Saturday, November 3, 2012

Writing Utopian Fiction


Boredom is a common thread in utopian novels and utopian societies, but given human nature, boredom can produce distractions of a sexual nature.  So happens that sexual tension is a fine ingredient for the dramatic equivalent of yeast.  Once yeast begins to rise on that level, farewell boredom, welcome aboard, story.

There are any number of utopian novels, the earliest you recall being Thomas Moore’s eponymous Utopia from 1615 or so, and the more recent ones you were actually able to finish such as Aldous Huxley’s Island, which in fact he told you he “somewhat liked,” and of course you and your college-age chums were big on Austin Tappan Wright’s Islandia.  At their finer moments, utopias and utopian fiction represent mankind living in harmony and democracy, equal parts of responsible citizenry and a built-in protective mechanism for the good of all.

The number of dystopian novels surpasses by trigonometric progression such Edenic visions, showing by such tropes as satire and exaggeration how utopias fall apart.  The presence of so many dystopias suggests a line drawn in the literary sand, separating those who believe a utopia run under proper conditions can sustain from those—a number that includes you—who suspect the best utopias are related to fantasy football leagues, which is to say they combine elements of theory, fantasy, and a willingness to believe the human condition is not a metaphor for the Trojan War or, for that matter, any war.

This line of thinking has led you to an answer you’d held in your pending file for some time.  There has been little doubt in you mind that you fancy the noir fiction as represented as far back as your reading takes you, even to that remarkable narrative from the first hundred fifty or so years of The Common Era, The Golden Ass or The Transformation of Lucius.

Being able to grab onto a stroke of connective tissue from two philosophers, Georg Hegel (1770—1831) and the contemporary Slovenian philosopher, Slavoj Zizek (1949--)  “Humanity is okay, but ninety-nine percent of people are boring idiots,” you are even better able to put into effect the “Law” Theodore Sturgeon, the science fiction writer, proposed to you as Sturgeon’s Law, ninety percent of everything is crap.

Farewell, then, to any linger defensiveness about your preference for noir fiction proclaiming you as inherently pessimistic when in fact it proclaims you as realistic.

To your thinking, noir fiction represents the more accurate vision of the inner battles raging within most persons, surely most memorable characters.

For the longest time, you were culturally fed on fiction where endings considered happy represented marriage and stability along with unusually high levels of familial accord and interrelatedness, with inherent striving to achieve optimal levels of satisfaction through a process of sublimation and subservience to cultural pressures.

But once you found noir, you recognized possibilities for endings that did not speak to social propaganda that did not feed the Vital Lie or the cultural myth.

Noir characters tend to lose, but they have aimed high, have taken the time to form a personal utopia where there would be understanding and love if not actual comfort and security in the process.

There is every bit as much deviousness and propaganda in the so-called happy ending as there is in noir-based betrayals of trust and promise because those are hard-wired qualities that go with the species.  So do such things as loyalty, willingness to take on a corrupt system, and a yearning for the unexplored territories of individuality.  Noir characters are on the run from oppressive cultural burdens that mean them no good.

Some utopias are held forth as available in the next life.  Like Huck Finn, willing to be damned for his ah-ha moments of clarity, the noir character is willing to risk the orderly grids of model cities and Sundays in the park for a shot at self in the present time.

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