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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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Alternate History: Travels to Elsewhen


← 110 | 111 → SIMONA MICALI

What if the Nazis had won World War II? And if Columbus had not discovered the Americas? And how much would world history have been changed if Alexander the Great had not died so young? The answers to these and similar questions, whatever they are, imply an imaginary deviation from history as we know it; they compel us to speculate on a different historical development: what did not happen but could have happened. To define this kind of imaginative speculation, the French philosopher Charles Renouvier coined the term ‘uchronia’ from that of utopia: meaning – as the title of his work demonstrates1 – a utopia placed in time instead of in space, enclosing an imaginary portion of historical time instead of an imaginary portion of geographic space.

As a subgenre of literary utopia and science fiction, uchronia – also called ‘allohistory’, ‘counterfactual history’ or ‘alternate history’2 – offers ← 111 | 112 → a particularly interesting starting point for a critical reflection on utopia. In fact, if spatial utopia sets up a world which is completely separate from the one we live in, temporal utopia – uchronia – links the imaginary world to the real one. This can be accomplished in two ways. In the first case, the imaginary world is envisioned as a possible future version of our own world, which gives rise to the many futuristic utopias and dystopias of science fiction – starting with L’An 2440 (1770) by Sébastien Mercier, who is generally considered the inventor of this...

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