Monday, April 4, 2016

Published by Erasmus in Belgium

If you do not find a remedy to these evils it is a vain thing to boast of your severity in punishing theft, which, though it may have the appearance of justice, yet in itself is neither just nor convenient; for if you suffer your people to be ill-educated, and their manners to be corrupted from their infancy, and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education disposed them, what else is to be concluded from this but that you first make thieves and then punish them?
2016 is, in case you were unaware, the 500th anniversary of the first publication of Thomas More's Utopia. I have an interest in utopian literature. There's quite a bit of good scholarship around utopian literature, it turns out. There is a slight possibility that one day I'll write a novel called An Atlas of Utopias (the title is stolen from George Woodcock's 1980 review of the book Utopian Thought in the Western World by Frank and Fritzie Manuel; Woodcock notes that "The utopia is in fact the literary genre in which the difference between creative imagination and plausible invention is most clearly exemplified," which seems true enough).

7 comments:

  1. love erasmus; "in praise of folly" was one of the first books that really influenced me as a young person. utopias: i have a copy of "islandia" by tappan wright; i tried to find another copy years ago but couldn't, so i held onto this one...

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  2. I would note that I think current readers (and film goers) seem much more interested in dystopias than utopias. I wonder what that preference (or my observation) says about our collective state of mind in 21st century civilization? In any case, are there fictional representations of utopias reconstructed out of dystopian conditions? Perhaps that question answers itself. If life were not dystopian, why would we need utopia? Isn't Heaven the ultimate utopia?

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    1. tx, but not getting into that right now...

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    2. I expect all utopias are related to what the writer sees as "dystopian conditions." Utopian books can often be suspected of satire upon the writer's country, as in the case of Sir Thomas More.

      Okay, I'll jump into that quagmire... O wise Mudpuddle, who did not!

      Utopia is a kind of dream that explores ways of structuring social and political life. In that sense, I would say heaven as understood by its inhabitants is not an "ultimate utopia" because: a.) it is not political; and b.) its citizens choose to enter that realm in the messy here and now.

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  3. I tried to add a comment a couple of days ago, but I'm on vacation and the internets have not been cooperative.

    My opinion is that utopias are places, social orders; Heaven is neither a place nor a social order so it's not a utopia. Heaven is "the peace which passeth understanding," not a society as such.

    I also tend to think that people write utopias not so much because they are looking for perfection, but because they are angry with whatever their home government is doing.

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    1. that was certainly true of Butler; he was mad at his father... so he invented erewhon to live in. as i remember, it was as much an adventure story as a utopia... I'd still like to know if you've read Islandia; if not i could send you my copy, as i don't think it's readily available...

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    2. I have not read Islandia, but I have read about it while poking around in utopia scholarship. It's a million pages long, isn't it? I think the university has a copy in the library. Maybe I'll have a look at it. I like the idea of an obsessive academic creating a fictional world as a lifelong hobby. I might steal that for my possible novel.

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