Tuesday, 29 January 2008


Is there a genre of utopian writing? If so what is its relation to history? Has it emerged and been developed through history, or been imposed retrospectively on the past? In either case what would we suggest as key moments in the history of the creation of a utopian genre?

Do Thomas More and his friends, in looking quizzically backward, create a genre of utopian writing that demands that we pay attention to Plato, Cicero, Seneca and Augustine but ignore the men talking in the pub (see his letter to Peter Gilles)? Or would we place the creation of the genre much, much later – even as late as the creation of a body of scholarship about utopianism in the mid to late twentieth century?

What criteria might be used to argue for or against the existence of a utopian genre? Is it necessary for utopian writers to have read each other and to be self consciously operating within a genre? Or can several writers share similar methods and goals, possibly as a product of shared or comparable historical circumstances?

Are there several utopian genres? Chronologically: does early modern utopian writing form a distinct genre within its own right – and those following Owen and Fourier another, for example? Davis and others distinguish thematic types of utopia (utopia, cockaigne, millenarianism). In essence these are questions about History and its linear (or non-linear) characteristics and about the fabrication of history as a discipline.

High-culture and low-culture. More seems to resolutely ignore the vernacular literature of his own times. Bakhtin makes the case for reading the French of Rabelais as a reflection of a much wider range of cultural influences of than the intellectual humanism of Erasmus and his circle. As a matter of genre where does Utopian writing fit socially – at what point does it intersect with the men in the pub?

So – these are some loose thoughts about the genre question – which will distill into precise questions (possibly with your help).

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