Studies in a Literary Genre
CHAPTER 5 The Fear of Utopia
“ ‘Utopia,’ ” a writer in Encounter announced a few years ago, “has become a bad word.” As if to prove his point, the bad word was worked hard when in the summer of 1961 the Soviet Union published a statement of the new program by which it proposed to bring communism to the Russian people within this generation. Scores of Western writers used the term “utopian” to belabor Mr. Khrushchev’s vision, not only as something remote and unattainable—Le Monde’s story carried the sardonic headline “La Promesse de l’age d’or”—but as something evil. Utopia, as we have seen, has always in some sense been related to satire, and Marx used the word as a bludg- eon; but the generally unpleasant associations investing the term today are relatively new. Although one would need a very large computer to plot in detail the course of “utopia’s” fall from grace, the evidence of literature is adequate to provide an outline of the descent. By and large usage has been faithful to Thomas More’s punning coin- age: the play on the Greek ou topos: no place, and eu topos: good place. The two senses—the one associated with escape into the timeless fantasies of the imagination, the other with the ef fort to construct models of the ideal society, whether in fiction or otherwise— are inextricably bound up in our use of the term today. But if More coined the word, he was by no means the first to give form to man’s...
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