Strange Vistas

Perspectives on the Utopian

by Justyna Galant (Volume editor) Marta Komsta (Volume editor)
©2019 Edited Collection 168 Pages
Series: Mediated Fictions, Volume 16


The volume demonstrates the scope of utopian thinking and the enduring significance of past utopian fictions and historical events as potentially contributing to a more comprehensive understanding of the contemporary reality. The essays examine the concept of utopia in a variety of contexts, such as philosophy, translation, music, social and political issues, like workers’ movements and ideology, exploring global utopian fiction from medieval Persian poetry, through late 19th- and early 20th-century narratives, to contemporary Russian and British dystopian novels. Taken together, the texts attest to the lasting allure of the hopeful utopian visions as well as to the pertinence of the dystopian warnings contained in the darker fictive scenarios and social speculations.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Translation in Utopia and Utopia in Translation: The Case of Translating as a Utopian Practice
  • “O Music, Sweet Music”—Practising Utopia in the Jazz Improvization of Wayne Krantz
  • The Iranian Heritage of Utopianism: Niẓami Ganjaviʼs Utopian Thoughts
  • Towards a Stateless Syndicalist Society: Strike, Solidarity, and Struggle in Émile Pataud and Émile Pouget’s Utopia How We Shall Bring about the Revolution
  • Conrad, Ideology and Utopia
  • The Contiguity of Utopia and Dystopia in Monteiro Lobato’s The Racial Shock
  • “You Know Nothing of Tomasz”: Polish Immigrant as the Cultural Other in More Than This
  • “Man is Good at that Sort of Thing in General: At Substituting Illusion for Reality”: Simulations in Dmitry Glukhovsky’s Metro Trilogy
  • Seeking Solidarity: The Influence of the American Haymarket Affair on Unionization in America and Europe
  • Towards a Communicative Logic: U-Topos as Element
  • Mapping the Mindspace of Retopia: On Political Imagination
  • Coda: The Space to Dream Again: Utopian Prospects in the Age of Trump
  • Notes on Contributors

Justyna Galant, Marta Komsta


For Krishan Kumar “[u]topia confronts reality not with a measured assessment of the possibilities of change but with the demand for change” (107). Above all, scholars of utopias, alongside authors of utopias, share the desire to re-kindle our interest in the world, aiming to estrange what may have become too familiar, not only to inspire intellectual or aesthetic pleasure, but also to offer a new vista that opens a way to a critical rethinking and, ultimately, change. Admittedly, as Zygmunt Bauman attests, “[a] hundred years ago ‘to be modern’ meant to chase ‘the final state of perfection’—now it means an infinity of improvement, with no ‘final state’ in sight and none desired” (Bauman 241). This Wellsian view of utopia as an unceasing journey of improvement lies at the heart of this publication. The wide range of the topics and aspects perused in the chapters attests, thus, to the perennial need for hope and improvement even in the darkest of circumstances, as utopia is indeed sought and found in the strangest places.

The works of fiction examined in the volume come from a variety of times and locations, from the Persian Middle ages to the early 20th-century France, and concern a broad spectrum of literature, ranging from the canonical texts of Joseph Conrad or the currently popular dystopian Metro trilogy, to the lesser known, ambiguous early 20th-century Brazilian Racial Shock, which offers a vision of a future United States ruled by a black president.

While the authors contributing to this volume show keen awareness of the worldwide increasing engagement with dystopian scenarios, both in the increasingly popular works of fiction and in the form of bleak socio-political scenarios, they rarely leave us with uniformly pessimistic conclusions. A look backward provided by some of the chapters in this volume—to the 1886 Haymarket affair, or the seminal medieval Translation Movements—reminds us of the human capacity for empathy, justice, and community, which diminishes the significance of geographical distance and cultural differences. A look ahead to the anticipated post-capitalist society or the post-Trump USA, while attempted in the recognizably difficult political context of today, fosters hope in the possible futures that may evolve from the current turbulent reality. Paradoxically, in times of fluid referents the polyvalent pursuit of utopia remains the most stable of humanity’s endeavors.

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The volume begins with the chapters exploring the practical dimension of the utopian impulse as a testimony to utopia’s potentiality for shaping the present. “Translation in Utopia and Utopia in Translation: The Case of Translating as a Utopian Practice,” by Mir Saeed Mousavi Razavi and Morteza Gholami, focuses on the process of translation as a utopian act of communication which fosters global solidarity and understanding. Commencing with Lawrence Venuti’s inquiry into the theory of translation on the basis of Ernst Bloch’s notion of surplus, the chapter argues for translation’s innately utopian function realized in the creation of “a global community around a translated text.” In support of their claim, Mousavi Razavi and Gholami approach some of the most significant translations of More’s Utopia as well as the renowned Baghdad and Toledo Translation Movements as utopian endeavors aimed at facilitating fellowship amongst diverse cultural contexts.

Similarly, as an experienced jazz musician, John Glenmore Style makes a compelling claim for utopia’s potential in developing “a real sense of the unfolding power of humanity.” In his chapter the author outlines the work of Wayne Krantz, a contemporary American jazz guitarist and improviser, by applying Ernst Bloch’s theory to the practice of improvisation to examine the act of music making as constitutive of utopian musical moment. In his detailed examination of Krantz’s Improviser’s OS¸ Style investigates how jazz improvisation sensu Krantz becomes the vehicle for the utopian “evanescent moment” capable of creative transgression and transformation.

The next section, arranged chronologically, is devoted to utopian poetry and fiction written in various cultural and political contexts, demonstrating the omnipresence and vitality of utopian dreaming.

As a fitting starting point to the multifaceted examination of literary utopias across the ages, “The Iranian Heritage of Utopianism: Niẓami Ganjaviʼs Utopian Thoughts,” by Alireza Omidbakhsh and Mohammadamir Jalali, considers Niẓami Ganjavi, a key literary figure of the Persian Golden Age, whose long narrative poem, “The Treasury of Mysteries,” delineates the utopian imagination of the medieval Iran. Drawing upon Gregory Claeys and Lyman Tower Sargent’s classification of utopias, Omidbakhsh and Jalali attest to Ganjavi’s unique status as both a poet and a utopian thinker by highlighting the relationship between the tolerant and moral philosopher king and his people as foundational utopian practice in Ganjavi’s work.

Writing from a different historical and political vantage point, Csaba Toth looks at Émile Pataud and Émile Pouget’s novel How We Shall Bring about the Revolution (1909). Authored by French syndicalists and architects of the union Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT), the text outlines the way to a utopia ←8 | 9→initiated by a general strike followed by a period of reflection during which workers realize the unfairness of their position. Toth offers a detailed account of the fictional revolution and its outcome, indicating the originality of the text (the rarity of a syndicalist utopia) and the thorough depiction of the various effects of the revolution, such as the divisive question of consumption, destruction of the coercive institutions of the state, the issue of land ownership, or the woman question. Linking the work to its political context as well as the events after its publication, the author underlines the mobilizing, inspirational power of this text and other utopias of its type, seeing workers’ solidarity as an enduring phenomenon within society and utopian literature.

In the next chapter, Antonis Balasopoulos proposes an analysis of Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim (1900) and Victory (1915) in ideological as well as utopian terms, while significantly departing from an earlier reading along these lines by Fredric Jameson. Taking as his point of departure Mannheim’s distinction between a “preservative” and “shattering” functions of, respectively, ideology and utopia, the author discusses the utopian in Conrad’s fiction as an opposition to the ideological. Recognizing the ontological grounding of the dialectic between ideology and utopia on the level of narrative (especially within such aspects as plot and characterization) and acknowledging their persistent co-presence and interplay in the novels, Balasopoulos identifies these two categories as instances of double negation present in Conrad’s fiction, and as notions immanent in the novelist’s approach towards pessimism and skepticism.

The next contribution, entitled “The Contiguity of Utopia and Dystopia in Monteiro Lobato’s The Racial Shock,” by Evanir Pavloski, offers a rather bleak view of the future in his discussion of Monteiro Lobato’s 1926 novel that highlights the social and political ramifications of racial tensions in the future Brazil and United States. In his chapter, Pavloski provides an insightful introduction to Lobato as one of major literary figures in early 20th-century Brazil, whose influential socio-political views on nationalism and eugenics became the central thematic component of his only novel, The Racial Shock. By arguing for the satirical reading of Lobato’s work, Pavloski contends that the use of eugenics in Lobato’s novel reflects the problematic relationship between the utopian pursuit of social stability and the dystopian insistence on homogeneity that constitutes the core tension in the discussed text.

In “‘You know nothing of Tomasz’: Polish Immigrant as the Cultural Other in More Than This” Anna Bugajska considers the eponymous Tomasz, the Polish teenager in Patrick Ness’s 2013 YA dystopia More Than This, who struggles to find his place in the simulated afterlife. Approached by Bugajska as a “palimpsestic tale overwritten on Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe,” Ness’s novel allows for a ←9 | 10→thought-provoking examination of the cultural topos of the Polish outsider and its ambivalent status in the Western world, established in-between such dichotomies as “noble soldier vs. cunning conman.” In Bugajska’s analysis, Tomasz’s identity becomes both the burden to the protagonist and his means of escape from the oppressive environment; consequently, the novel effectively establishes the character of Tomasz as the contemporary re-appropriation of the Polish immigrant whose implied cultural otherness becomes the key aspect of the transnational solidarity in Ness’s work.

Another fictional dystopian scenario is the focus of Dmitry Glukhovsky’s Metro trilogy (2013–2015) in Julia Kula’s chapter which refers to the protagonist’s search for the truth in the subterranean totalitarian realm of the future Moscow. Adopting Baudrillardian perspective in her analysis of the post-apocalyptic civilization, the author examines Glukhovsky’s text as an example of a simulated dystopian reality where the existence of any life above the ground is purposefully denied by the state-controlled propaganda.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (September)
utopia dystopia solidarity literature philosophy ideology
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2019., 168 pp.

Biographical notes

Justyna Galant (Volume editor) Marta Komsta (Volume editor)

Justyna Galant is Assistant Professor of English Literature at Maria Curie-Skłodowska University, Lublin. She published in the field of Renaissance drama and utopia. Marta Komsta is Assistant Professor of English Literature at Maria Curie-Skłodowska University, Lublin. She published articles on British contemporary fiction and utopian narratives.


Title: Strange Vistas
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170 pages