Oceania. The World State. Gilead. The worlds of literary dystopias are nightmarish, alarmingly plausible, and deeply fascinating.

Indeed, since I first read George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four in my first year of college, I’ve found myself returning to the worlds of literary dystopias with increasing frequency, intrigued by how authors extrapolate contemporary trends to produce projected futures, perturbed by how within-reach they are, and comforted by the fact that we have not reached peak dystopia, not yet, at least. Fast-forward several years, and I studied literary dystopias during my undergraduate degree, attempted to write one for my master’s dissertation, and taught secondary school children about them. Now that I’m a doctoral researcher, I get to think and write about literary dystopias every single day. It’s great.

And then 2020 happened. The year that will forever be remembered – I think – for one thing and one thing only: COVID-19. The way that we have worked and socialised and existed has been profoundly changed, perhaps permanently. These ‘unprecedented times’ are strange, uncertain, and frustrating. I’ve tried to carry on researching as normal, but have had to adjust my expectations of myself, reprioritise different aspects of my research, and be extra mindful to look after myself and those around me. As I’ve been doing this over these last few months of lockdown, I’ve noticed that the word ‘dystopia’ has been appearing a little more frequently than normal on news websites, in internet reports, and especially on twitter. Usually, this word – or ‘dystopian’ – has been used to describe the world of COVID-19. And that made me ask myself: are we living in a COVID-19 dystopia?

My answer, it turns out, was ‘no’. After working through what I know about dystopias and conducting some extra research, I decided to upload a video essay to my YouTube channel (DystopiaJunkie) explaining why I think we are not living in a COVID-19 dystopia. My hope here was to spread some positivity and hope and reassure people that whilst things are awful at the moment, there is still a lot of positivity around us that we can be thankful for. I’m not a medical doctor, or a paramedic, or a supermarket employee, or a teacher, or any of the countless keyworkers who have risked so much to ensure that our lives are as safe and as minimally-disrupted as possible in these times, but I hope that in producing this video, I’ve managed to use my expertise to have a positive – albeit incredibly miniscule – impact on the world in these times.

I wish you all well in these times. Stay safe, stay sane, stay kind!

- Liam

Liam Knight is researching a PhD in English Literature with a provisional phd title 'Dystopian Literature in the 21st Century: An Endotextual Account'.

Liam Knight, doctoral researcher in the Department of nglish Literature

His thesis is focused on the endotexts found within the dystopian literature of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Endotexts – an umbrella term covering any fictional text contained within another, e.g. books-within-books, appendices, footnotes – feature prominently throughout the dystopian genre (see Nineteen Eighty-FourThe Handmaid’s TaleThe Transition, among many others). Although scholars have attended to some examples of endotexts, they often focus on a single text or endotext at a time; Liam's thesis instead focuses on the dystopian endotext as a discrete phenomenon, comparing and analysing how endotexts are used across the dystopian genre.

The thesis tackles two key questions: What is the tradition of endotextuality in twentieth-century dystopian writing, and how and why is this tradition inherited and reworked in contemporary dystopian writing?