Academic journal article Utopian Studies

Accessing Utopia through Altered States of Consciousness: Three Feminist Utopian Novels *. (Essays)

Academic journal article Utopian Studies

Accessing Utopia through Altered States of Consciousness: Three Feminist Utopian Novels *. (Essays)

Article excerpt

LITTLE WORK HAS BEEN CARRIED OUT on the process of accessing utopian visions through changes in consciousness in feminist utopian literature, yet it has been repeatedly argued that these fictions are engaged in creating a new consciousness, both political and spiritual. Carol Pearson, for example claims that these texts, `portray women as the creators of a new consciousness and a new vision' (`Coming Home' 64). Lucy Sargisson also identifies feminist utopianism with creating a `paradigm shift in consciousness', which `can enable us to repattern and restructure our thought; to dance differently to the same tune, which is language; and to foresee the previously unforeseeable' (229). Furthermore, Jean Pfaelzer has argued that our "`incapacity to imagine utopia'" (`Response' 193) is related to the fact that utopian visions challenge conscious experience, because they attempt to represent what cannot be (fully) represented. The movement in post-1970s feminist utopian literature towards open-ended ambiguous narratives that resist closure, implicitly acknowledges this problem. However, as Pfaelzer concludes, feminist utopias often succeed in articulating utopian moments through their use of `multiple protagonists; multiple narrators; interpolated time frames; frequent shifts among past, present, and future; and frequent shifts among dreams, awakenings, and drug-induced states of consciousness' (`Response' 194). The use of altered states as a narrative device then, is significant, because it is linked with issues of representation within the texts. As Nan Albinski briefly notes, altered states function within these texts as a form of social cohesion, `[uniting] members of a society on a subconscious level of dreams, sometimes through practising communications through extra-sensory perceptions [...] in some eutopias this ability to share thought and/or dreams takes on the significance of an alternative technology' (175). I am primarily interested in the latter methods that Pfaelzer refers to, of dreams, awakenings, and states of consciousness, (drug-induced or otherwise (1)) and agree with her that these processes open the texts up to utopian possibility, dislocating the reader through the use of `the fantastic, the subjective, the dream [...] through narrative sleights of hand' (`Response' 196-7).

In this essay I address the process of accessing utopian visions in three feminist utopian novels. I contend that these altered states, which include dreams, trances, meditations and hallucinations, are intrinsically related to the texts' vision of feminist utopianism as rooted in creating a new spiritual and political consciousness. Debates relevant to this discussion include the idea of the "mental utopia," women's spirituality, ecofeminism and also feminist critiques that argue that women's experience of madness could lead to spiritual vision and transformation.

The three novels under discussion are Dorothy Bryant's The Kin of Ata are Waiting for You, Starhawk's The Fifth Sacred Thing, and Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time. These texts have been selected firstly, because in all three accessing utopia takes place through a specific process of altering states of consciousness. These altered states range widely from dreaming and meditation to psychic healing, telepathy, and psychotic hallucinations, thus the texts consider a broad repertoire of altered states whilst consistently linking these experiences with utopian possibilities. Secondly, all three texts have been widely read and discussed within the context of utopian and feminist utopian literature, without reference to their consideration of altered states: this essay will address this neglect. It should be noted however that an extensive range of feminist utopian novels also explores the connections between utopia and altered states. Texts of particular interest include Sally Miller Gearhart's The Wanderground: Stories of the Hill Women; Donna J. …

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