AGAINST UTOPIA: ARTHUR C CLARKE AND THE HETEROTOPIAN IMPULSE

ABSTRACT
In this essay I briefly set out the Marxist theories of utopianism espoused by the influential German philosopher Ernst Bloch and contrast the closing down of future possibilities inherent in Bloch’s notion of a realisable “concrete utopia” with the rejection of such perfected society by the SF writer Arthur C Clarke. In arguing that Clarke’s writing does not seek to provide the consolations of utopianism I offer an alternative source for the continued power of his visions of the future, drawing parallels between Clarke’s imaginary worlds and the of oases of possibilities that are identified by Michel Foucault as “heterotopian” spaces within our social structures.

In The Principle of Hope, Ernst Bloch charts “the steady and often imperceptible tending of human history towards utopia”[i] in a journey that encompasses daydreaming, culture, religion, philosophy and politics. Bloch’s work identifies both how the unrealized dreams of the past and the unfulfilled potentials of the here-and-now create a utopian impulse that drives the urge to build a better future. He sees in the “wishful images of the fulfilled moment” hope for consolation and fleeting glimpses of emancipation for those who are restrained by their existing social, economic and cultural conditions.

In relation to science fiction, Bloch’s work has been the source of a potent strain of literary analysis.[ii] It is from Bloch that Darko Suvin refined the idea of the Novum as providing “the overriding narrative logic”[iii] in science fiction. Bloch’s utopian impulse is the origin of that “desire called utopia”[iv] in Frederic Jameson’s work and Bloch’s idea of “ideological surplus” – the potential that artefacts contain to transcend the ideology of the era in which they are constructed – provides a starting point for some of Jameson’s work in cultural studies. It is Bloch’s assertion that even “a cultural product whose social function is that of distracting us can only realize that aim by fastening and harnessing our attention and our imagination in some positive way”[v] that Jameson adopts as the basis for a “Utopian analysis or method[vi] that challenges the common Marxist assumption that popular culture is straightforwardly a means of infecting the masses with the ideology of the dominant class. Tom Moylan, introducing a collection of essays on Bloch’s legacy, recognises that his own study of utopianism and science fiction has consistently returned “to Bloch’s insistence on a utopian standpoint, a utopian epistemology”[vii].

Bloch’s philosophy of hope has, therefore, important resonances for the literature of the fantastic more broadly and for science fiction in particular. Taken as a whole, Bloch’s work might be seen to provide a coherent and robust explanation of the continuing psychological and social appeal of fictions that look beyond the boundaries of the now and imagine better futures.

If we place this philosophical approach alongside the work of Arthur C Clarke, it is possible to see clear areas of common ground. Clarke could have enthusiastically endorsed Bloch’s conviction that it is only when humanity looks up from the present to imagine the future that we can begin the process of creating a better world. The two shared a similar faith in progress and the potential for the improvement in the human condition. There is, in the work of both writers, a recurring sense of the value of the mystical and an invocation of the sacred. Moylan, who has written widely on science fiction, utopias and dystopias, might as easily be talking about Clarke when he summarises Bloch’s view that:

“Present time is provincial and empty. If humanity becomes too much taken with the present, we lose the possibility of imagining a radically other future. We lose the ability to hope. We lose what Bloch identifies as the Novum: the unexpectedly new, that which pushes humanity out of the present toward the not yet realized future”[viii]

And Bloch would have found little to argue with in Clarke’s sentiment:

“By mapping out possible futures, as well as a good many improbable ones, the science fiction writer does a great service to the community. He encourages in his readers flexibility of mind, readiness to accept and even welcome change”[ix]

But Clarke and Bloch would have disagreed about the merits of utopia. For all the value of Bloch’s work it is his attachment to an achievable, desirable utopia that reveals the great weakness in his analysis.[x] Bloch seems unable to imagine a desire for things to be better that does not ultimately lead to Heimat (the home-land) in which all human potential is realised and Marx’s dreams are made real. Bloch’s work contains an ongoing struggle between his belief that history has a goal – a final moment of homecoming to a Marxist utopia – and his desire not to close off the future. Bloch, as Vincent Geoghegan concedes in his largely sympathetic study of the philosopher’s life and work, is not always successful in escaping authoritarian utopianism, the desire to “discipline” the utopian impulse in order to serve a political agenda:

 “…he cannot resist draping his own speculations in the purple of objectivity. Bloch seems to be quite clear as to what the broad outlines of his concrete utopia will be, and is quite prepared to use this vision as an ‘objective’ critique of mere ‘subjective’ visions. The openness of Bloch’s sensitive portrayal of human dreaming thus narrows into a one-way street.”[xi]

At the end of this “one-way street” what becomes of the dreams that Bloch identifies as the fundamental force behind the utopian impulse? Such dreaming wouldn’t be treasonous (as it was under Stalin) or even superfluous – it would be impossible. In a utopia that meets all human needs and allows everyone to realise their potential, what is there to dream about? The fundamental force driving Bloch’s vision of a better future evaporates and the sterile stability of a “concrete utopia” becomes inevitable. Humanity must abandon the future to live in the perfected present.

It is this sterility that Clarke found repellent. Clarke, through his science fiction novels, sought to construct an idea of better societies and an improvement of the human condition – seeing us become better as a species, casting off old prejudices, coming closer to achieving our full potentials – while, at the same time, specifically rejecting utopia as a dead end.

 

CLARKE AND UTOPIA

Across the wide body of Clarke’s fiction, his use of utopian (or dystopian) tropes is rare. However, where they do appear, Clarke’s critique of utopianism is unwavering. In three key novels – The City and The Stars (TCATS), The Songs of Distant Earth (TSODE) and 3001: The Final Odyssey – Clarke places his characters in societies that, by most definitions, would be classed as utopian.  Though published some forty years apart these novels share a number of key features and display a remarkable thematic consistency[xii].

In all three novels, humans have built stable, safe societies in which all their immediate physical, social and psychological needs have been met.  Conflicts created by sexual jealousy, racial, tribal or national identity, religion and ideology have been left behind. These are humane and rational places in which each person is able to contribute (or not) based on their ability and interests. Their institutions are built around an idealised form of the American constitution – in TSODE Thalassans live under the “Jefferson Mark 3 Constitution – someone once called it utopia in two megabytes”[xiii] which by 3001 has been refined so that the utopian society operates under a “Demosocracy, frequently defined as ‘individual greed, moderated by an efficient but not too zealous government’.”[xiv]

And yet for all the thought Clarke has obviously devoted to the design of these “perfect” societies – and for all that they are the logical extension of his own humane rationalism – it is clear that they do not appeal to him.

In the city of Diaspar, on the spaceship Magellan and in Africa Tower the inhabitants have access machines that can control, more-or-less, every aspect of their environment, but understanding of how that technology works is fading away. Physical comfort, unlimited entertainment and reliance on technology are eroding humanity’s curiosity and spirit of adventure.  In each case Clarke has male characters who find this stagnation intolerable. This is most obvious in TCATS, where Alvin’s discontent drives him out of the confines of Diaspar and overthrows an aeons-long status quo. In TSODE the discontented mutineers, led by Owen Fletcher, attempt a doomed revolt but even the loyal Lieutenant Commander Loren Lorenson finds himself tempted by Thalassan charms. In 3001 the resurrected Frank Poole seeks out the wilder frontiers of the solar system, relishing the “challenge – a sense of purpose, if you like – that I seldom found on Earth”[xv]

In both TCATS and TSODE technological utopias interact with agrarian utopias in which humans live close to nature and within the limits of ecological systems (the villages of Lys or the island community of Thalassa). Lys is stable and relaxed and its people have developed impressive mental powers, but their caution and fear of the outside world makes them as sterile as Diaspar. That Thalassa has stagnated, producing little great art, standing outside history, is obvious and it is brought into even sharper relief in “The Songs of Distant Earth”[xvi] (on which the later novel is based), which ends with a melancholy Lora watching the starship Magellan disappear from Thalassa’s sky and pondering the contrast between the arduous but ultimately glorious destiny awaiting the ship’s crew and settlers and her own people’s pleasant, comfortable but essentially empty future. The final chapters of TSODE reveal another potential weakness of agrarian utopias. Where resources are limited there remains an inherent potential for conflict. So, in TSODE, the Thalassan people destroy a fledgling alien civilisation to protect their own interests. Neither Lys nor Thalassa possess societies robust enough to cope with dramatic change nor capable of great deeds. They have both settled into a comfortable but pointless stasis.

Some of Clarke’s short stories can also offer a revealing insight into his attitude towards utopia. In “Nemesis” Clarke creates a future where humanity is wise and has lived in peace and prosperity for aeons. Yet, even here, Clarke can’t imagine that dissatisfaction will entirely disappear or that the human urge for new knowledge and new frontiers won’t reassert itself. In “The Lion of Commarre” humanity has advanced to a point where: “Everything had been discovered. One by one all the great dreams of the past had become reality”[xvii] but the city which is the site of their great triumph has become a trap that humanity must escape.

Clarke’s fiction is driven by his faith in human progress – both social and technical – but Clarke repeatedly balks at the idea that such progress might create a perfect society. Where he follows his own ideas to their logical conclusion he comes to the realisation that such societies would be fundamentally flawed. For Clarke, humanity needs to be constantly striving to go further – requiring the physical and mental demands of exploration and discovery – if it is to reach its full potential. Decadence is the ultimate threat to human progress. In analysing a number of Clarke’s novels Robin Anne Reid concludes that Clarke is optimistic but:

“This optimism is reserved for continuing development, not some final end, some perfect state that can be achieved through technology or any other means…  Apparently, Clarke is not interested in the idea of a static perfection for humanity, as opposed to continued exploration and development.”[xviii]

But, if the Clarke’s futures don’t offer us the consolations of utopia, which Bloch insists are crucial to providing cultural artefacts with their appeal in a capitalist society, then what is the source of the continued power of his visions of the future?

A BRIEF HETEROTOPOLOGY

In The Order of Things, French post-structuralist philosopher Michel Foucault introduced the concept of heterotopias. He begins by considering a passage from Borges’ essay “John Wilkins, Analytical Language” in which the author sets out a wild taxonomy supposedly derived from a Chinese encyclopaedia. Foucault is much taken with the power of this brief essay, noting the

“disconcerting effect of the proximity of extremes, or, quite simply with the vicinity of things that have no relation to each other; the mere act of enumeration that heaps them all together has a power of enchantment all its own.”[xix]

Foucault is amused by this taxonomy but also disturbed. He describes how the incongruous disorder of this classification acts to make the every item heteroclite, dislocating them from their everyday position and making it impossible to “define a common locus beneath them all.” From this starting point Foucault goes on to define the idea of a heterotopia, which Merlin Coverley describes in his introduction to the idea of Utopia as his “place outside or between the categories of the physical or mental whose otherness challenges our everyday understanding of time and place.”[xx]

Foucault returned to the idea of heterotopias in a short article, “Of Other Spaces”, in which he contrasts heterotopias with utopias. Utopias are sites with no real place, they “present society itself in a perfected form, or else society turned upside down, but in any case these utopias are fundamentally unreal spaces”[xxi] whereas heterotopias are fundamentally real spaces that bring together elements of a society in a way that upsets our expectations or makes us question their interrelationship. Foucault then outlines the form of a number of different types of heterotopias; for the purposes of this article the most interesting are:

  1. “Crisis heterotopias” are created by the earliest forms of society. They are sacred spaces created to house individuals in moments of “crisis” – adolescents, menstruating women, pregnant women, the elderly – but in modern society they are gradually replaced by “heterotopias of deviation” (prisons, psychiatric hospitals, rest homes for the elderly) where we place people whose behaviour does not conform to the societal norm.
  2. Heterotopias capable of “juxtaposing in a single real space several spaces, several sites that are themselves incompatible.” [xxii] Cinemas and theatres bring together unrelated spaces in a single room but the oldest form of this heterotopia is the garden. “The traditional garden of the Persians was a sacred space that was supposed to bring together inside its rectangle four parts representing the four parts of the world, with… The garden is the smallest parcel of the world and then it is the totality of the world.”[xxiii]
  3. There are heterotopias of “indefinitely accumulating time” such as museums and libraries, which express the “will to enclose in one space all times, all epochs, all forms, all tastes, the idea of constituting a place of all times that is itself outside of time, and inaccessible to its ravages…”[xxiv]
  4. Finally, there are heterotopias that create “another real space, as perfect, as meticulous, as well arranged as ours is messy, ill constructed, and jumbled.” These heterotopias of order are illustrated by the attempts to create communities in the religiously-inspired colonies of the New World.

In “Of Other Spaces” Foucault’s heterotopology describes physical sites but, just as Foucault’s idea of heterotopia has its genesis in the reading of Borges’ strange taxonomy, so heterotopian elements can be found in other texts. And just as Borges’ menagerie shocked, excited and disturbed Foucault, so these heterotopian elements can have a forceful impact on other readers.  Clarke was no post-structuralist but, it is Foucault’s idea of heterotopias (not Bloch’s utopian impulse) that better describes the power of Clarke’s work.

 

CLARKE’S HETEROTOPIAS

Clarke’s work is often associated with a “sense of wonder” – moments when, through his writing, Clarke appears to open up grand vistas and rearrange our sense of our place in the universe. This section explores how Clarke’s heterotopian impulse contributes to our sense of wonder.

Heterotopias of deviation
Samuel Delany’s novel Triton carries the subtitle “An Ambiguous Heterotopia”. Delany deliberately engages with Foucault’s theories to deconstruct what he has called the “terribly limiting argument”[xxv] of utopian and dystopian fiction. Delany creates a complex world but his heterotopia is primarily a space that gives freedom to alternative lifestyles. Triton is an anarchic space that allows individuals to express themselves and, in particular, their sexuality in a wide variety of forms without judgement. Clarke’s fiction does not engage with the notion of heterotopia in the same conscious way. Nor is Clarke as aggressive in addressing the idea of sexual freedom as Delany. Yet Clarke’s novels, especially his later novels, do expect that future societies will be more accepting of the full range of human sexuality. As Reid notes:

“Such relationships as group marriages and multiple marriages for people working in space occur regularly. Bisexuality is offered as a healthy norm, with any individual who is exclusively homo- or heterosexual being perceived as being a bit strange and in the minority.”

Women tend to play minor roles in Clarke’s novels[xxvi] and male/male relationships dominate. These relationships are not usually overtly sexual[xxvii]  but his male characters frequently have a history of having difficulty forming relationships with women.[xxviii] Close male bonding is common[xxix] but the relationships are usually asexual. A number of minor characters in Clarke’s novels are involved in same sex relationships that are accepted with equanimity[xxx] and Clarke presupposes the general acceptance of bisexuality as the orientation of “normal” humans in future societies.

Clarke becomes more explicit in his expression of sexual freedom in his later novels, stating explicitly what was only hinted at in his earlier works. So TCATS, first published in 1956, coyly contains references to discovering “all the possibilities” of love[xxxi] and the chaste relationship between Alvin and Hilvar while the plot of Imperial Earth, published twenty years later, is driven by a relationship between two male characters that was, at least for a period, unambiguously sexual[xxxii]. A decade later, in TSODE, Clarke has two male characters casually discussing what proportion of their character was “hetero” and concluding that those who limited themselves to one gender of sexual partner were “so rare that they were classed as pathological”[xxxiii].

Clarke does not explore in detail the causes or consequences of sexual liberation in the way that Delany sets out to do in Triton. Clarke assumes that prejudices around sexual orientation (and others such as racism and sexism) will fade away in the face of humanity’s growing maturity. In a much quieter way than Delany, many of the worlds Clarke creates are also heterotopias of deviation.

Heterotopias of space
The Persian gardens that symbolise Foucault’s heterotopias of space enclose the entire world in miniature, placing the exotic next to the ordinary and combining physical reality with a mystical element.  Clarke’s writing encompasses the entire universe, juxtaposing humanity and the alien, and seeking to stir our sense of the sublime in a similar way. Artefacts like Rama[xxxiv] and the monolith place human protagonists next to objects that confuse our sense of perspective, remove us from the centre of our universe and stimulate those parts of the mind that respond to the arcane.

[Shortly after this essay was originally published I discovered that there is an Arabic proverb that describes a book as being “like a garden you carry in your pocket” – this seems particularly apt in this context.]

Clarke’s aliens are often intrinsically unknowable, their motives, psychology and ambitions beyond the ability of the human mind to grasp, though that doesn’t prevent Clarke’s protagonists from trying. But even without the intervention of the alien or the understated shattering of the universe in a story like “The Nine Billion Names of God”, Clarke is able to bring together the exotic and the human to confound our expectations. Sometimes the exotic is a fruit of humanity’s labour – technology sufficiently advanced to appear magical – such as the space elevator or the city of Diaspar. Often, however, it is simply Clarke’s inextinguishable pleasure in gathering together the marvels of the universe and presenting them to the reader. In 2010 Jupiter and its moons are every bit as mysterious and awe-inspiring as the great monolith that orbits with them. 2061 devotes as much time to the wonders of an excursion on Halley’s Comet as it does to the mysterious events on Europa. In novels like The Deep Range and The Ghost from The Grand Banks the wonders are revealed beneath Earth’s oceans. In The Ghost from The Grand Banks, Ada, a ten-year-old girl, quotes Einstein:

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapt in awe is as good as dead.”[xxxv]

Clarke’s heterotopias of space are gardens sown with the mysterious and the mystical. His books provide a space where the mundane and the inexplicable are brought together to force the reader to consider their relationships with that which they have taken for granted. In a universe that is vast, cold and forensically indifferent to creatures as insignificant as humanity, Clarke is still able to fill his works with beauty, wonder and even hope.

 

Heterotopias of time
The Scottish Enlightenment mathematician John Playfair, contemplating the implications of the then-new science of geology, said: “the mind seemed to grow giddy by looking so far into the abyss of time.”[xxxvi] Arthur C Clarke frequently uses the technique of referencing deep time to create the same sense of giddiness in his readers. Clarke’s heterotopias of time gather together far more than the mere epochs of human history imagined in Foucault’s museums, his works can encompass the whole lifespan of the universe.

The most famous example of Clarke’s use of deep time does not appear in any of his books but in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, co-written with Stanley Kubrick. When the proto-human warrior’s bone club is tossed into the air and we switch, jarringly, to the gently rotating space station, all human history is swept up in an instant. This image may owe more to Kubrick than to Clarke, but it encapsulates a theme that runs through Clarke’s work. In “The Sentinel”, the short story that provided some of the inspiration for 2001, the geologist narrator contemplates the vast age of the moon’s “lost oceans” as his party travel towards the site of an alien artefact. In “Nemesis” the passage of vast aeons of time are described as mankind fades from the planet Earth and in “Transcience” and “The Possessed” the evolution of all life on Earth is compressed into a few thousand words. In The Fountains of Paradise Clarke plays with the distant past and the near future before placing them both in context in a far-future set epilogue that conflates them into a single moment. Other cities may have lasted millennia before time “swept away even their names” but Diaspar in TCATS “challenged Eternity itself”:

“Since the city was built, the oceans of Earth had passed away and the desert had encompassed all the globe. The last mountains had been ground to dust by the winds and the rain, and the world was too weary to bring forth more… they had lived in the same city, had walked the same miraculously unchanging streets, while more than a thousand million years had worn away.”[xxxvii]

Clarke’s writing brings together the human and the near eternal but he is not just contrasting our own brief moments of consciousness against a background so deep that it can barely be conceived. Clarke’s heterotopias of time may leave us teetering on the brink of that bleak abyss but his faith in the ingenuity of the human species and in the eventual triumph of our better natures can transform giddy fear into a sense of elation.

Heterotopias of order
Most of Clarke’s writing was done during the period between the Second World War and the fall of the Berlin Wall. While many of his contemporaries – not just science fiction writers – were imagining futures that demonised the “other” and entrenched contemporary divisions, Clarke was imagining worlds where humanity had cast off the burdens of past prejudices. In Clarke’s writing, the full blossoming of Enlightenment reason brings societies that are wealthy, wise and free from the frustrations and jealousies that have prevented us from achieving our full potential. As mentioned, Clarke imagines worlds where ancient tensions caused by sex, race, nation and ideology have been dissipated but he devotes particular attention to the passing of religion.

In a number of Clarke’s works religions play an active role in blocking progress or threatening the future of humanity.[xxxviii] More common, however, is the general assumption that the messy and illogical demands of religion have prevented humanity from reaching its full potential.  In TSODE Moses Kaldor muses on the humane and rational society the Thalassans have built “free from the threat of supernatural restraints” and notes:

“The Thalassans were never poisoned by the decay products of dead religions, and in seven hundred years no prophet has arisen here to preach a new faith. The very word ‘God’ has almost vanished from their language, and they’re quite surprised – or amused – when we happen to use it.”[xxxix]

In 3001 all religions have been discredited, “God” is literally a dirty word and Clarke embarks on a number of withering attacks on the barbarities conducted under the rubric of religion. One of his most famous short stories, “The Star”, deals with the moment of crisis for a Jesuit scientist who discovers that the bright star that heralded the birth of Jesus was the death-knell for a complex and advanced civilisation.

Clarke’s heterotopias of order force us to confront the mess and jumble of our existing beliefs but offer the compensation that redemption is possible. Like the Jesuit “Indian reductions” in Brazil and Paraguay, the Quaker communities in Pennsylvania  and the Puritan commonwealths of New England, Clarke’s books seek to show that a better world awaits if we follow the right path to a state of grace. The fundamental difference, of course, is that Clarke rejects faith in god and inserts a faith in human reason.

 

CONCLUSION

Foucault, like Clarke, dismisses the notion that grand programmes of change can deliver perfected societies. But this rejection of concrete utopia does not imply that either author has given up on the possibility of change – or even that they believe that society cannot be made better. Both would share Foucault’s belief that specific change can be achieved to improve society while still rejecting the idea of concrete utopias that might spring from wholesale, programmatic, revolutions.

“I prefer the very specific transformations that have proved to be possible in the last twenty years in a certain number of areas that concern our ways of being and thinking, relations to authority, relations between the sexes, the way in which we perceive insanity or illness; I prefer even these partial transformations that have been made… to the programs for a new man that the worst political systems have repeated throughout the twentieth century.”[xl]

Clarke remains an optimist – far more confident than Foucault that humanity will reach “mature adulthood” and certainly more convinced of the ability of science and reason to lead us to that maturity. While Foucault recoils from the notion of progress, Clarke’s faith remained unshaken. His fiction, in setting out a vision of scientific and social advance, creates within its pages a series of walled gardens in which we can experience recognisable elements of our own society made unfamiliar by being set against the exotic and the strange.

Clarke’s construction of heterotopias of deviation, of space, of time and of order, disturbs our sense of certainty, it destroys syntax “and not only the syntax with which we construct sentences but also that less apparent syntax which causes words and things (next to and also opposite one another) to hold together.”[xli] When those things that we took for granted always held together suddenly fly apart we are exposed to the previously unknown or the fundamentally unknowable. Language, the tool we use to interpret and make sense of our universe, fails us, the categories we construct to understand our environment become obsolete and intimate structures of belief are shattered. Thus we are left with that most characteristic reaction to Clarke’s work – a “sense of wonder” in which we find ourselves momentarily adrift, made giddy and inarticulate, forced to reconceptualise relationships that we previously considered fixed, reliable and permanent. It is the moment when we hover above an abyss of space and time and see the universe, rearranged, below.

CITED WORKS

Clarke novels
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). New American Library, New York.
2010: Odyssey Two (1982). Granada Publishing Ltd, St Albans.
2061: Odyssey Three (1988). Grafton Books, London.
3001: The Final Odyssey (1997). Voyager, London.
Childhood’s End
(1953). Ballantine Books, New York.
Imperial Earth (1975). Gollancz, London.
Rendezvous with Rama (1973). Gollancz, London.
The City and The Stars (2001). Gollancz, London. (First published 1956)
The Fountains of Paradise (1979). Gollancz, London.
The Ghost from The Grand Banks (1990). Gollancz, London.
The Hammer of the Gods (1993). Gollancz, London.
The Sands of Mars in The Space Trilogy (2001). Gollancz, London. (First published 1951)
The Songs of Distant Earth (1986). Grafton Books, London.

With Gentry Lee
Cradle (1988). Warner Books, New York.
The Garden of Rama, (1991). Gollancz, London.

Short Stories
Arthur C. Clarke: The Collected Short Stories (2000). Gollancz, London.

“Nemesis” (1950) pp. 191-202
“The Lion of Commarre” (1949) pp. 119-154
“The Nine Billion Names of God” (1953) pp. 417-422
“The Possessed” (1953) pp. 423-427
“The Sentinel” (1951) pp. 301-308
“The Songs of Distant Earth” (1958) pp. 664-686
“The Star” (1955) pp. 517-521

“Against the Fall of Night” (1948), Startling Stories (November, 1948).

Other works
Bloch, E. (1986). The Principles of Hope. Blackwell, Oxford.
Borges, J.L. (1999). “John Wilkins, Analytical Language,” The Total Library: Non Fiction 1922-1986, Penguin, London, pp. 229-232.
Coverley, M. (2010). Utopia, Pocket Essentials, London.
Delany, S.R. (1996). Trouble on Triton: An Ambiguous Heterotopia, Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, CT.
Daniel, J.O. & Moylan, T. (eds) (1997). Why Not: Reconsidering Ernst Bloch, Verso, London.
Foucault, M. (1984). “What is Enlightenment”, The Foucault Reader, Penguin, London, pp. 32-50
Foucault, M. (1986) “Of Other Spaces”, Diacritics, Vol. 16 No. 1 (Spring, 1986), pp. 22-27.
Foucault, M. (2002). The Order of Things, Routledge, London.
Geoghegan, V. (1996). Ernst Bloch, Routledge, London.
Jameson, F. (2005) Archaeologies of the Future: A Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions, Verso, London.
Jameson, F. (2004) “Marxism and Utopian Thought”, The Jameson Reader, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford.
Moylan, T. (1986). Demand the Impossible: Science Fiction and the Utopian Imagination, Methuen, New York.
Reid, R.A. (1997). Arthur C. Clarke: A Critical Companion, Greenwood Press, West Port, CT.
Suvin, D. (1979). Metamorphoses of Science Fiction, Yale University Press, New Haven.



[i] Moylan, 1986, p. 20
[ii]
Though science fiction is one of the few elements of popular culture that Bloch never engaged with, he was dismissive of all “purely technological utopias”.
[iii]
Suvin, 1979, p. 70
[iv]
Jameson, 2005
[v]
Jameson, 2004, p.366
[vi]
Jameson, 2004, p. 364
[vii]
Daniel & Moylan, 1997, p. viii
[viii]
Moylan, 1986, p. 22
[ix]
Clarke, 2000, p. x
[x]
Bloch’s belief in the notion of an actual, realisable, utopia did more than lead his philosophical theories astray – it made him an enthusiastic advocate for Stalin and Stalinism from the 1930s to the 1950s. While his philosophical writing never wholly abandoned the libertarian, utopian, Hegelian-Marx-inspired socialist thread that runs through his whole work, his support for the Soviet regime through the worst of the purges does him little credit.  The politest thing one can say about this period in Bloch’s life is that his politics and philosophy fell out of sync – he was hardly alone in embracing Stalin when faced with the reality of the rise of fascism but his allegiance continued for longer than others in the face of evidence of the system’s cruelty. One reason for this must be his attachment to the idea of utopia as an actual, realisable goal for which horrific acts could be justified as a price worth paying. When he did, finally, recant his Stalinist beliefs, he paid a high price. He was forced into retirement in 1957 by the East German regime and felt the full force of the state’s disapproval before finding himself on the Western side of Berlin when the wall went up in 1961 and deciding to stay there. He would go on to become a fierce left-wing critic of the failures of the Eastern European dictatorships.
[xi]
Geoghegan, 1996, p. 152
[xii]
Since The City and The Stars is based on the novella Against The Fall of Night, first published in the November 1948 issue of Startling Stories, the thematic consistency might be said to stretch across practically the whole of Clarke’s career as a professional writer.
[xiii]
Clarke, 1987, p. 71
[xiv]
Clarke, 1997, p. 228. In the same passage Clarke dismisses Communism for its utopianism: “It was generally agreed that Communism was the most perfect form of government; unfortunately it had been demonstrated – at the cost of some hundreds of millions of lives – that it was only applicable to social insects, Robots Class II, and similar restricted families.” “Demosocracy” is to be preferred for “imperfect human beings”.
[xv]
Clarke 1997, p. 138
[xvi]
Clarke, 2000, p. 664-686
[xvii]
Clarke, 2000, p. 119
[xviii]
Reid, 1997, p. 124
[xix]
Foucault, 2002, p. xix
[xx]
Coverley, 2010, p. 10
[xxi]
Foucault, 1986, p. 24
[xxii]
Foucault, 1986, p. 25
[xxiii]
Foucault, 1986, p. 25-26
[xxiv]
Foucault, 1986, p. 26
[xxv]
Moylan, 1985, p. 158
[xxvi]
There are major female viewpoint characters in the later novels in the Rama series and Cradle, which Clarke co-wrote with Gentry Lee and The Time Odyssey series co-written with Stephen Baxter. While women tend to be background characters, Clarke does often place them in positions of authority – such as Captain Orlova in 2010 and the sexually liberated Mayor Waldon in TSODE.
[xxvii]
Duncan’s homosexual relationship with Karl in Imperial Earth is a notable exception. Duncan is also black, a fact the novel doesn’t mention until more than half way through.
[xxviii]
Martin Gibson in The Sands of Mars, Alvin in TCATS and Heywood Floyd in 2010/2061, for example.
[xxix]
Loren and Kumar in TSODE, Alvin and Hilvar in TCATS.
[xxx]
For example, George and Jerry, two minor characters in 2061, are an open and happily married gay couple. In The Ghost From The Grand Banks Evelyn, Donald’s partner, leaves him for her nurse, Dolores. Clarke goes out of his way to have the doctor who breaks this news express his surprise that anyone would be shocked at such a relationship and dismiss objections to the free expression of the diversity of sexual drives as a “Puritan aberration”.
[xxxi]
Clarke, 2001, p. 48
[xxxii]
Clarke, 1975, p. 49
[xxxiii]
Clarke, 1986, p. 148
[xxxiv]
The great space-born oasis of Rama can itself be envisaged as a garden bringing together exotic flora and fauna from across the universe – the only Raman artefact that the crew return to Earth is a flower. Carefully tended green spaces are a minor but recurring theme in Clarke’s works. The vast park at the heart of TCATS’s Diaspar, a vast garden in the Africa Tower in 3001, Earth Park on Thalassa in TSODE are just some examples. The exotic blooming of life in the depths of Europa’s oceans in 2010 might also be placed in this category.
[xxxv]
Clarke, 1990, p. 129
[xxxvi]
Biographical Account of the Late Dr James Hutton, F.R.S. Edin.’ (read 1803), Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1805), 5, pp. 71-3
[xxxvii]
Clarke, 2001, p.1
[xxxviii]
Buddhist monks in The Fountains of Paradise or “Chrislam” fundamentalists in The Hammer of the Gods, for example.
[xxxix]
Clarke, 1987, p. 55
[xl]
Foucault, 1984, pp. 46-47
[xli]
Foucault, 2002, p. xix

This essay was originally published in Vector 267.
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