- Science Fiction, Globalization, and "The Desire Called Utopia":Reimagining the Future and the Ontology of Possibility
[Science fiction's] deepest vocation is over and over again to demonstrate and to dramatize our incapacity to imagine the future, to body forth, through apparently full representations which prove on closer inspection to be structurally and constitutively impoverished, the atrophy in our time of what Marcuse has called the utopian imagination, the imagination of otherness and radical difference, to succeed by failure … and thereby becomes unexpectedly transformed into a contemplation of our own absolute limits.—Fredric Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions
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Phillip E. Wegner's monograph, Shockwaves of Possibility, explores the deep utopian impulses of science fiction (SF), what he calls an "evental genre" of modern cultural practices (xvii). Wegner argues that "Utopianism," or the utopian imagination to use Fredric Jameson's phrase from the epigraph, "is fundamental to [the] very narrative dynamic of this vital modern practice" rather than "simply one among a range of possible themes or motifs" (xiii). Utopianism illuminates the unfolding of the present and educates our desire for a radically different future through the narrative paradigm of alternate histories and possible worlds as alternatives to the existing social-political order. By examining a rich variety of SFs and their popular representations via different media (such as films, novels and their film adaptations, comics, animations, and television series), Wegner's insightful readings not only show the entwinement of SF with other cultural fields but also illustrate the ways SF thinks about the new global era and responds to the massive social and cultural changes brought about by globalization. Wegner posits that SF's narrative strategies of storytelling offer us a unique way to look at post–Cold War culture's radical political energies and new cultural formations. What SF allows us to do, Wegner suggests, is to reimagine new futures by drawing connections between disparate social, political, and historical events in an era of neoliberal global capitalism that has foreclosed all political possibilities of imagining alternative sociopolitical realities. Simply put, the market ideology of neoliberalism has reshaped human life and human relations, redefined the meanings of national cultural identity and community and the role of citizens as consumers, and structured the formation of human subjectivity. Using a dialectical material approach that draws from a wide range of theory and criticism in SF and utopian studies as a specific and conjuncturally determined response to new global developments, Wegner's book makes an important and original intervention into contemporary cultural studies in general and SF studies, or the genre theory, in particular.
Shockwaves is divided into three broad concepts: "Evental Genres," "Possible Worlds," and "Alternate Histories." The book unfolds "by way of a fidelity to the truth of" Jameson's famous injunction "Always historicize!" and by implication "always totalize!," for Wegner considers it as "'one absolute and we may even say 'transhistorical' imperative of all dialectical thought'" (xv).1 Wegner's book thinks through this transhistorical imperative that synthesizes the complexly diverse ideas of Jameson, Alain Badiou, A. J. Greimas, Jacques Lacan, Slavoj Žižek, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Judith Butler, and SF and utopian theorists such as Darko [End Page 426] Suvin and Robert C. Elliott, among others. Wegner stresses the importance of critical theory in the study of SF in an era of information revolution, mass media, and technology, akin to Steven Shaviro's accentuation in Connected. Wegner quotes Shaviro, who concurs with Jameson about contemporary SF's desire for narrative to think about the global and maintains that "'science fiction and critical theory alike are engaged in the task of what Jameson calls the 'cognitive mapping' of postmodern space'" (xv). One of the crucial tasks of both SF and critical theory is the cognitive mapping of global postmodern space. As Wegner later explains, the usefulness of any cognitive mapping "lies in the role they [SF and critical theory] play in reawakening the capacity...