Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
A journey through resistance and revolution, Woman on the Edge of Time expresses the personal in the political by exploring the body as a site of resistance. Like many of Marge Piercy’s page‑turning works of fiction, her well-crafted narrative is led by affectionately observed and likeably flawed characters. Piercy gives space in her work to women’s experiences and relationships, often, as in this novel, to queer women and women of colour.
Woman on the Edge of Time depicts parallel stories: 1970s New York, where incidents will fate a potentially utopic or dystopic future, and the year 2137.
Piercy’s utopia elaborates on contemporary political and scientific experiments in horizontal living/organising and computer technology. No one bears children and male‑bodied people produce milk. Pronouns are non‑gendered and every child has three co-mothers until they turn 13 and pick their own name, off in the forest.
Everyone’s in functional polyamorous relationships. Each has a room of their own, creating a rhizomatic network of closely related individuals, with no nuclear or hierarchical relationships, intimate or familial. We meet a young teenager playing a harp to a room of sleeping babies. For the big party, everyone gets dressed up in fabulous Gaga-esque biodegradable outfits. Neighbouring communities consider their respective needs and debate until consensus on how to live with each other and the land. It’s delightfully politically idyllic.
Is this the utopia I would go for? Well, in many ways no. Utopic visions are only useful insofar as they shed critical light on the present and open imaginative space around alternative futures. They will always have limitations, and Piercy’s future utopia of Mattapoissett has its flaws.
The utopia is brought to us via the dreams and hallucinations of Consuelo Ramos, incarcerated in a New York hospital mental health ward. Connie is tough and hurting, imprisoned when she needs to be supported, abandoned to a place potentially more life-threatening than the one she inhabited before. Piercy does not create a utopic vision as a polemic, but as a counterpoint in constant dialogue with the experience of individuals marginalised in a capitalist society. She does not use this utopia to tantalise or drug the reader but rather as a tool to critique social crises of the present. Her science fiction delights in technological potential while also questioning medicine turned technically tyrannical.
Connie is a Hispanic woman, poor and sidelined. She retains a deep warmth and care for her unreliable niece, and nurtures the strength in the women around her on the psych ward. Here we meet resistance to oppression in their sheer resilience to physical violence. Connie and her ward-mates fight against the doctors’ abusive scientific experiments as the people of utopic Mattapoisett hold off the encroachment of the corporations’ attack at the frontiers of their enclosure.
Connie’s initial reaction to Piercy’s utopia as depicted in Mattapoisett lets loose the potential disgust in the reader for this seemingly new-age hippy commune, which in fact shows itself to be a highly organised, technologically developed community that Connie grows to trust, embrace and be nurtured by.
Connie’s passage to Mattapoisett is enabled by time travel sans fancy gadgets, on the arms of genderqueer Luciente, who wears trousers that re-size according to when the wearer gains or loses a few pounds. Where Luciente comes from, people are referred to as per and ze rather than her/him and s/he. Initially Connie reads Luciente as a gay man, and is shocked to find per to be what Connie would consider female-bodied. Piercy’s writing in 1979 might seem trite now after 30 years of trans-activism that has both evolved and disrupted understandings and expressions of gendered bodies, yet her writing is part of that journey.
In this future, racisms of the past (for 2137) are healed into a Benetton-esque blur of under-explored ethnic references. As far as I can see, racisms that oppress to this day stemming from colonialism and slavery will not disappear into casual celebration of cultural differences, but will require a continued critique and struggle against white supremacy, and I would have liked to see some depiction of this process. That the war with the corporations is being fought on the one hand, while white supremacy is somehow fully dismantled on the other, betrays a lack of analysis of the intersection of capitalism and racism.
Nonetheless, the journey with Connie and her ward‑mates empathetically shows the brilliant resilience of a group of women labelled ‘mad’ and facing persecution. Marge Piercy’s writing is to me like a long-awaited afternoon drinking tea with a close friend. Her characters, narratives and sensitive reflections on both intimate relationships and political organising engulf me in a sympathetic critical understanding. She is the most lent-out author on my shelf. With Piercy, do not expect a tidy neat denouement – life rarely offers an easily resolved ending, and neither does she.
'Docs Not Cops' write that we must resist attempts to make our NHS any less universal
Louis Mendee explains the real human costs of climate change for the global south.
From climate change to automation to demographic shifts, Mathew Lawrence explains the challenges our economy will face in the coming decade.
Fifty years after the Abortion Act, women are still dying from being denied basic services, write activists from Feminist Fightback
We need to tackle the patronising ideology that lets Tory think-tanks sneer at social tenants, writes Emma Dent Coad
Acid Corbynism allows people to imagine a future beyond the paltry offerings of capitalism, writes Keir Milburn
'We wanted to use a shared love of the beautiful game to stand in solidarity with those living under occupation', writes Kate Hadley.
Priti Patel's shady deals are business as usual. Enough is enough, writes Eleanor Penny
Boris Johnson is a local disaster and a national embarrassment. He must go, writes James Clouting
The global elite have been stealing from society on an unprecedented scale, writes Tom Walker
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright
Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones
‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression
Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death
‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum