Nowhere in the Middle Ages

Nowhere in the Middle Ages

Nowhere in the Middle Ages

Nowhere in the Middle Ages

Synopsis

Literary and cultural historians typically cite Thomas More's 1516 Utopia as the source of both a genre and a concept. Karma Lochrie rejects this origin myth of utopianism along with the assumption that people in the Middle Ages were incapable of such thinking. In Nowhere in the Middle Ages, Lochrie reframes the terms of the discussion by revealing how utopian thought was, in fact, "somewhere" in the Middle Ages. In the process, she transforms conventional readings of More's Utopia and challenges the very practice of literary history today.

Drawing on a range of contemporary scholarship on utopianism and a broad premodern archive, Lochrie charts variant utopian strains in medieval literature and philosophy that diverge from More's work and at the same time plot uncanny connections with it. Examining works such as Macrobius's fifth-century Commentary on the Dream of Scipio, Mandeville's Travels, and William Langland's Piers Plowman, she finds evidence of a number of utopian drives, including the rejection of European centrality, a desire for more egalitarian politics, and a rethinking of the division between animals and humans. Nowhere in the Middle Ages insists on the relevance and transformative potential of medieval utopias for More's work and positions the sixteenth-century text as one alternative in a broader historical phenomenon of utopian thinking. Tracing medieval utopianisms forward in literary history to reveal their influences on early modern and modern literature and philosophy, Lochrie demonstrates that looking backward, we might extend future horizons of utopian thinking.

Excerpt

The past is our resource for overcoming the present, for
bringing about a future. The more we avail ourselves of its
resources, the more enriched are the current possibilities of
transformation.

—Elizabeth Grosz, Nick of Time

In 2004 Lee Edelman published his controversial critique of the “reproductive futurism” that drives American politics, in his view. The title of his book, No Future, embraced a mantra of queer resistance to this futurism figured in the Child, and with it, all its attendant linear histories, narratives, and presentsustaining effects. The title of my introduction cites Edelman’s book not by way of advocating a rejection of the past, as one might expect of such a citation, but rather, of marking the problem this book seeks to remedy. Utopianism as we have come to know and theorize it since Thomas More’s inaugural text of 1516 is about the future, especially a future that breaks with the present (never mind the past) and offers a horizon of possibilities with which the present can be reimagined. The past, in both theories of utopianism and histories of textual utopias, inhabits by default a time either of undischarged utopian potential or historical and cultural antecedence to the “birth” of Utopia in the sixteenth century. The past is irrelevant to Utopia both historically and theoretically, by most accounts. Hence, “No Past” suggests a kind of unspoken or -theorized assumption that undergirds utopian theories and histories. Utopia is the future full stop. The past is merely prelude to a disaffected present, a present in need of a future. Utopia is also the text that emerges ex nihilo, that is, out of Thomas More’s inaugural creation representing nothing so much as it does the impossibility of utopianism before its sixteenth-century coinage and conception.

In the same year that No Future was published, Elizabeth Grosz’s book, The Nick of Time: Politics, Evolution, and the Untimely also came out from . . .

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