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From Utopia to Apocalypse

Science Fiction and the Politics of Catastrophe

Peter Y. Paik

Publication Year: 2010

"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
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.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quote

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pp. 2-9


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pp. ix-x

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Introduction: The God That Succeeded

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pp. 1-22

The disbelief of the stars comes down to establish an unbalancedThe corruption in things is not only the best argument for beingprogressive; it is also the only argument against being conservative. Theconservative theory would really be quite sweeping and unanswerable if it were not for this one fact. But all conservatism is based upon the...

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1. Utopia Achieved: The Case of Watchmen

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pp. 23-70

It was the belief of Charles Atlas that muscles could be built without bar bells or spring exercisers, could be built by simply pitting one set It was the belief of Bokonon that good societies could be built only bypitting good against evil, and by keeping the tension between the twoCadmus throws the stone. The throng of armed men, sprung forth from...

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2. The Defense of Necessity: On Jang Joon-Hwan’s Save the Green Planet

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pp. 71-92

Woe to the creaturely remnant of existence who will not put off hisexistence, alas, who cannot do so, because the extinguished memorypersists in its emptiness...the mute terror of the beast that, alone in itslittleness, invisibly overcome, bereft of consciousness, creeps tremblingToward the end of his response to Alexandre Kojève’s essay “Tyranny and...

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3. The Saintly Politics of Catastrophe: Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind

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pp. 93-122

Indeed, if anyone can show that what we’ve said is false and has adequateknowledge that justice is best, he’ll surely be full not of anger but offorgiveness for the unjust. He knows that, apart from someone ofgodlike character who is disgusted by injustice or one who has gainedknowledge and avoids injustice for that reason, no one is just willingly....

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4. Between Trauma and Tragedy: From The Matrix to V for Vendetta

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pp. 123-182

Because fear and conspiracy play no part in your daily relations witheach other, you imagine that the same thing is true of your allies...andwhen you give way to your own feelings of compassion you are beingguilty of a kind of weakness which is dangerous to you and which willnot make them love you any more. What you do not realize is that your...

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pp. 183-184

I would like to thank my friends and colleagues whose wisdom and gen-erosity were essential to the completion of this book. Roy Swanson andRachel Skalitzky welcomed me to Milwaukee and provided a congenialatmosphere in which to begin my work, helping to straighten a path thatI had once expected to be more circuitous. Robin Pickering - Iazzi encour-...


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pp. 185-200


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pp. 201-208

About the Author

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pp. 220-220

E-ISBN-13: 9780816673414
E-ISBN-10: 0816673411
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816650798

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 646816262
MUSE Marc Record: Download for From Utopia to Apocalypse