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  • Hope in the Age of Dystopia:The Ghost in the Machine in Øyvind Rimbereid's Solaris korrigert
  • Eirik Vassenden

"Post-apocalyptic fiction has been moved to our current affairs section"—this announcement was allegedly first observed outside a Massachusetts bookstore in mid-November 2016, and has since made its way around the internet as a much-quoted meme. And it is true that post-apocalyptic and dystopian elements have become dominant factors in current fiction. In this article, I discuss "the dystopic" in contemporary fiction and relate it to the increasing current interest in apocalyptic scenarios and motifs. The inherent allegorical and didactical aspects of dystopian fiction have long been criticized for making this particular kind of literature either one-dimensional and moralistic, on the one hand, or purely entertaining and escapist, on the other, particularly with regard to the booming industry of young adult literature.

However, there is plenty of evidence of creative and original poetic explorations of scenarios, languages, and worldviews in contemporary dystopic fiction and poetry, and one of the most experimental and influential Scandinavian examples of this is Øyvind Rimbereid's 2004 collection of poetry, Solaris korrigert (Solaris Corrected). The title poem, a thirty-five-page-long narrative science fiction poem, describes life in the year 2480, in a future society owned, regulated, and controlled by what seems to be a privatized corporation. The poem is written in a language specifically created for—we assume—this poem, simulating a future amalgamated language containing elements from (amongst others) Norwegian, English, German, Old Norse, Dutch, [End Page 221] and Rimbereid's own spoken Stavanger dialect. The poem can obviously be read as a portrayal of a dystopian future society, a collapsing civilization in a post-industrial society sitting on top of defunct and scrapped oil installations on the coast of the North Sea.

This article argues that Rimbereid's poem not only belongs to a current wave of contemporary dystopic fiction, but also should be seen as an example of a particularly creative piece of political poetry, fitting the description of critical dystopia. This points at a version of dystopic fiction that not only depicts a world worse than our own, but that also contains possible utopian elements. This is in line with the established conception of this poem (Lindholm 2008; Auklend 2010; Norheim 2012) and means that the poem does not only imagine and describe a catastrophic future for us to draw potentially allegoric and didactic wisdom from (as is the default for dystopic narratives), but also carries with it a more specific imperative for its readers, namely, that of hope, and along with this, assigns the role of instigator of insurgence to imagination, critical creativity, and to poetry itself. In this article, I attempt to pinpoint the location of these fragments of hope by proposing a reading of the poem where its ominous, downward-bound, apocalyptic ending—where the protagonist seems to be uploaded to the Solaris, an artificial world residing on the bottom of the North Sea—is seen as accommodating a revolutionary gesture.

Dystopia Now

We are living in dystopic times, we hear. A time where dystopia is not only a literary genre or a sub-category of utopia. Rather, it is now "being mobilized as a signifier for our times," Tom Moylan suggested in a 2018 essay (2018, 1), and since then, the tendency has intensified due to increasing political rifts and polarizations, but also (at the time of writing) due to the global outbreak of an infectious disease with possibly unforeseeable consequences—and collective fear.

It is not hard, we understand, to come up with reasons why so many writers and filmmakers at the beginning of the twenty-first century have fantasized about the apocalyptic, about the end of the world as we know it, about a world rid of civilization and modern, democratic societies—or why they have conjured up scenarios of calamity, chaos, and government that has gone wrong or morphed into brutal, authoritarian forms. If we think of literature in terms of mimesis, possible reasons for this tendency are obvious: fiction relates to, comments [End Page 222] on, and mimics both the world we live in and...