Age of Arrakis: State Apparatuses and Foucauldian Biopolitics in Frank Herbert's Dune

University essay from Stockholms universitet/Engelska institutionen

Abstract: Frank Herbert’s Dune is generally recognized as the best-selling science fiction novel of all time. While it is commonly referred to as a novel of environmental characteristics, this essay investigates the depiction of society and how the power dynamics in this far future setting are presented. I argue that Dune’s portrayal of power within the state apparatuses of the ideological and repressive kind are to be related to issues and concerns that were observable within the state powers of America and the west during the decades of 1950 and 60. By using the concepts and theories of Louis Althusser and Michel Foucault, I claim that the centralized ideology found within the whole state apparatus of Dune endangers the freedoms of the individual in ways that can be related to its contemporary real-world setting. The first part of the essay is an exploratory investigation in how power is being expressed within the two institutions of the military and the church, as well as how the protagonist deals with the burden of authority. This is analyzed in terms of Althusser’s arguments on the reproduction of ideology and the Foucauldian concepts of biopolitics and disciplinary expressions. The second part revolves around a historicist approach, namely how these expressions within the novel are related to the contemporary setting of the United States and its western neighbours. This latter analysis addresses the foreign and domestic policy of the western powers and how, I argue, these are exemplified to an extent within the pages of the novel. This discussion shows how centralized power is presented as an issue due to the influence of ideology, how the different institutions that we perceive as secular and independent become tools for social injustice. Such instances revolve around the subtle insertion of religious values in state affairs and how imperialist intervention is legitimized by the defense of economic and cultural interests, but also how societies are prone to react in the presence of charismatic leaders. Apart from this I also emphasize how the status and subsequent influential significance of Dune have come to play an important part in the development of its genre and how its capabilities of social commentary have been vital to the emergence of “soft” science fiction.

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