Most twentieth-century dystopian fictions such as Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932), Katharine Burdekin's Swastika Night (1937), George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), and John Wyndham's The Chrysalids (1955) adhere to a generic convention by which they project forward into a narrated future to look back critically toward the present. In this focus on the past, such dystopias include slivers of contested and incomplete accounts of how the dystopian state came to exist, here termed future histories. Such accounts exist in a time frame that runs from the authorial present to the point in the future at which the main narrative is set. In Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, for example, this time frame runs from 1949 (the publication date) to 1984, when the main story occurs. The time frame between the authorial present and the future temporal setting of the main story world is here termed the future-as-past. This article explores the development of the complex temporality of dystopian fiction from the early to the mid-twentieth century. Discussion focuses on the manner in which the fragmented future-as-past is employed critically in relation to the story world and to historical reality. By providing scattered hints from which further information can be deduced or inferred, often but not always with the help of contextual knowledge, this temporal narrative strategy invites the reader to actively participate and politically engage in the reconstruction of future histories. Such future histories can never be completed or fully mapped as dystopian fictions and are usually less specifically predictive than they at first appear.
Adam Stock; The Future-as-Past in Dystopian Fiction. Poetics Today 1 September 2016; 37 (3): 415–442. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-3599495
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