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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 IV Utopian Institutions, Utopian People


The paradigmatic mode of constructing the macro- and micro-spaces of the utopian land manifesting itself in the strict organisation of its “physi- cal” aspects, often accompanied by their aestheticisation,1 applies also to the socio-political organisation which exhibits the same qualities of order, regularity, balance, and aptness as its “material” elements forming a con- sistent sequence of a metonymic mise-en-abîme: “This Cittie is not onely adorned with beautie of sumptuous Temples, Towers & costly Houses, pleasant Orchards, & sweete Gardens, but cheefely decked with notable gouerment and celestial Justice” (Listra, 293); “[I]t was so well ordered that it could not be mended; for it was governed without secret and deceiving Policy; neither was there any ambitious, factions, malicious detractions, civil dissentions, or home-bred quarrels, divisions in Religion, Foreign Wars, &c. but all the people lived in a peaceful society, united Tranquility, and Religious Conformity” (The Blazing World, 102). In the kingdom of Macaria “the Kings and the Governours doe live in great honour and riches, and the people doe live in great plenty, prosperitie, health, peace, and happiness” (2), and in the land of Sevarambians “there is such an excel- lent order and harmony in all respects, that we injoy Peace both in Divine and Civil Af fairs, and there is no jarring, disputations, and dissensions, as amongst you in Europe, but a blessed concord and agreement” (89). The aesthetic aspect of the social and political organisation is explicitly stated in A Description of Spensonia: “The wise and beneficent regulations...

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