Monday, 4 February 2008

Thinking comparatively

I think there are 2 topics I could usefully post on as a result of the pub discussion: philosophy within utopias, and utopias and BIG history. But those will have to wait until I have more time. Before we get much further on however (and especially before we get to William Morriss and Jameson and SF) I thought it might be useful to bring up some philosophy about History.

In thinking comparatively we are using all kinds of techniques (such as binaries, for example) often without explicitly realising them. For comparative history, it is also useful to recall some of the work we do on History and time in the 'Issues in Historical Thought' module in term 6. So far we have talked about the invention of the idea of historical progress changing utopian thought (eg Mercier), and we have acknowledged Davis' rejection of a diachronic approach to history in favour of a synchronic approach (rejecting the notion of a single tradition of utopianism that evolves incrementally through history, preferring to contextualise early modern utopianism within a range of more immediate and simultaneous histories).

Before we get much further we might also want to consider anachronism. Famous utopian texts are constantly being reevaluated in new times and unfamiliar contexts. The legend of Prester John inevitably speaks to us in different ways from the ways it spoke either to late twelfth century crusaders or lodged in the unacknowledged memory of More, but each of those ways carries historical weight and significance and may be made to speak to each other (ie they can be compared as well as contrasted). Aleister Crowley's use of Rabelais' law of the abbey of Theleme: 'do what thou wilt' is another good example and we can think creatively of others.

I know that you know all this - but the blog is a good place to make more explicit some of the implicit undercurrents of our conversations.

No comments: