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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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Afterword: Time for Meta-Utopia?


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The value and the strength of utopia resides in its method, which consists of a pars destruens (the deconstructive analysis of the writer’s own social reality) and a pars construens (the imagination of an alternative reality).1 Utopia, then, is conceived as a method of dissent and criticism, but also as the anticipation of, and preparation for, an alternative society. Ernst Bloch, in The Principle of Hope (1954–9), posited the existence of a utopian impulse, an anthropological given that underpins the human propensity to imagine our lives in radically different terms. This utopian impulse, for Bloch, is a necessity and an existential need, urging us to act: in this sense, utopia is closely linked to political activism. The utopian method feeds on the desire for change. From this perspective, E.P. Thompson, one of the major scholars of William Morris, set out to reintroduce the concept of utopia to orthodox Marxism, which had denied the value of utopianism:

And we enter Utopia’s proper and new-found space: the education of desire. This is not the same as ‘a moral education’ towards a given end; it is rather to open a way to aspiration, to teach desire to desire, to desire better, to desire more, and above all to desire in a different way.2

The idea of utopia as a moral education and the concept of desire are central to the utopian project, as it was taken up by Walter Benjamin, Ernst...

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