Dystopia reconsidered: from post-apocalyse to pre-apocalypse

Twitter feeds and mainstream media home pages have started to read like teasers for the latest post-apocalyptic Netflix series. No wonder there is a glut of fiction with themes of disruption, chaos and war brought on by unruly, destructive weather, fires and flooding; epidemics; economic collapse; civil wars; displaced populations; oppression; or [fill in the blank]. To explain this trend, as well as its appeal, literary critics have had to come up with some glib theories.

The latest comes from Sam Sacks, writing in the Wall Street Journal’s “Books” section for April 8-9, 2017. He assures readers that “vogues for dystopian literature are usually a sign of national health.” As evidence, he cites the mid-20th-century anxiety about nuclear weapons and the Cold War that produced works like “On the Beach,” and says “they were also the fruits of widespread prosperity.” He wraps up his argument with two neat aphorisms:

“The more people have, the more frightened they are of losing it all.”
“These novels are what happens when a comfortable culture has a midlife crisis.”

This is a shallow, unimaginative diagnosis. It’s like a doctor recommending NyQuil as a treatment for lung cancer. Continue reading

Between the devil and the Deepwater Horizon

“Jose Arcadio Buendia dreamed that night that right there a noisy city with houses having mirror walls rose up. He asked what city it was and they answered him with a name that he had never heard, that had no meaning at all, but that had a supernatural echo in his dream: Macondo.” ~ Gabriel Barcia Marquez, “One Hundred Years of Solitude”

Today is the 7th anniversary of the inferno that destroyed the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig and unleashed the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. In an interesting coincidence, a BP well on Alaska’s North Slope leaked oil and vented natural gas for four days last weekend, until the “Unified Command achieved source control and killed the well.” (Don’t you just love the military language of oil drilling?)

Here are a few facts about the Deepwater spill taken from Wikipedia, that—for me, at least—do little to put it in proper perspective: Continue reading