|A dystopic painting of the London skyline from Hackney Marsh|
‘Dystopia, noun: an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one. The opposite of utopia.’
Underneath this dictionary definition come some quotes illustrating the use of the word, and under that, a space for comments. One of the comments reads something like ‘the state this world is in’.
The state this world has always been in, more or less. With the development of communication technology, it can’t now be ignored. Technology, the hope of decreasing suffering and improving lives, the yearning for utopia, has produced its opposite. Each war, natural disaster, campus carnage, hewn down rainforest, kidnapped child, arrives in our homes almost before the ‘unpleasant or bad’ stuff happens.
The novel response
Fiction writers, sensitive to the irony of this process/progress, turn to creating dystopias pointing up the beastliness of it all. Fiction writers create: creation is said to be pattern-making, seeing and making patterns out of chaos. A bit Genesis 1. It’s about integration.
As a fiction writer, as NaNoWriMo approaches, I know I once again shan’t be participating: this time because the plotting and planning for the work supposed to be in progress isn’t anywhere ready to be typed in a ‘1,000 words a day, just keep typing’ way. The theme is there, the characters are there, the integration is taking time …
Meanwhile, two U.K. authored shortlisted novels for the Man Booker prize reflect the state this world is in. Tom McCarthy’s Satin Island dystopically plays on words, concepts, and ideas. Examples: Satin Island, Staten Island. The protagonist, when asked who he is, replies ‘U’. ‘You’, or maybe ‘everyman’ in 21st century guise? Sanjeev Sahota’s The Year of the Runaways has hit the right year, given the 2015 ‘migrant’ crisis in Europe. The story, while not exactly dystopic, is topically dys-utopia in theme: a group of young, Indian, underprivileged, men who’ve migrated to the U.K. hoping for a better life. Told very differently to the McCarthy, with attention to intimate detail and characterisation, this book also illustrates the dissonance, discomfort, and non-utopian realities of our world.
The enduring of ancient wisdom
So (if you are still reading) what’s all this got to do with the More than Writers blog? For starters, Paul writes (Romans 8.22-24) that We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to son ship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. He describes (Galatians 5.22) the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Looking at the Man Booker list (actually, catching it, unplanned, on Radio 4’s Today programme), and tossing my own ideas around my addled brain, the words integrity and integration came to mind. As writers, the underlying feature which needs to shine through our work should surely be integrity. Integrity sums up the spiritual gifts. And integration: the ‘solution’ to the utopia/dystopia of our world, integration which comes through and in Christ. The question (still relating to the Man Booker and the function of literature and the arts as commentary, critique, or reflection of human society), is how to demonstrate integrity and integration (or ‘pattern-making’) through and within story, at a time when the official line (in Western countries) is assumed to be ‘now that we live in a post-religious age…’, a post-modern, pattern-rejecting age. This while attempting to inform, though never ‘preach to’ the majority who have little conception of the message of Christ, as opposed to the practice of ‘religion’. Utopia has proved impossible to achieve through technology, politics, our own efforts... Why now is integrity so important for writers who are Christians?
|A place of hope|
Interestingly, I wrote my first draft 2 days before the Booker winner was announced. Today on Thought for the Day, Elizabeth Oldfield (director of the ‘Think Tank’ Theos), mentioned ‘moral vigour’ as a quality the judges look for in literary fiction. Quote from an article she obviously also saw: What do you look for in a novel? Stylistic grace, emotional punch, truth to experience, extravagance of imagination, storytelling brio, moral rigour, intellectual or formal audacity, depth of characterisation, or what Milan Kundera calls “the soft gleam of the comical”…? Guardian on line, 13/10/15 by Sam Leith. (find article here)