Postmodern irony hardly aspires to stop time, but, at its most radical, to reimagine time. It is possible, she observes, to think of irony not as saying one thing and meaning another. Irony is Janus-like because it looks both backward, critiquing past actions and ideas, and forward toward a future, the shape of which is barely out- lined. It is always already ironical. It is hard — impossible? Irony may produce a moment of crisis in thinking and behavior. But the obverse is also possible and necessary. Irony is so Janus-faced that it both produces and is required by crisis.
On the contrary, this crisis is taken by women as the opening up of new possibilities and poten- tialities. It leads women to rethink the link between identity, power, and the community. One of the central arguments of this book is that the forms of contem- porary feminist speculation require irony, but not of the endlessly ener- vating kind. It also demands a vibrant evolution in the literary forms which re-present possible pasts, presents, and futures. From the beginning, of course, women had something to say about that. Narratologically, therefore, the sense of the ending in these texts is not oriented by the resolution of familiar, happy endings.
Rather, they are reoriented entanglements of the real, the imaginary, the possible, and the potential, under such tension that the very frame of the text has to bend, or fold, or extend, or even suspend. Similarly, Su problematizes what and how the imagination helps us know, as well as envision. Both Kearney and Su logically base their claims on a notion of sympathy that will always require the faculty of the imagination, as the nineteenth-century Romantics well knew.
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Each of these texts is a structuring of accountability. Originally troped as an island, utopia is located far from our own fallen lands, and its borders are characteristically and vigorously protected. Two of these dis- tortions are critical to the feminist project taken up in this book. A feminist standpoint is a practi- cal technology rooted in yearning, not an abstract philosophical foundation. And explicit purposes — politics, rationality, ethics, or technics in a reductive sense — do not say much about the furnace that is personal and collective yearning for just barely possible worlds.
What is a speculative standpoint, then? In introducing the term, I signal a concept of accountability that is even more provocative, sparked by the commitment to changing the here and now, but projecting beyond that here and that now. We must require ourselves to look around from the standpoint we occupy in the present to the horizon, which means that we look backward to the past and forward to the future. We can aspire to our ways of being nowhere — but this will not be speculation from the point of view of a nowhere representing false objectivity, a position that does not recognize the fantasy behind its own utopian constructions.
We can aspire instead to the nowhere associated with the literary tradition of future-oriented fabulation. As we recuperate speculation, we recuperate utopia, and nei- ther will look the same as it did. In my proposed extension of feminist standpoint theory, the not-so-modest feminist witness works at seeking alternative ways of being nowhere. Instead, the speculative witness pursues multiplicity through a critical epistemology that makes visible the tint of the lens through which a dominant culture sees the world, and sees himself. If you want NextDay, we can save the other items for later.
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Lynne Segal Verso November 32 minutes 8, words. It is sometimes said that the twentieth century began with utopian dreaming and ended with nostalgia, as those alternative futures once envisioned seemed by then almost entirely discredited. However, it was never quite so straightforward. The challenge to envisage how to live differently, in ways that seem better than the present, never entirely disappears.
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The most prominent American utopian studies scholar, Lyman Tower Sargent, notes that dystopian scenarios increasingly dominated the speculative literary form as the twentieth century progressed. What stands out in speculative fantasies of the future arising towards the end of the twentieth century are their darkly dystopic leanings, whether in books, cinema, comics or elsewhere.
Set in the future, it describes a scientifically managed totalitarian state, known as One State, governed by logic and reason, where people live in glass buildings, march in step, and are known by their numbers. These imaginings serve primarily as warnings against futures that are often read, as with Zamyatin and Orwell, as condemnations of Soviet society. Post, public intellectuals for the most part broadcast the view that democracy and utopic thinking were opposed, the latter declared both impossible and dangerous.
There is no way of deciding rationally between competing utopian ideals, he suggested, since we cannot contra Marxism scientifically predict the future, which means our statements are not open to falsification and hence fail his test for any sort of reliability. Buy the book. Nevertheless, suggesting how complicated and volatile moments of renewal can be, this passed into an all-too-brief moment of joyous hope that spanned the sparkling s and, especially among women, continued well into the s, before an even darker mood of imminent catastrophe took over across the political spectrum at the close of the twentieth century.
The rise in oil prices and subsequent recession, which would pave the way for ideological and economic backlash from the right, determined to overturn social democratic reforms and union power, had yet to occur. In the meantime, the twenty years of popular protest movements stretched from the rise of the New Left in to the beginning of the decline of such movements in The decades of restraint and respectability were replaced by a defiant commitment to direct action and participatory democracy, with the rise of collective resistance.
We want … to take the good aspects that we experience of our private lives and spread them around to invade and transform the public arena. It took years for us to excavate the buried diversity of proposals others had presented as the twentieth century kicked off. And, despite the intervening changes over the decades, so many of the dilemmas of the past re-emerged, simply because none of them had been solved. These agendas, almost always for the very first time, included demands on reproductive rights, domestic violence, sexual harassment, safety in the street, and much more.
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Many women were creating their own music, theatre, writings and visual displays, either collectively or individually. These alternative feminist, left adventures were local, yet through networks and campaigns for exchanging experiences they aimed to shift government policies as well. If usually more cautiously conceived than earlier utopian fantasy, being far from perfect or conflict-free, there was nonetheless some full-blown feminist utopian writing back then as well, fleshing out visions of alternative futures. In her complex fiction, the world of Anarres, unlike the others in the text she depicts, maintains itself without coercive institutions or governments, as a type of anarcho-syndicalist society.
Yet this seemingly admirable society is not without economic hardship. Le Guin further depicts the dangers of stagnation, incipient hierarchies and centralized bureaucracies always threatening to emerge from within in the absence of the constant effort to maintain its socially based, less individualistic revolutionary ideology. One point about these and other recent feminist utopias is that their authors were writing about potentially better futures, at the very same time as they were trying in their everyday lives to embody at least some of the aspects of the alternative, caring societies they depicted.
Alas, the initial confidence behind feminist activism inevitably diminished in the harsher political climate of the s, when early gains were being followed by significant and continuing defeats for women overall.
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Our movement fragmented and shrank, then, along with the rest of the activist left, as the political tide turned against any form of redistributive politics. The rise and rise of inequality from the close of the s impacted especially hard on the women in low-paid often caring jobs, while gradually undermining the public resources that might be called upon for assisting those performing unpaid caring work at home. Thus, though more women now had paid jobs and an independent income, feminist dreams of making employment more compatible with home life were all largely negated — our demands for shorter working days and more social resources for all in need of care, along with democratic involvement in its provision, had all ended in defeat.
As the working day continues to lengthen and insecurities on all sides deepen, research has comprehensively shown that it is women, globally, who are disproportionately disadvantaged by what have become continuing government cutbacks. Yet, even with hopes of changing the world receding in the last decades of the twentieth century, a less confident dissidence often remained, ready to be ignited or shared with younger generations, if and when opportunities arose. The once-optimistic Adrienne Rich, for instance, was now passionately condemning the inequality she saw accelerating since the s, yet her lyrical protest and fierce yearnings for a better world remained as powerful as ever, expressed here a few years before she died:.
Amid profiteering language, commoditizing of intimate emotions, and public misery, I want poems that embody … another principle. A complex, dialogic, coherent poetry to dissolve both complacency and despair. The problem to be solved is that of breaking out of the windless present of the postmodern back into real historical time, and a history made by human beings. Shards of hope lived on in most former activists and visionaries, along with continued agitation for better times, if more fragmented in form.
Nevertheless, by the end of the twentieth century, apocalyptic scenarios had reappeared from the left and right alike, peaking in the largely politically stagnant s. In the UK, certainly, much of the s did feel stale and stuck. Governments globally were accepting rather than resisting the corporate conquest of state resources, apparently indifferent to the ballooning inequality. As Jameson noted, academic fashion seemed to mirror the same capitalist conceit that all previous grand narratives of change should be jettisoned, leaving us only to mourn, as many did, the radicalism of former times.
The feminist anti-nuclear peace camp at Greenham Common was abandoned in , after ten years of occupation. Whether hatched in Hollywood or popular culture generally, especially coming from North America, the dystopic imagination had become ubiquitous in fantasies of the future in the early twenty-first century. Indeed, reviewing Such a Full Sea , Ursula Le Guin noted that over the last thirty years all literary writers, from whatever genre, were now visiting Dystopia and writing similar, rather dull books: nearly always a place where the privileged few live in total luxury, completely sequestered from the impoverished majority who are seen as wild and primitive.
A world of barricades and partition, in which entire populations seem to be living — and dying — in a different history from mine. We have only to open our eyes to the horrors facing those currently fleeing their homelands to escape the ravages of war or other types of breakdown, nowadays herded into nightmare camps or willing to board flimsy, overcrowded vessels putting their lives at risk.
Sadly, I am not at all sure that we have reached peak dystopia, when the fictional imaginings seem to mirror the cruel realities for so many outside the increasingly fortified enclaves of privilege around the world. Neo-liberalism has had one remarkable success, despite all its own contradictions and disasters.