Comparative Perspectives on Utopia - Proceedings of Synapsis: European School of Comparative Studies XI
Introduction: Utopian / World / Literature
← x | 1 → FLORIAN MUSSGNUG
A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing.
—OSCAR WILDE, The Soul of Man under Socialism1
Utopian literature is an invitation to enter an unfamiliar world, a remote place. Ever since Thomas More conceived of his fictional island, journeys, walls and similar spatial and temporal divides have been a defining feature of the genre.2 The existence of such barriers, as Peter Ruppert remarks, is a sign of ‘utopia’s desire to escape the uncertainties and contingencies of time and history’.3 The utopian text, in other words, imagines a world untouched by the ills of the writer’s own time: a ‘good place’, far away from the squalor of an all-too-imperfect real world, but not so isolated as to be inaccessible. Remoteness and accessibility, in fact, are equally important to what Northrop Frye describes as the genre’s rudimentary plot: ‘in utopian stories, a frequent device is for someone, generally a first-person narrator, to enter the utopia and be shown around it by a sort of Intourist guide’.4 At the ← 1 | 2 → heart of utopian literature, then, lies a fantasy of geographical or temporal distance, but also a fascination with the possibility of encounter. The well-fortified boundaries of utopia are open to the narrator-protagonist, who is invited to witness the marvels of the fictive society. During this moment of contact, above all, the...
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