Friday, 19 February 2010

Unfinished conversation...

William Morris's Kelmscott edition of Utopia by Thomas More.


Didn't quite finish the conversation in the last seminar... We discussed Marx and Engels' anti-utopianism, but also the possibly utopian elements in their own work. How did Morris pick up on this in Nowhere?

Which of their ideas did he share or not share - did he share their 'utopian' goals, or their scientific explanation of the processes of historical change and revolution?

His 'medievalism' may well be influenced by their account of the bourgeois revolution which now needed to be undone, though does Nowhere match the perfect post-revolutionary society of their imagination?

Then there is also the question of the rhetorical style he chooses. Nowhere has often been described as the best account of Marxism in an English novel. But if M&E rejected utopian socialism because of its reliance on dreams and visionaries, its desire to transform the whole of humanity, and its elements of fantasy, why does Morris choose to make precisely all those elements (the dream, the visionary narrator, the time travel, the undoing of history and dissolving of landscape) so central in his account of Nowhere?

1 comment:

Olly Fayers said...

I think that's a really thoughtful set of questions. I spend a reasonable amount of spare time reading William Morris's sentiments (via http://marxists.org/archive/morris/works/index.htm), but would struggle to answer those questions.

I wonder if either of these ideas might be a factor:

1) William Morris could not find an alternate literary device to credibly introduce the ideal society in a convincing manner. (A practical limitation perhaps).

2)Morris was frustrated that his ideal society (as depicted in Nowhere) had not been achieved despite humans having all of the material resources they needed to achieve it. He feared this vision would remain a dream, which could just be possible to convert to reality with a little selflessness from the influential minority who control labour. Thus, Nowhere is a dream until people choose to make it reality.

That said, I don't know enough about Marx and Engels views on socialist utopianism to know how compatible Morris's novel is, but I'm inclined to find out.