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The Future-as-past in Dystopian Fiction

Stock, Adam (2016) The Future-as-past in Dystopian Fiction. Poetics Today, 37 (3). pp. 415-442.

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Abstract

Twentieth century dystopian fictions such as Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932), Katherine Burdekin’s Swastika Night (1937), George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) and John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids (1955) strongly adhere to a generic convention by which they project forwards into a narrated future in order to look back critically towards the present. In the course of this focus on the past, such dystopias include slivers of contested and incomplete accounts of how the dystopian state came to exist. I term these fragmentary narratives future histories. Such accounts exist within a timeframe that runs from the authorial present to the point in the future at which the main narrative is set. In Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, for example, this period covers the years from 1949 (the publication date) to 1984, in which the main story occurs. I term the timeframe between the authorial present and the future temporal setting of the main story world the future-as-past. This article explores the development of the complex temporality of dystopian fiction from the early to mid-twentieth century. Discussion focuses on the manner in which the fragmented future-as-past is employed critically in relation to the story world and to historical reality. The article concludes that by providing scattered hints from which further information could be deduced or inferred, often but not always with the help of contextual knowledge, this temporal narrative strategy invites the reader to actively participate and politically engage in the reconstruction of future histories. Such future histories can never be completed or fully mapped as dystopian fictions are usually less specifically predictive than they at first appear.

Keywords temporality, genre, political fiction, the state, the reader

Item Type: Article
Status: Published
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-3599495
Related URLs:
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0080 Criticism
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0441 Literary History
School/Department: School of Humanities, Religion & Philosophy
URI: http://ray.yorksj.ac.uk/id/eprint/1637

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