The Paris Review

Objects of Despair: Mars

Inspired by Roland Barthes, Meghan O’Gieblyn’s monthly column Objects of Despair examines contemporary artifacts and the mythologies we have built around them.

Mars is an impossible planet: waterless, desolate, barren. Its atmosphere is drenched in UV radiation and contains only trace amounts of oxygen. Temperatures in the winter are comparable to Antarctica’s, and in the summer there are dust storms that stir up the toxic soil and blot out the sun for weeks at a time. Any reasonable person knows that humans will never consent to live there. This is why Mars is the ultimate utopia: a planet where no real future is imaginable is a planet where any future is imaginable. The writer Wladislaw Lach-Szyrma, who coined the noun , wrote his utopian novel (1883) to remind readers here on earth that “there may be brighter worlds than this, and a happier existence than we can have here.” (1893), by Alice Ilgenfritz Jones and Ella Merchant, female Martians vote, control the levers of power, and unabashedly solicit the company of male prostitutes, while males are relegated to the errands of the domestic sphere. In a world with forty percent gravity, a planet unburdened by the weight of history, such things can happen.

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