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All posts tagged history

Climate change is a pressing issue of our time, if not the single most pressing one. It is easy to ignore because it is creeping up on us slowly, progressively. The primary propagators of this problem, large firms and governments, choose profits over our own well-being. The secondary issue is educating people about global warming. This is hard since society has no real way to relate to it today.  This is where the media comes into play. TV shows, movies, and books give their audience a means to relate to the issues they discuss. When We Wake just does that with climate change.

The reader is plopped into a dystopian Australia, on an Earth where global warming has run rampant. Where there used to be land, there is now an ocean. The gaping hole in the ozone layer does not filter the sun’s rays, so people live underground. Meat has become a luxury good, since cattle produce harmful greenhouse gases. Coastal Sydney has been swallowed by the Pacific Ocean These are all projections for our own world. At this rate, in fifty years, this will be planet Earth.

But the climate change doesn’t just pertain to temperatures and weather patterns, but also to the political climate. A lack of regulation due to international competition has led to distrust amongst the world’s nations which means tighter border controls, and a rise in racism. Unfortunately, early traces of this can already be seen today. Flagship nations such as the USA, Russia, and China are ignoring climate regulation in fear of falling behind the others on a competitive level. Brazil and Australia are already falling behind the Paris Agreement, and President Trump is debating withdrawing the USA from the agreement altogether. It is easy to see how such “competition” could lead to the level of political pressure present in When We Wake.

While I was aware of all the issues and projections of climate change, When We Wake is the book that made it feel real. The world was immersive and believable and I believe it is an eye opener to anyone, no matter how well versed they are on the topic of global warming.

Works Cited

Healey, Karen. When We Wake. Auckland, N.Z., Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind, 2015

One of the sources I used for my paper was the book Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. Harari writes in an easy to read style that portrays complex ideas in way that anyone can understand, and bolsters them with fun anecdotes and examples. This book is about how human society has developed since the beginning of the Cognitive Revolution and is extremely well researched.

Chapters 9 and 11 deal with the development of human societies, and Harari shows that throughout history there is an overall trend toward unity. However this unity comes at a cost. Often, it is achieved through imperialism, and the way a singular culture is developed within an empire is by eradicating or absorbing elements of it to fit the empire’s needs. This can be seen with Roman empire. They borrowed cultural elements, such as the gods from the Greeks, and eradicated many others, such as languages or other religions. Chapter 8 shows how imagined orders, more commonly known as social constructs, create divides in society that are often unfair. Some of these constructs include racism, sexism, and classism.

The way in which the trend toward cultural unity has been created throughout history can lend us some insight into how dystopias are formed from other societies. Coupled with Harari’s imagined orders from Chapter 8 it is easy to see how empires and societies can fall into a dystopia. It also begs the question, are we living in a dystopian country? Or a dystopian world? Is it only a dystopia for certain groups? How do we classify our society?

These are very complicated questions with very complicated answers. Based on what we know about the duality of dystopian literature, the idea of utopia versus dystopia, it is impossible that there will be a consensus on the answer to these questions, and highly unlikely that there will ever be a relatively agreed upon answer. Sapiens, though it cannot answer these questions, lends us insight into why things are the way they are in the world and how they came to be whether we like the way they are or not.

Below is the author himself, Yuval Noah Harari, giving a brief summary of a few key points Sapiens.

Works Cited

Harari, Yuval Noah. Sapiens. HarperCollins, 2015.

Undeniably, failure is unwanted, prompting emotions that include disappointment, defeat, and destruction; however, despite the magnitude of failures plaguing utopian implementations both inside and outside of literature, the genre continues to live on. Utopian creation not only exists in spite of these failures, but thrives off of them. naturally, this is an odd concept, where failure, particularly historical failures, encourages utopian thought, and actually makes it seem more plausible. In response to this, I aim to answer the overarching question of: Without history proving human failure in properly organizing society, would utopian literature be as realistic/probable?

Alongside analysis of many sources, the answer to this question becomes clear, resulting in my thesis: In the absence of history providing these human failures, utopian literature would not only be less rational, but it would not even exist; utopian literature utilizes history to project the past onto fictional societies, root commentary in the social conditions of the time, and supply the desire for enhanced life through failure. It can be seen, then, that failure is, in this case, beneficial. Some of the positive aspects of failure are explained by the article hyperlinked below.

http://www.ladylux.com/articles/the-positive-benefits-of-failure/

For example, in response to any kind of revolution, movement, or protest, development of radical ideas embeds itself within utopian literature, constantly reinterpreting what constitutes the “perfect society”. Through this, historical failures essentially cage in utopian thought, adding a border to constraint them within the realm of probability, via the three reasons outlined in my thesis statement. Utopian literature relies heavily on prior events, allowing the dreamer to mold the building blocks of the past together in an unfamiliar way, uncovering a new concept by way of the old. These new concepts are then inherently established by the time period, and the issues and failures that accompany it; this process can be explained as adding fuel to the fire, letting the presence of failure cause desire for change and improvement. In response to the Soviet regime, utopian dreams and thought flourished, taking all the parts of society that had gone awry and redirecting them to plan for novel ideas, including that of air flight to escape ones current situation. Air flight became of particular interest at this time since it developed into an objective that seemed reasonable, even prompting a blueprint for attachable wings, named the “Flying Tatlin”, as pictured below.

The relationship of utopian literature to history, specifically in regard to its failures, is inevitable; the past knowledge and experiences allow the human race to progress, stimulating thought and ideas for how society should, and should not, change. Due to this, utopian literature is able to deliver a broader, more believable purpose, inciting both a call for action and a call for reflection through historical comparisons.

Works Cited

Furry, Constance. “Utopian History.” Method & Theory in the Study of Religion, Vol. 20 Issue 4, 2008, pp. 385-398. EBSCO Host, web.a.ebscohost.com.

Vujosevic, Tijana. “The Flying Proletarian: Soviet Citizens at the Thresholds of Utopia.” Grey Room, Issue 59, 2015, pp. 78-101. EBSCO Host, web.a.ebscohost.com.

“Discovering the Positive Benefits of Failure.” Ladylux, 23 Mar. 2016, www. ladylux.com/articles/the-positive-benefits-of-failure.

As someone who spent most of her life planning to become an author, finishing a good dystopia (or really, any good novel) always left me with a burning question: What inspired this? The brainstorm stage behind starting a story or essay has always been my favorite part of the writing process. Specifically, after reading Lord of the Flies for the first time, I was curious as to how William Golding (pictured below) could come up with something so morbid. After doing some research, I learned that Golding served in World War II and was heavily inspired by the terrors of war for his book, and also developed a lot of life philosophies after his experience. I think it would be really interesting to develop a timeline of sorts, and “plot” the dystopian novels that were published across the years. I personally believe that “clusters” would form around important world events.

Additionally, I think it would be super interesting to ask authors (or do extensive research) about why they chose a specific sub-genre to represent their ideas. Why would one choose a fantastical dystopia over a post-apocalyptic one? This also makes me wonder if authors generally pick their characters and storyline before their sub-genre, or vice versa. Is there a different method to writing novels for dystopian writers?

Another thing I wish to understand about dystopian novels is why the YA target group is so popular. I understand this is the age group that tends to have more time to read, tweet, go to the movies etc.; but it seems unrealistic that teenagers are always leading the rebellion. I would be interested to do some quick historical research to see examples of this in real life. Maybe authors intended to motivate younger crowds to be active in their societies?

 

Overall, I hope to be able to research the true motivations behind the authors of these works. I personally believe (though, I am biased because all my favorite books are dystopias) that dystopian novels are more important to society than other fictions, and thus, more thought goes into writing them. I am particularly interested in researching historical context of the world before the publication of certain books, and perhaps components of the authors’ lives that could’ve influenced the novel.

There seems to be a common theme across utopian literature centering around the concept of interpretation, particularly pertaining to the fact that a work may be considered a utopia to one person but a dystopia to another. I find this idea fascinating, specifically with how it relates to history, both within and outside of the work. Therefore, the question I am hoping to be able to research is: Without history proving human failures in properly organizing society, would utopian literature be as realistic/probable?

It is widely understood that people relate to other people, movies, novels, etc by comparing them to their lives, through past experiences, historical events, and general knowledge about the world, developing an opinion based on this process. Due to this, many utopian novels choose to omit, or revamp, history in the minds of the characters, as if one has nothing to compare their life to, or only horrible events to compare their life to, they are likely to feel content. The Hunger Games, for example, utilizes this, as the history of the districts is characterized as a time of tragedy, war, and poorer than current conditions, quelling the ideas of rebellion and revolution in most characters, by convincing them that it could be worse, and has been.

On the other side, history can also play a part outside of the novel, as once again, people compare things to what they know to be true. Historical implementation of utopian ideals has shown the world that these societies are not merely daydreams, but are to be taken seriously; the world can, and will be pushed to, improve, whether its inhabitants like it or not. In response to this, and the horror associated with the planned societies of communism, utopian works not only took a more dystopian turn, but also took a more serious turn. In my opinion, these works are now less philosophizing and more of a call to action. The authors do not want us to simply ponder their articulations of society, but to change to reflect the issues they address. With each novel, the idea of a non-existent society with a “happy-ever after that always eludes us” develops into realistic societies with issues eerily parallel to those of the real world, as if the authors seem to have grown irritated with trying to creatively and cleverly hide their commentary (Claeys 154).

Therefore, I think the most important aspect of a utopian novel is the history, both inside of the novel and in regards to the outside world at the time it was written. Through analyzing the history, the author’s message can be clearly discovered, with no room for misinterpretation or disregard of its importance. For example, for the novel Candor by Pam Bachorz, the history within the book is cleared from the town inhabitants’ minds, leading them to accept their society how it is and not strive for change, proving that history is important for future advancement, as the best predictor of the future is the past. In addition, the time period this book was written in is the twenty-first century, lending to its focus on the control that technology and routine can have on life, along with how even perfectly-planned and organized societies do not go as planned. The commentary of this book directly relates to the importance of history, since without it, the human race would all be robots in a sense, fitting a perfect mold for how we are supposed to be, void of art, beauty, etc, and merely accepting this fate.

In lieu of this, I desire to uncover the impact history can have on the message of a novel, and the interpretation of a novel. I want to look at trends among certain time periods, and the relationship between the main commentary of the utopian novels and the main issues of real-world societies. I think it is very easy to read a utopian novel for pleasure, becoming captivated by the characters and the story, rather than to take the work at face-value for what it really was written to do, change a defective part of society.

 

Works Cited

Bachorz, Pam. Candor. Egmont USA, 2009.

 Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. NY, NY, Scholastic Press, 2008.

“The Dystopian Timeline to The Hunger Games”. Goodreads. 21 Mar 2012.

The Hunger Games. Directed by Gary Ross, Lionsgate Films, 2012.

“Utopia and Dystopia”. SlideShare. 21 Feb 2011.

In class today, we discussed the traits of the dystopian genre of fiction and identified some of the key elements required for a text to be considered dystopian. We worked off of the discussion questions you all put together via Twitter while reading the chapter.

This definition of the genre (both from the textbook and from our discussion) will be useful to you as you begin to think about how you might define “YA Dystopia” for your infographic assignments. We spent some time today talking about the infographic assignment, what it entails and how we will choose teams on Monday.

The last 20 minutes of class were reserved for participants in the study to take a survey; all students were asked to bring their laptops and work quietly for the last 20 minutes of class.

 

HOMEWORK

  1. Complete Blog Post 1 by Monday, January 23 at 11:55pm (Optional: Tweet link and description to course hashtag)
  2. Read CCUL Chapter 6 and Part 1 of The Hunger Games and LIVETWEET your reading (3-6 tweets and Discussion Question, may include responses to classmates’ tweets)
  3. View The Hunger Games film and LIVETWEET your viewing (6 tweets) (Optional: attend screening at 4pm on Friday in Hall 102)
  4. Think about the infographic assignment and which prompt you want to work on – we will choose partners on Monday