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The Shape of Utopia

Studies in a Literary Genre


Phillip E. Wegner

Upon its original publication in 1970, Robert C. Elliott’s The Shape of Utopia influenced both some of the major scholars of an emerging utopian and science fiction studies, including Darko Suvin, Louis Marin and Fredric Jameson, and authors of new utopian fiction ranging from Ursula K. Le Guin to Kim Stanley Robinson. The book establishes a deep genetic link between utopia and satire, and offers scintillating readings of classic works by Thomas More, Jonathan Swift, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Aldous Huxley and others. It charts the rise of an insidious «fear of utopia» that comes to characterize the first half of the twentieth century and investigates some of the aesthetic problems raised by the efforts to portray a utopian society, before concluding with brilliant speculations on the emerging practice of «anti-anti-utopia» – the reinvention of utopia for contemporary times. This Ralahine Classics edition also includes a new introduction by Phillip E. Wegner which situates the book in its context and argues for its continued significance today; a 1971 review of the book by the late author of utopian science fiction, Joanna Russ; and an opening tribute by one of Elliott’s former students, Kim Stanley Robinson.


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image: Francisco Goya, El entierro de la sardina [The Burial of the Sardine], c. 1812–1819. ISSN 1661-5875 ISBN 978-3-0343-0772-7 (print) ISBN 978-3-0353-0448-0 (eBook) Bibliographic information published by Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the Deutsche Nationalbibliografie; detailed bibliographic data is available on the Internet at A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. Library of Congress Control Number: 2013930954 For two Utopians Joanna Russ & Nicole LaRose Ralahine Classics Utopia has been articulated and theorized for centuries. There is a matrix of commentary, critique, and celebration of utopian thought, writing, and practice that ranges from ancient Greece, into the European middle ages, throughout Asian and indigenous cultures, in Enlightenment thought and in Marxist and anarchist theory, and in the socio-political theories and movements (especially racial, gender, ethnic, sexual, and national libera- tion; and ecology) of the last two centuries. While thoughtful writing on utopia has long been a part of what Ernst Bloch called our critical cultural heritage, a distinct body of multi- and inter-disciplinary work across the humanities, social sciences, and sciences emerged from the 1950s and 1960s onward under the name of ‘utopian studies’. In the interest of bringing the best of this scholarship to a wider, and new, public, the editors of Ralahine Utopian Studies are committed to identifying key titles that have gone out of print and publishing them in this series as classics in utopian scholarship.

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