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Exploring the Utopian Impulse

Essays on Utopian Thought and Practice


Michael J. Griffin and Tom Moylan

Exploring the Utopian Impulse presents a series of essays by an international and trans-disciplinary group of contributors that explores the nature and extent of the utopian impulse. Working across a range of historical periods and cultures, the essays investigate key aspects of utopian theory, texts, and socio-political practices. Even as some critique Utopia, others extend its reach beyond the limits of the modern western tradition within which utopianism has usually been understood. The explorations offered herein will take readers over familiar ground in new ways as well as carry them into new territories of hope and engagement.
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Three Archetypes for the Clarification of Utopian Theorizing


which can serve to provide the answers: namely, utopian historicism, utopian presentism, and utopian futurism.2 I argue that the employment of these archetypes temporally grounds statements about Utopia in the past, ← 71 | 72 → present, or future, and thus forces discussion of discrete particulars instead of abstract universals with no meaningful referents.

Given the imprecise manner in which the term “utopia” is often employed in discourse – whether academic or non-academic – confusion frequently, and rightly, ensues. There are various possible sources for this confusion. The first of these is the sheer volume and wide variety of sociopolitical schemes that have been regarded as utopian by utopian theorists, historians, or authors of fiction. Bibliographers of utopian literature (such as Lyman Tower Sargent) face the challenging task of sorting out those visions of other worlds that belong in the utopian canon from those that do not. However, utopian bibliographies generally err on the side of inclusiveness, and a sufficient range and number of utopias remain in the realm of discourse to make the practice of distinguishing a utopia from a non-utopia (or even a dystopia) challenging at best and baffling at worst. For example, should Dante’s Paradiso be considered a utopian work or not? There is no easy answer to this question, and thus there is ample room for dispute on this subject between active or prospective utopian bibliographers.

Another cause of imprecision and concern in utopian theory is definitional in nature. Ruth Levitas has pointed out the fact that...

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