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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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17. 1934 – The Institution of Utopian Literature

Extract

17. 1934 – The Institution of Utopian Literature79

Life has improved, comrades. Life has become more joyous.

(Joseph Stalin, Speech at the Conference of Stakhanovites, 17 November 1935)

Unlike visual arts, literature has been one of the least prominent elements of utopian projects. Whilst in most literary utopias this aspect of the ideal state receives only a passing attention, in the first large-scale attempt at practical utopian construction the status of literature is truly astounding. There were two main reasons behind the elevated position of literary art in the first communist state: the traditionally high status of the writer and the critic in Russia and most of Eastern Europe brought about by the lack of democratic institutions and the fact that, against Marx’s theory, the socialist revolution took place in an economically and socially backward country, so the absence of a proper material base had to be made up for by intensified work in the domain of superstructure. This work was to be carried out mainly by writers – “the engineers of human souls” – to borrow Stalin’s original expression.

The primary object of my attention will not be the historical event itself – the First Soviet Writers’ Congress which took place in August, 1934 and marked the introduction of socialist realism as the only permissible mode of writing – but its idealised representation in the form of the selection of speeches published in all major languages of the world, i.e. the representation of a representation, whose...

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