Dystopian utopia

I finally got around to reading Peter Carey’s His Illegal Self, which I delayed purchasing in its very handsome but also handsomely-priced hardcover edition, but now possess, courtesy of a public library. There are many potential discussions catalysed by the book (the representations of failed utopian enclaves of Australia as embodied in gothic hippie-yet-demonic landscape, the intricate structural logic that manages time and revelation, the troubling eddies in point of view, the vanishing of what might have been assumed to be the central dramatic incident), yet what struck me was how it intersects with a glut of novels (and films, especially documentary films) addressing journeys which portray the collapse of elements of the Left into adventurism, ‘terrorism’ and activists alienation from mainstream movements, and descent into petty crime.

 Why is this happening now and what does it say about contemporary cultural interpretations of, and assumptions about the wins of the 1960s and their struggles? Kunzru’s My Revolutions is a detailed, historically-specific account of the political degeneration of utopian ideals that somehow cannot account for their continuing meaning for the present day (except as an irresolvable paradox under an inevitable capitalism), while Carey’s almost never touches directly on either the motivations, milieu or identifications of the mother who literally self-destructs. Then there’s Chrisopher Sorrentino’s Trance. What can/should novels that intend on storying political activism speak to and in what ways?

 Who is the audience for these works of fiction, and what do they say about a yearning for utopia or the West in a post-September 11 world? Can they be revisiting without also being revisionist?

Then there are the documentary films…

Kalinda Ashton

Kalinda Ashton is the author of The Danger Game (Sleepers, 2009).

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