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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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Utopia ante litteram



It is, as a rule, hazardous to apply to ancient culture concepts, principles of criticism and modes of thinking, which are linked to the emergence of modern ideas and movements, and therefore clearly set apart by time (the modern age) and space (Europe). In the case of utopian philosophy and narrative, however, the risk is somewhat reduced. We may consider the foundational text of this tradition, Thomas More’s Utopia, from the point of view of its sources and models, many of which have been acknowledged by scholarly consensus. As More himself underlined, some of his sources are contemporary but many belong, importantly, to classical antiquity. Through these texts, it is possible to map the formation of ‘utopian’ ideas and stories over the many centuries that preceded the fundamental contribution by Henry VIII’s lord chancellor.

With regard to contemporary models and sources, and taking for granted the influence of the humanist movement, More’s relations with Erasmus of Rotterdam are of particular importance, as is testified by a range of shared interests (including a specific predilection for Lucian), by Erasmus’ thought-provoking and liberating Moriae Encomium (1509, dedicated to Thomas More), and by the fact that the Dutch humanist edited the publication of Utopia (1516).

Contemporary travel narratives were inspired by the lively and keen spirit of discovery of the times, and the works of Amerigo Vespucci deserve special mention in this context. In the second of the Quattuor Americi Vesputii navigationes (published...

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