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The Boom’s Near Future: Postnational Ill-Fantasy, or Literature Under the Sign of Crisis

From: CR: The New Centennial Review
Volume 13, Number 2, Fall 2013
pp. 67-100 | 10.1353/ncr.2013.0017

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“Crisis”? This word, now trivialized, has long since lost all well-defined meaning. To whom or to what does it refer? To French society? Of course, the latter is in crisis and even in a critical state; but the point of theory is not to adopt a partial reality. The world? Well, we must uncover all the contradictions, including and especially the most hidden, those that accomplish what is most dear to “us”!

What sf enables us to do is not to foresee the future, but to entertain possibilities. The more possibilities science and technology–

[At this point, about 3.30 British Summer Time, September 11, 2001, the phone rang.]

I leave this piece as I wrote it, words from the old world.

In his recent Capitalist Realism, Mark Fisher analyses the way that capitalism in the twenty-first century not only corresponds to the fears announced by Fredric Jameson in his work on postmodernism and late capitalism, but has actually outstripped them. Building on arguments made by Jameson and Slavoj Žižek, he defines capitalist realism as, “the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that is it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it” (2009, 2). Fisher turns to the film version of the near future dystopia Children of Men to elucidate how capitalist realism colonizes our imaginative capacities: “Children of Men connects with the suspicion that the end has already come, the thought that it could well be the case that the future harbors only reiteration and repermutation” (2009, 3). This sense of repetition as closure marked by the impossibility of futurity provokes a sense of historical exhaustion: what change is felt at the level of everyday experience is registered with a sense of déjà vu, and the overwhelming preponderance of such nonevents leads to a numbing somnambulance—a sense of living, not so much in end times, but instead in no time, a present without futuricity, what Ken MacLeod’s The Execution Channel might refer to as “suffering from too much reality” (2007, 26).

Responding not only to this crisis of late capitalism, but also to what he sees as the resulting crisis in the form of Marxist thought that can only theorize the seemingly immutable capitalist landscape in its “reiteration[s] and permutation[s],” Andy Merrifield suggests that Marxism needs to shed its purely analytical function housed solely in the sober and sobering scientific analyses of late capitalism. Instead he argues for “… a mad magical Marxism that calls upon the magician, that invokes a magical madness as the necessary nemesis of the chaos of our crazy times” (Merrifield 2011, xii). For Merrifield, the recourse to magic marks a desire to free our imaginative capacities from the structural limits of capitalism: “Magical Marxism means creating another fantasy in light of the ruling fantasy; its critical power doesn’t come from criticism but from an ability to disrupt and reinvent, to create desire and inspire hope” (18). The “magic” that Merrifield calls for relates directly to the utopian impulse that Fisher fears is lost, where utopianism operates as a correlate to this magic, predicated on the politics of the everyday, that gleefully trips over the boundaries of the epistemological, the metaphysical and the ontological by demanding the impossible from the posited limits of thought, rationality, and the nature of being.

Given the conditions of capitalist realism, the central question pursued in this article asks if we can wrest a utopian impulse from the ravages of such historical exhaustion. My argument centers on the way that much near future fiction of the British Science Fiction (SF) Boom navigates the rough terrain of this compromised utopian impulse by continuing the scientific end of Marxist analysis through grappling with the contours of the present as unceasing crisis and then presenting their extrapolated futures as a theory of crisis in need of a particular magical supplement. That is, while on one hand they seem to repeat Fisher and Merrifield’s critiques by reifying crisis, near future narratives also attempt to work within the framework of the “magical” by using...

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