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  • Futures of Negation: Jameson’s Archaeologies of the Future and Utopian Science Fiction
  • Kyle A. Wiggins
Review of: Jameson, Fredric. Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions. New York: Verso, 2005.

It is difficult to gauge the political utility of expressly fictive locations like utopias, given the immediacy and concreteness of a daily, lived political environment. Fredric Jameson sets out to address this quandary in Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions. Jameson outlines the contributions utopian fictions have made to the ongoing dilemma of systemic change in a world of capitalist hegemony. Acknowledging the current skepticism in academic discourse about the value of utopian thinking after the Cold War, Jameson ponders the status of utopian fiction and what remains of the link between utopia and socialism. The book sketches the terrain of a “post-globalized Left” that appears to have recovered utopian thought as a “political slogan and a politically energizing perspective” (xii). Jameson goes on to pose the necessary question: What explicitly does utopia seek to negate and what are the contours of imagined alternative worlds? Jameson continually returns to this question, working through a plethora of science fiction (SF) texts in which a utopian impulse or “desire” is perpetually emerging. Science fiction’s hospitable futures are commonly rubbished by a world that cannot abide fanciful trajectories. But these visions of global community are not lost. They are simply awaiting excavation from a literary expression committed to thinking the world differently. By addressing the irrepressible wish-fulfillment of new economic and social systems in SF, Jameson counters the cynicism abundant in criticism of utopian literature. Archaeologies of the Future is a deft treatise on the resolute political vitality of the utopian form, an argument laced with timely optimism.

Archaeologies of the Future is divided into two sections: the first section comprises previously unpublished material that theorizes the utopian genre and codifies Jameson’s earlier schematics on the subject, and the second collects essays on utopias that Jameson has written throughout his career, ranging from 1973 (“Generic Discontinuities in SF”) to recent efforts (“Fear and Loathing in Globalization”), including some of his most provocative essays, pieces that are landmarks in utopian criticism and theory (“Progress versus Utopia, or, Can We Imagine the Future?”). The book’s holistic project traces the historical development of utopia as a literary form, moving from Thomas More’s generative 1516 text, Utopia, to contemporary novels. However, Jameson devotes most of his analysis to utopian mechanisms in science fiction. He follows Darko Suvin’s postulation that utopia is a socioeconomic sub-genre of SF and that, like the larger genre to which it belongs, utopia produces an effect of “cognitive estrangement”—that is, the fictions in which utopian desire appear make strange the familiar power structures of our lives. As readers, we recognize our own world burning within the alien place. Malls, prisons, governments, customs, speech, and even geographies are recognizable yet different by one remove (or more). By disturbing the familiarity and fixity of recognizable power structures, SF texts tease us with radical social models. Science fiction satiates our desire for a transformed tomorrow while reminding us of that future’s uncertainty and contingency. However, Jameson dismisses the “vacuous evocation” of utopia “as the image of a perfect society or even the blueprint of a better one” (72). Such a conception of utopia is too simplistic. Instead, he sees utopian desire as global capitalism’s imagined neutralization. Jameson believes that “one cannot imagine any fundamental change in our social existence which has not first thrown off Utopian visions like so many sparks from a comet” (xii). Utopia’s political relevance, though, comes not from banal pining but from its combative opposition to the “universal belief that the historic alternatives to capitalism have been proven unviable and impossible, and that no other socioeconomic system is conceivable, let alone practically available” (xii). Utopian science fictions threaten the ideological dominance of capitalism by theorizing a world change towards egalitarianism. Or, as Jameson puts it, the utopians “not only offer to conceive of such alternate systems; Utopian form is itself a representational meditation on radical difference, radical otherness...

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