On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre
Edited By Gerry Canavan
3. Defining the Literary Genre of Utopia: Some Historical Semantics, Some Genology, a Proposal, and a Plea
For if the matter be attentively considered, a sound argument may be drawn from Poesy, to show that there is agreeable to the spirit of man a more ample greatness, a more perfect order, and a more beautiful variety than it can anywhere (since the Fall) find in nature. […] it [Poesy] raises the mind and carries it aloft, accommodating the shows of things to be desires of the mind, not (like reason and history) buckling and bowing down the mind to the nature of things.
“Utopia,” the neologism of Thomas More’s, has had a singularly rich semantic career in our time. Having at its root the simultaneous indication of a space and a state (itself ambiguously hovering between, for example, French état and condition) that are nonexisting (ou) as well as good (eu), it has become a territory athwart the roads of all travelers pursuing the implications of the question formulated by Plato as “What is the best form of organization for a community and how can a person best arrange his life?”1 And have not the urgencies of the situation in which the human community finds itself made of us all such travelers? Utopia operates by example and demonstration, deictically. At the basis of all utopian debates, in its open or hidden dialogues, is a gesture of pointing, a wide-eyed glance from here to there, a “traveling shot” moving from the author’s everyday lookout to the wondrous panorama of a...
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