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The Good Place

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


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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The Bourne Identity: On Utopian Psychopathology



THE MAN: I don’t know who I am. Do you know who I am? Do you have any idea who I am?

—TONY GILROY, screenplay for The Bourne Identity(dir. Doug Liman, 2002)

The contemporary critical consensus about Looking Backward, by far the most successful utopian fiction of the nineteenth century in both commercial and political terms, is that, like other prominent examples of the form, it is emotionally flat and lacking in affect.1 Krishan Kumar has for example remarked that, of all the utopian fictions discussed in his compendious, authoritative account of Utopia and Anti-Utopia in Modern Times, ‘Bellamy’s is in fact the least interesting, considered as literature.’2 This view falsifies Edward Bellamy’s fascinating socialist fantasia. Its protagonist, after all, does not make an untroubled transition to the society of 2000, as criticism of the book conventionally assumes. In fact, Julian West suffers something like a trauma in time-travelling to the future. West’s psychology is a disturbed one that raises fascinating questions about the stability ← 53 | 54 → of the human subject under the peculiar temporal conditions of utopian imagining. Bellamy reinvented the utopian form in part by conceptualizing it as the psychological portrait of an individual who becomes dislocated from time; from both the present he half escapes and the future to which he is half assimilated. Looking Backward is a study of time out of joint. ‘That story of another world’, writes the narrator of one of Bellamy’s...

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