Green Utopias: Beyond Apocalypse, Progress, And Pastoral. By Utopian Studies

Green Utopias: Beyond Apocalypse, Progress, And Pastoral.

By Utopian Studies

  • Release Date: 2005-12-22
  • Genre: Religion & Spirituality

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AT THE BEGINNING OF THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY the threat of ecological breakdown is deeply embedded in our social consciousness. Although the intensity of announcements of the "environmental crisis" in the 1970s has faded and even been absorbed and normalised by the institutions of capitalist modernity, through the lens of environmentalism the future can seem an unthinkable or utterly miserable prospect. Whether framed in terms of the risk of catastrophic disasters associated with nuclear accidents like Chernobyl, or the steady decline implied by current scenarios of global climate change, it appears that things can only get worse. Environmental thought since the late 1960s has been strongly associated with prophecies of doom, apocalyptic predictions, and dystopian scenarios. However, in the last 30 years ecological philosophy has been equally concerned with recouping a better future from these unpromising materials, insisting not only that the earth can be saved but that the environmental crisis can prompt a reconceptualisation of the good life for human societies. This article focuses on these utopian attempts to find routes out of the ecological crisis and map the possibilities of better, greener futures. I begin by arguing that whilst utopian theory has begun to consider the content of ecological future visions, there has been little attention to the ways in which the reflexive and critical strategies of recent utopian narratives can make a distinctive contribution to radical ecology's social critiques and the process of imagining more environmentally cautious forms of society. I therefore look in detail at two examples of green utopian fiction to analyse how they address the question of how humans can live better with nonhuman nature in the context of contemporary Western debates about the environment. They are Ursula K. Le Guin's Always Coming Home and Kim Stanley Robinson's Pacific Edge. Specifically, I look at the ways in which these novels use strategies of genre critique and narrative reflexivity to negotiate and deconstruct three of the dominant tropes through which human social relationships with nature have been managed and imagined in modernity. I discuss the narrative of environmental apocalypse as it has been articulated in recent environmentalist and science fiction writing, and its interrogation and reconstruction in relation to themes of agency and utopian desire in Pacific Edge and Always Coming Home. And at greater length, I address the linked tropes of the domination of nature in the ideology of progressive futurism, and the regressive ideal of a pure nature and a stable, pre-modern society evoked by pastoral and Arcadian traditions. Whilst I treat apocalyptic narratives as a relatively recent development in cultural constructions of the environment, progress and the pastoral have a more enduring relationship with modernity's ambiguous conceptualisation of the natural world and an especially problematic relationship with the utopian tradition itself. Thus the complex challenge that each novel addresses to the closed binary of forward-looking progress versus the backward-looking rural idyll will be elaborated in discrete sections. I begin by examining the relationship between ecological philosophy and utopia. Utopian Theory and the Green Narrative Utopia