Monday, 18 February 2008

Seminar 7/1 - Some Thoughts Thereon

Good afternoon Yahoos (only kidding),

I just thought I'd post some thoughts about today's seminar, because I found it particularly enjoyable. The books we discussed were both great, and I found the actual discussion very interesting.

I very much liked the bit at the end of the seminar with the around-the-table opinions of everyone. I found it all very thought-provoking and useful. If you're interested in challenging or supporting them, here are the points I sought to make in that discussion.

  1. That I don't think utopianism has shrugged off or moved on from an association with totalitarianism. I don't think that utopian study or writing has itself been harmed or reduced because of this association, even if the practice of attempting to build and enforce a utopia on an existing society has suffered in reputation. Studying and reflecting on ideas about utopia is just as popular now as ever, perhaps more so.
  2. Contentious point: That a writing with an undeniably strong utopian element attempts to change current society in a good direction, or at least makes you reflect on it. It does this by portraying a better society that is possible to achieve. These are 'eutopias'. Similarly, some utopian writing attempts to prevent certain changes which society seems to be undergoing, or at least makes you reflect on those changes. It does so by portraying a worse society, or an equally horrible one, which could possibly result in future. These are 'dystopias'. Anything that seems ambiguous, contentious, or philosophical and is related to the betterment of individuals in society, or society as a whole, falls into the realms of 'utopia', which encompasses the above. Most texts have the ambiguous elements of 'utopia' which make all of this reading and debate so much fun; there are so many different interpretations.
  3. As sure as people will always reflect on their social situation, utopianism will always exist, regardless of how much prestige is attached to it. I don't think that utopian writing is ever likely to cease, because people will always think of issues related to social or individual betterment, which are the primary concern of utopia.

Meanwhile, I thought some other great ideas were brought up. For instance, the idea that utopia has been scaled down and moved away from its association with the state. Also, the examples of places like 'Somewhere' in Zaragoza. It made me wonder if a eutopia which humans are still striving to create will have to be dependant on a non-eutopia (like some, but not all, of our fictional utopias). Like Becky said, Zaragoza isn't exactly an Eden-like area with abundant resources. Finally, I liked the discussion of utopias in which society constantly changed, and did not remain static. I thought this could be used nicely as a comparative theme to see how it is treated in some of the texts we looked at. I'm sure there were other good ideas, I just haven't noted them all down.

Would love to discuss these ideas more on the blog if anyone is interested. It would be nice to know what some other personal viewpoints are on this matter.


Sarah Rees Jones said...

Good idea. I think those round table sessions are very productive. I was blown away by the SF one too. Something we should continue to do now that we move into the comparative section.

I liked Beckie's Utopia as small (even Cat's internalised utopia) too - and would place FLW in that mould (his two books suggest that he was as interested in reshaping the family in a utopian way through architecture as he was the city). One person's work we did not discuss today is Zygmunt Bauman - inventor of the term 'liquid modernity' - who has probably done as much as anyone to promote the idea of non-totalising small and diverse utopianisms (plural). Jameson also discusses other versions of utopian pluralism in c13 of Archaeologies - and argues that 'local v. global' has replaced the old 'individual v. society' binary of traditional utopianism. He also has a great paragraph about thinking this through in relation to digital utopianism (on pp. 163-4).

But I want to know where the new eu/utopian fiction is?

Rebecca said...

i was thinking yesterday that whilst everyone was saying utopia has gone small, and this is definitely true in the western world due to post-mod and relativism i guess. but... i think it has the possibility to become more far-reaching again, and maybe soon. lots of people brought up the issue of the environment and eco communities, i think that the whole eco-trade justice movement may have a big impact. its just that the idea of a fundamental right and wrong with global consequences seems to be being re-born, eg for many people it is WRONG to leave all your lights on when you're not in the house, rather than just a personal choice. if these underlying principles grow that big utopia, utopia that is formed for more than just a family or individual may again have a significance...

ok so i'm generalising alot, but you said you wanted peoples thoughts olly

Olly Fayers said...

I do want people's thoughts! And I promise no intervention from thought-police-like types.

I hope that your interesting theory about fundamental right and wrong turns out to be, well, not right. I don't want to be made to feel sinful for leaving a lightbulb on deliberately, but from my point of view, a lot of people do view it as WRONG, like you say.

I did like the idea that utopias had reduced in scale, but I do feel that it supports an another argument which I like; that any 'eutopia' can only practically be a eutopia for one or a few individuals. After this, I think fundamental disagreements which negate the 'eu' of utopia occur. Also, the small-scale utopias we talked about will surely be dependent on bigger societies which we are already more familiar with. If a utopia depends on non-utopian societies in this way, and thus prolongs the existence of the non-utopians, is it actually a utopia?

Anyways, thanks for your reply. I imagine nobody will want to comment on this comment!