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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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Introduction i A brief biographical sketch of Elliott can be found online at . Also see the collection, “Satire Special Number.” ii For more on the impact of Marcuse’s presence on the San Diego campus, see the wonderful documentary, Herbert’s Hippopotamus, now available online at . iii See Wegner, “Horizons,” as well as the discussion of my essay in Moylan, Scraps 89–95. iv Moylan describes the compositional history of The Female Man in Demand 57. Moylan discusses Russ’s short story in Scraps 9–15. v See Bakhtin, Rabelais. vi See Christopher Norris’s appreciative review, “Robert C. Elliott and the Literary Persona.” vii For further discussion of Thompson’s concept, borrowed from Miguel Abensour, of the “education of desire,” see Levitas, The Concept Ch. 5, and Moylan, Scraps 84–9. viii In what follows, I fully concur with Moylan’s claim that the great bibliogra- pher and founding editor of Utopian Studies, Lyman Tower Sargent, makes “a central contribution in the development of utopian studies as a distinct intellectual project” in his establishment of a set of terminological guide- lines for research in the field. Moylan further notes that Sargent “makes the pathbreaking point—one too often and disastrously ignored—that the term anti-utopia (as distinct from dystopia) ‘should be reserved for that large class of works, both fictional and expository, which are directed against Utopia and utopian thought’.” Scraps 72. Needless to say, Elliott writes before Sargent’s stabilization of the terminology, and hence uses anti-utopia and dystopia inter- changeably, while consistently referring to...

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