Studies in a Literary Genre
CHAPTER 1 Saturnalia, Satire, & Utopia
CHAPTER 1 Saturnalia, Satire, & Utopia Engels once spoke of Charles Fourier, the nineteenth century’s complete utopian, as one of the greatest satirists of all time. The conjunction may seem odd; we normally think of utopia as associated with the ideal, satire with the actual, which (man and his institutions being what they are) usually proves to be the sordid, the foolish, the vicious. In fact, however, the two modes—utopia and satire—are linked in a complex network of genetic, historical, and formal relationships. Some of these I propose to trace. First, a tangle of genetic lines which, in the way of these matters, lead to unexpected places. “All Utopias,” writes Arthur Koestler, “are fed from the sources of mythology; the social engineer’s blueprints are merely revised editions of the ancient text.” Insofar as utopia incorporates man’s longings for the good life, it is part of a complex of ideas that includes the Golden Age, the Earthly Paradise, the Fortunate Isles, the Islands of the Blest, the Happy Otherworld, and so on. The archetypal text, at least for the Western world, is that of Hesiod: In the beginning, the immortals Who have their homes on Olympos created the golden generation of mortal people. These lived in Kronos’ time, when he was the king in heaven. They lived as if they were gods, their hearts free from all sorrow, by themselves, and without hard work or pain; no miserable old age came their way; their hands, their feet, did not alter....
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