Oryx and Crake (2004)
2000-1887 (1887) (background text)
Book of Acts (BCE > 1st century AD/CE)
Golden Age myths
selections from other classical,
multicultural, & postmodern texts
research posts (2
+ review in final; due 15-16 June; end of session)
(end of session)
for reading assignments
web reviews / presentations
mostly on historical utopias
Model Assignment highlights
from previous midterms, research posts, or final
Utopia has historical
and literary meaning:
utopia = an
intended to reform or escape from normal human society, often by substituting
planning, cooperation, or collective values and practices in place of
laissez-faire, competition, and individualism; a.k.a. "intentional community"
literary utopia = a novel
or fiction representing life and characters in such
“Utopia” comes from Thomas More’s
Utopia (1516). More coined the word from Greek parts, either
ou (no) +
topos (place, as
in “topography”) to mean “no place”
eu (good, as in “euphoria”) +
topos (place) to mean
Dystopia = society opposite
from a utopia, or a utopia gone dysfunctional. (“Any utopia is someone
Ecotopia = Ecological Utopia, a
community whose collective social health imitates nature’s
interconnectivity—from Ecotopia, 1975 novel by Ernest Callenbach.
is often associated with utopian narratives, as when the
Revelation ends in heaven.
Communities and Texts (list)
Utopian Fiction &
Experimental Communities in North America / USA (chronology)
/ conventions of utopian /
Introduction to Genres
Index to Terms
Literature of Ideas
Decline or progress?
Objective 1. Utopian
1a. How to define the
genre of “utopias?” What are this genre's standard
conventions or features? What
attractions and detractions? What
audiences are attracted or put off?
Utopian text as hybrid of
novel (journey, dialogue,
adventure, escape) and essay or tract (instruction
/ information, persuasion / propaganda, ethics / values,
Utopias as hybrid of fiction and history, imagination and
experience, idealism and reality.
1b. What genres
join with or branch from utopia? Examples: dystopia,
ecotopia, Socratic dialogue,
fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy,
romance, adventure / travel narrative, journalism, tract,
propaganda, satire. Others?
1c. Can utopias join
fiction, speculative fiction, and allied genres in a “literature of
1d. To identify the
author both within and beyond traditional literary categories—e.g., as
writer + activist, agitator, reformer, prophet / visionary?
How does Utopian Fiction rebalance literature's classical purpose to
entertain and educate?
Is utopian / dystopian literature more
interesting to talk about than to read?
Objective 2. Utopian
narrative action rises
from or fits the description of an ideal or dystopian community?—e. g., journey,
dialogue, exploration, learning, liberation, conversion?
2b. What problems rise from a utopian
story that minimizes conflict and maximizes
equality and harmony? What genre variations derive
from these problems with plot?
2c. What tensions between
the author’s description of a social theory and the reader’s and author's need for a story?
2d. How essential is
“millennialism” (apocalyptic or end-time event) to the utopian narrative?
2e. Does dialogue or
dialectic of learning replace the
traditional narrative of emergence,
pursuit, love, revenge, etc.?
Objective 3. Historical /
Obj. 3 To get over the routine
dismissal of utopias—"they don't work," “never happened,” or “castles in the sky”—and instead regard
utopias as literary and historical experiments
essential to Western Civilization and education.
nonfiction attempts by “communes,” “intentional communities,” nations, or cults to
institutionalize or practice utopian ideals. What relations are there
between fictional and actual utopian communities? What has been the historical
impact of utopian fictions? Do utopian forms
mirror and confirm social norms or oppose them?
3b. Are utopian impulses limited
to socialism and communism, or may freemarket capitalism and democracy also express
utopian terms and visions? Is utopia “progressive / liberal” or “reactionary /
conservative?” What relations between “self and other”
(us and them)
Does the utopian society model itself on
past, present, or future? Does a utopia stop time, as with the millennial rapture
or an achievement of perfection? Or can utopias change, evolve, and adapt to the
changes of history?
3c. What social structures,
units, or identities does utopia expose or frustrate?
Social units or structures:
person/individual/self, gender, sex, family [nuclear or extended],
community, village/town/city, class, ethnicity, farm, region, tribe, clan,
union, nation, ecosystem, planet, etc.
How may utopian studies shift the usual
American arguments over race, sex, faith, and gender to cultural and
3d. How seriously to
evaluate gender roles and standards of sexual and love relationships in utopian
communities? How do these differ from or resemble traditional norms? How
essential are such changes to their intended transformation of society?
What changes result in
child-rearing, feeding, marriage, aging, sexuality, etc.?
Since our major texts are set in North America, how do Americans regard utopias? What problems do
the Founding and recent history of the
USA present for utopian discussion? For example: socialism or communism, the
Cold War and collapse of Stalinist-Maoist Communism; discussing alternative
economic, reproductive, or child-rearing policies, the ascendance of
religious and freemarket fundamentalism or American culture's stress on
3f. Are utopias limited to
Western Civilization, rationalism, and social engineering, or may they exemplify
Is the utopian impulse universal or
specific only to Western culture or civilization?
If utopias or millennia are detected
in non-Western texts or traditions, are such terms appropriate, or do we
simply project our identities and values on cultures that are in fact doing
something else altogether?
Objective 4. Interdisciplinary
4a. What academic subjects or
disciplines are involved with utopian studies? Examples: literature, history,
sociology, economics, architecture, urban planning?
4b. How may utopian or millennial
studies serve as an interdisciplinary subject of study? What strengths
and weaknesses result from this status? (Comparable interdisciplinary subjects
include women’s studies, gender studies, ethnic studies [e. g., African American
studies, whiteness studies], future studies, millennialism.)
4c. Do some interdisciplinary subjects
underprivilege multiculturalism? Do utopian studies privilege western civilization?
4c. Is “utopia” too simple and
singular a word or concept for the variety of phenomena it describes?
Conversely, what does utopia reveal about an author’s or culture’s cosmology or
worldview, as well as cosmogonies or origin / creation stories?
4d. How do literature and literacy appear in utopian or dystopian cultures? Include
computer literacy: What is a “virtual utopia” in science fiction and technology?
How has utopian speculation, communication, and organization adapted to the Web?
Does the Web itself assume utopian or millennial attributes? Can virtual reality
appear utopian while actual reality becomes dystopian?
Objective 5. Instructional Objectives
5a. How may a seminar classroom
serve as a microcosm, model, or alternative for American culture? How does use
of web instruction alter social dynamics?
5b. What does utopian / dystopian literature
instruct us about education?
What difficulties does
utopian instruction typically present?
Preventing discussions from stalling
on "Utopias don't work" or "Why are we talking about this?" (Utopian communities fail, but some people
keep attempting or learning from utopias.)
Why do American curricula emphasize
Since utopian studies offers so many non-literary subjects, how much to limit the discussion to literature or
expand to interdisciplinary or social / political concerns?
Can new sections of courses
build on previous sections' accomplishments?
5e. Recurring conflicts in
teaching literature: form or content? liberal or conservative ideology?
Can studies of utopian literature confront these questions or conflicts
more directly or dialectically?
Summer 2013 shedule
Monday, 3 June
The Golden Age
Discussion: Identify yourself
and educational / career interests; what previous knowledge or
reading of utopian / dystopian literature? Or related genres?
review assignments, texts
classical & scriptural utopias
Tuesday assignments & presenters
Assignments: Warning about
Utopia: tedious reading,
and rewarding—"earned classic":
could spend longer with it but may not want to
Work through Book 1 however you can and help
each other out in discussion Tuesday.
How does or doesn't
Utopia resemble a novel?
(Broadly, the "modern English novel" would not appear for app. 200
more years—DeFoe's Robinson Crusoe 1719).
As the novelistic passages are brief and
dispersed, what other reading pleasures?
Where does interest quicken or
slacken, and why? What aspects of a novel are
missing, and what happens instead?
What if any evidence of More as a
Historical background to More's
Printing press developed 1450s (e.g., Gutenberg
Bibles)—More's traveler makes references to Utopians learning printing from
European visitors (2.32)
*Discovery of America 1492—More makes direct
references to travels and writings of Amerigo Vespucci (1.1e)
*Renaissance (1400s-1500s) revives
humanistic and empirical thought from Classical Greece and Rome, joining
European emphasis on divine revelation and tradition from Middle Ages
*Rise of modern "power politics," formalized in Machiavelli's The Prince
especially in its emphasis on "If I were advising a leader,"
often seems like a reply to The Prince that differs by emphasizing
need for leaders to be humble, virtuous models rather than power
players; compare also to Plato's education of philosopher-kings in The
Thursday, 6 June
complete Thomas More,
(1516); begin C. P. Gilman,
Herland, chs. 1-2.
Discussion starter for Book Two of
Model Assignment highlights
(research posts): Jacob McCleese
B. F. Skinner,
Walden Two (1948) +
Utopia bk 2: Dan
utopia: pageantry (2.40),
property and family
Herland + Bakhtin; action
gardens, uniforms, irony / satire,
Walden Two + (objs. 1a, 4a)
problems with characterization does utopian fiction generate?
What balance of
fictional entertainment and social instruction? What parts
work best? What drives
you crazy? What does the
report leave out?
2. What conventions or set-pieces typify
utopian genre? One possibility: origin
story when Utopus separates the island from the mainland.
3. Utopia's most threatening reforms may be abolition
of private property, and reshaping of family relations. Are these two
proposals related? Is family a form of property?
4. What textual evidence of More as a
Herland: 1. What aspects of
the novel or fiction are immediately evident?
2. Describe Gilman's prose style—what
advances in utopian fiction as fiction?
3. How is Gilman's
style still limited by utopian conventions in characterization,
4. What advantages to telling the story from men's
perspective? Satire? (an allied genre—e.g., maybe More's
Utopia was satirical?)
1. What conventions of utopian fiction
continue? Describe Gilman's prose style—what
advances in utopian fiction as fiction?
2. How is Gilman's
style limited by utopian conventions in characterization,
viewpoint, even content? Specifically, the visiting men are far more
individualized than the more admirable women: what learn about utopian and
fictional characterization? Also, how convincing are the domestic or sexual
relations? Written in 1915, so what limits to representation?
3. What advantages to telling the story from men's
4. Associate Gilman and
Herland with the
Progressive Era, periods of progress as spawning utopias?
5. Ch.4 describes literature
produced by the utopia itself—what misgivings? Compare "Berrian's novels" in
ch. 15. (Instructor will direct.) 3.43; 4.69-4.70, 5.3. 9.46-9 (cf.
6. Herland appears in 1915, a half-century after Darwin's Origin of
Species (1859). How does Darwinian or evolutionary thought
appear in both the men's and women's attitudes and behavior—e.g., the
advent of Parthenogenesis, the women's centuries-long cultivation or
breeding, the men's defense of modern American economy as "Social
Darwinism," in which an unregulated freemarket creates class
struggle & "survival of the fittest."
6a. How may Darwinian utopias be compatible with Behaviorist utopias?
As literary genre, Anthem is not a
utopia but a dystopia, but the two terms remain
1. compare / contrast Anthem to utopian texts.
How are utopias & dystopias co-dependent for identity?
2. What automatic appeals or "readability" do dystopian texts
offer over utopian texts, at least for a modern or American audience?
(e.g. romance narrative)
3. While Rand's status in the literary canon
is controversial, Anthem
offers some strong if limited literary appeals. How may we characterize
Rand's style? What appeals to fundamentalist freemarket capitalism +-
4. What do utopian texts scant or blur that Rand
develops? What consciousness does she demonstrate of utopian texts and
structures? (Obviously she hates them, but her text shows
occasional knowledge of utopian forms.) 1.28
5. Resemblance to other
early-mid 20c dystopias or satirical
utopias like Brave New World,
Lord of the Flies?
What resemblances or differences relative to teen dystopias, zombie apocalypse,
1. Conclusion to
Anthem: does it expose
some upsides to utopia?
2. How does Prometheus's new home resemble modern
suburbia or exurbia? How would you like Prometheus for a neighbor?
Can "planned communities" be related to utopias or intentional
communities? (Obj. 3b)
3. Among many ideological issues raised by
Rand's writing, what do you make of a woman writer who exalts
patriarchy? How rationalize “I” always being “he”? Is Golden One / Gaea a real
character or more like a mythic symbol? Since
Anthem is a
woman-authored text, how deal with masculine privilege and womanly
devotion? Is "Man" for humanity a period-style, or does it really
mean man? (Compare and contrast Herland.)
4. Why do Americans and American schools
emphasize dystopias or satirical utopias?
How does Ecotopia immediately
connect to our other utopian texts as a representative of the genre?
2. How to define the literary genre of “utopias?”
What conventions repeatedly appear? What audiences are involved or
3. What genres
join with or branch from utopia? Examples: dystopia,
ecotopia, Socratic dialogue,
romance, adventure / travel narrative, journalism,
propaganda, satire. Others?
4. In the
entertainment / instruction balance, how well does
Ecotopia work as entertaining fiction
as opposed to didactic literature?
/ conventions of utopian /
Everyone responsible for identifying one utopian
convention (or variation) in Ecotopia, or #2 below.
2. Re obj. 1 on hybrid novel / tract, how well does Ecotopia use both
genres? Compare to earlier utopian texts for character,
sexuality, narrative-dialogue mix.
3. How is
an earnest but naive expression of 60s-70s consciousness? What remains
impressive? What surprises?
4. Callenbach varies the utopian narrative by
combining Weston's learning about Ecotopia with sexual learning or
initiation. How convincing is this use of sexuality for narrative and social structure? Does it
help characterization, or is it just embarrassing and hippie?
4a. How does Weston's sexual instruction / learning resemble
that of the men in Herland?
5. Observe social mores in Ecotopia, esp. its
"public" nature: compare utopias' reduction or transformation of private
property and private family?
1. In the final episodes of Weston's initiation, can
the Ecotopians' behavior be compared to that of a cult? What difference between
a commune and a cult?
2. How effective is the
coordination of Weston's love story with Marissa and the narrative of
his ideological initiation?
3. As visual description,
the novel's best passages may be the competitive games as opportunity
for aggression-expression, + mystical healing associated with highly
sexualized society. Discuss.
How multicultural is Ecotopia? Or any utopia? Does the "Soul City"
description seem as tacked-on to you as to me?
5. Ecotopian literature: "Ecotopian novels . .
. security, almost like 19c English novels; world is decent,
satisfactory, sustaining despite some difficulties . . . .
At first the
stories seemed puzzlingly vapid to me. I couldn’t figure out why anybody would
find them interesting . . . How come they didn't have that exciting
nightmare quality? Some of them even have happy endings. . . . After a while,
they seem more like life—okay to spend time with, reassuring. Come to think of
it, Ecotopia itself is beginning to feel a good deal more reassuring: when I
needed care, I was taken care of."
|Monday, 24 June: midterm
assignment (instructor holds office hours during
class period; email midterm due by noon Tuesday, 25
for 25, 27 June, 1 July:
1. Genre(s): As the novel opens, what genre or genres appear to
be operative? (Obj. 1: speculative fiction,
science fiction, utopia /
dystopia, satire?) How does the
novel immediately indicate it is a
novel and not merely another precise specimen of utopian
fiction? As a novel, how much is any utopian or dystopian passage rendered
ironical by the presence of
differing passages or voices? (cf.
Bakhtin on dialogic of novel)
2. Style: For a serious writer who
is widely respected and taught
in higher education, Atwood's prose style is surprisingly accessible or readable. How does her
writing reconcile being intellectually challenging
but fluent and compelling to a wider audience? If a partial answer is her novels'
socio-political relevance, how does Atwood's writing avoid automatic categorization
as ideology or propaganda? Consider literary features, e.g.,
Contrast with pedestrian-formulaic style of pop
science fiction. How does Atwood
create a compelling character
like Jimmy / Snowman or Crake instead of stock stereotypes (e.g., in
science fiction, "the competent man"). Is the intelligence of
Jimmy's character consistent enough to be realistic?
Atwood frequently resorts to olfactory or smell
images. Relate to
humans as mammals, or other purposes?
3. Content: How does
Atwood criticize corporate capitalism realistically instead of
hysterically? (Too direct a criticism of the natural order marginalizes
voice, + novel ironizes even criticism.)
Religion in fiction may appear less as a supreme voice than as one of
many voices or worldviews whose interplay generates creation of a
social world. How does religion (or the "sacrilege" of "playing God"
through bio-engineering) appear in the novel, with what degree of
2 July: final exam
(final exam and 2nd research post due by email before or by
noon Saturday 6 July), or send either or both earlier.
No regular class meeting. Instructor holds
Thursday, 4 July: no meeting—Independence Day holiday
(named in anticipation of a utopian project, cancelled after failure
of La Reunion near Dallas)
publication & presentations on utopian, millennial literature
“A Utopia of `Spheres and Sympathies’: Science and Society in
Blithedale Romance and at Brook Farm.”
9.2 (1998): 78-102.
"Cross-Cultural Apocalypse in the Contact Generation of Native
and New England."
Fourth Annual Conference of the Center and Society for Millennial Studies,
"`A Patterne and Copie to Imitate':
and the `Praying Towns' of Native America."
Conference of the Society of Utopian Studies,
"Brook Farm, Fourier, and the City of
Lights: Utopia and
Session on Nineteenth-Century America, Society for
Utopian Studies conference,
19 October 1995.
"One Text, Three Worlds: A Narrative of Cosmological Transformation in Hawthorne's
Dissertators' Symposium, University of
Wisconsin-Madison, 19 April 1991.
2011 Utopias syllabus
LITR 5733 Seminar in American Culture: Utopias (1995)
Presentations / web reviews for possible addition to syllabus:
Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia
Ernest Callenbach's website
Brook Farm (1840s) / Nathaniel
Hawthorne, The Blithedale Romance (1852)
Lois Lowry, The Giver (1993)
Our texts within Western and American
historical tradition /
||European Renaissance / Reformation; exploration &
settlement of New World
||America as site of Eden; communal
Native America as precontact ecotopia
Looking Backward (1888)
||late 19th century, "Gilded Age"
||industrialization, urbanization, plutocracy of
limited government, freemarket economics controlled by "Robber Barons"
and "Captains of Industry"; gaps b/w rich and poor; high rates of
||early 1900s, Progressive Era (associated with
Pres. Theodore Roosevelt)
||labor laws, scientific government and social
work, woman's suffrage, environmental conservation and protection,
industrial regulation; progressive income taxes
||mid-1900s, New Deal & Fair Deal (Franklin
Roosevelt & Harry Truman)
||peak of socialist-oriented government in USA;
restricted immigration, government guarantees of social welfare (e. g.,
Social Security) + Cold War with negative totalitarian utopias of Soviet
Union and Communist China
||1960s-70s, liberal politics & social wealth (Civil
Rights, Great Society safety net, war on poverty, hippies)
||extension of New Deal to minorities; liberalization
of immigration laws; peace movements; youth culture > adverse reaction
by wealth & traditional values
articles for potential inclusion on
Yves Charles Zarka,
"The Meaning of Utopia" 2011
"Stop Pretending Cyberspace Exists," Salon.Com 12 Feb.
"Thinking Utopian: How about a universal basic income?" Washington
Post 11 May 2013.
notes for later offerings
suburbs as utopia / private-public identity