Critical theory and dystopia

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What is the political meaning of the pervasiveness of dystopian fictions in the twenty-first century? Do these fictions have the critical energy of the utopian stories they seem to have displaced or are they compensatory forms, extolling the present as preferable to the frightening future?

Critical Theory and Dystopia tracks dystopia as a genre of fiction which occupies the spaces of literature and of politics simultaneously. Using Theodor Adorno’s critique of the situation of writing in the twentieth century, this volume uses the notion of a ‘negative commitment’ to situate the potential and the limits of dystopia. Examining classic dystopias by Aldous Huxley and George Orwell, McManus follows the mutation of the genre in dystopias by Margaret Atwood, J.G. Ballard and William Gibson in the 1980s. Contemporary dystopias are then read for their efforts to break with, and their inability to realise those breaks, the politics of the present. Tracing lines of continuity and of discontinuity within the genre, McManus ends by exploring the dystopias of Michel Houellebecq, Lionel Shriver and Gary Shteyngart.

Engaging critically with contemporary scholarship on dystopia, this book makes the case for a more rigorously historicised understanding of the dystopias we have now.
Important as a reworking of the scholarship on dystopian fiction, the book also makes a significant contribution towards reorienting approaches to Theodor Adorno, casting his literary-theoretical work as an invaluable source with which to approach our own present so as to figure out how best to break out of it.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationManchester
PublisherManchester University Press
Number of pages256
ISBN (Print)9781526139733
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2022

Publication series

NameCritical Theory and Society
PublisherManchester University Press


  • Theodor Adorno
  • George Orwell
  • Dystopia
  • Commitment
  • Literary History
  • Science Fiction
  • Utopia
  • Leni Zumas
  • Michel Houellebecq
  • Lionel Shriver
  • E. M. Forster
  • J. G. Ballard
  • William Gibson
  • Margaret Atwood


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