Description   |   Syllabus

Through A Future Darkly: Global Crisis and the Triumph of Dystopia
University of California, Berkeley
Spring 2016


Through a Future Darkly

Global Crisis and the Triumph of Dystopia

ENG 190, Spring 2016, University of California, Berkeley

Mondays 3 - 6 PM, Wheeler 223

Professor Mark Danner

At what past moment did the future grow so dark? Formal literary dystopia has been with us prominently since at least 1726, with the arrival of Swift’s Gulliver. But the tendency to critique the present by imagining a darkly extrapolated future surely extends back much further – and grew in prevalence and popularity until the twentieth became the veritable dystopic century. Today central components of dystopian satire -- global climate destruction, nuclear annihilation, terrorist states – have become commonplaces of our politics. In such a world has dystopia become prophetic, or redundant? In this seminar we will grapple with that question, as we explore the literature of dystopia present and past, plumbing increasingly murky visions of destruction to come. Authors whose work we will read include Margaret Atwood, J.G. Ballard, Philip K. Dick, Aldous Huxley, Sinclair Lewis, Cormac McCarthy, Walter M. Miller, Vladimir Nabokov, George Orwell, Marge Piercy, Vladimir Sorokin, H.G. Welles, and Yevgeny Zamyatin.


Class Requirements This is a seminar – a discussion class - which means the success of the class depends on student participation. The most important requirements are that students

*Attend all class sessions

*Do all reading and writing assignments

*Participate in discussions

A student’s record of attendance and participation in class discussion, together with the thoroughness of his or her preparation, will determine the success of our class and contribute the better part of the grade.

Schedule Note that all classes will take place on Monday afternoons, 3:00PM- 6:00PM.

Reading Our primary reading will draw largely from a series of dystopian novels, which are listed below. I strongly urge you to obtain these books in your own copies, and in the edition specified, either from the school bookstore or from online suppliers, so that you will be able to highlight and annotate them.

Writing Students will be assigned one final research paper of twelve pages. There may be the occasional in-class quiz. To bolster the clarity and vigor of your English prose, I strongly suggest reading two works: George Orwell’s essay, “Politics and the English Language” and Strunk and White’s little manual, The Elements of Style. The text of the Orwell essay can be found easily on the web.

Presentations Each student will make one presentation in class on his or her own favored utopia or dystopia, or on a subject related to our assigned reading. Use of multimedia is encouraged.

Office Hours I will hope to meet with each of you individually at least once during the course of the term. We will make these appointments on an ad hoc basis. I am best reached via email, at My office is Aspinwall 111. My writing, speaking and other information can be found at my website,

Grading Students will be graded on their preparedness and their participation in class, the strength of their presentations and the quality of their written work. For all of these reasons a solid record of attendance is essential.

Required Texts

Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale (Anchor, 1998 [1985]), 311

J.G. Ballard, The Drought (Liveright, 2012 [1964]), 240

Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange (Norton, 2011 [1962])

Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle (Mariner, 2015 [1962]), 288

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (Harper, 2005 [1932]), 288

Sinclair Lewis, It Can’t Happen Here (NAL, 2005 [1935]), 400

Cormac McCarthy, The Road (Vintage, 2006), 287

Walter M. Miller, A Canticle for Leibowitz (EOS, 206 [1959]), 354

Vladimir Nabokov, Invitation to a Beheading (Vintage, 1988 [1938]), 240

Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time (Fawcett, 1985 [1976]), 384

Vladimir Sorokin, Day of the Oprichnik (FSG, 2012), 208

H.G. Wells, The Time Machine (Penguin, 2005 [1895]), 128

Evgeny Zamyatin, We (Modern Library, 2006 [1921]), 240

Reading Schedule

February 1, 2016: H.G. Wells, The Time Machine (Penguin, 2005 [1895]), 128

February 8, 2016: Evgeny Zamyatin, We (Modern Library, 2006 [1921]), 240

February 22, 2016: Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (Harper, 2005[1932]), 288 February 29, 2016: Sinclair Lewis, It Can’t Happen Here (NAL,2005 [1935]), 400

March 7, 2016: Vladimir Nabokov, Invitation to a Beheading (Vintage, 1988[1938]),240

March 14, 2016: Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange (Norton, 2011 [1962])

March 28, 2016: Walter M. Miller, A Canticle for Leibowitz (EOS, 206 [1959]), 354

April 4, 2016: J.G. Ballard, The Drought (Liveright, 2012 [1964]), 240

April 11, 2016: Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle (Mariner, 2015 [1962]), 288

April 18, 2016: Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time (Fawcett, 1985 [1976]), 384

April 25, 2016: Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale (Anchor, 1998 [1985]), 311

May 2, 2016: Cormac McCarthy, The Road (Vintage, 2006), 287

May 9, 2016: Vladimir Sorokin, Day of the Oprichnik (FSG, 2012), 208


1. January 25, 2016Introduction: Utopia & Anti-Utopia. Kakotopia & Dystopia. The Meaning of the Words. Plato and More. The Best of All Commonwealths. The Dystopian Moment: Whence It Comes.

2. February 1 -- H.G. Wells, The Time Machine (Penguin, 2005 [1895]), 128

Presentation – Ali = The Time Machine’s disappearance, comparisons with “Back to the Future”

3. February 8 -- Evgeny Zamyatin, We (Modern Library, 2006 [1921])

  1. Presentation – Alberto

    1. Themes

      1. Communism, Rationality, Math (de-individualization & names), Imperialism (integral), Christianity/religion (imaginative vs. implements), Aesthetics, Recurring symbols ( “...” signifies submitting to the collective, sentences are like equations)

[[ February 15 – President’s Day, No Class ]]

4. February 22 — Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (Harper, 2005 [1932])

  1. Presentation – Allen, “Our Own Brave New World”

    1. How social forces impact our own reality

    2. Need for distraction/“entertainment”

    3. Don’t want to think as it is too human

    4. How we consume media vs. how media consumes us ? media colonizing our time

    5. Individuality is precious, but it is also nourished by solitude

  2. Presentation – Grady, “Suggestibility”

    1. Form is more important than content

    2. Dynamic suggestibility

    3. Hypnopaedia (especially during embryonic twilight as result of red light, also seen as cinematic)

5. February 29 – Sinclair Lewis, It Can’t Happen Here (NAL, 2005 [1935]), 400

  1. Presentation – Julie, “It is Happening Here”

    1. Comparison between Buzz Windrip and Donald Trump

    2. Similarities with presidential campaign, personality, and policies

6. March 7 -- Vladimir Nabokov, Invitation to a Beheading (Vintage, 1988 [1938]), 240
Presentation – Bethany, Anahit

  1. Gnostical turpitude

  2. Beginning epigraph: as a madman believes himself to be God, we believe ourselves mortal

    1. We are crazy to think we’re mortal

    2. Question of mortality/immortality

  3. Each day has a chapter (20 days)

  4. Kafka-esque

  5. You want the answer

    1. Opening up possibilities

  6. Context: Nabokov (1899-1977)

    1. Russian aristocracy

    2. 1935-6 Berlin – Nabokov fled to Germany (1923-37)

      1. 1933 Nazis

    3. Tells us to not read it as a disguised picture of totalitarianism

  7. Doesn’t want to simply put a book together directly aimed at political issues

    1. Exemplary life of the 20th cent.

    2. “Final indictment” of Russia, an invitation to it

  8. Novel is still reflection of times

    1. Effects on human imagination due to the times (mid 30s)

  9. Figured life – Nabokov’s style

  10. Internal life is larger, exists in his own mind that’s more real – by his imagination

  11. Opacity vs. Translucence

    1. Both, not confusingly so

  12. New weird things with each read

    1. Figurative landscape

    2. No innocent thing

  13. Anahit’s Presentation

    1. Passionate comparison

    2. Question everything

      1. Gnosis (Greek) “knowledge” + trupis (Latin) “base”

      2. Socrates comparison

    3. Dualism = mind and body

      1. Birth of a thought ? midwife

      2. Bodies are subordinate to the mind D

    4. Death is not the end

      1. Rejects death

    5. Psychological dystopia ? senses are in a hierarchy as auditory > visual

  14. Moth’s escape = transcendence symbol

  15. Bethany’s Presentation, “Sentenced… to Death”

    1. Book’s self-awareness of being a book

      1. To live//be trapped in a book would be a terrible thing

    2. Despair, Invitatio, Gift

    3. Pierre Delalande, Dostoevsky

      1. Dream within a dream ? book in a book

    4. “Russia in the year 3000”

    5. Dystopia

      1. Memory/imagination are penalized

    6. Rodrion/Rodrig/Roman

      1. Rodrion & Rodrig are the same person who switch heads when it’s convenient

        1. Can’t trust the book

      2. Could also be argued as a character from Dostoyevsky

      3. Referencing the dolls Punch and Judy

        1. Pg. 27 ? doll making

      4. Significance of butterfly (called the Punchinello)

    7. CC

      1. “I know something”

    8. Passage of time ? as he writes pages, we lose pages

      1. Books catalogued by length

      2. Caput

      3. Pencil is what indicates his death time

        1. Pencil is exactly as long as his life

    9. Zakliu cherie (Conclusion, confinement)

      1. Emperor moth, trap door

  16. Each finding of the spider precedes a torture of the prisoner

7. March 14 -- Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange (Norton, 2011 [1962])
Presentation – Annie = significance and debate of 21st chapter, is it necessary?, viewpoints of American editor vs. Burgess’, read Burgess’ introduction
Presentation – Alex = Nazdat language
Notes: Movie link, “A Clockwork Orange” directed by Stanley Kubrick

[[ March 21 --  NO CLASS, Spring Break ]]

8. March 28 – Walter M. Miller, A Canticle for Leibowitz (EOS, 206 [1959]), 354
Presentation – Max

  1. Context

    1. WWII

    2. 1923

    3. 70 million people said to have died

    4. 1947 – became a Catholic

    5. Written in a time when sci-fi & literature was occupied with nuclear war

  2. New Look

    1. If we actually kept troops in Europe to deter the Russians would’ve been $

    2. We attack first, in defense

  3. Cuban Missile Crisis (13 days)

    1. A lot of people seriously thought there’d be nuclear war

  4. Post-apocalyptic novels

    1. The Road, On the Beach, Fail Safe, Them

    2. Deformities, distortions – due to radiation, inherent preoccupations

  5. Time Zones

    1. When it was written

      1. Published mid-late 50s, intended to be novellas, then knitted together

  6. Novel of ideas

    1. Faith, secular power, religious power

    2. Shape of history

    3. Preoccupied with where history is going

  7. Quality of knowledge

    1. Once humans took it in the Garden, it condemned them

  8. The original would’ve been lost had work/effort not been put in to preserve the new

    1. Sacrifice of the manuscript for the original to survive

    2. Irony – original isn’t worth much

  9. Keeping of knowledge = keeping of relics

  10. Leibowitz – who?

    1. Scientist (nuclear)

    2. Part of the reason the world is in the present state

    3. Jewish

    4. Martyred

  11. Manhattan Project

  12. Is it true that the advance of knowledge is done at the expense of the public?

    1. Does it tell us that how we do things is screwed up

  13. Timeline

    1. Flame Deluge (6 cent.) ? Pt. 1 Dark Ages (+600 years) ? Renaissance (+600 years) ? Modernity ?  Flame Deluge

    2. Cyclical, everything is going to happen again

  14. Max’s Presentation – “So we’ve got nuclear weapons…”

    1. Simplification

    2. The Hate: “Let us stone… deeds that went before” (pg. 62)

    3. Bury the Knowledge – hide to protect

    4. Sanctuary Underground

      1. Not what it seems, have a dark side

    5. Rift between Thon Taddeo & Don Paulo

    6. “The Metro 2033” (2007) by Dimitry Glukhovsky

      1. Survivors live in the metro

      2. Comparison of underground world between Canticle and Metro 2033

    7. The Myth of Knowledge

      1. Knowledge does exist as surviving academic personnel, as long as they are alive

      2. In order to progress towards a utopia or dystopia, humans have to have consistent access to education

    8. Underground Factor

      1. Staying below ground isn’t a bad idea, but survivors separate themselves from responsibility (of knowledge)

  15. Treason of the clerks

    1. Intellectuals not taking responsibility

  16. No you don’t have the right to take a life

    1. How you felt about the abbott vs. the little girl & her mother? (Towards end of novel)

    2. Protecting human life

    3. Page 313 – manipulation/corruption of Christianity

    4. Using it as an excuse to commit mass murder = Miller is enraged

    5. Don’t intervene

    6. Secular vs. religious power

  17. In the guise of giving you the future, it gives you a capitulation of the past

9. April 4 – J.G. Ballard, The Drought (Liveright, 2012 [1964]), 240

Presentation – Aaron

  1. Yves Tanguy, “Jours de Lenteur” painting

    1. yy7976.jpg

  2. Context

    1. JG Ballard

      1. Born in 1930 in Shanghai

      2. During Japanese occupation

      3. SF sci-fi writer

      4. Body of work (oeuvre) are all apocalyptic novels

        1. What if the arctic ice caps melted? What if the cycle of precipitation lifted? What if?

      5. Martin Ames on Ballard

      6. Elemental novels

        1. Re: The Drought on water

  3. Tanguy

    1. Survivalist, de-saturated, has debris, but isn’t everything

    2. Correlations between painting & novel

  4. Protagonist lives in his head, savior gene doesn’t kick in

  5. Comparison to Heart of Darkness

    1. Going up the river

    2. Imagery of green, internal experience of outside world

  6. Relation to time

  7. Aaron’s Presentation: “Sands of Time: The Symbols Landscape of The Drought

    1. Quote from page 24

    2. Return to the past (page 192)

    3. The Decaying World (page 194)

    4. Erosion of social relations

      1. People being isolated

    5. Disappearance of color (page 197)

    6. Lions are tied up to Catherine

      1. Signals hope for survival somewhere, that there’s water somewhere in between here and the mountains

      2. Lions linked to Jonas, person who searches for the river does/will find it

    7. Significance of animals throughout book

  8. Reservoir is destroyed for the rain to come

    1. Said he’d drown ?  drowned in the earth

  9. Fire – red hair

  10. Quilter enjoys the drought/death of the river

    1. Simultaneously describing something perverse in Ransom

    2. Quilter does something Ransom wants to do but can’t ? (Quilter) stays

  11. Return is overdetermined (we know it’s going to happen) ? characters say he will come back

    1. Why does he want to come back?

    2. All of these people have forgotten time, when he goes back, he can reclaim his identity

  12. Travel

    1. New world of the future, without technology

      1. Under the sand

      2. Cars under the sand were made into coffins

    2. Moving down the “river” to the sea (no longer visible), can only see salt

      1. Then when they go back, are they going back in time? à timelessness

  13. Miranda is a cannibal

    1. Thinking about all the lives lost (aka she ate them nom)

  14. Lamia (page 71)

    1. Coleridge’s version

  15. Miranda eventually becomes the re-populator of the new world

  16. Point of View characters aren’t understandable – but you think you understand them

    1. Ransom goes under Quilter’s sway and allows Richard to die

  17. Ransom losing his identity – pg. 231

    1. Was going to give to perverse desires

  18. Chapter 26 – pg. 143

    1. Weird, fascinating imagery, “Herding of water”

  19. Almost everyone starts dissolving into Ransom à projection of his own personality – all distinctions of identity are merged and resolving (Page 192)

10. April 11 – Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle (Mariner, 2015 [1962]), 288

Presentation – Monica

  1. Media: TV Series on Amazon Prime

  2. Context

    1. Dick’s history (wiki)

      1. Existence is not truly there

      2. Gnosticism (Invitation)

  3. How many alternate realities are there? 3

    1. Scene with cows, freeway, etc. ? reality he’s in, but it’s not what it seems

    2. I Ching – his book is true, but it’s not the reality Dick is in

    3. Alternate realities:

      1. Reality they’re in (book)

      2. “Grasshopper”

      3. He glimpses the world we’re in, but maybe not true

  4. Lack of resistance

  5. No accident that we’re dealing with multiple realities

    1. What does it mean to be authentic?

  6. Jewelry becomes avenue by which Tagomi sees something else

    1. In another world ? go to other reality

    2. Indication of what’s to come?

  7. Humiliation

    1. Package doesn’t arrive at the beginning of novel ? Mickey Mouse watch (this is what we’re preserving)

  8. Preservation of artifacts = resistance, going against the system

  9. Code – high/how place

  10. American self-assurance

    1. Optimistic ? they’ll continue to move on; persistent

    2. Jewelry then becomes method for alt. Reality

  11. Monica’s Presentation

    1. Injustices in the current world, and the desire to make it better

    2. Diction

      1. Tone reflects dystopian world

      2. Through thoughts, feelings, and actions of characters, it reflects censorship/lack of freedom & free will imposed on their lives

    3. Themes

      1. Memory and the past

        1. Old/new generations, past history, American artwork, antiques, history repeating itself (Childan)

      2. Fate & free will

        1. New world, I Ching, Oracles (Frank)

      3. Power

        1. Social hierarchy – need for survival, to hide one’s true identity, as outcome of war

        2. Desire to freely express oneself

    4. Our present world & the future of America

      1. Election 2016 & Donald Trump

      2. Relation to Trump with Hitler

  12. Turning point in history

    1. Connection between book & Trump

  13. “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” – Joyce, Ulysses

  14. Invitation – we think we’re mortal

  15. Obsession with shape of history

  16. History has an inevitable course

  17. When Tagomi crosses over to our world

    1. Why do we have 3 separate realities?

  18. I Ching suggests there is a Way

    1. Multiple realities / Dick used it to write novel

  19. Pg. 222

    1. Vision of Tagumi entering our world, then leaves it

    2. Rejection of reality

    3. Leaves out articles

    4. Does it mean he got to a true reality?

    5. Dick winking to us through the pages/scenes

  20. Significance of jewelry

  21. Connection of characters

    1. Gun tying in Tagomi, Childan, and Frink

  22. Gnosticism – daemons making up our world, which has a degree of fakeness

  23. Take things as face value, but when you think that there’s there, then you gain access

    1. You make it happen

11. April 18 – Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time (Fawcett, 1985 [1976]), 384
Presentation – Virginia, Adam

– Research paragraph due, typed or legibly handwritten

  1. Context

    1. Written in the mid-70s during a series of mental hospital scandals

  2. Timelines

    1. 1976 (written) ?  2137 (about)

        1. ?  Inflection point ? 2016 (year we’re reading it)

      1. 1976: Roe v. Wade, Cold War, loss in Vietnam, Nixon’s resignation, environmentalism/artificial leftist politics, politics of the Right, Prop 13/Reagan ? conservative counterrevolution until now

      2. = 2 visions of the future in 3 separate worlds (2 are dystopias)

      3. 1976 world is a dystopian world for the disempowered, from the ground up

  3. Virginia’s Presentation

    1. Connie

      1. Experiences of underrepresented populations in the US (WoC, working class, single moms, domestic violence victims)

      2. Social structures functioning against women (racism, sexism, patriarchy)

      3. Institutional oppression (healthcare institutions, social workers, educational institutions)

      4. In Mexican culture, a woman’s role is to be in the house, but coming to the US, there’s a duel identity b/c women also wants to go out in the world

    2. Luciente

      1. Androgynous: reclaiming bodies & sexuality

      2. Represents decolonizing of feminism

    3. The Age of Greed & Waste: 1970s NYC

      1. Sexuality is repressed ? homophobia/need to define sexuality

      2. Relationships b/w humans & society

        1. Gov’t control & surveillance/large metro cities/social hierarchy

    4. Feminist Utopia: 2137 American Society

      1. Return to indigenous values

      2. Relationships b/w humans & nature

      3. Education (focus on learning)

      4. Anti-capitalism

      5. Sexuality ? dismantling social constructions of sex & gender

        1. Gender neutral pronouns

      6. Relationships b/w humans & society

        1. Mental health

      7. Conflict of taking away gestation period/carrying baby to term

  4. Ending

    1. Destroyed a process by letting the doctors, thus changing the future

  5. Adam’s Presentation: Neoliberal World Order

    1. Economic Systems

      1. Neoliberal Capitalist Model (Milton Friedman)

    2. Neoliberation

      1. Intro to Chomsky’s Neoliberalism & Global Order

      2. Chomsky: “Neoliberalism is the defining political economic paradigm of our time - it refers to the policies and processes whereby a relative handful…”

      3. Judith Butler

    3. Life in a Neoliberal Capitalist System

    4. Poverty and Objectification of the Female Body

      1. Damage and alienation of what people were doing to their bodies just for money

      2. How people can be coerced, every contract you enter isn’t a perfectly free contract with agency to say no

    5. Destruction of the Body and Environmental Degradation:

      1. Once people are used, fulfilled their function, providing someone with the means of capital for profit and then discarded

    6. Rejection of Cultural Identity and Madness/Insanity

      1. Realization that material goods aren’t everything

      2. Money and living in a free market system must be rejected in order to live in the present, may alienate you from cultural heritage

      3. Cast off and labeled as insane even though it’s their desire to live outside society

      4. American Psycho: what someone will do when they completely lose meaning in life

    7. Alternate Economic Systems in 1976

      1. The Soviet Model:

        1. Historic Context = rapid growth, second fastest in the world behind Japan / importance of ideological drive / capital intensive growth with large farming collectives

        2. Communism

    8. The Future in WotEoT

      1. Democracy vs. Neoliberal Democracy

        1. “On the other hand, to be effective, democracy requires that people feel a connection to their fellow citizens, and that this connection manifests itself through a variety of non market organizations… The net result is an atomized society of disengaged individuals who feel demoralized and socially powerless.” – Robert McCheseny, 1998 (Chomsky intro)

        2. Future Utopia: no private property, no pollution, production of art, efficient and just allocation of scarce resources, collective ownership of capital, participatory political process, gender and racial equality

    9. Future Dystopia

      1. Women as Sexual Objects, Corporatist State, Alienation and Isolation

    10. So where are we now?

      1. Stiglitz, The End of Neoliberalism, 2008

        1. “Neoliberal market fundamentalism was always a political doctrine serving certain interests. It was never supported by economic theory. Nor, it should now be clear, is it supported by historical experience. Learning this lesson may be the silver lining in the cloud now hanging over the global economy.”  = huge indictment of economic systems we’ve been living with

      2. Butler, Fiscal Crisis or the Neoliberal Assault on Democracy, 2011

        1. “The problem is not a fiscal crisis whose bailout will return matters to normal. The problem is that the neoliberal forms of political and economic power regularly abandon populations to conditions of precocity, and that this periodic and regular abandon…”

    11. “Sterilization of 70,000 & Inspired the Nazis” on DemocracyNow

  6. Timeline 2

    1. Dystopia ? DYSTOPIA

      1. Inflection point:

        1. ? Utopia

        2. ? Connie kills doctors

          1. Changed history

          2. What role did Connie play?

          3. Did her personal war toward her own activism change everything?

    2. Ending leaves door open as to whether it’s actually a hallucination

12. April 25 – Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale (Anchor, 1998 [1985])

Presentation – Samantha

1.     Film Clip:

a.     Lack of voice over

b.     Serena Joy’s age

c.     Controversy over making of film

2.     Samantha’s Presentation

a.     Women’s Liberation: The 60s & 70s

                   i. Sexual revolution begins in the 60s

                  ii. Roe v. Wade (1973)

b.     The Seeds of a Counter-Revolution

                   i. Equal Rights Amendment debate coincided with Roe v.  Wade

c.     Backlash of the 80s

                   i. ERA fails to ratify in ‘82

d.     Infantilization and Glorification

                   i. In the 80s, public discourse shifts towards infantilizing women and

glorifying the fetus & the pregnant body that carries it

                  ii. The conversation about freedom of choice for women changes to one

about the rights & freedom of the fetus

                 iii. This transformation of public discourse is represented in the infantilization

of women and worship of the pregnant body throughout

1.     Pg. 26: “As we wait in our double line…”

e.     The Anti-Feminists

                   i. By the 80s, the anti-feminist movement is in full swing

                  ii. Led by conservatives like Phyllis Schlafly, this movement argued that

women were better off confined to the home

                 iii. This was steeped in the rhetoric that women should be protected

1.     Pg. 24

f.      The Failed Vision of a “Women’s Culture”

                   i. The feminist dream of a “women’s culture” is completely distorted

                  ii. In the culture, women (esp. the Aunts) oppress other women

                 iii. Resentment, hatred, and envy is fostered between women

g.     An Over-Arching Metaphor

                   i. Strained relationship b/w Offred and her mother may have broader


                  ii. Possibly a metaphor for the tensions b/w women’s liberation culture of the

70s and departure from it in the 80s

3.     Centralized power – apparatus is in effect

4.     Beliefs/ideals that die as a political structure but continue to permeate throughout


5.     Sex positivity vs. pornography

6.     In dialogue with Women on the Edge of Time (10 years apart)

a.     Absence of child

                   i. Emotionally powerful to feel the absent child – not whole à don’t have

power over herself

7.     Feel fear and outrage at the root

a.     Notion of portrayal of Whigish politics

b.     Thinks things are getting better, towards civilization (but not really)

8.     Context

a.     Written in 1984 in West Berlin

                   i. Barbed wire, totalitarian apparatus

                  ii. “Period of social chaos to reassert itself”

b.     Utopian idealism (freedom from/to)

c.     Handmaids originate from the Bible

                   i. Hagar & Sarai: Genesis 16

                  ii. Abraham’s story

9.     Caste system

a.     Women

                   i. Legitimate

1.     Wives – Blue

2.     Aunts – Brown

3.     Handmaids – Red (blood/fertility)

4.     Marthas – Green

5.     Econowives – RGB stripes

6.     Daughters – White

7.     Salvagers – Black

                  ii. Illegitimate

1.     Jezebels – costumes/cheerleader outfits

a.     “Loose women”

2.     Unwomen – feminists, women who couldn’t get pregnant

                 iii. * Caste system is based off of fertility

                  iv. * Colors indicate function

                   v. * People are reduced to functions = essentialism

b.     Men

                   i. Legitimate

1.     Eyes

2.     Commanders – Black

3.     Angels (Soldiers)

4.     Guardians

                  ii. * Only see power hierarchy for men

10.  Overthrow government to overthrow system

11.  Historical Notes

a.     “By telling this story I will you into existence”

b.     Importance? Delete or keep?

12.  Confidence born with the kind of utopia we’re building

13.  Women’s rights are precarious

14.  Deep dark depths of counterrevolution

15.  Offred ?  Of Fred OR Off red

a.     Throw off revolution

16.  Idea that “you may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you”

17.  “Book of our time”

a.     Politics are the same

b.     Frozen in time

c.     Strength of counterrevolution

18.  Countermovement is “the movement”, but it fell off, and that what persists is the

typical movement

a.     “Countermovement” was the grand exception, atypical

13. May 2 – Cormac McCarthy, The Road (Vintage, 2006), 287
{Dead week}

– If turn in ~12 pg. research paper on this day, paper grade will be ? higher

14. May 9-- Vladimir Sorokin, Day of the Oprichnik (FSG, 2012), 191
{Finals week}

– Final deadline for research paper

Notable Dystopian Novels

Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale, 311

J.G. Ballard, The Drowned World, 175

J.G. Ballard, The Drought

Samuel Beckett, The Lost Ones

Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange (Norton, 1962), 205

William Burroughs, Naked Lunch, 197

Adolfo Bioy Casares, The Invention of Morel

Philip K. Dick, A Scanner, Darkly

Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? 210

Philip K. Dick, Man in the High Castle

Russell Hoban, Riddley Walker, 220

Joe Halderman, The Forever War, 264

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

P.D. James, Children of Men, 241

Franz Kafka, The Trial, 231

Adam Johnson, The Orphan Master’s Son

Sinclair Lewis, It Can’t Happen Here

Jack London, The Iron Heel [1908], 259

Andrew MacDonald, The Turner Diaries

Cormac McCarthy, The Road, 241

Maureen McHugh, China Mountain Zhang (Orb, 1997), 324

Walter Miller, A Canticle for Leibowitz

Alan Moore, V for Vendetta

Haruki Murakami, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

Vladimir Nabokov, Invitation to a Beheading, 223

Flann O’Brien, The Third Policeman

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

Andrei Platonov, The Foundation Pit (NYRB, 2009), 208

Andrei Platonov, Chevengur

Philip Roth, The Plot Against America, 391

Vladimir Sorokin, Day of the Oprichnik, 191

Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash, 470

Fernando Vallejo, Our Lady of the Assassins (Serpent’s Tale, 1994), 144

H.G. Welles, The Time Machine

H.G. Welles, The Sleeper Awakes

Yevgeny Zamyatin, We

Notable Dystopian Movies

Blade Runner

V for Vendetta

The Trial

A Clockwork Orange

The Handmaid’s Tale

The Time Machine

The Road

Our Lady of the Assassins

The Island


Ghost in the Shell

Children of Men



A Scanner Darkly

District 9


Mad Max

The Matrix



Total Recall


Brave New World

Ghost in the Shell


JANUARY 25, 2016

Through a Future Darkly

  • “I see you as through a glass, darkly...” Biblical allusion
  • 1 Corinthians – Corinth a major producer of mirrors
  • Unclear sight, darkness lifted by the revealed Word of God
  • Allegory of the Cave – watching shadows on the wall
  • Revelation. What we see is the reflection/shadow of reality. Necessary to go through a process of learning/knowing/uncovering/understanding to see the true world.


The idea of revelation implies that history has some kind of direction. Teleology?

  • Not necessarily linear or circular – different conception
  • Apocalypse = uncovering/revelation
  • (apocalyptic fiction = uncovering the end of history?)

?      Different ideas of the end of history, both secular and religious

?      end times of Islamic/Christian faiths

?      nuclear annihilation

?      Malthusian collapse

?      heat death of universe

?      global climate change (currently being discussed – exterminism)

?      space travel, “Star Trek”

?      complacence, world peace

?      triumph of communism


4 key requirements:

  • Attendance
  • Participation
  • Multimedia presentations are encouraged. Lots of room for creativity – just needs to be some theme related to the course, and roughly 15 minutes. Exploration, for example, of the “cultural baggage,” adaptations etc., of the texts in the course. Also, we can invent and describe a utopia/dystopia of our own.
  • Research papers also fairly flexible. The subject has to interest the student and be related to the course. Present a 4-sentence precis by April 18th. Paper due May 9th, May 2nd for a “bonus” of one grade step (A- to A).


Why does dystopia loom so large in popular consciousness today?

  • Climate change, environmental destruction, scarce resources, mass surveillance, terrorism, global conflict
  • Interaction with dystopia is in some ways a feedback loop – the literature affects how we think about the real aspects of life which affect the literature
  • What does “dystopia” mean?
  • Utopia

?      u+topos, no place

?      eu+topos, good place

  • Coined by Sir Thomas More, 1516, before getting his head cut off for his radical religious ideas (would not acknowledge Anne Boleyn as rightful queen)
  • More's Utopia rests on an assumption of social equality – equal work, equal income, equal status
  • Writing a utopia is implicitly a critique of the society in which you live – the “generic” form is satire.
  • The form dates as far back as Plato's Republic
  • U- vs. eu-: Is utopia a prescription for society? Or is it something that by definition cannot exist?
  • If it cannot exist, seeking it becomes sinister


Utopia & Dystopia are two sides of the same coin, engaged in a dialogue

  • More's Utopia may have been satirical
  • 1984 is a depiction of a utopia gone wrong
  • Dystopia is about the risks of utopian thinking
  • The form is characteristic of the 20th century

?      during and post WWI, Enlightenment ideas no longer seemed inevitable

?      great Modernist literature confronts this crisis of faith

?      downfall of Western society became imaginable

?      also a lot of optimistic utopian political movements emerged in the war's wake – the Soviet experiment, the League of Nations


Real-world attempts to construct utopias

  • Soviet Union, Cambodia, North Korea
  • “You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs” – protecting the Revolution and the utopia with secret police, oppression, government control – all in the service of the dream
  • Is there any such thing as a utopia gone “right?”
  • What is the low bar to qualify for utopia? Equality of resources? Happiness? Absence of violence/conflict?
  • Are people equal? Are people too different to all be happy with the same regime?


The Shape of History

  • Are we fallen and returning? (Christian – Eden to the Second Coming/Millennium)
  • Fallen forever? (Greek Golden Age)
  • Rising out of darkness? (Techno-utopianism)


Gradualism? A different route to utopia

  • Fordism = paying workers enough that they can buy your products
  • Post-nuclear dystopias/utopias (the War in the deep past)


Our current politics are built on dystopian & utopian themes

  • Sanders and his utopian ideals – possibly coercive
  • Trump the billionaire reality star, center of a media circus, imposition of dystopian coercive measures to keep immigrants out


Dystopian terms

  • Dys+topia: bad place
  • Coined by John Stuart Mill, utilitarian philosopher
  • Followed Jeremy Bentham, inventor of kako+topos, evil place


H. G. Wells – themes in The Time Machine and his other works

  • Socialist utopian ideas
  • Technological advance
  • Evolution/Darwinism




FEBRUARY 1, 2016

The Four Ages of Mankind (Ovid, written 8 AD)


Golden Age

  • Peace (no war), contentment
  • Abundance, fecundity
  • Pre-agricultural, no toil, no violation of earth, without seasons
  • Pagan precursor to Eden
  • Primitive “state of nature” – no need for law

Silver Age

  • Emergence of agriculture and of work
  • Seasons – hot and cold, necessity of shelter


Brass/Bronze Age

  • Invention of weapons


Iron Age

  • Destruction of virtue
  • Emergence of greed – gold and iron discovered, one motivating war, the other making it bloody
  • Downfall of social order – families turning on one another
  • Fallen world


Visions of a golden time in the past, giving way to the fallen world of the present, are common in many societies. Also, the coming of a bright future – the Second Coming, the Messiah, etc.


How does it work as a piece of writing? How is it put together? Why is it suspenseful?

  • The particular, eccentric narration of the Time Traveler – engaging, intrepid
  • The frame narrative allows him to tell it in retrospect

?      Foreshadowing

?      Ongoing correction of his point of view – “progression of the scientific imagination” in Danner's words

  • “Scientific romance,” per Wells – a genre with a scientist-hero, investigating the world in which he finds himself. The hero, in a sense, is progress. (1890s, time of great scientific optimism, ending in World War 1)

?      narrative is alternately lyrical and objective/scientific, but always economical

  • Tension between this boy's-own-adventure inventor-protagonist and technological progress and the narrative's fundamental pessimism about the future.
  • 2 basic sources of suspense

?      Discovery: what's going to happen? What is this world like?

?      Conflict: the Time Machine disappears – how will he get it back? (We already know he does.)


Satirical element – like most dystopias, it has something to say of the age that produced it

  • Class-obsessed, socialist novel

?      the aristocratic audience listening to the Time Traveler are precursors of the Eloi

?      Historical materialism? Natural evolution of the classes

?      Reflects the ruling class's fear of the working class

  • Wells himself was from a lower-middle-class background and became quite wealthy
  • Learned from T. H. Huxley, a student of Darwin


The interacting and coexisting ideas of the story – Darwinism and socialism, with a dash of technological utopianism – give it much of its power

  • The nature of society shaped evolution, rather than the other way around

?      Capitalism triumphed over communism and then over the very biological equality of mankind

?      Idea of evolution that tends toward degeneration (Lancaster's Darwinism, his chapters on parasitism – food and safety easily obtained)

?      Why can't the Eloi adapt to the new threat – the Morlocks? They've learned fear. Do we just not see it?

  • If we accept evolution (and thus take God out of the equation) but don't reject the downward direction of history, the mechanism for return to the Golden Age is gone, and opens the door to endless degeneration. The biological terror of evolution.


Critique of utopianism?

  • False promise (caricature utopia on the surface)
  • Wells distrusts utopia – progress is a struggle against obstacles that must continue
  • Eloi society – the first glimpse – resembles the Golden Age. No work, all plenty
  • the upper-class audience's irreverence and detachment is connected to the degradation of art and science in the future age


Symbolism of white

  • The White Sphinx (pg 21)

?      sublime, enigmatic, but weathered and degraded

?      “unpleasant suggestion of disease”

?      very old – Time Traveler recognizes it

?      stands for a riddle. In fact, a riddle about the growth and progress/decay of a man.

  • The Eloi themselves are white – as are, eventually, the Morlocks


The Morlocks oil and clean the Time Machine – tremendous economy of detail. They have the instincts and skills of industrial workers, and also the tools and materials to carry them out.


The interesting thing about this book is what's not in it.

  • No communication with inhabitants of the world – Eloi or Morlocks
  • No sense of the intervening civilizations


The fantastically creepy scene of the deep future


Possibly unreliable narrator? His interpretation is frequently inaccurate

  • leaps to conclusions
  • Wells may not have intended irony, but a modern reader can't escape it




Presentations are very broad – they have to be related in some sense to the work in question, but that's it. Ask Prof. Danner if uncertain.


FEBRUARY 8, 2016


Post-revolutionary Dystopia

  • Heavily influenced by the events leading up to the Russian Revolution and its aftermath
  • Long-lived Tsarist autocracy overthrown, then progressed to Bolshevik takeover
  • The “hoofbeats of revolution” were audible in the Russian intelligentsia as far back as 1860
  • Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground was a response to Cherneshevsky's What is to be done?, the story of the “Crystal Palace”

?      Crystal Palace – a future ruled by rationality

?      Dostoevsky – to be truly human is to be irrational

?      The mechanized, glass-walled future of We echoes the Crystal Palace – also a seminal aesthetic, influential image of futurity

  • In the early 20th century, pre-Revolution, Russia was a very stratified society – nobles and peasants, without much middle class – and also suffered from revolutionary terrorism
  • Great hardship in the 20s – starvation, war, first executions


Zamyatin himself and the history of We

  • Had a provincial upbringing, later became a naval engineer
  • Wrote while the Russian Civil War – counterrevolutionary “Whites” vs “Red” Bolsheviks – was still going on
  • He was a Bolshevik, an old revolutionary who spent time abroad in England – imprisoned several times
  • lived with a writers' collective for some time, working for the Revolution
  • We was the first major book that was censored in the Soviet Union
  • Published in English in New York, 1924
  • Published in Russian in Prague, shipped back to Soviet Union
  • Zamyatin became an “unperson,” unable to publish
  • He was allowed out of the Soviet Union and died in 1937 in Paris
  • (translated many of Wells's novels into Russian – the division between inner “civilized” world and outer “atavistic” world reflects Eloi/Morlocks distinction, though neither are so degraded)


Sidebar on Dystopia: Three Dates To Consider

  • Date of composition, and its historical context (1920-21)
  • Putative date of events (2600)
  • Now (2016)


The world of We

  • Walled city of glass and straight lines
  • Color symbolism: red and yellow (particularly yellow) are freedom, emotion, passion; blue and translucent colors are aligned with the One State
  • Ancient, mad, passionate music – Scriabin played by I-330 – contrasted with the patriotic marches of the Music Factory


Echoes of the Futurist movement

  • Move away from literal representation of beauty, static
  • Art in love with movement, speed, technology
  • Equivalent (though not the same, it is similar in may aspects) = Russian Constructivism.


Table of Hours

  • All defined by numbers and schedules
  • Frederick Winslow Taylor – time and motion studies

?      How to make people function like machines

?      How to create a productive society & eliminate wasted effort

?      We takes “Taylorism” to its absurd conclusion


Echo of Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon

  • Early utilitarian philosopher's concept of a perfect prison
  • Wardens can see all the prisoners; prisoners cannot see each other
  • Inability to hide
  • A key difference: everyone can see everyone else in We


Ideology of the One State

  • Freedom is the source of unhappiness
  • Everyone is an informer on everyone else – glass walls
  • Love is an expression of property impulse, irrational emotion – hence Sex Days and the pink tickets


Love and the One State

  • Plot is driven by passion
  • Is Love a direct threat to the established order?
  • Counterpoint – love seems to exist in the One State in spite of the law (example: O-90's attachment to D-503), the real problem is that I-330 is a dissident



  • ?1=i is a representation of what disrupts D-503's thoughts
  • He begins having dreams
  • ?1 is also the soul
  • Imaginary number
  • Eventually the One State develops a means of abolishing the imagination
  • Pushkin looms like Shakespeare in Brave New World


Use of language

  • Ellipsis, tortured sentences

?      Builds a mathematical worldview for D-503

?      Also represents the breakdown of that worldview


The hairy people

  • Pure emotion, passion, chaos – all things that are not sterile rationality
  • D-503's hairy hands represent a little wild blood, atavism


Biblical imagery

  • the One State as new Eden
  • MEPHI(stopheles) the rebellion
  • Guardians as angels


“Permanent revolution”

  • I-330's worldview implies that utopia is impossible
  • Revolutions will continue because happiness is unattainable
  • It is unclear if the revolution fails or succeeds


D-503 is never fully converted

  • He continues to cling to faith in the One State during his internal conflict
  • He hates I-330 as much as he loves her for bringing this conflict about
  • Is D-503 a dupe or a failed recruit?


Confusion on the Integral scene

  • Position of a climax, but it doesn't work as one
  • Weakest scene, structurally
  • How could the knowledge of the crew stop the coup?


Symbolism of names and numbers

  • No coincidence that “I” is “I” – she is frequently thin, sharp, triangular, and she is also an individual
  • “O” is also “O” because she is round, open, soft
  • “U” has gill-like, flapping jowls
  • “S” is physically bent twice, also like the Serpent


Mathematical symbolism

  • = rendered in the Randall translation as a colon :
  • X, the unknown quantity
  • ?1
  • Sentences like equations


No clear ideology – criticism of revolutionary politics, but from what direction?


Is the One State a truly rational society? Is the dichotomy between reason and freedom a premise to accept?

  • Irrational cruelty of punishment
  • Benefactor: “true algebraic love toward humankind is inhuman”
  • Benefactor scene echoes Grand Inquisitor in Brothers Karamazov
  • One student: “You need freedom to determine if people are happy”


We is a stealth post-apocalypse – 200 Years' War



FEBRUARY 22, 2016

The Third Man speech. Is suffering necessary for passion, art, intellectual achievement?


A theme running through The Time Machine, We, and Brave New World: resistance, overcoming, and struggle are necessary for the goods in society that we take for granted.

  • The Time Machine: Once all difficulty has been eliminated from their lives, the Eloi become soft, weak, dull.
  • We: imagination makes people unsatisfied and uneasy because they can imagine other possibilities for their lives. Imagination grants people souls.
  • Brave New World: suffering is necessary for passion, passion is necessary for great art, great achievement, great religious belief. But passion disrupts society, and billions starve.


Dichotomy between people who are happy and dull and those who are tormented and passionate.


The Brave New World society is based on stability achieved through constant, shallow physical pleasure.


Aldous Huxley:

  • Became a writer after a childhood illness destroyed much of his sight, removing the possibility

of a medical career

  • Had many jobs (including as a chemical plant worker and a teacher)
  • Traveled to America and was disgusted/appalled by what he saw there (sexual libertine culture in particular, though his was not exactly a traditional marriage)
  • Very interested in drugs
  • Wrote Brave New World in the interwar period, in France, at the beginning of the Great Depression – the novel is a product of political instability

?      Rise of Fascism in Europe



  • Replaces God as source of ancestral received wisdom (and exclamations)
  • Similar to Taylor's role in We
  • Industrial efficiency, assembly-line production
  • Freud/Ford elision

?      the “family romance” replaced with hypnopaedia

?      repression causes unhappiness; eliminate repression


The novel opens with a human assembly line, cinematic, intercut (Huxley was later a prominent Hollywood writer)


The Mike Wallace Interview with Huxley, 27 years later, on his essays “The Enemies of Freedom”

  • He saw them as impersonal social forces accelerated by technological progress

?      Falling standard of living in developing countries resulting in totalitarianism and social unrest – feedback loop

?      Absence of balance – “death control” without “birth control”


?      As technology becomes more complicated, more elaborate organization is necessary to keep it stable, and technology also enables organization and hierarchy to reach further and deeper than ever before.

  • Huxley maintained that society was on the doorstep of the situation he described. (BNW is set 600 years in his future)


A lot of the exposition is handled in the first 40 pages, in addition to the introduction of Lenina and Bernard


Brave New World is a very deliberate satire

  • Names of contemporary figures
  • Use and misuse of Shakespeare
  • Contrast between Savage's ideas from his mother's stories and his perception of the actual outside world


How relevant is it now?

  • Themes of consumption, use and production of waste

?      People thinking and reading books don't buy a lot of things. Neither do people enjoying nature.

?      Consumption is needed to keep the economy stable because people need production to maintain full employment, and full employment is necessary for stability

  • Sexual mores have changed a lot


What is happiness? Why is this not a utopia?

  • People are engineered from birth for particular roles – lack of freedom
  • Lack of passion – the audience reacts negatively to the lack of “normal” friendships and romances, family relationships
  • John's a problematic figure – not an “everyman,” but deeply weird even by our standards – an ascetic reactionary
  • Immediate sensory gratification without “creating meaning” – is this really an opposition?
  • Bernard Marx and Helmholtz Watson have feelings that are not “sanctioned” by society – so, in the end, does Lenina Crowne, with her attraction to the Savage
  • Both poles are extreme – the asceticism of the Savage and the hedonism of the Brave New World


Both a satire of the “world to come” and a critique of the ways in which it falls short.


Bernard Marx is not a very sympathetic protagonist. Nor is John in some ways.



  • The World State is hyper-organized – everyone has a very strict role to fill that is essential to society – cogs in a machine – purpose without individuality
  • Presenter claims this can be linked to the growth of bureaucracy in modern American society
  • Compulsory promiscuity denies bodily autonomy and pacifies/distracts people
  • Modern changes in normative romance
  • Public life and lack of privacy – presenter links this to social media
  • increasingly distracting and substance-less entertainment
  • genetic engineering, biological avenues to social control



  • Huxley talks about suggestibility in Brave New World Revisited
  • conditioning depends on successive traumas – stressors are most effective if they increase suggestibility
  • hypnopaedia: only establishes morals, incompatible with intellectual thought or reason
  • recurring image of embryonic twilight, invoking coercive night and suggestible sleep
  • Day associated with consciousness
  • the embryo store – indolent temperature, stifling thickness, womb or cellar, unconscious mind
  • red light – “dim crimson through closed eyes” – associated with infantilization
  • world of ambiguity and phantasmagoria – dreamlike
  • return to precision and consciousness in daylight, the Decanting Room
  • Bottle as metaphor for lack of awareness, insulated in one's own dream-world


Notion of “Repressive Tolerance” by Herbert Marc


FEBRUARY 29, 2016

Political relevance of the novel

  • parallels to Huey Long, demagogue Louisiana senator of the Great Depression – and possibly, unintentionally and with prescience, to Donald Trump
  • Long was assassinated between the writing of this book and its publication
  • Depression was concurrent with the rise of Fascism in Europe – Hitler and Mussolini were both successful
  • Lots of familiar names from the contemporary period, literary and political


Sinclair Lewis

  • Other works like Babbitt and Elmer Gantry
  • First American writer to win the Nobel Prize


Where is the dystopia?

  • Critique of political apathy
  • Phenomenon reflected in the POV character's life
  • Why “can't” “it” “happen here?”
  • Written at a time when Fascism seemed to be the wave of the future
  • “comic tyranny”


Doremus Jessup

  • Represents the old values of liberal democracy in a romanticized way
  • But also is the target of criticism – “timid soul and drowsy mind” – he too is apathetic because “it can't happen here” “The hysteria can't last”
  • “Hapless” liberal, powerless and ineffective even when he tries to make gestures
  • “People with families to support” and their tacit endorsement of totalitarian regimes
  • Communists are also critiqued but with more respect than fascists
  • shortcomings of “quiet heroism” – is anything really accomplished? Most people go along.


Buzz Windrip – Why do people vote for him?

  • Populist appeal – the Common Man
  • Personal charisma
  • Outright lies and promises – everyone gets $5000 dollars

?      15-point Plan – incoherent mixture of nationalist and socialist platform planks

?      15th point is a program for autocracy – bypasses Congress and Supreme Court

  • War-hungry population
  • Resentment & alienation – hijacking the prejudice of the white working class against Jews and black people – fear of becoming irrelevant
  • Economic instability, vulnerable population, feeling of crisis, fear
  • Rich and influential supporters (Prang, various Captains of Industry)
  • Complacency of opposition
  • Divided opposition (like Hitler, won with a plurality not a majority)



  • Windrip vs. Trump
  • The Art of the Deal / Zero Hour
  • Bombastic style – loyal followers – incitement to violence (possibly out of context)
  • Emergent phenomenon from the circumstances – if not Trump, somebody else

?      Likable and charismatic – a Common Man who proves the American Dream

?      Racist scapegoating

?      Focus on military strength and extreme measures – strength to defend our interests

?      Inconsistent policy positions

?      “loved the people – feared and detested persons”

?      Extraordinarily entertaining

?      Divided opposition




MARCH 7, 2016

Epigraph: “As a madman believes he is God / So we believe we are mortal.” What does it mean?

  • Subjective perception creates reality
  • Cincinnatus does not die? Does he die? The world disintegrates around him
  • Does this mean that we are crazy to believe ourselves mortal?

?      Is believing in mortality a way of asserting control over our lives?


Simplest interpretation: “We are crazy to think we're mortal”


20 days before death / 20 chapters in the book.


The book, like much of Nabokov (and Kafka), is a puzzle palace. We want the answer to this book, but it's about opening possibilities rather than closing them.


Published in 1935-1936 – a contemporary of It Can't Happen Here

  • Written in Berlin by Vladimir Nabokov, a member of the Russian aristocracy (born 1899)
  • Nazis had recently taken power
  • His family had fled the Bolsheviks in 1917
  • Introduction tells us not to read it as a thinly veiled picture of dictatorship, totalitarianism, etc. “concern the good reader as little as it does me”

?      sneering reference to Orwell and his “illustrated ideas” – I.t.a.B. is not intended as propaganda

  • Later fled to America to escape the Nazi dictatorship
  • (his later interviews show that he considered Invitation a “final indictment” of Russian and German totalitarianism)
  • Contemporary of Goebbels and the Moscow show trials of the Great Terror
  • Nabokov read We shortly before writing this novel


A novel about (at least in part) political repression and its effect on the human imagination.


“gnostical turpitude”

  • Gnostic Christianity – has to do with the elevation of spiritual over material world, secret knowledge ushering in true reality
  • turpitude – state of sinfulness, baseness


What is different about Cincinnatus?

  • He is “opaque”
  • He exists in his own mind in a way that other people do not.
  • As a result, other people can't understand him by looking at him – pg 25-26
  • Both literal and metaphorical, like everything in the novel
  • Does not follow social conventions – quiet—offends people by defying their expectations
  • The process of torture is an attempt to get him to fit into the absurd social structure and to validate it – make a conformist of a rebel, embrace his beheading
  • His mother may also be like him, or may only recognize this


The book has a vast figural life of symbolic and metaphorical structures. It plays games.


  • Argues that Nabokov, despite his contention, is part of a philosophical/literary tradition
  • Socrates

?      Socratic method – Cincinnatus questions everything

?      Mind/body duality – Cincinnatus is trapped in his body/prison (even “disrobing” from his physical body briefly) until he rejects the physical world. Death is not the end.

?      (Possibly irrelevant – Socrates is a “midwife's son” as is Cincinnatus)

?      Everything is located at the psychological level and must work its way out to the physical world

?      pg. 94 world of forms



The “beautiful moth” as a symbol of transcendence?

  • Metamorphosis
  • Presumable “escape” from the cell – Rodion breaks the window and it is never caught
  • A metaphor for Cincinnatus's inner life?


A shrinking, isolated, backward society

  • Deterioration of technology
  • No further connection with the outside world




  • A book that is very aware it is a book – which is part of its dystopian nature
  • Linked to Crystal Palace by Cherneshevsky – takes place in a Panopticon-fortress
  • The book itself is a “dull beastly farce” – whole world is mummery
  • Characters (like Pierre drawn from Dostoevsky's The Double) reflect others
  • Each character is a caricature – very serious events become the stuff of parody, fictitious and frivolous

?      Characters swap heads like dolls or puppets – Rodrig and Rodion are the same person

?      The book's own narrative cannot be trusted

?      M'sieur Pierre or Pierrot or Punch – a character of the harlequinade

  • Memory, self-awareness, imagination are penalized
  • As Cincinnatus writes in his journal, chapters shorten – he gains pages, we lose them

?      Books and writing are linked to time – again in an untrustworthy way

?      Photohoroscope book of Emmie's life

?      Cataloged by length rather than subject in the library

?      Chapter = caput = head (decapitation)

?      “Tarbrush time,” the painted clock

?      The pencil is what's keeping track – when it's sharpened down to nothing that they take him away

  • That which does not have a name does not exist
  • death
  • The “little crack in life” where it has been “soldered to something… genuinely alive” – the world outside the book?
  • Connection to “The Gift”


Cincinnatus is tortured in some way (with false hope) for every treat that is brought to the spider

  • Repeated surges of hope followed by dramatic disappointment


Nabokov's worlds assert themselves as artificial worlds. (See Presentation #2; see also Bend Sinister)

  • Everything begins to fall apart when Cincinnatus stops writing. It collapses completely right before the execution.
  • Seems to exist beside our world. Dystopian and present. (or is it?)
  • Full of attempts at reading that are quashed (unknown how much time is left – things cut out of magazines)


Dream and reality – pg. 92

  • Stuck in a semi-reality
  • “glimpse of the lining” pg. 135. Milosz's “Meaning.” “When I die, I will see the lining of the world.”


Mise en abime – “put into the abyss” – a model within the book of the book itself

  • pg. 135, “nonnons” – works of art, clarifying jumbled and confused reality


The “floating” episode

  • Separate from the world around him, unaffected by its laws – transcending the artificial world
  • Christ-like imagery



[pg. 144]

MARCH 28, 2016

Final Paper

Apr. 18 – hard-copy paragraph (3-4 sentences); precis of what you plan on writing about in your final paper.

Paper should incorporate secondary sources and independent research. (Ask librarians for help)

Due May 2 (for bonus) or May 9 (final)


Walter M. Miller, Jr. and his historical context

  • born 1923, educated in Tennessee, became an engineer
  • Enlisted in the Air Force – radio man and tail gunner on bombers in Europe
  • In 1945, participated in bombing of Monte Casini, oldest monastery in Europe

?      Hugely controversial and scandalous

?      WWII was an apocalyptic war, for Miller and for everyone (70 million dead)

  • In 1947, Miller became a Catholic and started writing science fiction
  • 1955-57, 3 novellas published: Canticle for Leibowitz, And the Light is Risen, The Last Canticle
  • Around 1960, he published them all as a novel
  • Sci-fi and literary fiction alike were preoccupied with nuclear annihilation at that time

?      The post-apocalyptic subgenre emerged – books and films

?      Not just mass destruction and killing, but distortion and mutation

  • The “New Look” policy under Eisenhower and forward – US defense policy was based on nuclear weapons, mutually assured destruction to protect Western Europe – a “first use” policy


The three pieces are “like movements of a symphony, not parts of a novel”

  • Plot connections are all subtle – centuries apart
  • Thematic connections between them instead


“Novel of ideas”

  • Faith
  • Secular vs. spiritual knowledge
  • Secular vs. spiritual power
  • The shape of history


Between one terrible destruction and the shadow of another, he develops a view of human history as essentially cyclical


This book contains a number of “little poems” on larger themes

  • Destruction of Francis's copy and the survival of the original – allegory


Leibowitz himself

  • a prewar nuclear scientist
  • probably Jewish, not that the monks know
  • martyred – fuel oil, “this is my blood”



  • “Simplification” – mass murder of scientists, teachers, burning of books – blamed for the war
  • The paradox – the monks preserve scientific knowledge through an age of destruction, but scientific knowledge always seems to bring about destruction
  • Secular vs. spiritual purposes – the argument between Thon Taddeo and Dom Paulo

?      Thon Taddeo's scientific collegium, funded by the warlike Hannegan – shades of the Manhattan Project


Is this inevitable? Will science always serve power and conflict?

  • The events are bookended by nuclear war
  • Neither infinite power nor infinite knowledge can bestow infinite love (234)
  • The forbidden fruit of knowledge...



  • Immaculate conception / Adam's rib
  • A different order of creation?
  • Innocent of Original Sin
  • Mutation tied to immaculate conception




The influence of the Underground in post-apocalyptic fiction


Portrayed as a place of safety in post-nuclear tales – but it's possibly an illusory safety. Examples: Fallout, A Boy and his Dog


Simplification – hostility to knowledge and science, which are blamed for the destruction of the world

Knowledge is buried in underground vaults to preserve it – much like the fallout shelters intended to preserve people through the destruction


Conflict between Dom Paulo and Thon Taddeo – scientific/secular vs. religious/spiritual knowledge, and the uses to which it is put

  • Paulo sees himself as a bridge between the two, but ultimately fails to win over the thon
  • He fears Thon Taddeo wants credit for original discoveries – the sin of pride

?      His theory of homo novus – free of the sins of past humanity


Should the knowledge remain buried or should it be used? It is both dangerous and useful

Upper world and lower world separated – isolation creates either utopia or dystopia


Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky

  • Recent post-apocalyptic fiction
  • Survivors live in the Moscow metro system
  • fractured society, based on old and poorly understood documents
  • Threatened by mutants and darkness
  • Metro system as either an organism or the source of a new species
  • The same obsession with knowledge: knowledge = light

?      potential to benefit or destory

?      knowledge as a mythical power, as in Canticle for Leibowitz


In order to progress (toward either utopia or dystopia), humans need to have consistent access to education as well as basic survival needs


Isolation separates one from responsibility


The fallout shelter in the first chapter – Emma was found in the reserve chamber – the people inside only died more slowly.



The Poet's sacrifice

  • Sense of humanity – his conscience is not, after all, “removable”
  • (Eye lets him perceive light – ironic that it is a Hannegan relic)


The argument against suicide or “mercy killing”

  • Recapitulates the conflict between scientific and spiritual
  • Abbot: Endurance of pain and continuance of love is pleasing to God
  • Doctor: “Pain is the only evil I know”
  • Does the immorality lie in the fact that these procedures were ever developed? Not just the doctrinal reality
  • Offers a false comfort – the anonymous, sickly-sweet Christ statue, mercy without moral identity


The Wandering Jew

  • Thematic connection to Leibowitz himself – mistaken for him in his first appearance, a “distant cousin” (both Jewish)
  • The statue's smile and his are the same – Leibowitz's dark amusement about the inevitability of the cycle
  • Lazarus?
  • Appears in all three
  • The unreadable sign – apparently part of a Hebrew morning prayer




APRIL 4, 2016


Yves Tanguy, Jours de Lenteur – an important image

  • Space with no horizon (or pseudo-horizon), no vanishing point
  • Shadowed foreground
  • Sea? Sky? Desert?
  • Strange bio-mechanical constructions – remnant? Adapted to new purpose?


J. G. Ballard

  • Born in Shanghai, 1930, lived under brutal Japanese occupation

?      This contributed to his later novel, Empire of the Sun

?      (also images we see in The Drought and his other works)

  • Went to Cambridge afterward – intended to be a psychiatrist, became an s.f. novelist instead

?      Wrote Wind from Nowhere 1961

?      The Drowned World 1962

?      The Burning World 1964 (later The Drought)

?      The Crystal World 1966

  • These are his “apocalyptic” works – all work out a premise to its conclusion.
  • His “brutalist” period began in 1971 with The Atrocity Exhibition

?      example: “Why I Want To Fuck Ronald Reagan”

?      Crash

?      Concrete Island

  • Then “near future” – violence of privileged and corporate enclaves
  • Empire of the Sun is relatively late


Charles Ransom

  • A classic Ballard protagonist
  • Dissociated in some way from his world
  • Lives in his own head
  • Passive and detached from people around him, abandoning people with very little thought

?      He does seem to care about Philip Jordan in the first part

  • Ransom feels at home in the drought, somehow – though he's not especially well prepared for it
  • Mentally or emotionally damaged in some way (Danner suggests) similar to many of his protagonists


The other characters are like strange, symbolic figures in a play

Many seem like projections of Ransom's own personality



  • Hydrocephaly “water on the brain” / brachycephaly
  • Red-haired (association with fire?). Like Catherine.
  • “Idiot--” but actually very intelligent
  • Almost a doubling of Ransom

?      At the opening, he clearly enjoys the drought (much like Ransom, though Ransom calls him “warped”)

?      Quilter stays – as Ransom wants to – and Ransom goes (after meeting Lomax and Miranda) before coming back

?      His return is overdetermined (the other characters predict it) – is there something mythical about it?

?      Ransom eventually comes under Quilter's sway

  • Tonsured in the end – stilts – regalia – saint or monk connotations
  • Becomes a kind of tribal chief



  • “White-haired witch,” sinister and capricious lamia figure
  • eventually becomes both grotesque mother and cannibal


Why does Charles Ransom return?

  • Mythical/magical aspects – Lomax's prophecy
  • His identity is tied into the world of Hamilton
  • He's an unpredictable and inexplicable POV character in some ways



  • internal states are in harmony with external description
  • (possible influence of Heart of Darkness)


The drought is doing something to time.


Does Lomax need to die?

  • Drowned in the earth
  • Represents the last remnants of old society
  • But also – scapegoated – the rain comes back almost immediately afterward


SIDEBAR: Research paper

  • Spend a day in the library
  • Multiple sources
  • If you're not citing literary criticism, at least read some, to get a sense of what they're saying about the text
  • But maintain the freshness of your view


In addition to Shakespeare, The Waste Land looms over this novel

  • Physical sterility of the land and emotional sterility of the characters
  • Androgyny – Tiresias



APRIL 11, 2016


On Writing:

  • Should be able to write a shitty draft, beginning to end, then edit
  • Read Politics and the English Language by George Orwell (this is an assignment)

?      avoid failures to be specific

  • Focus on the words on the page of the books (but don't ignore historical context, Danner is fairly flexible)
  • optional: Elements of Style, Strunk & White



Philip K(indred) Dick

  • Born in Chicago in 1928
  • attended Berkeley High with fellow SF author Ursula K LeGuin (class of '47)
  • attended UC Berkeley for four months (dropped out due to ongoing anxiety problems)
  • Philosophical beliefs:

?      “acosmic pantheist,” universe exists only as an extension of God

?      the world may not be real and there is no way to confirm if it is

?      human existence is defined by their internal perception which may not correspond with the external reality

?      most of his writings were inspired by what he described as “a visitation of God”

  • Wrote 44 novels and 120 short stories

?      published for the first time in 1952

?      extremely prolific

?      always in need of money

  • Explored altered states of consciousness with drugs (addicted throughout life)
  • May have been schizophrenic
  • Married 5 times
  • Died 1982


Gnosticism (which fascinated PKD)

  • a kind of demon or god created the world
  • moments of religious apperception are the “true god” breaking through the “false god”
  • different realities coexisting at the same time (relevant to High Castle)


Counterfactual history

  • Rather than projecting into the future, alters the past and presents an alternative presents
  • The catalyzing event is an attempted assassination of FDR, 1933, which succeeds in High Castle's timeline
  • United States is conquered and divided into various states, some occupied, some not (divided America rather than divided Germany as it was in the historical timeline)

?      Reich-occupied territory in the East

?      South (independent, re-established slave society, allied with Reich)

?      Pacific States of America (Japanese suzerainty)

?      Rocky Mountain States (buffer zone)

  • Europe is conquered by Germany and Italy (to a lesser extent)
  • Mediterranean is drained for farmland
  • Russia is pushed back to Central Asia
  • African population has been exterminated
  • Technology is higher in some areas (rocketry) and lower in others


How many alternative realities?

  • Tagomi wanders into something closer to ours! Embarcadero Freeway

?      After his contemplation of the jewelry

  • The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is not our reality, though Germany and Japan lost
  • Wegener imagines other dimensions


Historicity of American artifacts

  • What makes something valuable?
  • What makes it genuine? (What makes something “real,” like a reality?)
  • Reflects what happened to the Native Americans
  • Evolution of Frank Frink towards making genuine contemporary original art – this is the closest thing to a “Resistance” that exists
  • The only positive, forward-looking idea of the book
  • Occupation and what it does to the human being

?      Childan's oscillation between admiration and hatred

?      diction reflects the way characters have to censor themselves


Racial ideology of the Nazis casts a long shadow over the world, even beyond the Reich


Clipped diction of Japanese characters – and Childan as well


Long meditations on the Nazis' madness

  • They want to be the agents of history
  • They see all things in the abstract
  • Lust for destruction – to be like God


I Ching

  • Structures the decisions of most of the characters
  • Foreshadows the characters' lives – fictional device
  • The author within the book, Hawthorne, used it to write Grasshopper Lies Heavy
  • Dick himself used it while writing


Tremendous economy of plot


APRIL 18, 2016


Politics and the English Language

  • Use your own words – no tired phrases
  • Clarity of argument
  • Specificity
  • Avoid jargon


Historical context

  • Series of mid-70s scandals about the conditions of mental hospitals (eg Willa Brooks)
  • Set in 1976

?      Luciente's time, 2137

  • Many policies of both the Left and the Right in America today came out of mid-1970s

?      Right after Roe v. Wade

?      Cold War (loss of Vietnam in 1975)

?      Environmentalist movement

?      Prop. 13 and the Reagan Revolution


Marge Piercy

  • Grew up in Detroit, Michigan
  • Prominent feminist voice
  • wrote 27 novels, many best sellers
  • commonly addressed anti-war, environmentalist, and feminist themes


3 different worlds, a present and two futures

  • The 1976-present (world of Connie Ramos) is dystopian

?      Violent prejudice against minorities, women, the poor, LGBT people, the mentally ill

?      Cumulative – Connie's race, poverty, and gender are all used against her to institutionalize her

?      The sterilization of Hispanic women by hospitals was common in the mid-1970s





Consuela Ramos: represents underrepresented and disempowered populations in the United States

  • The ways social institutions oppress people – particularly people like Connie – are powerfully represented in this novel

?      working class women

?      single mothers

?      victims of domestic violence

?      women of color


The struggle of being bicultural – approval of the family vs. opportunity afforded by the United States (even if it's a false hope)


Colonization even of language and bodies – Luis/”Lewis” and Consuelo/”Connie”

(contrast with the future society where people choose their names at every stage of life)


Luciente: reclaiming autonomy over the body and sexuality in the utopian future society

  • Androgynous – (bisexual?) woman who moves with the confident body language of a man, confusing Consuela at first


Sharp contrasts between Age of Greed & Waste (1970s NY) and post-feminist utopia (2137 Mattapoisett)

  • Repressed sexuality, homophobia, medicalization vs. “free love,” bottle babies, and gender-neutral pronouns
  • Industrial capitalist hierarchy vs. agrarian communal anarcho-socialism
  • Science and medicine controlled by government and corporations vs. “holistic” “natural” approach to health and science
  • Omnipresent pollution and waste vs. sustainability ethics



Problems of utopia

  • Absence of pregnancy – Luciente argues it is necessary for equality of male and female

?      Sinister parallel with Connie's hysterectomy

?      one of the most controversial sections of the utopia

?      (Piercy's 2016 introduction says she wanted to include one part where women could give live birth if they wanted to)

  • “No one wants to stand guard over another”

?      2-time offenders are killed – not because it's right, but because it's convenient

?      Violence of radical politics

?      Is Consuela's poisoning of the doctors portrayed as liberating? A possible inflection point?





Life in a Neoliberal World Order


Neoliberal capitalist model: private property, voluntary cooperation, non-coercion – no “society,” only voluntary collections of individuals – “social responsibility” of firms is a bad joke, according to Milton Friedman


according to such authorities as Noam Chomsky and Judith Butler, neoliberalism actually depends on large pools of disposable labor without any personal power and a handful of private interests who have all the power and influence.


Woman on the Edge of Time's portrayal of neoliberal capitalism is far more like the second model than the first.

  • Oppression and objectification of women
  • Cycle of poverty
  • Destruction of the body
  • Environmental degradation (negative externalities)
  • Materialism
  • Destruction of cultural identity
  • Mental illness

?      the dehumanization of Rockover is the polar opposite of everything that Luciente's utopia values


Alternate vision: the Soviet model

  • Rapid economic growth
  • Ideological drive
  • Hierarchical control
  • Rigid centralization
  • Rationing, frequent shortages
  • Maximum use of resources
  • Incentives to meet plans
  • Reliance on forced labor


A third vision: Woman on the Edge of Time

  • Democracy requires connection to fellow citizens.
  • Robert McCheseny on neoliberal democracy: “The net result is an atomized society of disengaged individuals who feel demoralized and socially powerless”
  • Contrast the utopia: no private property, no pollution; efficient and just allocation of scarce resources, equality, participatory political process, collective ownership of capital


Future dystopia:

  • sexual objects
  • corporatist state
  • alienation, isolation, dependence on drugs


Per Stiglitz and Butler, neoliberalism is in crisis



Per Danner, Piercy's vision owes more to the early 19th-century utopian socialists than to Marx


Turning point/”inflection point”: Connie kills the doctors developing a system of mind control – though this is left ambiguous, the structure of the book is set up that way

  • The dystopia is a disgusting, exaggerated version of the present as portrayed through the mental hospital
  • Utopia is a blend of 19th-century ideas and '70s feminism, anti-colonialism, environmentalism
  • Does Connie actually stop the dystopia?
  • (This operation harkens back to We)


Is it “all in her head” or is it real time travel?

  • Ambiguous – but the utopia/dystopia seem too fleshed out to be real
  • However, the vision of the doctors in the war seems to argue for it all being imagined
  • Even if it is a delusion, perhaps her final action makes sense or is admirable – the delusion empowers her somehow
  • It may be possible that she is both hallucinating and traveling into the future


There is a 30-Year War that overthrows the old order – not filled in, just hinted at

We also never find out about the “project” for time travel



APRIL 25, 2016


Side note: paginate your paper


“Should and Will Guantanamo Close” North Gate Hall, 4pm-6:30pm on Friday


my passage: 73-74




Political context of The Handmaid's Tale


Women's rights gains in the '70s and '60s

  • Sexual revolution begins in the 60s
  • Birth control pill approved by FDA in 1960 and becomes increasingly available over the next 10 years
  • 1972, Equal Rights Amendment is adopted by Congress pending ratification
  • Title IX adopted, mandating educational equality
  • Proliferation of media about sexuality (questionable benefit?)
  • Roe v. Wade (1973)

Offred's mother is seen marching in one of the feminist protests of this era, in an old film


--and their reductions in the late '70s and '80s during the backlash

  • Religious fundamentalist counter-response
  • Conflation of ERA with Roe v. Wade, destruction of family values

Taken to a dark extreme in Gilead



  • Economic losses

?      increase of low-income jobs, decrease in high-paying jobs

  • Political losses

?      disproportionate cuts in federal spending on programs serving women

?      bills to fund domestic violence shelters defeated

?      Bombings of abortion clinics

?      Medicaid stops funding abortion, states impose restrictions

?      Equal Rights Amendment fails, 1982


In the novel

  • '80s politics: infantilizing women, glorifying the fetus and pregnancy

?      rights and freedom of the fetus

?      reflected in outright worship of pregnant body in Handmaid's Tale

  • Anti-feminist women like Phyllis Schlafly

?      stood for traditional family structure – woman's right to be in the home as a wife and mother

?      (reflected in Serena Joy and the Aunts)

  • Another aspect of infantilization: the Gilead regime keeps them safe

?      victim-blaming

  • Twisted fulfillment of the “women's culture” – resentment, envy, and hierarchy, deliberately cultivated to prevent uprising


Strained relationship between Offred and her mother reflects generation gap in women's movement


Centralization of power (digital money) allows the Sons of Jacob to pull off their coup


Division of the feminist movement over sex issues (“Sex Wars” of the 80s) is shown in the book with allusions to “porn riots” and sex-negative ideas twisted into Gilead ideology – alliance of anti-porn feminists with conservatives


Contemporary with Iranian Revolution and the reactionary religious oppression of women that took place afterward. In deliberate dialogue (see “Historical Notes”)


The novel is rooted in the fear and outrage against the 80s counterrevolution

  • A threat to America's notion of “Whig history” or a narrative of progress
  • Satiric exaggeration emphasizes the shock of rights coming under threat


Book began in West Berlin – the barbed-wire wall and the jackbooted Stalinist regime get in there as well


“Nations never build radical forms of government on foundations that aren't there already.”

  • Atwood considered the “deep foundation of the US” to be the “heavy-handed theocracy” of 17th-century Puritan New England
  • Book takes place in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the nearby university is Harvard
  • She did “not include anything that human beings had not already done” in her search for realism

?      Children being taken by the regime in Argentina's “Dirty War”

  • In clear conversation with 1984, Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451
  • “Fascination with totalitarian governments and how they form, how they operate”

?      Utopian idealism

?      Pride in safe streets

?      One day things will be better, there will be enough

?      Behind-the-scenes privileges for those with power


Handmaids come from Biblical precedent

  • Hagar & Sarai, Genesis 16
  • (and other instances in the Old Testament)


In Gilead, women are divided


  • Wives (top of the heap) are dressed in blue – color of the Virgin Mary
  • Aunts (sort of off to the side) – Brown
  • Handmaids – Red, color of fertility & blood
  • Marthas – green, servant class – named after Martha brother of Lazarus
  • Econowives – striped, for men who can't afford Marthas or handmaids
  • Children white, Salvagers black


  • Jezebels (named after queen of Samaria, married to King Ahab, worshiper of Baal, “loose woman”) – the prostitutes of the secret club – wear costumes
  • Unwomen – elderly, infertile, intractable – sent to the Colonies to die


Colors indicate function

Essentialism – people are reduced to functions (particularly women)

Reproduction determines women's lives absolutely


Men's ranks

  • Eyes – the secret police
  • Commanders
  • Angels (soldiers)
  • Guardians (lowest caste, servants/guards)

We get fewer glimpses of men


Government is overthrown by a terrorist attack decapitating D.C.


An interesting conversation between Woman on the Edge of Time and The Handmaid's Tale

  • Edge has a present dystopia, a future utopia, and a future dystopia
  • Tale is purely a future dystopia – a dramatic difference
  • Each centered on an absent or stolen child

?      Disruption of life by extreme totalitarian power

?      Reproductive freedom

?      Marked as a female dystopia thereby


Historical Notes: critical language distances people from the facts of history and texts

critique of academia

Story was assembled by male historians

(also no escape from patriarchy/dystopia – Margaret Atwood thinks everything is terrible forever)


(However, Offred asserts significant control over her own narrative)


Men in this novel are also harming themselves

  • The Commander's detachment and loneliness


Contrast with the utopia in Edge, where all are free to find fulfillment


The novel refuses us answers


Offred = “of Fred” = “off Red?”


MAY 2, 2016

The Road is distinct from the other novels in this course

  • There is no “why” for the destruction of the world – it's left ambiguous

?      written in 2006, well after the fall of the Soviet Union; the overwhelming threat of nuclear annihilation was no longer an everyday concern

?      destruction of the planet, however, is informed by modern concerns about climate change

  • Not so much about the setting as the two characters
  • This is not a satire. Not a commentary on/critique of the present in a knowable way.

?      It has its own philosophical concerns including:

?      Theodicy, the problem of evil

?      Redemptive power of love

·      the love of father and son taken as parable of Love Itself

·      even in a world as grim and empty as you could possibly conceive, love drives us forward into the future


The emptiness of the world is reflected even in the language, pared-down, even of punctuation


Allegory of the Cave:

  • “carrying the fire” – remembering a society of which there is nothing material left




The penguin moving without being wound up

  • Inanimate made animate – by the divine?
  • The winder not turning – maybe there is no “animator,” no “Watchmaker,” or maybe the design is faulty.
  • “What are our long term goals?” Is there a purpose?


March of the Penguins – travel through the hostile wilderness with a child?


Perhaps also commentary on consumerist culture? (might be a stretch)

  • Penguin was briefly a Happy Meal toy
  • No agriculture – looting old grocery stores, using a shopping cart
  • “Shoppers in the commissaries of hell”
  • Cannibalism

Counterpoint: without the canned food nobody would have survived.


Other Nightmarish Beasts

  • The transparent cave thing
  • “Siren worlds,” the man's dead wife
  • Both are spookily white as in “The Whiteness of the Whale”
  • the creature in Yeats's Second Coming


“like wind-up toys” – humans treated as animals


Commentary on Naturalism

  • We are not the masters of nature – all are on the brink of death


The boy is hope for the future – he embodies a possible future

  • Innate goodness, despite the fact he's a product of the destroyed world
  • Christ imagery

?      his encounter with Elijah (who either doesn't recognize him or doesn't care)

?      Chalice/anointment

?      The cadence of his prose is Biblical

  • That goodness could be broken or destroyed – must be protected




Cormac McCarthy

  • Born Rhode Island, July 20, 1933
  • Served in USAF for 4 years
  • Written about (?) 10 novels, some plays and short fiction
  • 4 novels have been made into feature films
  • His favorite novel is Moby Dick (unsurprising)
  • Fairly quiet and reclusive


First TV interview was with Oprah about this book


Morality (in The Walking Dead and The Road)

  • Is it possible to hold onto the morals of a world that no longer exists? Much less pass them on to a child?

?      “Are we still the good guys?”

  • Disintegration of laws, ideals, and morals in the face of apocalypse (protagonists of the show and the book)
  • New rules for a new world – only survival and vigilance


Compassion vs. Safety


Violence (portrayed in a matter-of-fact manner, mainly “offscreen” so to speak)


Problems of love and spirituality

  • The son: “if he is not the word of god god never spoke”
  • The man likely does not believe in God but his love for the boy keeps him going



Lex talionis, an eye for an eye, practicality, vs. the boy's almost unconditional compassion

Relationship of kinship vs. relationship of universal morality


What does “I am the one” mean?

The son has to worry about everything because if anyone's going to “carry the fire” it's him – he'll outlive his father

Is there a religious component? God/Messiah figure


The ending

  • The boy finally encounters people who help him – more “good guys” – after the father dies

?      Might be the same people who shot him in the leg? Nothing to indicate it except propinquity

  • “He” becomes the boy
  • Woman: “She would talk to him sometimes about God” – only shift from immediate present to future imperfect
  • What are the trout doing there? Are they a positive image or a further irreversible destruction of the world?

?      Like a story the man could have told the boy

?      “A thing which could not be put back”

?      nature will go on – even in millions of years

?      It comes after a very positive ending – rebirth

?      or acceptance that there's no room for these stories in this world anymore?


MAY 9, 2016

Papers – probably done by the 16th or 17th, definitely available by the 18th

in Danner's mailbox or the English department office

after the 19th, can be retrieved at North Gate Hall

or give him your address to be mailed to



  • denotes a group of people, a period of history, and an area of land where they operated,  in Russian history under Ivan the Terrible
  • Ivan became paranoid about the nobility and essentially began a war against them. Tortured and killed.
  • Oprichniki were a kind of Praetorian Guard/political police assembled by the tsar


Power as a zero-sum game – even those with the most power must fear the autocrat.


In Day of the Oprichnik, absolute power enforced by anarchic terror – no one is safe. An unpredictable totalitarianism.


This novel returns to the idea of dystopia as satire

  • It's impossible not to see Putin's Russia echoed in various places here

?      Movement against oligarchs by the government, to overthrow the rich and powerful when they challenge Putin politically

?      Polonium poisoning – essentially a gradual and painful public execution

?      Ban on swearing, cultural conservatism

?      The regime has killed a lot of journalists

  • The point is that the government is beyond embarrassment


Vladimir Sorokin is the “bad boy” dissident of contemporary Russian literature

  • Enjoys shocking material – rhetoric of pornography used for satire
  • Young Putin movement threw his books into a large model toilet
  • Works were banned during the Soviet era, but in 2001 received the Andrei Bely prize


What is Sorokin's Russia?

  • Tremendously isolationist, wall across Europe
  • Extractive (gas) economy, getting all their manufactured goods from China

?      Cultural influence from China, many Chinese immigrants

  • Books and media are censored – state propaganda is common
  • Consumer economy is limited
  • Russian Orthodox Church has great influence and power
  • New tsar, New Rus
  • State violence against law-breakers is common and brutal
  • Bizarre yet practical approach to drug legalization
  • One law for the elite, another for the rest


The work takes place in a single day

  • Riff on Solzhenitsyn's famous work, Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich


Signs of the oprichnina – dog's head and broom (taken from the originals – sniffing out treason and sweeping enemies away), plus clapperless bell and gold forelock


Prose is full of religious exaltation, frequently ironic when they're assaulting and destroying

Also nationalism, linked to religion – “Holy Russia”

Sex and violence mixed together




What the fuck is this book's deal???


Juxtaposition between religious piety and extreme violence

  • Obscenity ban, but the elite is full of rapists and murderers
  • Why the rapes? Maximum unpredictability, defilement, monopoly on violence, ritualized destruction
  • Complicity in atrocity, binding together. Morality is reposed in the tsar, no other moral code can be allowed to survive.

To what degree can you violate the moral order to maintain something that's (supposedly) good for everyone? Anything is “right” to keep the tsar safe and in power.


Italics identify new slang “cardiac, white, greased”


Full of lyrics and poems


Poetry and lyrical beauty of the prose contrasts with the horrifying subject matter


No “plot” as such – just a day in the life

  • Violence and corruption destroys linear, normative experience
  • Just maintenance of a status quo, no change
  • All days in the life are the same


Kitschy view of Russian history



He sees the fortune-teller to arrange an affair for the tsarina

also she burns the great works of Russian literature


Komiaga's white stallion dream

  • Slavic mythology? Oracular horse of a fertility/war deity
  • Possibly also a sense of loss – life has been sacrificed to his job and belief system

?      oprichnina also were purged at the end of that period



Dystopia is a valuable predictive tool as well as satire, not to mention a way of exploring what is most precious about the moral order

© 2021 Mark Danner