Friday, September 25, 2009

Another academic clanger

In his review of Margaret Atwood's latest novel The Year of the Flood (LRB 10 September 2009), Fredric Jameson ventilates his thoughts in progress about apocalyptic plots in literature:

My current feeling is that the post-catastrophe situation [in literature] in reality constitutes the preparation for the emergence of Utopia itself, which, to be sure, in Atwood's new instalment we reach only in anticipation ....

Oh what a canny little twist to the banal little commonplace sometimes uttered by clever literary scholars that "all utopias contain the seed of dystopia"! I've always found that a consummately cowardly trope - after all, aren't utopia and dystopia one and the same thing, one person's notion of paradise being another person's idea of hell?* - but Jameson's formulation is even more annoyingly slick. By taking Utopia (with a capital "U") to be that which emerges after the dystopian catastrophe, he squarely and simplistically places it on the side of the good. Out goes the last bit of ambiguity, in comes a streamlined, homogenised Hades.

What's that you're saying? Millenarian optimism is just the kind of world view staunch Marxists would purport (especially staunch American Marxists)? Well, whatever. I still think it's a sloppy, cheesy and frightening idea.

*Just referring to the title, not the image!

No comments: