“lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate”*

*(Wiktionary): “From Dante Alighieri’s work “Inferno”, translated by Henry Francis Cary as “all hope abandon ye who enter here” “.

Jill Lepore wrote in The New Yorker of 29.5.17:

“Dystopias follow utopias the way thunder follows lightning…

A utopia is a paradise, a dystopia a paradise lost. Before utopias and dystopias became imagined futures, they were imagined pasts, or imagined places, like the Garden of Eden. “I have found a continent more densely peopled and abounding in animals than our Europe or Asia or Africa, and, in addition, a climate milder and more delightful than in any other region known to us,” Amerigo Vespucci wrote, in extravagant letters describing his voyages across the Atlantic, published in 1503 as “Mundus Novus_,”_ a new world. In 1516, Thomas More published a fictional account of a sailor on one of Vespucci’s ships who had travelled just a bit farther, to the island of Utopia, where he found a perfect republic. (More coined the term: “utopia” means “nowhere.”) “Gulliver’s Travels” (1726) is a satire of the utopianism of the Enlightenment. On the island of Laputa, Gulliver visits the Academy of Lagado, where the sages, the first progressives, are busy trying to make pincushions out of marble, breeding naked sheep, and improving the language by getting rid of all the words.

The word “dystopia,” meaning “an unhappy country,” was coined in the seventeen-forties, as the historian Gregory Claeys points out in a shrewd new study, “Dystopia: A Natural History” (Oxford). In its modern definition, a dystopia can be apocalyptic, or post-apocalyptic, or neither, but it has to be anti-utopian, a utopia turned upside down, a world in which people tried to build a republic of perfection only to find that they had created a republic of misery. “A Trip to the Island of Equality,” a 1792 reply to Thomas Paine’s “Rights of Man,” is a dystopia (on the island, the pursuit of equality has reduced everyone to living in caves), but Mary Shelley’s 1826 novel, “The Last Man,” in which the last human being dies in the year 2100 of a dreadful plague, is not dystopian; it’s merely apocalyptic.

The dystopian novel emerged in response to the first utopian novels, like Edward Bellamy’s best-selling 1888 fantasy, “Looking Backward,” about a socialist utopia in the year 2000. “Looking Backward” was so successful that it produced a dozen anti-socialist, anti-utopian replies…

Utopians believe in progress; dystopians don’t. They fight this argument out in competing visions of the future, utopians offering promises, dystopians issuing warnings. In 1895, in “The Time Machine,” H. G. Wells introduced the remarkably handy device of travelling through time by way of a clock…That’s one problem with dystopian fiction: forewarned is not always forearmed.

Sleeping through the warning signs is another problem. “I was asleep before,” the heroine of “The Handmaid’s Tale” says in the new Hulu production of Margaret Atwood’s 1986 novel. “That’s how we let it happen.” But what about when everyone’s awake, and there are plenty of warnings, but no one does anything about them?…as the readers of all dystopian fiction: they’re left to try to piece together not a whodunnit but a howdidithappen…

This spring’s blighted crop of dystopian novels is pessimistic about technology, about the economy, about politics, and about the planet, making it a more abundant harvest of unhappiness than most other heydays of downheartedness. The Internet did not stitch us all together. Economic growth has led to widening economic inequality and a looming environmental crisis. Democracy appears to be yielding to authoritarianism. “Hopes, dashed” is, lately, a long list, and getting longer…

Pick your present-day dilemma; there’s a new dystopian novel to match it…

Radical pessimism is a dismal trend…

A utopia is a planned society; planned societies are often disastrous; that’s why utopias contain their own dystopias…

The second half of the twentieth century, of course, also produced liberal-minded dystopias, chiefly concerned with issuing warnings about pollution and climate change, nuclear weapons and corporate monopolies, technological totalitarianism and the fragility of rights secured from the state. There were, for instance, feminist dystopias. The utopianism of the Moral Majority, founded in 1979, lies behind “The Handmaid’s Tale” (a book that is, among other things, an updating of Harriet Jacobs’s 1861 “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl”)…

Every dystopia is a history of the future…

Dystopia used to be a fiction of resistance; it’s become a fiction of submission, the fiction of an untrusting, lonely, and sullen twenty-first century, the fiction of fake news and infowars, the fiction of helplessness and hopelessness. It cannot imagine a better future, and it doesn’t ask anyone to bother to make one. It nurses grievances and indulges resentments; it doesn’t call for courage; it finds that cowardice suffices. Its only admonition is: Despair more. It appeals to both the left and the right, because, in the end, it requires so little by way of literary, political, or moral imagination, asking only that you enjoy the company of people whose fear of the future aligns comfortably with your own. Left or right, the radical pessimism of an unremitting dystopianism has itself contributed to the unravelling of the liberal state and the weakening of a commitment to political pluralism. “This isn’t a story about war,” El Akkad writes in “American War.” “It’s about ruin.” A story about ruin can be beautiful. Wreckage is romantic. But a politics of ruin is doomed.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s