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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