Sunday, 24 February 2008

Week Eight

Monday 8/1 Our last case study and first comparative discussion.

1. American intentional communities - especially Northampton and Oneida (in the Reader)

2. Comparative discussion: procreation and childrearing (reading distributed last week).

William J. Goode, ‘Family Changes Over The Long Term: A Sociological Commentary’, Journal of Family History, Jan 2003; vol. 28: pp. 15 - 30.[online]

Bryce J. Christensen, 'The Family in Utopia', Renasence: Essays on Values in Literature, 44 (1991), pp. 31-44. [online] – a prolific pro-family writer

Additional utopian text:
C. Perkins Gilman, Herland (extract in The Utopia Reader)


8/2 Comparative discussion: building and mapping Utopia
For bodiliness we can discuss anything from the human body to the perfect city to the perfect other world.

  • How do the perfect body and the perfect architecture shape the perfect individual and the perfect society?

    More details behind the cut:
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  • Which utopias are focussed on physical perfection and why?
  • Are imagined systems of property designed for material/bodily perfection rather than spiritual enrichment?

For stimulating debate about the body/mind binary see: Caroline Walker Bynum's 1999 NEH Jefferson Lecture called 'Shape and Story'. It is also reprinted as the last chapter of her book: Metamorphosis and Identity (2001, rep 2005). In it she considers the European tradition of
metamorphosis (of identity and change) from Ovid to Angela Carter.

If you want a modern novel that plays on the social and political tensions between
body and soul then read Kazuo Ishiguro's, Never Let Me Go (2004).

Walker Bynum focuses on the role that stories about fantastical lands and creatures
(such as werewolves) have played in thinking about desired transformations and the relationship between material form and spiritual being, whether we are a product of nature and the environment, or of society and culture, and how do we divide the two in defining the human? (The werewolf being something that changes yet stays the same, a bit like the children in Never Let Me Go). Peripherally we have come across quite a bit of such fantasy - in the tradition of travel writing which fed into utopias, sustained it until the programmatic futuristic types took over, but then reemerged with Butler and modern science fiction.

  • How are architectural forms seen in utopias EITHER as an extension to the human body, OR as a necessary constraint (a physical expression of law) given the impossible fluidity of the human?


The monstrous as a way of imagining both the limits and the possible futures of human nature is quite hip at the moment. There is a lot of discussion of these issues over at In The Middle(though this site comes with a health-warning, it doesn't load properly on my pc at present making it difficult to use).

If you are interested in the relationship between architecture and language (in ways which has big implications for the architecture of the internet)* then you might like to look for the work of the architect Christopher Alexander. His The Timeless Way of Building (1979) or The Oregon Experiment could easily be classed as utopian texts, and have inspired several utopian built communities, but I suggest that these remain optional extras for those who are particularly interested. This link tells the story of how his Pattern Language, designed for building buildings, was adopted by computer programmers building the internet during the dot.com boom.

*Yehuda E. Kalay and John Marx, 'Architecture and the Internet: designing places in cyberspace' at First Monday

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