Testing the Limits: Boundaries and Fault Lines of Dystopia in John Lanchester’s The Wall (2019)

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Ewa Rychter


This article reads Lanchester’s The Wall (2019) as a novel that tests the limits of the bleakly pessimistic ‘dystopian structure of feeling’, which according to Moylan and Baccolini, is a dominant sensibility today. In my reading, I foreground the inherent ambivalences of dystopian enclosures in the novel, and claim that it is in their leakiness and fault lines thatThe Wallsees the possible breaking points in the totalizing tendency of today’s dystopian structure of feeling. Like other ‘fallible’ or ‘critical dystopias’, The Wall shows that ‘no dystopian reality is nightmarishly perfect, and that its seams may be picked apart’ [Suvin 2010: 395]. I concentrate on the ‘seams’, arguing that this is here thatthe cognitive paralysis characteristic of the dystopian structure of feeling, and the related incapacitation of imaginationcan be challenged. I also analyse some of the metafictional aspects of Lanchester’s dystopia and make a case for their importance in the process of ‘the education of desire’, which – according to Ruth Levitas and other utopian scholars – constitutes the central feature of the broadly conceived utopianism. Moreover, this articles claims that Lanchester’s novel examines the debilitating effects of the desire for protection and safety, shows their dystopian ramifications and urges to desire security differently.


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Cultural studies