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The Good Place

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

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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 Great Good Place

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. This is how Henry James characterized the new and happier world to which utopian fiction imaginatively transports us. The phrase comes from the title of the only work that James, the undisputed master of modern psychological fiction, devoted to the persistent and persistently frustrated human longing to be elsewhere and otherwise than we are. Reality, in the form of the actual conditions that determine our lives, is what at once prompts and frustrates the wish for a greater and better world, but even reality cannot prevent us from dreaming that such a place exists somewhere, if only we knew how to get there.

In appreciation of this mental fact, James gives his utopian fantasy the form of a dream vision. As we might expect of a writer of his exacting standards, he conceives a wish-fulfilment dream of the highest order, one in which the Great Good Place is equated with the ‘Great Want Met’.1 No irony shadows this equation or seems to trouble James in adducing its proofs: everything about the Great Good Place, the story assures us at its start and at its close, is ‘all right.’2 That ‘all right’ proclaims the ideal harmony that prevails in the Great Good Place – everything wrong here is there made right. It also functions as a common idiom of moral assurance to allay the doubts of the sceptical and emotionally wary: dreaming of utopias will not, as we might suspect or fear, disable us for the rigours, ← 157 | 158 → stressful...

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