http://www.whitenoise.city/articles/apocalyptic-london-wells-orwell (defunct now)
The author does a sweeping job of collecting dystopian references, but just one or two notes on /why/ humanity spends so much time and effort imagining the Apocalypse: 1) it’s easier to envision destruction than slow, methodical change. 2) we’d rather the world end with us than continue on without us (what will we miss?)
My personal favorite (not mentioned) is that the act (and art) of survival has been lost on us. Your book The Knowledge is a perfect example of this. Without the need to struggle to survive, we’re left to ponder the why of existence.
Let’s face it, surviving in the first world is not much of a challenge. In other lands, sure, the everyday acquisition of food, water, safety, shelter are struggles. They’re living in a dystopia — today. We facebook meanderers probably worry about other more mundane or trivial aspects of modern life. Worries that we know have no consequence.
Envisioning the End allows us to, for a time, picture and dream of a time when our every step, our every decision might result in tragedy or triumph. Being forced to live in such a precarious world would imbue an edge of excitement, stir our basic evolutionary skills at surviving, expose that frisson of living that our mundane lives fail to provide.
2 thoughts on “Back to Dystopia”
I’ve examined this very topic over the years. One of the primary reasons why I believe people, in general, are drawn to the topic (the reality of it, and the fiction of it), is that survival would mean something again.
In this day and age, in the first world, survival is easy (generally). But humans, throughout the history of our species, have not had it so facile. I believe that we yearn for a return to such times when to feed yourself and your kin, to protect them, to build shelter and tools, and weapons and really, truly survive was your primary goal. Death awaits those who fail at the task.That immediacy is missing from our lives. Dystopian stories return to us, for a brief moment, those feeling of triumph and failure when just eking out survival was all you could hope for.
Jill Lepore, I’m afraid, misses the point with the intent of most dystopian fiction. She paints the genre with a pale brush of pessimism; all is woe, doom be upon us. What she misses is that in most stories that depict the decline, desiccation, eventual demise or utter destruction of society what the characters are forced to do is return to their humanity. Return to their roots as surviving creatures. Return to a time when a person’s decisions meant something. When your next meal, your next safe place to sleep, your next survivable moment hinges on your decision — well, you begin to treat life as precious and precarious. Life today, in the 1st world is not precious and can most easily be described as mundane and pointless. Progress? So I can buy the next iPhone, or VR system, or designer drug, or microhome, or… blah! Where’s the life affirming risk in that? We crave meaning — staying alive in a cruel and decaying world — is meaning aplenty!