No Place Else: Explorations in Utopian and Dystopian Fiction

By Eric S. Rabkin; Martin H. Greenberg et al. | Go to book overview

I Eric S. Rabkin
Atavism and Utopia

Utopia (Greek for no place) belongs to the future. In the pleasant Eutopia (good place) of William Morris News From Nowhere ( 1890), the narrator falls asleep to mystically awaken in the restful twenty-first century; in the monstrous dystopia (bad place) of Aldous Huxley Brave New World ( 1932), the conditioned citizens live out their sterile lives in the sixth century After Ford. In H. G. Wells The Time Machine ( 1895), the Time Traveller first perceives A.D. 802,701 as a eutopia, "the whole earth had become a garden" (chap. 4), but he later "understood...what all the beauty of the Over-world people covered" (chap. 10). When the explicit literary displacement is not from the reader's time but from his place, as in Etienne Cabet A Voyage to Icaria ( 1839) or Samuel Butler Erewhon ( 1872), we still understand the practical message of the book to be an exhortation to us readers to mold a better future or avoid a worse one. In its programmatic aspect, utopian literature must belong to the future. After all, if a true utopia had ever really existed, it would still exist today and we would be reading travelogues instead of fictions.

Like all fictions, utopian literature must deal with the values and experiences of its audience. Eugene Zamiatin did not write We ( 1920) for the scientized "Numbers" reported to inhabit his United State any more than Plutarch (fl. ca. A.D. 100) wrote for the implacable infants raised in the romanticized Sparta he associated with Lycurgus. Both these writers, along with Morris, Huxley, Wells, Cabet, Butler and Zamiatin, programmatically address society but dramatically address individual readers, playing on universal hopes and fears, complexes of emotion that arise not from the intellectual contemplation of group alternatives but from the personal experiences of living. Each reader moved by utopian literature is responding intellectually to a vision of the future, but emotionally to a felt memory of his own past.

In the past of all adults, we the corrupt, there is the experience of change that is puberty. Before puberty there was innocence and after it

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