Author Archives: Jill Belli

Political Utopias (Werner Christie Mathisen)

Course Content:

The course offers an introduction to the genre and history of literary utopias and related forms of utopian thinking.  The
participants are invited to close reading and discussion of some of the most important literary utopias, including a classic dystopia, focusing especially on recent green and feminist utopias.  These texts will be read and analysed as manifestations of different political ideologies and alternatives.  They will also be studied as expressions of fundamental criticism of their
contemporary societies.  The purpose of the course is to show how utopian texts can be used as valuable sources of inspiration and relevant contributions to theoretical debate and analysis in the discipline of political science.

Click here for the full syllabus; click here for the course reading schedule.

Literature and Allied Discourse (Christopher Adamo)

Course Description:

We examine, to the extent time permits, a trajectory of utopian literature from Plato’s Republic to the present.  We read these texts through the lens of classic philosophic speculations, past and contemporary, regarding human nature, particularly, our capacity for social cooperation without coercion.  Using Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents, I articulate what I will call ‘Freud’s paradox’ with regard to the foundation and sustainability of a utopian society.  Additionally, we employ Kant’s Enlightenment anthropology and philosophy of history as laying the basis for the so-called ‘blue-print’ utopias of the nineteenth century.  We end with the turn to classical twentieth century dystopias and examine possible historical and philosophic reasons for the shift towards anti-utopian and dystopian writing.  Throughout, it is borne in mind that the utopian novel is, first and foremost, a literary enterprise, and we ask what social functions the utopian/ dystopian novel has played and may play in the future.

Click here for the full syllabus; click here for the course reading schedule.

Plug-in Girls and Robot Men: Gendered Technology in Science Fiction Film and Literature (Bridgette Barclay)

Course Description:

Science fiction envisions “what ifs,” and that speculation is what makes it a superb site for consideration of gender alternatives.  In engaging with techno-science, science fiction expresses our cultural hopes and fears and forces us to take a closer look at our assumptions about what defines “man” and what defines “woman.”  By pushing what we consider the “norm,” science fiction expands what we see as possible, changing our views of reality, which is why Donna Haraway writes, “science fiction is political theory.”  In this course, we will focus on the uses of male and female bodies in science fiction film and literature to study how these texts expose and offer alternatives to our assumptions about gender.

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Build Your Own Utopia (Kenneth Roemer)

Nature of the Course, Goals (outcomes), and Means:

“Build Your Own Utopia” is an interdisciplinary course designed to help students to clarify and evaluate their ideals as they improve reading, writing, and group/individual decision-making skills. To achieve these goals, I’ve structured the course around three hypothetical problems similar to those encountered by authors of literary utopias (imaginary better worlds) and founders of utopian (or intentional) communities. (See the class handout for definitions of literary utopias and utopian communities.) Students read several well-known utopian (and dystopian) authors and documents from intentional
communities (e.g., Plato, More, Campanella, Swift, Bellamy, Skinner, Wells, Huxley, Orwell, and documents from the Oneida and Owenite communities), as well as authors and communities discovered or rediscovered during the late twentieth century (e.g., Margaret Cavandish, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Abraham Maslow, Ursula K. Le Guin, Marge Piercy, and the White Hawk Community, which we hope to visit).

In small discussion groups the students use the assigned readings (and any other readings they deem relevant), the Internet (e.g., <www.utoronto.ca/utopia> and www.nypl.org/utopia ), and personal experiences in attempts to define possible solutions to the hypothetical problems. For example, in Problem 2, “The Spartan Family and the New Mexico Commune,” students receive a brief introductory handout that acquaints them with an imaginary community characterized by tensions among the adults and chaotic adult-child relationships. In a step-by-step process called Guided Design, printed instructions and feedbacks direct students through a series of stages (problem definition, information gathering, examining possible solutions, selecting, defining, and justifyinparticular option, etc.) toward an articulation of ways of helping this community.

The two papers support the broad goals of the course by asking students: (1) to develop a model of one utopian individual, and (2) to define influences in their own lives that shape their responses to a particular example of utopian literature. Each in-class
exam is related to issues raised in each problem. The final written goal of the course is a synthesis of in- and out-of-class work and the individual assignments: each student composes a detailed outline of his or her utopia.

For more specific information about the course, see my articles and textbook: “Using Utopia to Teach the 80s,” World Future Society Bulletin 14 (July-Aug. 1980): 1- 5; Build Your Own Utopia (Washington, DC: University Press of America, 1981); and
“Utopian Literature, Empowering Students, and Gender Awareness,”  Science-Fiction Studies 23 (1996): 393-403.

Click here for the full syllabus.

American Utopian Expressions (Kenneth Roemer)

Nature/Goals of the Course:

The primary goal of the course is to offer a chronological introduction to various forms of expressing American utopian ideals.   (For a definition of a literary utopia, see below.  The emphasis in this course is on eutopian  [the good place], rather than dystopian [the bad place] literature, though in many of the texts selected there are strong dystopian elements.)  Since this is an “American literature” course,  most of the texts we study can be classified as “utopian,” “American,” and “literary.” The works selected suggest the great diversity of American utopian literature,  a diversity I have emphasized by consciously including works by well-known authors (e.g., Hawthorne, Twain), authors who write in popular genres (e.g. utopian science fiction), and authors of different genders, races, classes, and regions.    Nonetheless, to understand more fully the contexts and meanings of the fictions, indeed to begin to grasp the crucial importance of utopianism in America, we must move beyond conventional notions of “literary” utopias to examine expressions of utopianism found in sacred texts, travel accounts, autobiographies, manifestos and declarations, intentional communities, world’s fairs,  entertainment parks, and the Internet.  Including these types of utopian expressions helps to raise essential questions about American utopianism.   How does the “form” of
a utopia effect the conception and communication of its “message”?  Why do certain forms of utopian expression become popular during specific historical eras? To what degree do gender, race, class, and geography shape utopian projections and responses to those projections?  These will be the types of questions that will direct class discussions, exam essay questions, the paper, and the Internet report.

A secondary goal is self-analysis, especially in the reader-response paper.  The paper will give students the opportunity to examine the value and importance of what they bring to the experience of reading utopias, to examine the aspects of their values, attitudes, and memories that enable them to interpret the texts before them — to co-create the utopias.

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“She’s beautiful and she’s laughing”: Monstrous Women in SF Literature and Film (Bridgitte Barclay)

Course Description:

The Medusa figure, the cyborg, the nomadic subject are complex images in feminist theory.  Some figures represent the ways in which women have been othered over the centuries, and others represent how that otherness is a form of power.  Many do both.  This course will explore how women are depicted as monstrous, who defines what monstrous is, how it may be complexly positive and/or negative, and how these cultural representations intersect with feminist theory. We will look at an array of images, including visual images, representations in film and literature, music, and games.

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Topics in American Studies: American Utopias (Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello)

Course Description/Overview:

While discussions of and writings about utopia have permeated every culture on earth for millennia, both the history and the culture of the United States have been full of efforts to create or imagine a better life for all (or part) of the American populace. In addition, the United States itself has been imagined as a utopia by many people around the world at many different historical moments. American cultural products—from landscape painting to new forms of architecture and literature—bear the marks of these utopian visions, as do the many experimental intentional communities that stand out among a sea of
conformity (Amana, the Shakers, The Farm…to name a few). In this course, we will explore the meaning and power of “utopia” in American culture and consider/investigate the myriad forms that utopian thinking has taken in the U.S. Film, literature, architecture, political tracts, foodways, clothing, and relations between the sexes will each attract our attention. Utopian thinking and experimentation in New England will be highlighted throughout the course.

Click here for the full syllabus.