose here, however, to make such a defense, though I do hope this survey demonstrates the flexibility of dystopian fiction and its ability to be adapted to a broad range of literary styles and political viewpoints. The dystopian impulse in modern literature is confined neither to the marginal pop cultural realm of science fiction nor to texts that are little more than
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
thinly veiled political tracts. It is certainly useful, as critics like Gary Saul Morson have emphasized, to consider dystopian fiction as a distinctive genre, but it is also important to recognize that this genre participates in the major literary currents of the twentieth century. Many dystopian fictions can thus be ranked among important examples of phenomena like modernism and postmodernism. At the same time, dystopian fiction does have strong ties to science fiction, just as it resonates with numerous politically motivated critiques of modern society. The dystopian genre thus serves as a locus for valuable dialogues among literature, popular culture, and social criticism that indicates the value of considering these discourses together and potentially sheds new light on all of them. However, if this study serves as a defense of dystopian fiction, it is a defense more of the political engagement of that fiction than of its literary merit. I have demonstrated throughout this study that dystopian fiction frequently functions as a form of social and political criticism that resonates with the work of a number of modern cultural critics and theorists. The critical dismissal of dystopian fiction can thus also be attributed partially to a bias against literary works that are socially and politically engaged, from an apparent belief that such engagement somehow contaminates the works and deprives them of their pristine literary purity. But after the work of critics like Max Weber, Peter Burger, and Jurgen Habermas, we should know better. All of these critics have argued that bourgeois society by its very nature tends to enclose art in an autonomous sphere separate from social and political issues and that this enclosure deprives art of any real critical force in society. In short, those who defend the "purity" of art are in danger not of elevating art but of simply making it irrelevant. On the other hand, partially motivated by such critiques of the isolation of art in bourgeois society, one of the most important trends in literary studies in the last two decades has been the growing insistence that "literature" as a realm untainted by the social and the political simply does not exist. After Bakhtin, after Foucault, after feminism, more and more literary critics are coming to understand the artificiality of treating the literary and the social as two separate noncommunicating realms. Such critics now see what has commonly been called "literature" as only one among many intersecting and competing social discourses. Similarly, critics like Andreas Huyssen have strenuously argued that it makes little sense in a postmodern cultural environment to maintain categorical distinctions between "serious" literature and popular culture. The continuing critical bias against dystopian literature on many fronts constitutes an object lesson
Postscript: Literature and Dystopia
in the durability of conventional bourgeois prejudices concerning the separation of art and society, a lesson that we might do well to heed. For this reason alone, dystopian fiction deserves a certain amount of serious critical attention, because more than most genres it inherently recognizes the mutual involvement of literature and society. This is not to say, of course, that there is nothing special about literature, nothing that distinguishes literature from, say, sociology or philosophy; it is certainly not to say that aesthetic judgments are irrelevant and that to have value a literary work need only deal responsibly with social and political issues. Indeed, important theorists like Theodor Adorno have argued that art most effectively engages reality when it maintains a strict sense of its special status as art. But it is to say that all literature is inescapably social and political, whether overtly or not, and that a work of literature should not be dismissed as deficient simply because it acknowledges its relevance to the real world. As Bertolt Brecht puts it in his "A Short Organum for the Theatre," the choice between political and apolitical art is a false one. All art is political, insists Brecht, and the question is simply whether art attacks existing structures of power or refuses such attacks and thereby contributes to the continuation of those structures: "Thus for art to be 'unpolitical' means only to ally itself with the 'ruling' group" (196). But Brecht himself insists on the special role of art in society, going so far in this same work as to make the Adornian claim that to achieve its critical goals "the theatre must in fact remain something entirely superfluous" (181). If dystopian literature functions in a sense as social criticism, it is also true that such literature gains its principal energies precisely from its literariness, from its ability to illuminate social and political issues from an angle not available to conventional social theorists and critics. In a recent survey of the history of the human imagination Richard Kearney argues that even in a postmodernist world in which conventional romantic figurations of the power of imagination are strongly suspect, the imaginative products of art and literature remain an important means of envisioning alternatives to the existing order: "For art, as an open-access laboratory of imaginative exploration, is one of the most powerful reminders that history is never completed. As such, art can remain the most persuasive harbinger of a poetics 0/ the possible" (371). This ability of literature to renew and enrich our perceptions of reality is obviously central to the utopian project, but defamiliarization is clearly the principal dystopian technique as well. In this sense, dystopian fiction recalls Darko Suvin's identification of "cognitive estrangement" as the central technique of science fiction,
The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature
a technique he specifically links to the alienation effect of Brecht. More generally, however, Burger argues that defamiliarization is the dominant technique of modern art in general, especially as radicalized in the shock tactics of the avant-garde, tactics that are designed specifically to shatter the separation of art and life in bourgeois society (18). Dystopian fiction, then, with its defamiliarizing strategy of revealing evils in society through shocks of recognition in a different context has much in common with a number of modern literary movements. And, while it is true that the bulk of recent literary theory and the obvious social and political engagement of most dystopian fiction challenge the notion that there is a strict difference between literary and nonliterary discourse, it is also true that the unfamiliar perspectives on familiar issues provided by dystopian fiction clearly make a new and energizing contribution that might not be available from any kind of nonfiction discourse. If the main value of literature in general is its ability to make us see the world in new ways, to make us capable of entertaining new and different perspectives on reality, then dystopian fiction is not a marginal genre. It lies at the very heart of the literary project. Moreover, if dystopian fiction can energize the imagination and provide such fresh perspectives, then the fears of critics like Fredric Jameson that dystopian thought may be inimical to positive visions of historical change appear unfounded. Dystopian thought does not disable utopian thought, but merely acts as a healthy opposing voice that helps prevent utopian thought from going stale. In this vein, Alexander Zinoviev's dystopian novel The Yawning Heights includes a treatise on social laws written by one "Schizophrenic," a dissident thinker in Zinoviev's dystopian Ibansk. This treatise suggests that any society in which the prevailing official ideology is entirely dominant, in which no opposing voices are allowed to sound, will inevitably develop in a dystopian direction: And then a special kind of society is brought into being, in which hypocrisy, oppression, corruption, waste, irresponsibility (individual and collective), shoddy work, boorishness, idleness, disinformation, deceitfulness, drabness, bureaucratic privilege, all flourish. (56) This catalog may serve well to describe Zinoviev's specific Soviet context, but the universality of the warning is clear. Utopian projections of desirable alternatives to the status quo can clearly serve as a galvanizing force for political change, but utopian thought is also always in danger of degenerating into the kind of sterile, monological ideology that would lead to the conditions Zinoviev's "Schizophrenic"
Postscript: Literature and Dystopia
here describes. Dystopian thought can serve as a valuable corrective to this tendency, and therefore should be thought of as working with rather than against utopian thought. In the final analysis, the most important contribution of dystopian thought may be to provide opposing voices that challenge utopian ideals, thus keeping those ideals fresh and viable and preventing them from degenerating into dogma. By taking dystopian fiction seriously and by using the dystopian impulse as a focal point for polyphonic confrontations among literature, popular culture, and social criticism we as readers can contribute to this challenge, which is ultimately a positive one. Indeed, it may be that dystopian warnings of impending nightmares are ultimately necessary to preserve any possible dream of a better future.
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