Md Abu Shahid Abdullah (PhD) completed his MA in English and American Studies and his PhD in English Literature at Otto-Friedrich University Bamberg, Germany. He is currently an Assistant Professor of English at East West University, Bangladesh. His research interests include trauma, alienation, memory, identity, marginalization, postcolonialism, eroticism and magical realism. He has published Traumatic Experience and Repressed Memory in Magical Realist Novels: Speaking the Unspeakable (Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2020) and Trauma, Memory and Identity Crisis: Reimagining and Rewriting the Past (Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2022).
“Survival Is Insufficient”: Imagining Utopia within Dystopia in Station Eleven and Human Acts
Abstract: Dystopian fiction may portray destruction, decay, and suffering but it also makes room for utopian imagination to sprout and grow. Mandel’s Station Eleven presents a world ravaged by a deadly pandemic while Kang’s Human Acts depicts the historical events of the bloody and chaotic May 1980 uprising in Gwangju, South Korea. Based on Kermode’s theoretical lens on apocalyptic fiction and Althusser’s theory of state control, this paper attempts to understand the existential dilemma of the characters in these novels immediately after the crises, and to reveal the inherent binary conflicts within the narratives. Through the theoretical perspectives of Albrecht’s “solastalgia” and Williams’s “salvage,” the paper sheds light on the survival mechanisms that aid the characters to overcome their post-crisis distress, to pick up the fragmented objects and ideas of value, and to transmit their knowledge, ideologies, and sociocultural concepts to the next generation. Finally, by utilizing Jameson’s theoretical framework on utopian fiction, the paper analyzes the fragmented utopian impulses in the two novels to prove that the characters’ individual and collective psyches drive the dystopian narratives out of their initial chaotic backdrops towards a more positive and uplifting tone, hence breaking away from the constraints of their preconceived narrative genre. The utopian impulses of the post-flu pandemic world in Station Eleven through collective actions and imaginations of the characters can easily be applied to post-Covid Southeast Asia narratives. Similarly, the collective yearning for freedom of the innocent Gwangju citizens against the military junta in Human Acts and their demonstration of a unique sense of unity can be associated with those novels that speak about trauma and survival in Southeast Asia, from the regime of the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnam War to Myanmar’s military coup, highlighting the act of giving voice to the voiceless and of re-humanizing the dehumanized and therefore envisioning and ensuring a peaceful future world.
Keywords: dystopia, utopia, pandemic, post-apocalypse, survival, solastalgia, world literature