Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Comparative Themes

I hoped to give more time in class yesterday to discussing possible comparative themes for the last three seminars. I think we need to focus on relatively specific issues such as the issues of procreation and childrearing on which we will focus in the second half of Monday's class. I am sure that we will find these specific issues will expand into broader treatments of the relationships between individuals and societies.

So I am going to post a few possibilities here for you to discuss. Again I have not given these as much thought as I would like, but hey-ho, life is short! The list of rudimentary possible topics is hidden behind the 'read more cut'.

How do different utopias (and eu and dystopias) treat:

The issue of authority. What is the best state of the republic?, is utopianism the same as anarchism, is law necessary and if so who makes it, what kinds of authority are proposed instead of law, how diverse is the utopian tradition in its conception of power? Liberty? Freedom from, or to do, what?

Education, information, religion, science and knowledge. Are all utopias a form of science fiction. To what extent is perfection of the mind/soul/psyche/spirit/conscience the chief goal of utopianism. How does utopianism extend this good to all members of society. What kinds of education etc are preferable and why.

Mapping and Building. To what extent is perfection of the body the chief goal of utopianism - we might consider this at every level from the human body, through the city to the other worldly geographies of utopias. In utopia is place a metaphor for time?

These are still pretty big themes - and there must be others. In my haste to bring this together, I would welcome your refining input.


Becca said...

I think that we could possibly talk about another theme which we haven't really considered yet in seminars - the body. It occurred to me how central the idea of the body is when reading about digital utopias this week. They all seem to be based around the freedom of thought, freedom of information, which is created by the mind. I read the Introduction of Virtual Communities which was talking about how the internet is a place where people can interact without being judged as 'carnal vessels'. Perhaps we could think of cyberspace as a utopia of the mind?

Perhaps utopian thought today is moving more towards the idea of separating the mind and the body, maybe in reaction to a materialistic culture?

The body also came up in the Dispossessed - on Annarres there is no fashion, it is the faces that matter, not the body. On dystopian Urras however, women wear jewellry and there is a more materialistic, appearance obsessed culture.

Also - Swift's satire revolved around the grossness of the human body (Gulliver's body) which Robert Demaria (Penguin ed introduction) said was 'designed to discourage worldly pride and remind us of the importance of the spirit.'

Many of the other utopias seem to take up the issue of the body - in Plato the mating of humans to create the most perfect breed(though perhaps intellectual as well as bodily?), the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve become aware of their nakedness, and in Erewhon where the Erewhonians became machine-like before their revolution.

It seems to me that there might be two ideas coming through -

1. the idea of perfecting the body, which will lead to a perfect society (Plato?)

2. the utopian condition is one where the spirit, the mind, is placed above the form, the physical. (cyberspace, Swift, Butler, Le Guin)

These are just a few ideas, like to know what you think!

Sarah Rees Jones said...

What a great set of comments Becca - i must admit I was starting to think along the mind/body binary and that is partly why I suggested one session on education etc (the mind) and another on building etc (starting with the body). Does that do it?

Perhaps we could think of cyberspace as a utopia of the mind?