Saturday, 2 February 2008

Pub discussions and Stuff So Far

Evening again Utopians,

Just thought I would offer my opinions as to how the module is going, especially with regards to the 'philosophical debate vs historical context' issue that seems to have cropped up.

Without meaning to undermine too much the seminar content so far, I would perhaps seek to defend the philosophical debate, although I must confess I didn't think we had been doing an awful lot of it. I'm quite keen to grapple with, and write about, issues central to what utopia / utopianism is, whether utopia is an achievable goal, the idea of change within a utopian society and so on. I don't feel we've really touched on that many of these, though I do agree with the post under the title of 'So Far'. These are the issues which made me feel glad to have chosen this module.

This said, I found a lot of merit in focussing on the historical context of certain utopias as we did in the seminar concerning revolutions. From the pub discussion, I think some people feel that this is more in line with the historical nature of the history degree. I do love the informed philosophical reflection though.

I do think it would be good to discuss Utopia as a genre, and think that it is a shame that we got bogged down by more technical issues in the seminar last monday. I'm not sure, for instance, how important it is to press ideas such as the City of the Sun being fundamentally and completely based on something to do with purgatory in Dante's Inferno. Whilst there seems to be some merit in this observation, I don't think we ought to dwell on such issues specific to one text in a comparative module. Pushing for the 'truth' of such theories stifles debate in a way which does not encourage everyone to develop their own histories; it shows a belief that one can read their way to the 'right' theory, when I would hope rather to be pursuing informed and diverse reflection, with less things being condemned as 'untrue' or 'wrong'. Those big issues such as the achievability of utopia and the running issues like education and expansionary utopian commonwealths are the ones I would like to build my understanding of most.

I don't wish to suggest that this hasn't been encouraged completely by Sarah in her response to Toby in the comments somewhere below, and in the 'so far' post. I'm just letting people know what I think in the hope that people can agree or disagree so we know where we are at, and the seminars can be more enriching. This topic is one of the most interesting I have ever studied; I'm sure you all feel similar; I think it is worth trying to make the very most out of such a promising module.

In the words of detective Columbo, 'one more thing'. I think that the blog was not only a smashing idea, but is actually working. It makes sharing ideas and information so much easier, and also gives more meaning to the module than merely turning up twice a week to prove that you have been reading. This is the way that all of the special subject seminars should go I feel. Seriously, what a good idea.

That'll be all folks.



Sarah Rees Jones said...

Just for information - was the Dante comment felt to be too historical, too philosophical or something else? It might have been an aside that sought to explain the influences on Campanella for example - or something more to do with the theology of sin and redemption. Maybe in a way the problem was that we didn't develop that point and force the poor person who made it to explain why they had made it. Maybe the blog can help here too. Two hours passes very rapidly (well for me anyway) - and the blog is a place where we can also pick up and explain things that we don't do well in class.

On genre - I take your point. My backing off from genre (off blog) was partly because I wanted us to read a bit more before we discussed it further - and also because I didn't want to explore genre in a reductionist way (utopia is xyz). I think Davis (for all I admire him) does that a bit - that might work in a specific historical context , but it will work less well in the broad comparative context of our module, I think ...

Olly Fayers said...

I felt that the Dante comment was worth consideration as an idea in itself. I researched it a bit just out of interest, and it seems like a good point. My only concern is that some points which are strenuously asserted as correct or true, are merely straying too far from a comparative discussion of utopias. How might one use the Dante comment in an essay of a comparative nature? Is it really majorly relevant in a debate about utopia in history?

I guess there are ways in which it can be seen as very relevant. But perhaps more relevant to a module on sin and redemption, which are concepts as complicated as utopias.

It is possibly that I felt the point was offered as 'the perception' of what the City of the Sun was, and not 'a perception'.