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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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Utopian Collections: Goncourt and Huysmans Against the Grain


← 170 | 171 → JULIEN ZANETTA

All utopias are depressing, because they leave no place for chance, for difference, for the miscellaneous. It’s all been sorted into an order, and order reigns. Lurking behind every utopia is a great taxonomic design: a place for everything and every thing in its place.1


For Edmond de Goncourt as well as for the Duke Jean Floressas des Esseintes, life in Paris has become unbearable. Disgusted by the muddy streets, the noise and the lack of taste of their times, they both resolve that the only solution to live within such a society is to seclude themselves in a house from where the century and its despise for beauty cannot reach them. For Goncourt, with the guided visit of his domicile in La Maison d’un artiste (1882), as well as for des Esseintes, in J.-K. Huysmans’ À rebours (1884),2 the purpose of their seclusion is twofold: to save themselves, and ← 171 | 172 → protect their ideal of taste, a mode of living where beauty reigns and where the scattered pieces of their different collections can find a proper place.

In accord with the opening pun of More’s Utopia, their dwelling will both be a ‘non-place’ (u-topia) and a ‘good-place’ (eu-topia): a mansion on the outskirts of Paris with a space of its own, as well as a new time set by the idealized frame of the collection. As in any utopian design, both collections follow strict conditions:...

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