I found the idea of Solarpunk to be fascinating when we talked about it in class. It’s a huge contrast to the dystopian and pessimistic themes we often see in popular literature or film. But, that said, I’ve also found a lot of posts and articles that are quick to point out the line that still exists between Solarpunk and utopia, with perfect balance and equality. According to Wikipedia (excuse my choice of source, please), however, a utopia “is inherently contradictory, because societies are not homogeneous, and have desires which conflict and therefore cannot simultaneously be satisfied.” Tumblr user @brazenbotany explains the distinction below:
…[Solarpunk is] not just a blanket-statement utopia. People aren’t going to stop acting like people. They’re still going to be petty, still going to cheat on their spouses, or laugh when somebody trips and drops their groceries. Maybe some racist comments and tensions thrown here and there. In other words, they’re still going to do all of the shitty things that people tend to do when left to their own devices, but in an ideal solarpunk society, the denizens will have hopefully recognized that this is true and that things like confirmation biases are an integral part of our basic psychology, so they will have learned how to better cope with the not-so-nice side of being human.
So is a Solarpunk society a utopia without the contradiction? One with the conflict that we know humanity cannot escape? Without any true knowledge of the Solarpunk concept, I had a bit of trouble figuring out Syl Anagist—how it looked, how it worked, how it felt to live there. The class during which we discussed it and just a quick skim over the basics helped a little, but truly picturing the city took a little bit of digging. Then I found on Tumblr (Listen, if you’re looking for more info about Solarpunk, I don’t think there’s a better source. There are entire communities sharing ideas and aesthetics.) a picture that Jemisin herself had reblogged with the caption “Life is sacred in Syl Anagist.”
(I don’t know about the rest of you, but this is now at all what I was picturing while reading the Syl Anagist chapters. But that’s beside the point.) The photo certainly shows Solarpunk concepts with the vertical gardens and the sort of blend between technology and nature. The traincar too, although it doesn’t look anything like the book’s descriptions, made me think of a vehimal. But it all looks a little dark and gloomy at the same time, and I think that fits Jemisin’s fictional city pretty well. Beautiful yet creepy. In essence, Syl Anagist has utopian elements. The people there live mostly (mostly!) sustainable lives and try to innovate for the betterment of the people, but those people continue to make mistakes, as people do. There still exists inequality, violence, and prejudices that humans are prone to (not to mention the horrific Briar Patch scene), and I suppose that’s what makes the city more Solarpunk than utopian. But I guess I was wondering whether Syl Anagist can still be considered Solarpunk if its entire energy system relies on inequality and oppression/violence against the tuners. I’m still not sure, but I am having fun arguing with myself about it!