On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre
Edited By Gerry Canavan
5. The Alternative Island
The really philosophical writers invent the true, by analogy….
HONORÉ DE BALZAC
1. The Sociopolitics of Happiness: More’s Utopia and its SF Context
1.1. In the first part of Thomas More’s Utopia (1516) a long discussion of England’s social ills culminates in Hythloday’s famous passage on the destruction of the medieval peasantry:
“Your sheep,” I answered, “which are usually so tame and so cheaply fed, begin now, according to report, to be so greedy and wild that they devour human beings themselves and devastate and depopulate fields, houses, and towns. […] there are noblemen, gentlemen, and even some abbots, though otherwise holy men, who […] leave no ground to be tilled; they enclose every bit of land for pasture; they pull down houses and destroy towns, leaving only the church to pen the sheep in […] [trans. G.C. Richards, ed. Edward Surtz]
This description, embedded in so acute an analysis of what nascent capitalism means to the people that Marx quoted it in Capital, is a masterpiece of indignant humanist sarcasm. The noblemen who rage like earthquakes razing entire districts, the holy men who are brutally indifferent to their spiritual flock and leave churches standing only as profitable sheep-pens, the land which is no longer communal tilling ground for a stable yeomanry but a private enclosure for rich landlords who throw tenants out onto the roads to beg and rob, and finally the erstwhile meek sheep which have now turned into...
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