‘Chained to the pendulum of our own mad clockwork’: Science fiction, cyclicality and the new dark age during the Cold War

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Although science fiction of the Golden Age in the 1940s and the 1950s is often associated with narratives of progress, this article demonstrates that there was a fascination within this period with narratives of cyclicality, rather than progress, narratives in which social and scientific systems collapse back into new dark ages and/or re-emerge out of such new dark ages. Furthermore, the article explores how these narratives were mobilized in relation to the Cold War and particularly the ways in which nationalist agendas were seen as repressing the international exchange of ideas that many science fiction writers regarded as central to science. However, these stories did not simply oppose politics with science so that the former was associated with ignorance and repression and the latter with knowledge and liberation. On the contrary, these stories were preoccupied with conceptual crises, in which one system of thought was overthrown by another. In other words, these were stories of scientific revolution rather than linear progress and they often presented all systems of thought as potentially restrictive. In short, these cyclical narratives were a reminder of a challenge from which many science fiction writers believed that science could not escape, a challenge that would therefore continually reassert itself: the narratives demonstrated that scientists not only needed to take responsibility for their discoveries but also to recognize that the advancement of science did not inevitably lead to (or even go hand in hand with) social, political or cultural enlightenment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)255-277
Number of pages23
JournalEuropean Journal of American Culture
Issue number3
Early online dateSep 2019
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2019


  • science fiction
  • science
  • the Cold War
  • political intolerance
  • narrative
  • cyclicality
  • enlightenment
  • conceptual crisis

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