Series and Systems

Russian and American Dystopian Satires of the Cold War

in Critical Survey
Derek Maus State University of New York at Potsdam

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One of most striking aspects of literature written during the Cold War is the prevalence of dystopian and/or anti-utopian works. As the prefixes of both terms imply, the genres that attempt to discredit utopias have generally been perceived in opposition to their model texts, i.e., utopias posit an ideal society, whereas dystopias posit a terrible society resulting from specific utopian premises. Although numerous contemporary critics have explained the relationship between utopia and dystopia in terms that transcend such straightforward divisions, the dystopian fiction of the Cold War suggests that there is still some utility in considering (though not adopting) the more simplistic definition, both because utopian language generally contains a simple good/bad logical dichotomy and because the culture and politics of both the Soviet Union and the United States during this period frequently relied on such simple binary utopian sentiment. In my view, the prevalence of dystopian and anti-utopian sentiment in Russian and American fiction is a parodic-satirical response intended to subvert the rampant utopian mindsets of both the superpowers during the Cold War. The authors of the works examined here do not support either side in this ideological struggle, but rather attempt to invalidate the conflict's overarching logical context.

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