postcatastrophic utopias

John Beck and Mark Dorrian’s article ‘Postcatastrophic Utopias’ has been published in the current issue of Cultural Politics (10[2], 2014). John is Director of the Institute for Modern and Contemporary Culture at the University of Westminster. The paper was written as part of a larger project on speculative fiction, and is connected to a contribution we made to the Contingency Plans exhibition that was organised by Adam Bobbette and Dan Roggeveen of the University of Hong Kong and that ran between 29 March – 1 June 2014.

Here is the abstract:

“Space colonization and subterranean dwelling have been staples of speculative fiction since at least the nineteenth century, but the invention of nuclear weapons and the prospect of global environmental collapse have, certainly since the Cold War, made proposals offering vertical escape from the surface of the planet a matter worthy of serious consideration among engineers, planners, military strategists, and countercultural futurologists. The shift in the conception of utopia, from the lateral displacements typical of its classical formations to the vertical modes of descent and ascent considered in this article, suggests a structural relationship between utopia and catastrophe produced out of the new conditions of global threat inaugurated by atomic weapons. While the prospect of impending global catastrophe would appear to lead to a dystopian or even fatalistic acceptance of the limits of human life on Earth, the most devastating assessments of humanity‚Äôs future have also produced utopian proposals for the reimagining of human potentiality below and above the surface of the planet. In a real sense, then, catastrophe has become the precondition for the establishment of utopia, both as the compelling threat that demands a plausible response to impending annihilation and as the necessary event that apocalyptically clears the ground for new modes of living.”

The full text is on the Duke University Press website here.

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