The Year of the Flood

Fredric Jameson writes:

Who will recount the pleasures of dystopia? The pity and fear of tragedy – pity for the other, fear for myself – does not seem very appropriate to a form which is collective, and in which spectator and tragic protagonist are in some sense one and the same. For the most part, dystopia has been a vehicle for political statements of some kind: sermons against overpopulation, big corporations, totalitarianism, consumerism, patriarchy, not to speak of money itself. Not coincidentally, it has also been the one science-fictional sub-genre in which more purely ‘literary’ writers have felt free to indulge: Huxley, Orwell, even the Margaret Atwood of The Handmaid’s Tale. And not unpredictably, the results of these efforts have been as amateurish as analogous experiments in the realm of the detective or crime story (from Dostoevsky to Nabokov, if you like), but including a message or thesis.[*] So-called mass cultural genres, in other words, have rules and standards as rigorous and professional as the more noble forms.

(LRB 10 September 2009)

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