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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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Utopia, Village, Nation-State



It may seem strange to speak of utopias in African literature, for literature by Africans features some of the most compelling dystopias ever imagined. Dystopia is what African writers do. No one does it better. Since, however, dystopia must be measured against a vision of the world we want and do not have, it is possible to examine African dystopias for what they imply of utopia.

African literature registers two divergent utopian pulls: backwards towards a vision of precolonial collectivity and social harmony, and forwards towards a revolutionary, explicitly modern egalitarian social order. The two tendencies are already prevalent in Western literature about Africa, where there is a long line of Western anthropologists seeking happy societies in Africa, usually not among black African populations but among other indigenous peoples – for instance, Colin Turnbull among the Twa or pygmies in The Forest People,1 and Laurens van der Post among the San or Bushmen in The Lost World of the Kalahari.2 There is also a tradition of Westerners finding utopias under construction among nations fighting for their independence: the hero of David Caute’s novel News from Nowhere (1986) glimpses it in the armed struggle against Rhodesia; and Thomas Keneally found it in Eritrea in his novel To Asmara (1990). All these utopias are set in the present but in a space apart – the desert, the forest, or the bush – which feels like a time apart, where the vestiges of the past or...

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