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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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H.G. Wells’s First Utopia: Materiality and Portent


← 162 | 163 → DAN SMITH

Imagine yourself looking out onto a silent landscape of verdant hills and lush vegetation, punctuated by magnificent yet seemingly derelict palaces. After having embarked on a perilous journey and traveling far, perhaps further than anyone before, you have found yourself, as much by accident than design, in this uncharted place. You are effectively alone here, or at least the only one of your kind. This land is disturbingly strange and unfamiliar, its alterity emphasized by the great distance traversed. Yet although different, it still has some kind of vital connection to your point of origin, and forces you to think as much of home as of the scene before you.

This sketch relates to a particular form of narrative contrivance. It fits into the specific tradition of utopian fiction, not so much a loosely defined genre as it is an uncanny and recurring specter. Alternatively, it could be seen as a kind of chronic hunger that nags away from within the history of social reflection. Or maybe this type of persistent fantasy could be seen as a form of that universal peculiarity of human experience and desire – the overstepping of boundaries.1

The inventor of this particular fantasy was H.G. Wells. Consistently engaged in shaping ideas relating to modes of social reform, Wells’s career was animated by the appearance of utopias.2 These both mirrored his idiosyncratic brand of socialism and stepped beyond it as his futuristic ← 163 | 164 → visions took their...

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