The Courage of Utopia

‘The only safe way of reading a Utopia is to consider it the expression of the temperament of its author.’—William Morris


Finding a dystopia for our times is topical (Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here or Nathanael West’s A Cool Million might fit the mood), but more attention could also be given to the terrifying dimensions of past utopian writing. The rustic paradise of William Morris’ News from Nowhere is made possible by a great bloodbath; the setting of Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward and Equality is a monotonous and hedonistic conception of perfection that happily countenances racial segregation; Ernest Callenbach's Ecotopia is predicated on the balkanisation of the United States; Edward Bulwer-Lytton's The Coming Race requires genocide and Elizabeth Burgoyne Corbett's New Amazonia features eugenic policies against the disabled. It has long been my belief that Utopia is the superior genre; it requires writers to commit to an idea about society. In contrast, however great, a dystopia is an easier gesture. Utopias are fascinating because the author risks exposing their dystopic tendencies, while in dystopias they defensively point to dystopic tendencies elsewhere. 

Frantic Februaries (Successful Friends)


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Sunday, 23 February 2020

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