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From Utopia to Apocalypse

Science Fiction and the Politics of Catastrophe

2010
Author:

Peter Y. Paik

From Utopia to Apocalypse

The pitfalls and limitations of utopian politics as revealed by science fiction

From Utopia to Apocalypse shows how science fiction generates intriguing and profound insights into politics. Peter Y. Paik reveals that the fantasy of putting annihilating omnipotence to beneficial effect underlies the revolutionary projects that have defined the collective upheavals of the modern age. He traces how this political theology is expressed, and indeed literalized, in popular superhero fiction.

Uncommonly powerful and original, From Utopia to Apocalypse both raises issues that are disturbing and disturbingly relevant, and casts a whole genre of cultural fictions in an entirely new light.

Steven Shaviro, author of Without Criteria: Kant, Whitehead, Deleuze, and Aesthetics

Revolutionary narratives in recent science fiction graphic novels and films compel audiences to reflect on the politics and societal ills of the day. Through character and story, science fiction brings theory to life, giving shape to the motivations behind the action as well as to the consequences they produce.

In From Utopia to Apocalypse, Peter Y. Paik shows how science fiction generates intriguing and profound insights into politics. He reveals that the fantasy of putting annihilating omnipotence to beneficial effect underlies the revolutionary projects that have defined the collective upheavals of the modern age. Paik traces how this political theology is expressed, and indeed literalized, in popular superhero fiction, examining works including Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s graphic novel Watchmen, the science fiction cinema of Jang Joon-Hwan, the manga of Hayao Miyazaki, Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta, and the Matrix trilogy. Superhero fantasies are usually seen as compensations for individual feelings of weakness, victimization, and vulnerability. But Paik presents these fantasies as social constructions concerned with questions of political will and the disintegration of democracy rather than with the psychology of the personal.

What is urgently at stake, Paik argues, is a critique of the limitations and deadlocks of the political imagination. The utopias dreamed of by totalitarianism, which must be imposed through torture, oppression, and mass imprisonment, nevertheless persist in liberal political systems. With this reality looming throughout, Paik demonstrates the uneasy juxtaposition of saintliness and cynically manipulative realpolitik, of torture and the assertion of human dignity, of cruelty and benevolence.

From Utopia to Apocalypse

Peter Y. Paik is associate professor of comparative literature at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee.

From Utopia to Apocalypse

Uncommonly powerful and original, From Utopia to Apocalypse both raises issues that are disturbing and disturbingly relevant, and casts a whole genre of cultural fictions in an entirely new light.

Steven Shaviro, author of Without Criteria: Kant, Whitehead, Deleuze, and Aesthetics

I read Peter Y. Paik’s lucid, graceful, ruthless book in one single astonished sitting. I scarred it all over with arrows and exclamation points, so I can read it again as soon as possible.

Bruce Sterling

Drawing on a rich vein of philosophical speculation from Plato to Derrida, and a profound understanding of the cultural matrix in which Moore and his peers flourish, Paik asks disturbing questions about the uses of power, showing how underlying assumptions of democratic states are often the muted cousins to the boldly put agendas of the totalitarians.

Shepherd Express

The book is a very engaging work of literary/comic/movie criticism, throwing some new light on some familiar works.

2ubh

What Paik offers readers is a compelling invitation to visit narratives not typically encountered on classroom reading lists. He provides a fascinating look at the plots, characters, and themes of films and graphic novels. Each chapter offers a provocative look at an intriguing fiction; the whole book offers an innovative approach to the genre.

Choice

Peter Y. Paik would certainly disagree that de Jovenel’s contention that “civilized society” can be shaped to mirror the “unity of a savage society” is a doomed project. Nevertheless, his From Utopia to Apocalypse is a provocative, and often brilliant, mediation on this fable.

Theory & Event

From Utopia to Apocalypse will please those who want to encounter academic theory that transcends the clichés of the last several decades, but it will also delight readers looking for elegant, eloquent literary criticism of a genre only now receiving its due.

Rain Taxi

From Utopia To Apocalypse: Science Fiction and the Politics of Catastrophe has as many mind-blowing qualities as the films and graphic novels it discusses.

M/C Reviews

From Utopia to Apocalypse makes an interesting contribution to the growing study of science fiction.

Postmodern Culture

From Utopia to Apocalypse: Science Fiction and the Politics of Catastrophe offers a refreshing new perspective on utopia and its use-value (or not) for a number of significant artists working in fields closely related to sf or appropriating the tropes of sf for their own ends. In particular, the book’s proposal of the more urgent relevance of tragedy offers a compelling framework to reexamine sf texts.

Extrapolation

Paik's book is engaging, often rigorous and very well worth reading.

The Sunday Guardian

Paik’s ability to anatomize clearly and to interrogate Moore’s work and the complexity of its plots and character development is reason enough to read his book, and the care with which he examines Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is appreciated. This book has certainly earned the praise and attention that it is getting, and anyone interested in the politics of revolution, or in Moore’s work, will definitely find it useful.

Science Fiction Studies

From Utopia to Apocalypse

UMP blog: Zombies and Other Strangers: Thoughts on Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead

1/6/2011
In recent years, zombies have been fruitful and have multiplied across the landscape of American popular culture. Ever since the films 28 Days Later and Resident Evil revived the genre almost a decade ago, cannibalistic ghouls have gone on to thrive and proliferate in a host of popular films, television shows, comics, and novels. The decomposing undead have come a long way from George Romero’s spare and terrifying classic of 1968, Night of the Living Dead. A modest, low-budget production shot in black-and-white in which chocolate syrup was used for blood and donated pork roast for human flesh, the terror and alarm evoked by grotesque images of the undead slaughtering and feeding on the living were greatly amplified by the film’s grainy, compellingly realistic look. Though Romero’s film went on to achieve box-office success and garner favorable reviews from prominent critics like Pauline Kael and Roger Ebert, the genre that it spawned was generally held in low regard for catering to crude appetites for carnage and gore. But the pilot episode of the latest manifestation of the contemporary zombie craze, the AMC series The Walking Dead (based on the comic written by Robert Kirkman and drawn by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn), drew an audience of more than 5 million—the largest number of viewers for any show thus far on that cable channel (including the trendy Mad Men). It could be argued that animated, flesh-eating corpses have become a more solid fixture in the cultural mainstream than Don Draper’s hat.
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