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1. Utopia, Dystopia, Speculative Fiction and Extinction
About this Lecture
In this module, we introduce the concepts of utopia and dystopia, focusing in particular on: (i) the dual etymology of the word 'utopia' – both 'no-place' (ou + topia) and 'good place' (eu + topia); (ii) the work of Lyman Tower Sargent and the concept of utopia as 'social dreaming'; (iii) Sargent's definition of positive utopia (or eutopia) and negative utopia (or dystopia); (iv) Oscar Wilde's discussion of utopia in his 1891 essay 'The Soul of Man Under Socialism'; (v) the relationship between utopia and dystopia; (vi) Margaret Atwood's rejection of the label 'dystopia' in preference for the label 'speculative fiction'; (vii) the tension in both utopias and dystopias between the here and now and some alternative (better or worse) world; (viii) the work of Gregory Claeys and the idea of dystopias as "utopias which have decayed"; (ix) the shrinking of the gap between the here and now and the dystopian future, and the view of some writers (e.g. Kim Stanley Robinson) that we are already living in a dystopia; (x) the rise of extinction narratives, including Ling Ma's Severance (2018) and Christina Sweeney-Baird's The End of Men (2021).
In this course, Professor Nicole Pohl (Oxford Brookes University) provides an introduction to and overview of dystopian literature. In the first module, we introduce the concepts of 'utopia' and 'dystopia' themselves, as well as the idea of dystopias as "utopias which have decayed". In the second and third modules, we think about two major types of dystopia – dystopias of totalitarian control (e.g. Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four) and dystopias of environmental collapse (e.g. H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds). In the fourth module, we explore the connection between dystopia and satire, looking in particular at Thomas More's Utopia (1516), before turning in the fifth and sixth modules to consider the history of dystopia from the first use of the word in the mid-18th century to the emergence of young adult dystopian fiction in the 21st. In the seventh and final module, we consider two emerging trends in dystopian fiction today – climate change fiction (or 'cli-fi', for short) and solarpunk.
Prof. Nicole Pohl is Professor in Early Modern Literature and Critical Theory at Oxford Brookes University. Her research focuses on utopias and utopianism.
Cite this Lecture
Pohl, N. (2022, May 12). Dystopian Literature - Utopia, Dystopia, Speculative Fiction and Extinction [Video]. MASSOLIT. https://massolit.io/courses/dystopian-literature/utopia-dystopia-speculative-fiction-and-extinction
Pohl, Nicole. "Dystopian Literature – Utopia, Dystopia, Speculative Fiction and Extinction." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 12 May 2022, https://massolit.io/courses/dystopian-literature/utopia-dystopia-speculative-fiction-and-extinction