Utopia/Dystopia

Utopia: Findings and Fallacies, published May 1998 — an excerpt from this piece provides some context for stories like PDK’s Minority Report, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale:

The Necessity of Utopias
Despite all the fallacies, the Utopian ideas are important for the development of the humanity, and they may significantly influence the minds, forming a new level of public mentality appropriate for a higher level of economic and social organization.The very appearance of Utopian suggestions indicates the necessity of change. This is the first form of social self-awareness, and its syncretism allows it to reflect the sprouts of the both near and very distant future of the humanity.Utopian writings stimulate the thought, making people consider the future as a product of their own efforts and design. Hence, people become aware of their significance as the creators of the world, and not mere marionettes.

The attempts of implementing various Utopian projects objectively stimulate development. They provide a kind of social experiment, with the negative and positive results being equally valuable. Even the abstract Utopian dreams have a practical significance, as a mental experiment illustrating specific aspects of social development.

Every attempt to collect knowledge and educate the people is very important. The more bits of knowledge get exposed, the more they undermine the outdated social system in favor of the new one, more suited for the next stage in the development of economy.

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Various and Sundry Things on Postmodernism, Cyberpunkishness, and so forth

  • U.K. To Monitor Families With In-Home Surveillance
  • Cool site – Technophobia
  • More about Postmodernism here.
  • Check here for a Brief Guide To Ideology with accompanying questions that can be used to ascertain the ideological tilt of a reading. Quite useful for SF.
  • Moving into the Matrix — An examination of postmodernism, cyberpunk, and technology’s role in future societies.
  • Dr. d’s Notes on Postmodernism.
  • Want a quick SF fix? Try this site.
  • Treasure trove! Visit here to hear Joe Haldeman,The Forever War, read from his new time travel book and discuss SF and its ideas.
  • Here‘s another example of how much we live in a “SF world.” Read When It Changedby Joanna Russ (The Road to Science Fiction – 526) to further enjoy the social and biological implications of parthenogenesis.

Cyberpunk

Cyberpunk deals with several pressing themes of today’s culture and technology as discussed by theorists such as Donna Haraway and Sandy Stone: the interfacing and commingling of humans and machines; the passage to the so-called *Information Age*; and the new relationships between gender and science; etc..

The term cyber, from the Greek word kubernetes (meaning helmsman or steersman), has many meanings that have all been appropriated to meet certain agendas. It has been called postmodernist, deconstructionist, and feminist, among other terms. But in juxtaposition with the word punk, it is a term designating both a progressive and reactionary response to a world in flux and a fiction of stagnation: “What unites all of these artists [punks to cyberpunkers] is what might be termed a shared ‘attitude’– an attitude of defiance towards cultural and aesthetic norms; an attitude of distrust towards rationalist language and all other forms of discourse required by legal, political and consumer capitalism” (McCaffery 288). Is cyberpunk a product of popular culture or a revolt against science fiction placidity? The technological emphasis of the “movement” is undeniable and owes much to the computer revolution and virtual reality techniques, but what does this mean in terms of the conventional science fiction community? The primary goal of this writing class is to investigate these claims, while negotiating popular culture’s interpretation of what constitutes “cyberpunk.”
In the words of Bruce Sterling:

Anything that can be done to a rat can be done to a human being. And we can do most anything to rats. This is a hard thing to think about, but it’s the truth. It won’t go away because we cover our eyes *This is cyberpunk.*

  • Here is a reading/viewing list for the above-referenced course.
  • Say goodbye to your stale old futures.
    Here is an entirely realized new world,
    intense as an electric shock.
    Bruce Sterling

nicholls_terminal

The Handmaid’s Tale

  • Think Atwood’s scenario is far-fetched? Check out “All God’s Children” on Salon
  • You Pay, Computer Prays For You — all I can say here is that Atwood is amazingly prescient.
  • Here’s what Charles Dickens had to say about solitary confinement in 1842.
  • Remember to annotate the Handmaid’s Tale chapter 1 handout.
  • Check out the Graded Discussion Rubric for The Handmaid’s Tale and for WE- –
  • Click here to find some interesting Handmaid Ideas about The Handmaid’s Tale
  • A Postmodern analysis of themes and motifs in Atwood’s dystopic The Handmaid’s Tale
  • Then they came for the Quakers…
  • Total Information Awareness – surveillance system established by the Bush folks in 2002
  • Find here a study guide to The Handmaid’s Tale from Paul Brians, English professor at Washington State University, Pullman, Washington.
  • Here is a site devoted to Imagery and Allusions in The Handmaid’s Tale. Use at your own discretion.
  • The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Reponsibility for 9/11 by Dinesh D’Souza — a review by Andrew Sullivan. A brief excerpt: “[According to Sullivan,] D’Souza argues that there are only two choices for a human being to make in the twenty-first century with respect to “core beliefs”: “traditional morality” and what he calls “liberal morality.” Traditional morality, in D’Souza’s view, “is based on the notion that there is a moral order in the universe, which establishes an enduring standard of right and wrong. All the major religions of the world agree on the existence of this moral order. There is also a surprising degree of unanimity about the content of this moral order.” Liberal morality, by contrast, consists first of all in the right of the individual to choose for him- or herself what morality is. It is about “autonomy, individuality, and self-fulfillment as moral ideals.” Its essence is the notion that “each person must decide for himself or herself what is right in a particular situation.” D’Souza argues that the shift in America over the past few decades from traditional morality to liberal morality is “the most important fact of the past half-century.” Essentially a Handmaid’s Tale world before our very eyes — if D’Souza has his way.
  • “Welcome to Gilead, Governor Palin”
  • Is Solitary Confinement Torture? 12:55 audio file
  • Bono uses the phrase “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum” in the U2 song Acrobat, the lyrics of which are: Don’t believe what you hear, don’t believe what you see
    If you just close your eyes you can feel the enemy.
    When I first met you girl, you had fire in your soul.
    What happened t’your face of melting snow
    Now it looks like this!
    And you can swallow or you can spit
    You can throw it up, or choke on it
    And you can dream, so dream out loud
    You know that your time is coming round
    So don’t let the bastards grind you down.No, nothing makes sense, nothing seems to fit.
    I know you’d hit out if you only knew who to hit.
    And I’d join the movement
    If there was one I could believe in
    Yeah, I’d break bread and wine
    If there was a church I could receive in.
    ‘Cause I need it now.
    To take the cup
    To fill it up, to drink it slow.
    I can’t let you go.And I must be an acrobat
    To talk like this and act like that.
    And you can dream, so dream out loud
    And don’t let the bastards grind you down.

    What are we going to do now it’s all been said?
    No new ideas in the house, and every book’s been read.

    And I must be an acrobat
    To talk like this and act like that.
    And you can dream, so dream out loud
    And you can find your own way out.
    And you can build, and I can will
    And you can call, I can’t wait until
    You can stash and you can seize
    In dreams begin responsibilities
    And I can love, and I can love
    And I know that the tide is turning ’round
    So don’t let the bastards grind you down.

We by Yevgeny Zamyatinimageswe

Everything in the One State is based on the work of Frederick Winslow Taylor, an American mathematician, manager and cybernetician, who laid the theoretical groundwork for modern scientific assembly lines based upon giving every worker one minute task to complete in a fixed amount of a time on, say, a conveyor belt, to maximize efficiency and productive capabilities. In Taylor’s own words, from Principles of Scientific Management, “It is only through enforced standardization of methods, enforced adaption of the best implements and working conditions, and enforced cooperation that this faster work can be assured. And the duty of enforcing the adaption of standards and enforcing this cooperation rests with management alone.” He wasn’t a big fan of socialism or worker’s unions, at any rate, though in Russia he had tremendous influence on the Bolsheviks.

According to Owen Hatherley’s essay “Art is a Branch of Mathematics: Zamyatin and Soviet Socio-Fantasy”, available on his blog The Measures Taken, Lenin in 1914 actually advocated an adaption of Taylor’s mechanical schemes: “Lenin’s article, titled ‘The Taylor System: Man’s Enslavement by the Machine’ was on one level a simple critique of this mechanisation of man for profit. But within it is a more radical suggestion. Lenin claims that the scientific nature of this system was actually, in its rational use of labour time and resources, preparing the grounds for a system that will supersede capitalism. He writes: ‘the Taylor system- without its inititators knowing or wishing it – is preparing the time when the proletariat will take over all social production and appoint its own workers’ committees for the purpose of properly distributing and rationalising all social labour.’ Hence it’s no surprise that in 1918, a year after seizing state power, Lenin gave a speech that asserted- ‘we must introduce into Russia the study and teaching of the Taylor system and its systematic trial and adoption.’” http://anatomylesson.wordpress.com/2008/02/05/yevgeny-zamyatin-we/

The Handmaid’s Tale and WE Reading Schedule: at one set of chapters/records/ entries per day – we finish in just about 2 weeks (9 days)

WE by Yevgeny Zamayatin

  • TU-1-5,
  • WED-6-9,
  • TH-10-14, Graded discussion of the story thus far
  • F-15-18,
  • ***************
  • M-19-23,
  • TU-24-27, Graded discussion of the story thus far
  • WED-28-30,
  • TH-31-34,
  • F-35-40 – Discussion of story as a utopic/dystopic vision– essay due Tuesday

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

  • TU-1-6,
  • WED-7-12,
  • TH-13-17,
  • F- 18-23, Graded discussion of the story thus far
  • ***************
  • M-24-29,
  • TU-30-34,
  • WED-35-39, Graded discussion of the story thus far
  • TH-40-46,
  • F-Epilogue – Discussion of story as a utopic/dystopic visionessay due Tuesday

(This is the schedule I have used every year for Atwood and the recommended reading schedule for Zamyatin.)

“Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut

Here is Vonnegut’s story.

This page is a pretty decent study guide to “Harrison Bergeron.”

15 Things Kurt Vonnegut Said Better Than Anyone Else Ever Has Or Will

Kurt Vonnegut Remembered — an NPR interview. Vonnegut talks about “writing, censorship, and experiences of war.” “So it goes.”

List of great quotations by Vonnegut.

Observations from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, ed. J.P. Mayer:

“There is indeed a manly and legitimate passion for equality which rouses in all men a desire to be strong and respected. This passion tends to elevate the little man to the rank of the great. But the human heart also nourishes a debased taste for equality, which leads the weak to want to drag the strong down to their level and which induces men to prefer equality in servitude to inequality in freedom. It is not that peoples with a democratic social state naturally scorn freedom; on the contrary, they have an instinctive taste for it. But freedom is not the chief and continual object of their desires; it is equality for which they feel an eternal love; they rush on freedom with quick and sudden impulses, but if they miss their mark they resign themselves to their disappointment; but nothing will satisfy them without equality, and they would rather die than lose it” (57).

“No matter how a people strives for it, all the conditions of life can never be perfectly equal. Even if, by misfortune, such an absolute dead level were attained, there would still be inequalities of intelligence which, coming directly from God, will ever escape the laws of man” (537-538).

“When inequality is the general rule in society, the greatest inequalities attract no attention. When everything is more or less level, the slightest variation is noticed. Hence the more equal men are, the more insatiable will be their longing for equality” (538).
http://mockingbird.creighton.edu/english/fajardo/teaching/srp435/vonnegut.htm

View test here

Minority Report

Minority Report Essay Question
Brazil

Visit this site to read about Gilliam’s surreal film vision.

Brazil – Frequently Asked Questions

Gilliam’s exposition raises some important questions. Is the terror created by the power of the state in the alleged pursuit of terrorism worse than the terrorism itself? And are they really any different? This site explores these and other questions raised by Brazil.

Gilliam came nearest to inventing his own country with Brazil (1985), one of the key political films of the late 20th century. Read more of this Slate essay here.

But maybe Brazil is really a “hacker film” — visit Slashdot to read about this perspective.

Visit here to see a comparison of 1984 and Brazil.

From the Ministry of Information:

  • Trust in Security
  • Be alert — some terrorists look normal
  • Suspicion breeds confidence
  • Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, Information
  • Truth is information
  • Be safe — Be suspicious
  • Regret nothing — report everything
  • Don’t suspect a friend — Report him

Terrorized by ‘War on Terror’ — How a Three-Word Mantra Has Undermined America is a short article in the Washington Post by Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security advisor to President Jimmy Carter

Revealing the Secrets in Room 101 – George Orwell visited America three times this week (note the clip from the film 1984)

Blade Runner