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Gazing in Useless Wonder

English Utopian Fictions, 1516–1800


Artur Blaim

Gazing in Useless Wonder focuses on utopias as self-referential texts that literally have to constitute themselves as imaginary or intentional entities before they can work as vehicles for socio-political ideas. Foregrounding the construction of utopian fictions defines both the perspective and the differentiation of the analytically significant elements, so that the traditionally dominant topics such as the nature and origins of the ideologies behind the construction of the ideal model are taken into account only insofar as they contribute to the aesthetic effect of the utopian construct as a whole. The organising principle of the early modern utopia involves two different modes of presentation: the narrative frame and the ekphrastic description of the ideal state, each possessing an aesthetic function realised according to different principles, with the ideal image constructed in accordance with the dominant aesthetic norms of the period pertaining to the visual arts, such as harmony, symmetry, alleged perfection, and timelessness. Despite variations, especially in the thematic-ideological domain, the dominant genre pattern that emerged as a result of the simplification of the complex semantics of Thomas More’s Utopia in the early modern period is taken here as forming a single synchrony in the history of utopian fiction-making.


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Chapter II The Margins of Utopia


In the early modern period, the utopian frame evolved from the dialogic structure of More’s Utopia, through the simplified monologised pedagogical dialogue of Siuqila, Listra, Civitas Solis, or Macaria, fictional travel nar- rative of New Atlantis, A Voyage to Tartary, or Gerania, to romance (Nova Solyma) and the proto-novel of the life and adventures type (Gaudentio di Lucca, Peter Wilkins, David Lowellin, etc.). Nevertheless, regardless of the actual form of the frame, its principal functions usually follow the model established by More: defining the expressed aims of the text (didactic, enter- taining, or, in most cases, a combination of the two), introducing initial verisimilitude, and transporting the first-person narrator from Europe to the utopian land across a spatial and, later, also temporal boundary. Utopian frames and paratexts The titles of most utopias tend to imitate those of authentic travel accounts and reports from distant lands, stressing their documentary, as opposed to fictional, character, e.g.: The Man in the Moone: or a Discourse of a Voyage thither; Gerania: A New Discovery of a Little Sort of People Anciently Discoursed of, Called Pygmies. With a lively Desription Of their Stature, Habt, Manners, Buildings, Knowledge, and Government; A Voyage to the World in the Centre of the Earth; A Trip to the Moon. Containing an Account of the Island of Noibla. Its Inhabitants, Religious, and Political Customs, &c; A Voyage to Cacklogallinia with a Description of the Religion, Policy, Customs and Manners of that Country; The Voyages, Travels, And Wonderful 72 Chapter II...

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