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Utopian Visions and Revisions

Or the Uses of Ideal Worlds

Artur Blaim

The book focuses on different uses of the concepts of utopia, dystopia, and anti-utopia. The author analyses literature, cinema, and rock music, as well as scientific and legal motifs in utopian fiction. He also considers the functions of Jewish characters in early modern utopias and looks at the utopian aspects of scientific claims of literary and cultural theories. Utopian models are also applied to the practice of literature (socialist realism) and current socio-political affairs. Among the texts and films discussed are "Utopia", "New Atlantis", "Gulliver’s Travels", "Memoirs of Signor Gaudentio di Lucca", "Nineteen Eighty-Four", "A Minor Apocalypse", "Lord of the Flies", and "Even Dwarfs Started Small".

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15. Monstrous Carnival: The Metonymic Dystopias in Werner Herzog’s Even Dwarfs Started Small


15. Monstrous Carnival: The Metonymic Dystopias in Werner Herzog’s Even Dwarfs Started Small65

But principally I hate and detest that animal called man.

(Jonathan Swift, Letter to Alexander Pope)

Even Dwarfs Started Small tends to be discussed, if at all, in connection with its alleged affinities with Tod Browning’s Freaks, or the social and political unrest of 1968. Despite Herzog’s protestations, these cinematic and political associations have usually been considered in terms of immediate cause and effect. The approach proposed in what follows is somewhat different in that it is based on the assumption that Even Dwarfs Started Small metonymically introduces two types of failed utopias, or rather realised dystopias, constructed according to different principles of organisation based on the dominance of extreme forms of order and freedom.

The opening part of the film introduces the frame dystopia that in reverse temporal order marks both the beginning and the aftermath of the dwarfs’ rebellion. Herzog eschews a comprehensive presentation of the frame dystopia, communicating its main characteristics by allusion and selection of aspects which acquire significance only in the context of the scarcity of any other information, so that the dystopian world can be observed through its bureaucratic/coercive manifestations, metonymically represented by the standard paraphernalia of the oppressive state: defenceless and frightened prisoners, hideous prison cells, a barred window, faceless voices of the interrogators, etc. The detained dwarfs appear as prisoners interrogated and ordered around by invisible officials. One of the detainees,...

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