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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 III Utopian Spaces and Places


The emergence of utopian fiction as a mode of European cultural and liter- ary practices, dif ferent from both a straightforward political treatise and authentic or fictional travel narratives incorporating a description of an ideal(ised) land can be visually represented as the projection of the vertical axis of the model of the world onto the horizontal one, and the translation, especially in the early period, of temporality into spatiality. The traditional opposition of heaven and earth involving the vertical opposition “top – bottom” is reinterpreted as the horizontal opposition “near – far.” Likewise, the temporal distance between the miserable present and the blissful past (Eden, the Golden Age) is translated into spatial categories, into a geo- graphical distance between temporally coexisting entities. Originally, this produces the idea of the Isles of the Blessed, the Earthly Paradise, and, later, the utopia. Such a development was possible only in a culture which based its conception of geographical space on the moral opposition of good, at first identified with one’s own land and people, and evil, represented by alien lands and their inhabitants, after the rise of Christianity, generally identified with opposition between Christendom and pagan lands. In the Renaissance, the immediate frame of reference was provided by the travel narrative which, having become one of the most popular genres, at first followed the traditional moral geography.1 136 Chapter III Utopian boundaries In travel narratives the space is usually divided into two parts with the sea as the boundary between them. The spatial opposition...

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