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  • Introduction:Nordic Utopias and Dystopias
  • Pia Maria Ahlbäck (bio) and Toni Lahtinen (bio)

The Nordic countries have often been regarded as ideal states with respect to their organization of society, including, among other things, their democracy, public education systems, gender equality, and strong concern for nature. From the late twentieth century onward, an increasing interest in Nordic literature, film, and design—genres where social and environmental themes have been strongly highlighted—can be noted internationally.

This discourse of the Nordic societies can be considered to contain both utopian and dystopian aspects. As Kjerstin Aukrust and Cecilie Weiss-Andersen show in their article on French democracy, the Nordic, understood as a utopian motif, has been a long-standing topic in modern French political discourse, being expressed as an ideal of transparency and political puritanism. However, in this particular French cultural context these ideals have also taken on a dystopian note. Paying attention to the balance of utopian and dystopian qualities, Aukrust and Weiss-Andersen's article thus touches upon a previous stock of research. Like so many scholars and thinkers since Thomas More have shown, utopias, be they understood as literary genres, political topoi, or ideologies, also contain a dystopian potential or tendency—and the other way around. [End Page 143]

In her seminal work The Concept of Utopia (1990), Ruth Levitas claims that contemporary research on utopias is characterized by multiplicity and can be understood in accordance with criteria such as form, form and content, function, and function and form, as well as by avoiding definitions altogether. In the year 2019, this still seems to hold true. What can be noted in the field of Nordic literary utopias today, however, is a remarkable increase in environmental themes and a veritable mass production of ecological dystopias and postapocalyptic fiction, both for adults and for young adult readers. This flood of both apocalyptic and postapocalyptic fiction is the subject of Juha Raipola's contribution, which traces a male "survivalist" utopia and a female "comic" subverted counterpart. Similarly, Hanna Samola, Maria Laakso, and Toni Lahtinen study a number of Finnish young adult dystopian novels, a timely look at young agents of change.

The sudden popularity of Nordic dystopias is naturally related to the dystopian turn in Western literature. After the millennium, dystopias have become frequent phenomena in contemporary literature and popular culture worldwide. Apocalyptic and dystopian narratives currently permeate the entire cultural landscape: along with movies, TV series, graphic novels, and video games, literature is part of a broader market of cultural production, and it has become a central constituent of Western self-perception. Despite the increasing influence of Anglo-American literature and entertainment in the Nordic sphere, Nordic dystopias have maintained their local and cultural perspective toward global issues as these often challenge the green and peaceful image of the Nordic welfare state.

In this theme issue, the concept of "Nordic" is understood as a relative one, referring not only to the separate Nordic countries or the particular administrative and political region of "Norden" but also to the north and northern in general as expressions of a utopian desire. These northern utopian positions occasionally happen to coincide with geographic coordinates in the Nordic region. The whole idea of northern places and the north as something ultimate and extreme is an old one and was once conceptualized in the image of ultima Thule. We find a similar motif in Delilah Bermudez Braatas's article on constructions of the Arctic in seventeenth-century British author Margaret Cavendish, who, fascinatingly, expressed an Arctic utopianism in the terms of fluidity in her possibly best-known work, The Blazing World (1666). [End Page 144]

Recently, international energy politics and an increasing number of global environmental threats have also resulted in the growing popularity of an Arctic literature, which uses northern nature as a forum for social and environmental commentary. As Anka Ryall, Johan Schimanski, and Henning Howlid Wærp have noted in their introduction to Arctic Discourses (2010), "Arctic" provides a vital metaphor for central literary concerns such as the interplay of utopian desires and dystopian ordeals. Accordingly, in Marit Elise Lyngstad's contribution, the north represented by Greenland stands for a utopian geography: in the...


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