Archives for posts with tag: Concrete Utopia

In September 2021, I will be presenting a ‘follow-on’ chapter to my book ‘Beyond Tomorrow’ at the Association of German Studies conference in Swansea and (as keynote) at the Gesellschaft für Fantastikforschung conference:

https://anglistik1.phil-fak.uni-koeln.de/abteilungen-lehrende/literaturwissenschaft/juniorprofessur-amerikanistik-prof-rauscher/events/gff-conference-speculative-fiction-and-ethics-sept-23-25-2021

German SF in the 21st century tends to see the dystopian form as the ideal vehicle to explore the social and psychological consequences of scientific and technological progress. There is no point in denying that the ‘dystopian turn’ reflects the mood of our time, and that the first two decades of the new millennium have given rise to fears and misgivings about increasingly porous boundaries, conceptual paradigm shifts, and persistent global challenges that make our scientific and technological advances feel hollow. At the same time, one may wonder whether the endless depiction of depressing futures in recent SF may not in fact yield diminishing returns in terms of the intended warning function and instead convince its audiences to give up hope altogether. In my talk I will look at recent German SF novels (Thomas von Steinaecker’s Die Verteidigung des Paradieses and Sibylle Berg’s GRM: Brainfuck), to analyze how they establish their dystopian world­view. But I will also be looking at the green shoots of positive visions (Tom Hillenbrand’s Qube, Andreas Brandhorst’s Die Eskalation, Judith and Christian Vogt’s Wasteland, and Andreas Eschbach’s Eines Menschen Flügel). These give us glimpses of “concrete utopias” even as they contemplate the destructive impact of human activity on our planet. I argue that these latter works demonstrate a radical rethinking of the purpose of writing SF in the 21st century, offering a “progressive fantastic”, and a new hope.

Between Bauhaus and Bügeleisen: The Iconic Style of Raumpatrouille (1966) The German television SF series Raumpatrouille (Space Patrol) has long gained cult status, in German-speaking countries it enjoys a similar popularity as the original Star Trek series which was first broadcast in the same year. Much has been made of Raumpatrouille’s alleged militaristic and xenophobic ideology by critics who saw in it an awkward melange of undigested Prussian and Nazi jingoism and Cold War paranoia. What hasn’t been widely understood (or acknowledged) was that the series sought to subvert authoritarian traditions by means of humour and a positive outlook. In Raumpatrouille’s alternative world in the year 3000, people are still recognisably human. Individualism and conformism continue to be at odds. While nation states have been abolished, strict hierarchies remain in (world) government and the military. Here, individualism is suppressed, even though, and this has been ignored by critics and researchers so far, insubordination saves the day in each episode. Indeed, the series communicated very different messages: a vision of a world where mankind has overcome barriers between genders and between nation states. This concrete Utopia is evoked in the introductory voiceover in each episode, but finds its main expression in the series’ distinctive visual style. This style is futuristic and functional, reflecting a desire amongst the younger generation and the cultural elites to escape the sense of claustrophobia pervading the post-war era and the ‘no experiments’ attitude of the West German government. The use of modern materials in the sets suggests a deliberate break with tradition, and a conscious homage to Bauhaus clarity and transparency. Technology is the means by which unheard-of things are done in this imagined future, be it the ability to live at the bottom of the sea, or the routine task of travelling amongst the stars. Of particular interest in this essay are the innovative solutions the series’ set designers came up with to translate the technological revolution of the 1960s, which in turn heralded a much broader change in mentality, into a future setting. The incorporation of the latest industrial design and technology into an imagined alternative world, just months before the cultural and political revolutions of 1967/68 transformed the world for real, indicates a rare moment of confidence. in: Ricarda Vidal / Ingo Cornils (eds.), Alternative Worlds. Blue-Sky Thinking since 1900, Oxford: Peter Lang 2015, pp.283-302

In an attempt to counteract the doom and gloom of the economic crisis and the politicians’ overused dictum that ‘there is no alternative’, this interdisciplinary collection presents a number of alternative worlds which were thought up over the course of the last century. While change at macro-level was the focus of most of the ideological struggles in the 20th century, the real impetus for change came from the blue-sky thinking of scientists, engineers, architects, sociologists, planners, and above all, writers, who imagined alternatives to the status quo. Following a roughly chronological order from the turn of the 19th century to the present, the book  explores  the dreams, plans and hopes, but also the nightmares and fears reflected in utopian thinking in the Western hemisphere. The alternative worlds at the focus of the individual essays can each be seen as crucial to the history of the past one hundred years. While each reflects its particular moment in time, they also inform historical developments in a wider sense and continue to resonate in present culture. Instead of presenting mere mind games, building and the concrete realisation of the dream are crucial to all of them – whether that means the restructuring of the earth itself, the construction of the perfect city, the creation of an alternative society on Earth or on Mars, or the physical preservation of youth. The tension of dream and reality, of fact and fiction, which characterises all of these utopias is also represented in the interdisciplinarity of the volume which brings together contributions from the sciences and the arts.

Ricarda Vidal / Ingo Cornils (eds.) Alternative Worlds. Blue-Sky Thinking since 1900, Oxford: Peter Lang, 2014

The German television SF series Raumpatrouille (Space Patrol) has long gained cult status, in German-speaking countries it enjoys a similar popularity as the original Star Trek series which was first broadcast in the same year. Much has been made of Raumpatrouille’s alleged militaristic and xenophobic ideology by critics who saw in it an awkward melange of undigested Prussian and Nazi jingoism and Cold War paranoia. What hasn’t been widely understood (or acknowledged) was that the series sought to subvert authoritarian traditions by means of humour and a positive outlook.
In Raumpatrouille’s alternative world in the year 3000, people are still recognisably human. Individualism and conformism continue to be at odds. While nation states have been abolished, strict hierarchies remain in (world) government and the military. Here, individualism is suppressed, even though, and this has been ignored by critics and researchers so far, insubordination saves the day in each episode.
Indeed, the series communicated very different messages: a vision of a world where mankind has overcome barriers between genders and between nation states. This concrete Utopia is evoked in the introductory voiceover in each episode, but finds its main expression in the series’ distinctive visual style.
This style is futuristic and functional, reflecting a desire amongst the younger generation and the cultural elites to escape the sense of claustrophobia pervading the post-war era and the ‘no experiments’ attitude of the West German government. The use of modern materials in the sets suggests a deliberate break with tradition, and a conscious homage to Bauhaus clarity and transparency.
Technology is the means by which unheard-of things are done in this imagined future, be it the ability to live at the bottom of the sea, or the routine task of travelling amongst the stars. Of particular interest in this essay are the innovative solutions the series’ set designers came up with to translate the technological revolution of the 1960s, which in turn heralded a much broader change in mentality, into a future setting. The incorporation of the latest industrial design and technology into an imagined alternative world, just months before the cultural and political revolutions of 1967/68 transformed the world for real, indicates a rare moment of confidence.

forthcoming, in: Ricarda Vidal / Ingo Cornils (eds.), Alternative Worlds. Blue-Sky Thinking since 1900