Author Archives: Jill Belli

Weird Tales of What If: Science Fiction and Utopian Fiction as Social Critique (Bridgitte Barclay)

Course Description:

This course will cover American science fiction, utopian, and dystopian literature and film, emphasizing themes dealing with the imagination of better worlds and worse worlds, including post-nuclear apocalyptic societies and the modern post-9/11 world.  Because science fiction and utopian/dystopian literature expresses what an author sees as possible, hopes is possible, and fears is possible, it is inherently a political and social critique.  We will discuss the causes and effects of these critiques.  Texts will include various novels, short stories, and films.

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Utopia and Postmodernism (Naomi Jacobs)

Description:

By conservative critics, Utopia has been characterized as a mode of thought at best naive, at worst totalitarian. Its goals are said to be achievable only through the forceful imposition of a static model of perfection upon a necessarily conflicted and diverse humankind.   While it is true that visions of utopia are everywhere employed by individuals and groups hoping to impose their versions of the good upon others, postmodern thought has informed a new generation of utopian thinkers who address in more ambiguous and complicated ways the ancient utopian question:   to what extent, and to what ends, do we humans create the realities we inhabit?  and how then should we live?

After reviewing the foundational text of the genre, Thomas More’s Utopia, we’ll work through a group of late-20th century theoretical and literary texts that unmake the conventions of the genreas they explore the dynamics of what Ernst Bloch calls “The Principle of Hope.”

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Dialogues with Utopia (Richard A. Lynch)

A utopia, it seems, is a perfect society, where everyone lives in harmony and happiness.  But utopia, literally, is no place.  So why is it that there have been so many different visions of utopia?  How is it that the idea of utopia has continually inspired theoretical analyses of society, fictional imaginations of a better world, and even historical attempts to create such a perfect
society?  In this course, we’ll draw on literature, history, and philosophy to try to grapple with the meaning and importance of utopias and utopian thinking.  We’ll engage in a series of “dialogues with utopia”—utopian visions in dialogue with the ideas and issues of their contemporaries, but also our own dialogue between ourselves and with these utopian visions—in order to ask what these utopias tell us about what we think is good, whether a utopian vision can offer an effective critique of actually existing social orders, and whether it can serve as a model for changing contemporary societies.  We’ll be engaged in lots of discussion—this is, after all, a seminar.  I hope that we will be able to use these texts and questions to reflect upon our experiences, and perhaps to challenge some of our presuppositions—please bring your own questions, concerns and agenda to the conversation!  The most important thing you can do to succeed in this class is to come prepared every day, so that we can all learn from each other’s questions and insights.  The reading requirements for this class are high—the number of pages per session will occasionally be quite long (i.e., novels) or dense (philosophical prose).  (I know that you’ll have a lot of reading—but I promise that this is fun reading, and most of the novels are page-turners.)  Be forewarned—welcome to college!

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Special Topics in Political Science: Utopia and Dystopia (Mark S. Jendrysik)

General overview:

This course provides an introduction to utopian and anti-utopian ideas in political theory.  Questions to be addressed include: the political causes and purpose of utopia and anti-utopia, the position of race, gender, religion and technology in utopian and anti-utopian thought, utopian ideals in action, and the possibilities for utopia in the post-modern world.  Seekers after utopia ask many questions. What would the perfect society look like?  How should relations among men and women, rich and poor, citizen and alien be organized for the benefit of all?  What kind of political system would guarantee peace, prosperity and plenty for all people?  In what kind of society would the individual find fulfillment?   How can we harness technology for the
good of all humanity?  In this course we will examine and judge the answers provided across the two-thousand (and more) year history of utopian political thought.  We will also consider efforts to actualize utopia in “intentional communities.”  We will also consider how popular culture in all its many forms reflects the utopian ideal. We will examine how some have recently challenged the utopian idea.  “Dystopian” writers have produced a new kind of political literature which examines the dangerous possibilities inherent in the utopian project. Finally will we consider variants of the utopian ideal such as millennialism and “golden ages.”

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Utopian Thought, Method, and Social Design (Tom Moylan)

Syllabus:

Utopianism, social dreaming, can be both a fundamental component and a critical way of understanding the complex totality of economic, cultural, political, social, and personal life. As it projects or interprets social values and practices that are both critical of and better than the status quo, a utopian method can be a dynamic tool in the processes of socio-political transformation.

Aims & Objectives:
• to offer a module that studies utopian theory, thought, expression, and practice;
• to develop an advanced understanding of the nature and form(s) of Utopia;
• to develop an advanced understanding of the utopian method in the process of social critique and design.

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Utopian Literature: Delusional Distractions or Essential Revelations (Kenneth Roemer)

Nature and Goals of the Course:

This is a particular type of selective survey of utopian literature.  It begins in a rather traditional way, posing questions about how concepts of “utopia” and “utopian literature” have been defined and used, and by offering a brief historical overview.  (See the course packet for a selection of brief and two extended attempts to answer the defining question by modern scholars and a variety of non-scholars as different as Confucius, Dostoyevsky, Mr. Rogers, and Oprah; for the history overview, see Kumar’s selection in the packet).  Each major section of the course also uses a traditional organizational device: chronology.  This is appropriate.  Utopian literature is a literature grounded in dialogue.  Authors often respond to earlier writings.  Hence to understand the context of a particular work, it is often useful to know what preceded it. Finally, the course’s focus on utopias of
the “Western World” is also traditional. What makes this course different from other traditional surveys is its arrangement on a spectrum beginning with forms of expression that were not to be questioned and ending with utopias that question themselves.  To be more specific, we begin with visions of better worlds that depend upon divine authority and then move on to utopias (religious and secular) that sometimes do allow alternative viewpoints (e.g., dialogue forms) but clearly imply that one alternative is much better than the others.  We next examine satiric works (from light hearted to freightingly dystopic) that either present their vision of better worlds indirectly or ironically or even as frightening warnings that emphasize the dire extrapolations of the worst in the present.  The course concludes with discussion of utopias that offer representations of better
worlds that offer “answers” but also pose questions about alternative forms of utopia and even questions about the possibility of imagining utopia, while still maintaining that utopian speculation is a crucial means of understanding the past, present, and future.

Students who successfully engage in class discussions and complete the readings and in- and out-of-class written assignments should have a awareness of the nature and importance of some of the most significant American, British, and European utopian works and should be able to articulate orally and in writing their views on (1) how utopian concepts have been defined,  (2) some of the most important issues raised in the utopias (e.g., economic and gender equality, impact of technology, environmentalism, the nature of happiness, individual vs. communal identity and responsibility), and (3) the importance of variety of the utopias suggested by the spectrum indicated above – how this variety suggests different forms of authority for utopian expression and different forms of readers attitudes about and responses to utopian literature.

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Topics in World Literature: Utopias and Dystopias (Marlana Portolano)

Course Rationale:

This course is a broad survey of the many types of utopias and dystopias in Western literature, from ancient times to the early 20th century, and a thorough exploration of the nature, purposes, and cultural reception of utopian literature.  Through guided in-class and online discussion, readings and researched writing, students will develop their own viable definitions of what utopia is and is not.  They will investigate the function of utopian ideas in the controlling institutions of a society.  They will ponder the extent to which utopia is dangerous as a particular vision of the perfect world, and to what extent it can be a guiding ideal of human inspiration and creativity.  The class will survey important utopian texts from ancient times to the 20th century and visit a working commune developed on the principles of a utopian text.  In addition to a research paper exploring a particular aspect of utopian thought, students will create their own utopias by negotiating with others to envision a world that embodies an integrated concept of perfection.  Finally, students will critique their own utopias from the point of view of great
utopian writers of the past.

*Click here for the full syllabus. (Coming Soon!)

Social Dreaming: Women in American Utopian and Dystopian Texts (Bridgitte Barclay)

Course Description:

Because utopian literature expresses what an author desires, what the author feels is lacking in his or her own society, it is inherently a political and social critique.  This course focuses on a variety of nineteenth and twentieth-century texts that deal with utopian and dystopian expressions of women’s desires.  Students will study the historical, political, and cultural aspects of women’s situations and how those situations impact literature and vise versa.  Students will also study this literature’s
relevance to people’s daily lives, what is left lacking in utopian expressions, and the results of realized utopian hopes.  This approach to texts will allow students to enjoy the literature for its own aesthetic value and for its relation to and reflection of the culture in which it was written and the desires it expresses.

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Shapes of Utopia (Kenneth Roemer)

Nature and Goals of the Course:

Shapes of Utopia examines relationships between concepts of radically better (or worse) imaginary worlds and forms of expression.  “Very Selective Exploratory Investigations” would be an appropriate subtitle for the course.  I make no pretense of offering an overview of utopian literature. (See the course packet for definitions of utopian literature.)  Our study of utopian expressions is limited: (1) by my emphasis on American literature and culture, and (2) by the focus of the course: I selected print or electronic texts — or experiences in the cases of historic intentional communities, museum exhibits, World Fairs, Disney World, Celebration City, Ave Maria, and our possible visits to White Hawk and the Gaylord Texas Resort — that suggest various forms of utopian expression rather than a “representative” survey of utopian literature.  Despite the focus on America, we do study British, European, Middle Eastern, and Classical texts, though (unless you count my comments about Tokyo Disneyland) no Asian and no African or South American texts are included.

To some degree the course has a chronological organization.  We begin with ancient oral narratives and conclude with the Internet.  The more fundamental organizing principles relate to genre, authority, “intent” and degree of self-reflexivity.  We move from texts that were often viewed as sacred and not to be questioned, to texts and experiences that offer clear divisions and choices between much better and much worse worlds, to satiric and ironic visions and critiques, to ambiguous and even multi-genre utopias before we reach the Internet.

Students will leave the course with an increased knowledge of utopian expressions, of how form shapes meaning, and of how readers, viewers, and participants shape form and meaning.  They will also become acquainted with major research and critical resources.  Since 1975, Utopus Discovered, the newsletter of the Society for Utopian Studies, has provided current bibliographies. It is currently available online at http://www.cornellcollege.edu/utopus/newsletter.shtml. (Select “scholarship.”)  Since 1990, the Society’s journal, Utopian Studies, has offered articles, bibliographies, and a substantial book-review section.  The articles include retrospective evaluations of the scholarship.  The Society hosts an annual conference. Information about the conference, the publications (with a searchable index of the journal), and student membership rates is available at the Society’s Web site: http://www.utoronto.ca/utopia.  This site is also has an excellent list of other Web sites related to utopian studies, as does a New York Public Library Web site: http://utopia.nypl.org.

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Reality Through the Utopian Looking Glass (Kenneth Roemer and Wilhelm Vosskamp, Co-Chairs)

Description:

How does vicariously experiencing radically better (or worse) imaginary worlds change our perceptions of the past, present, and future?  The seminar will address this question with a highly selective introduction to utopian expression.  We begin with the grandfather of the genre, Thomas More’s Utopia, and its Classical, Arcadian, and religious roots.  Next we examine 18th-century unambiguous and satirical spatial and time travel utopias (Defoe, Mercier, Schnabel, Swift) and the paradigmatic 19th-century utopia, Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, in the contexts of William Morris’s response, the utopian satire of Samuel Butler satiric Erehwon, and Black Elk / Neihardt’s reconstruction of a Lakota vision. The variety of 20th- and 21st-century utopian and dystopian expression will be suggested in examinations of classic and recent dystopias (Zamiatin, Huxley, Orwell, and Cormac McCarthy), psychological eupsychias (B.F. Skinner and Abraham Maslow), ecotopias (Callenbach and the White Hawk, Texas community vs. Disney World), and feminist utopias (Gilman, Piercy, and Le Guin).

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