An Infinite Circle of Anti-Utopias
The ending of Watchmen seemed strikingly similar to the ending of The Handmaid’s Tale when I started thinking about the books in terms of utopia. That last image in Watchmen of the editor’s assistant’s shirt definitely got my attention. Ozymandius says, after he realizes his ‘victory’, that now he can move on to creating utopia–but judging from the reappearance of creepy smiley face, absolutely nothing has changed over the course of the apocalyptic events. The hatred and willfull stupidity of people like the editor of the Fronteirsman and his lackey will survive the apocalypse like cockroaches, according to Watchmen. And because there will always be hate-mongerers, utopia is impossible. The process of striving for utopia will repeat endlessly, one failed utopia on top of another (or inside of each other, like in “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” by Borges!)
The Handmaid’s tale begins, rather than ends, with an anti-utopia founded on mass murder. The transcript of the conference at the end suggests that Offred’s anti-utopia is finished, but we know next to nothing about the society of the people analyzing her story in this future. Do they really understand what went into the creation of Gilead and how oppressive it was? Do they know enough to keep it from happening again? In Watchmen, the clock at the end of each chapter is striking 12, but time doesn’t stop: as Dr. Manhattan said, “Nothing ever ends.” I got the feeling, maybe because of the flippant attitude of the presenter, that the people at conference weren’t in a position to stop another misguided attempt at utopia.
How do these infinite, circular failed attempts at utopia relate to gender and technology? Well, I’m not sure. But I think the link lies in how technologies of representation work (as we talked about on Monday). Representation is never perfect (Borges again). In these 2 books, it’s shown to be really deeply flawed, so much so that people can’t learn from representions of history enough to prevent history from repeating itself. The imperfection of historical accounts, coupled with hatred/indifference/misunderstandings, is a recipe for disaster. BY representing this problem, Watchmen and the Handmaid’s Tale try to fix it.