Dystopian Fiction East and West

Dystopian Fiction East and West: Universe of Terror and Trial

Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Dystopian Fiction East and West
    Book Description:

    Gottlieb juxtaposes the Western dystopian genre with Eastern and Central European versions, introducing a selection of works from Russia, Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. She demonstrates that authors who write about and under totalitarian dictatorship find the worst of all possible worlds not in a hypothetical future but in the historical reality of the writer's present or recent past. Against such a background the writer assumes the role of witness, protesting against a nightmare world that is but should not be. She introduces the works of Victor Serge, Vassily Grossmam, Alexander Zinoviev, Tibor Dery, Arthur Koestler, Vaclav Havel, and Istvan Klima, as well as a host of others, all well-known in their own countries, presenting them within a framework established through an original and comprehensive exploration of the patterns underlying the more familiar Western works of dystopian fiction.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6918-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Dystopia West, Dystopia East
    (pp. 3-22)

    Dystopian fiction is a post-Christian genre.

    If the central drama of the age of faith was the conflict between salvation and damnation by deity, in our secular modern age this drama has been transposed to a conflict between humanity’s salvation or damnation by society in the historical arena. In the modern scenario salvation is represented as a just society governed by worthy representatives chosen by an enlightened people; damnation, by an unjust society, a degraded mob ruled by a power-crazed elite. Works dealing with the former describe the heaven or earthly paradise of utopia; those dealing with the latter portray...

    • CHAPTER ONE What is Justice? The Answers of Utopia, Tragedy, and Dystopia
      (pp. 25-42)

      “What is truth?” asked Pilate, and did not stay for an answer. Had he wanted to pursue the mysteries of the truth of divine justice, he would have entered the grounds of tragedy. Had he had faith in Rome or Jerusalem as a perfectible society able to achieve earthly justice, he would have entered the groves of utopia. Had he not only washed his hands of searching for truth and justice but also deliberately set out to create the machinery of injustice, he would have qualified for the governorship of dystopia in the modern age.

      “What is justice?” his pupils...

    • CHAPTER TWO Nineteenth-Century Precursors of the Dystopian Vision
      (pp. 43-55)

      We have suggested that in the secular modern age beginning with the Enlightenment, the Christian drama of salvation and damnation by deity was transposed to the conflict between a utopian “salvation” and a dystopian “damnation” by means of history. This transposition was already visible in the intensity of utopian hopes awakened by the French Revolution and the 1848 democratic revolutions, and in the reversal of these hopes into disillusionment and cosmic despair upon the revolutions’ failure or defeat. This reversal formed the psychohistorical background to Romanticism in England and on the Continent. (The twentieth-century parallel to this process is manifest...

    • CHAPTER THREE The Dictator behind the Mask: Zamiatin’s We, Huxley’s Brave New World, and Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four
      (pp. 56-87)

      At first glance Zamiatin’sWe(1920) seems to be a direct continuation of the phalanstery scene in Madách’sThe Tragedy of Man, parodying the stifling of creativity in Fourier’s phalanstery and pointing at the ultimate cruelty of pure reason in Plato’sRepublic. Zamiatin refers to the Dictator as a “bald, Socratically bald, man” (215), a double-edged thrust at Lenin and at the central voice inThe Republic. The novel also continues the nineteenth century’s secularized meditation about the fate of Adam and Eve in “that ancient legend of Paradise,” and acts out once more that central debate between freedom and...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Dictatorship without a Mask: Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Vonnegut’s Player Piano, and Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale
      (pp. 88-112)

      Ray Bradbury’sFahrenheit 451(1951), Kurt Vonnegut’sPlayer Piano(1952), and Margaret Atwood’sThe Handmaid’s Tale(1986) are dystopias different fromWe, Brave New World, andNineteen Eightyfouron several counts. They are not dealing with a world-wide dystopia but narrow their scope to the United States. The three dystopic societies described in them borrow liberally from the methods of totalitarian regimes, mostly from fascism, but they no longer offer a quasi-Messianistic ideology to cover up for the organized injustice of those in power.

      In Bradbury’sFahrenheit 451the terms of injustice are dictated by a government that rules through...

    • CHAPTER FIVE The Writer on Trial: Socialist Realism and the Exile of Speculative Fiction
      (pp. 115-131)

      While the Western writers of dystopian fiction have projected their fears of a monster state into a hypothetical future, warning against something that could, but should not be allowed, to come to pass, during the long decades of totalitarian dictatorship the writers of Eastern and Central Europe offered an indignant, often bitter criticism of a dystopic society “as is,”a fait accompliof historical fact. The reader is also faced with another striking difference between these two bodies of literature: unlike the relatively narrow rivulets formed by the utopian-dystopian genre in the West, in the Soviet Union and the Soviet...

    • CHAPTER SIX The Dystopia of Revolutionary Justice: Serge’s Conquered City, Zazubrin’s “The Chip,” and Rodionov’s Chocolate
      (pp. 132-151)

      While granting that “the interrelatedness of wars and revolutions as such is not a novel phenomenon,” Hannah Arendt draws our attention to the fact that “in our own century there has arisen, in addition to such instances, an altogether different type of event in which it is as though even the fury of war was merely the prelude, a preparatory stage to the violence unleashed by revolution.”¹

      Victor Serge’sConquered City, Zazubrin’s “The Chip: A Story about a Chip and Her,” and Rodionov’sChocolatejuxtapose the protracted violence created by the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and the Civil...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN The Legalization of Terror: Platonov’s The Foundation Pit, Ribakov’s The Children of the Arbat, and Koestler’s Darkness at Noon
      (pp. 152-181)

      In a world where the building of the socialist utopia has moved to the very centre of political reality and consequently into the mainstream of its “realistic” literary reflection, it is difficult to set the parameters of dystopian satire as a genre of its own. A case in point is Andrei Platonov, “one of the most original writers of the century … a proletarian and dedicated communist. He produced a more profound refutation of Soviet ideology than any anticommunist author in the Soviet Union or abroad.”¹ Another difficulty for the Western reader is the need to be intimately familiar with...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Terror in War, Terror in Peace: Grossman’s Life and Fate, Tertz Sinyavski’s The Trial Begins, and Daniel’s This is Moscow Speaking
      (pp. 182-204)

      At the end ofDarkness at NoonRubashov looks at the insignia on his torturer’s uniform, and for a moment he cannot tell whether he is looking at the red star or the swastika. This moment of sighting a sinister political Doppelgänger is extended further in Vassily Grossman’sLife and Fate.

      The novel is a panorama of the Soviet Union in the throes of the Second World War, focusing on the heroic Battle at Stalingrad, which turned the tide of the war against Nazism. At the same time, the novel also provides a powerful statement about the shocking resemblance between...

    • CHAPTER NINE Collective Paranoia: The Persecutor and the Persecuted: Andzrejewski, Déry, Fuks, Hlasko, Örkény, Vaculik, and Mrozek
      (pp. 207-220)

      The post-Stalin years in the Soviet bloc saw the revival of the dystopian impulse in literature, with special emphasis on a particular pathology: the disease of paranoia shared by the persecutor and the persecuted as a consequence of the elite’s deliberate miscarriage of justice in totalitarian regimes. Instead of projecting the vision of such a dystopic society into the future, writers looked at their own societies in the present through the mirrors of parable, allegory, the grotesque, short satirical pieces, or the “false” or quasi-historical novel to be read as political allegory about the present.

      A quasi-historical novel, Jerzy Andzrejewski’s...

    • CHAPTER TEN Kafka’s Ghost: The Trial as Theatre: Klima’s The Castle, Karvas’s The Big Wig, and Havel’s Memorandum
      (pp. 221-232)

      After Stalin’s death in 1953 the entire Eastern bloc underwent a process of de-Stalinization. In Czechoslovakia this process was exceptionally slow,¹ since the Party leadership was caught up in a truly Kafkaesque situation: the same leaders who, on Stalin’s orders, had set up the atrocious show-trials against Slansky and his circle were now, on orders from Khruschov, to “investigate” who had been responsible for the “mistakes” and “excesses” in the “distortion of socialist legality,” and to rehabilitate their victims.

      Corollary to the Stalinist “excesses” in politics were the excesses in the cultural-literary world, such as the imposition of an utopian...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN From Terror to Entropy: The Downward Spiral: Konwicki’s A Minor Apocalypse, Déry’s Mr G.A. in X, and Zinoviev’s The Radiant Future
      (pp. 233-248)

      “We have built Socialism,” the slogans declare all over the nightmare city of Warsaw in Tadeusz Konwicki’s¹A Minor Apocalypse, in glaring contrast to a panorama of “our contemporary poverty [that] is as transparent as glass and as invisible as the air. Our poverty is the kilometre-long lines, … lives without any hope whatsoever … the grace of the totalitarian state by whose grace we live” (43). In the monotony of hopelessness the proletariat is dehumanized; the frustrated young turn into hooligans, and even the most basic emotions become brutalized, witness “a rather tipsy woman … pushing a baby carriage...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE Speculative Fiction Returns from Exile: Dystopian Vision with a Sneer: Voinovich’s Moscow 2042, Aksyonov’s The Island of Crimea, Dalos’s 1985, and Moldova’s Hitler in Hungary
      (pp. 249-266)

      Vladimir Voinovich’sMoscow 2042(1986) opens a new chapter in the expression of the dystopian impulse in the Soviet bloc: it declares the termination of the Soviet utopian experiment, and, as if to fill the vacuum left by the disappearance of the state utopia, sixty-odd years after Zamiatin’sWe, Voinovich reintroduces the speculative structure of dystopian satire, inviting the contemporary reader along on the writer’s private trip into the future.

      We have left the narrator of Zinoviev’sRadiant Future(1981) with the question “Where to?” The narrator ofMoscow 2042(1986) no longer asks for directions for reaching Communism: instead,...

    • CHAPTER THIRTEEN Dystopia East and West: Conclusion
      (pp. 267-286)

      What is truth? What is justice?

      While tragedy raises the questions but postpones the answers, works of utopia ever since Plato and More have been rooted in the writer’s conviction that it is worthwhile to pursue social justice here and now. By contrast, dystopian fiction depicts a society where justice is deliberately subverted by a small ruling elite who conspire against their own people, misleading them through the means of a powerfully deceptive state religion. InWe, Brave New World, Nineteen Eighty-four, Fahrenheit 451, Player Piano, andThe Handmaid’s Talethis deliberate miscarriage of justice, represented by the protagonist’s trial,...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 287-304)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 305-318)
  10. Index
    (pp. 319-324)