Avidly: A Channel of The Los Angeles Review of Books
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Literature and Languages
This year, those of us who work in college classrooms kicked off our semesters with the spectacle of Trump’s inauguration: its bluffed militarism, its dark vision, its citation, in effect, of Bane, from the Batman dystopia The Dark Knight Rises. Everything about the inauguration presaged the bitter, disputatious, spectacle-driven manias that have come to mark the 45th Presidency. It was clear, on that grey January day, that dystopia was newly in vogue as he intoned: Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation. We all bleed the same red blood of patriots.
By pointing out the dystopian stylistics of the inauguration, I don’t mean to suggest some reality of a utopian “before.” The U.S. has always been a brutal, unpleasant place for many; a nation built as much on the mythos of the founding fathers as on violence, brutality, and the systematic and continued valuation of some lives over others. What I mean to suggest, to the contrary, is that especially for those of us who regularly teach and study literary dystopias, the patterned qualities of this genre have suddenly leapt off the page in an almost cartoonish fashion. As a literature professor, this has proven both a challenge and an opportunity in the classroom. Teaching my course on children’s literature last winter, I wondered what kinds of thinking about literary dystopias we might be able to accomplish while living through a form of dystopia ourselves.