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The Good Place

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


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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Pastoral, History and Utopia


← 88 | 89 → SIMONA CORSO

In an interview with David Attwell, J.M. Coetzee defines the genre of the pastoral in the following manner:1

At the center of the mode, it seems to me, lies the idea of the local solution. The pastoral defines and isolates a space in which whatever cannot be achieved in the wider world (particularly the city) can be achieved.2

The word solution attracts our attention: since its origins, pastoral art has interrogated the idea of conflict, of a damaged world that needs to be mended, or, in the most extreme case, left behind. There are strong links between the pastoral and utopia. The conventions of the pastoral evoke the Judeo-Christian myth of Earthly Paradise, and, further back in time, the classical trope of the garden that grows fruit spontaneously. The garden is the spatial equivalent of the golden age, a period that knows no evil, and ignores the harms of labour, the ‘tiresome toil’,3 as Hesiod puts it, or ‘the sweat of your brow’,4 in the words of the book of Genesis. The pastoral tradition embraces the myth of the garden/Eden and its nostalgic awareness of a definitive loss, and invents a new paradise in minore, less glorious but also ← 89 | 90 → more human, where labour is not a punishment, but a means of salvation. A variety of the pastoral that goes back to Virgil’s Georgics celebrates the ideal of the cultivated garden. The notion of cheerful toil...

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