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The Good Place

Comparative Perspectives on Utopia - Proceedings of Synapsis: European School of Comparative Studies XI

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Edited By Florian Mussgnug and Matthew Reza

Utopian literature provides a compelling vision of epistemological and moral clarity: a dream of harmony and justice. But in an age of surveillance, utopia is also the nightmare of a perfectly controlled, sealed and monitored world that leaves no room for ambivalence or discretion. In The Good Place, leading scholars of comparative literature explore this tension and examine the richness and diversity of utopian writing, from the genre’s earliest manifestations to the present. Utopia is seen as a tenacious force of the human imagination: a desire for renewal that manifests itself in the tension between social reality and the virtual worlds of unlived possibility. Notable for its engagement with a wide range of texts from different periods and national traditions, this book invites the reader to rethink ‘the good place’ from the specific perspective of literary studies and suggests that utopia, in the realm of fiction, is more than just a philosophical abstraction. Mediated by the experience of authors, characters and readers, utopian literature offers a transient but genuine experience of perfection, beyond the horizon of everyday lived experience.
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She Exits to Utopia

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← 32 | 33 → LAURA CARETTI

Utopia is a historical concept. It refers to projects for social change that are considered impossible. Impossible for what reasons?

—HERBERT MARCUSE, The End of Utopia, 1967

A girl holding a small amphora is the first character to appear on our stage. She comes out of the backdrop of an imposing palace into the open space in front of the audience. Just a silhouette in the dim light of dawn. After a while, we see that she is followed by another young girl whom she addresses: ‘ὦ κοινὸν αὐτάδελφον ’Ἰσμήνης κάρα’. These are the first words given by Sophocles to his Antigone. And we shall begin our close reading of the first scene of this tragedy precisely from Antigone’s appeal to the strong bond that unites the two sisters, daughters of Oedipus.

All translators have come up against the difficulty of rendering the original expression in Greek. Most of them go for a simplified ‘My own dear sister, Ismene …’,1 similar to the Italian ‘Ismene, sorella mia’2 and the French ‘Ismène, ma soeur’ in Cocteau’s translation.3 Others expand the phrase ‘Ismene, my own true sister, O dear one,/ Sharing our common ← 33 | 34 → bond of birth’,4 or they cut it to ‘My own sister Ismene, linked to my self’.5 George Steiner, in his famous book on the many Antigones, whose drama has been told and retold throughout the centuries, stresses the complexity of what he calls ‘the...

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