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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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Struggling Against Utopia: Defoe, Wells, Atwood


← 188 | 189 → MATTHEW REZA

Utopia, as both a process and an envisioned result, is a concept that mediates between different notions of how society could be organized. However, the static literary example that Thomas More articulates in Utopia (1516)1 neither attempts to reflect all possible ideals and mores nor takes into account problems in the construction of the ‘good place’. Utopia is, as Levitas argues, ‘not just a dream to be enjoyed, but a vision to be pursued’,2 an expression of a ‘desire for a better way of being and living’,3 but in so doing, the competing interests of different social groups should be acknowledged because a harmonious process or model masks the inevitable conflicts which arise. Viewing utopia as an absolute or universal ideal is not therefore a valid approach, firstly because this conceals historically and culturally contingent attitudes towards the formation of communities. Secondly, and as a corollary, if societies compromise between competing interests, they will fall short of that ideal yardstick, as different interests will fail to create a satisfactory ideal for all. Indeed, as Jameson argues from the outset of his Archaeologies of the Future, ‘[u]topia has always been a political issue’.4 The reverse is also true: if some benefit from a dystopian5 society, it will fall short ← 189 | 190 → of any notion of an absolute worst-case scenario. Rather than discussing how utopian or dystopian literary realities are,6 it is therefore more useful to analyse the extent to which...

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