Dreaming of Electric Sheep

End Of The WorldIn this column for Toronto Standard, Emily Keeler asks, “Are Dystopic literary visions becoming the way of the world?” Call me Henry Case, but i think she might be on to something.

Okay, it’s true: I tend to prefer fiction to fact. Though some journalists (and essayists) who work with what you might call “reality” get my gears going, I typically think stories are better, if only because they offer a window to a different, much less banal world. I learned early that novels are a place to run to, islands of respite from the endless rowing across the boring and tedious ocean between birth and death. It’s a place, to abuse a phrase associated with one of fiction’s loudest champions, where I can go to get away from being already pretty much away from it all. Stories relieve me of myself, from the blandness of my mostly apolitical and largely unremarkable life, and none more so than fictions of the mystifying future. I like to escape from my uneventful world, overburdened with small problems, into an imaginary one. I inevitably return from my sojourns in dystopia flush with the pleasure of witnessing something truly exciting! Something extraordinary, something that, alas, will never happen to me …

From Toronto Standard

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  • UselessJunk

    Becoming reality in our world or becoming a preference for fiction fans?

    Not sure what this article is getting at other than: “I like dystopian fiction”

    • Liam_McGonagle

      I don’t know about that.  I think the implicit point is well worth thinking about:  fiction appeals to us because it clarifies and brings to the forefront in a very engaging way all the latent tensions in our real, waking world that we usually gloss over during our banal routines.

      No, this article doesn’t come out and say, “the world is going to hell in a handbasket!”.  That, INMHO, would be to hit the reader over the head with obvious, and insult his/her intelligence.

      • Jin The Ninja

        ty.

      • Honu

        I’m with Useless Junk on this one.  This article seems rather pointless to me.  But if the writer was trying to consider the reality of our world reflected in dystopian writings, well, I think when the economy is the way it is and the general direction of things seems to be negative and stagnant then it will reflect dystopian views.  When things are going much better then this perspective would be much more suppresed.  In any case I believe that sci fi writers and filmmakers do actually plant the visions of the future for us and does in it’s way help to manifest those visions simply by affecting so many people’s perspective.  Maybe like the 100th monkey syndrome, if enough people believe in a dystopian future where soylent green is people it will happen. 

        • Liam_McGonagle

          But don’t you see?  YOUR COMMENT is the real value add of this whole process.  Not the article in and of itself.

          I’ve thought a lot about this in the course of my own blog project, obsessing over the “short-comings” and ”limitations” of the various literary and dramatic formats, and I’ve come to the conclusion that, in one very fundamental aspect, they’re really all inadequate substitutes for conversation.

          I learned that when you present an excessively straightforward, unambiguous and thoroughly sourced piece it becomes, for the vast majority of readers, anyhow, sterile and boring.  It’s closed ended.  Where is the purchase for the reader’s involvement?

          That’s the whole point for most of these things, to actively engage the reader in a diverting train of thought. 

          One way to do that is to that is come out with some explosively controversial or offensive statement.  That’s guaranteed to provke some response–but not generally the richest variety.  Usually it degenerates pretty quickly into bland, rote repititions of partisan slogans.  More heat than light.

          Another, more productive method is to excise some key element of the traditional logical argument.  Here, as you and Junk say, there seems to be no “Major Premise”.  There is a minor premise (i.e., that dystopian literature deals with controversial issues) and a conclusion (i.e., the author finds dystopian literature engaging), but there is no sustained EXPLICIT development of a major premise. The presentation strikes you as half-baked and inadequate, for obvious reasons.

          Ideally that provokes a thoughtful response–like yours and Junk’s.  Granted, we are dealing with a type of mass publication medium that is not normally associated with deep intellectual dives of your sort, so I easily see how a baited provcation scenario like the one I posit is likely to pass over the head of a great many readers.

          This may not work for everyone right now, but I think the internet is an evolving medium.  More stuff like this may be forthcoming, as people learn to be more selective in their reading choices, and reflective on its hidden rhetorical biases.

  • DeepCough

    That dystopian, sci-fi literature is really a commentary on events in the present.

  • Okarin

    a lot of the old fictions were to warn about future non-fiction

    • Ps

       in a way that won’t get em labeled conspiracy nut

      • Liam_McGonagle

        A lot of the time, anyhow.

        But the artist’s priviledged position does come at some cost.  People usually write them off as entertaining but irrelevant eccentrics, even if their more alarmist statements eventually prove to have some foundation in reality.

        Sell-out mainstream media whores like Dan Brown seem pretty happy with that bargain, but others less so.  Phillip K. Dick had a lot of ideas worth being taken seriously, yet popular discussions of his work often fixate on the more lurid and personal aspects of his apparent mental illness.

        There’s just not an active appreciation of psychopathy in our society.  Sure, we promote them to the highest positions of business and civic “responsibility”, but we rarely discuss their actual IDEAS with any seriousness.

        • Jin The Ninja

          that’s what i have always had difficulty with in understanding the criticisms of genre fictions. the tendency for academics in contextualising either horror or science fiction is to rely on authorship and biography (which is likely borrowed from cinema studies concern with the same thing) as opposed to a more nuanced multi disciplinary theoretical approach, which is less conservative (inherently). the best classes (and books) i’ve been in/read on popular culture ‘pulp’ or genre fictions tend to come from media or culture studies approaches. they understand how to contextualise it to the modern world much more readily.

          • Liam_McGonagle

            I think you hit the nail on the head.

            While the biographical approach is interesting in its own right, it’s a bit in the wrong direction, in a sense.  It’s fundamentally an attempt to banalize literature by painting it as being determined by a relatively narrow set of known biographical facts.  Whereas a major and indispensable part of literature’s appeal is to transcend those facts.