Utopia's Literature


utopia literature

In 1503, Amerigo Vespucci -- merchant, geographer and ocean explorer -- came back from his expedition to America with extraordinary reports about a paradise island (which, in our days, corresponds to Fernando de Noronha territory, in Brazil). According to some historiographers, Thomas More -- diplomat, writer and lawyer -- motivated by the
path-finding spirit of the mercantilist era and enchanted by those Vespucci reports, imagined the arrival of the civilized man into a natural paradise and how this island would be perfect for the rising of the perfect society. Around 1516, he wrote his masterpiece: Utopia.

Although the projection of perfection, More emphasized he was aware that human thought will always be connected to "less moral value" issues, crippling the society described at his work and putting it into an unreachable path at the title: the word "Utopia" (created by More) is originated by the sum of Greek radicals equivalent to "no" and "place" -- it means, "no-place" or "the place that doesn't exist".

More coined the term, but the idea of a perfect society was always written at the literary registers of mankind: for example, the biblical Eden (the ideal world created by God and from which humans were expelled); "The Republic" (book in which Plato describes Callipolis, a perfectly organized society, entirely ruled by fair and non-corrupt principles) and "The City of God" (in which Augustine of Hippo idealizes the "eternal Jerusalem", where everyone lives according Christians' principles).

utopia literature

Concerning to More, there are evidences which indicates that his work was interpreted as a project able to be put in practice by the time of its publication, and it was imposed on a strictly economic sense. Richness -- the only thing required to become available the perfect society. This price to be paid in order to reach perfection directed ambitious economic decisions that were taken as necessary consequences rewarded by the benefits to be achieved at the end of the process. Machiavelli (contemporary to More), at his famous quotation "the ends justify the means", registered the whole economic vision of that time and now, during post-modernity, his non-utopian work The Prince is taken as fundamental in order to understand the tangle of values of this time and how they still influence our lives.

Until now, we perceived that the economic thought of that time interpreted the More's Utopian idealization as an end possible to be achieved and used this to justify barren attitudes taken by the economy of that time. But what attitudes are these? We can have samples on exacerbated exploitation of the colonies, the favorable commercial trade (which meant export more and import less) and the vision of the economic system as a zero sum game (one can win only if the other loses). It's up to us perceive if, at that time, they aim the building of the perfect society or only the endless storage of wealth on which we have no control anymore.

And what are the consequences of all these things at the present society? According to the sociologist Zygmund Bauman, mankind faces a disorder at the rational organization of the world. He says that the evolution of this 16th century thought brought instability and now our lives are nothing but trials for dealing with this instability.

utopia literature

This issue made the contemporary freethinkers to formulate a "New Utopia", in which, instead of fighting against the system (something that More had already said that was impossible in 1516), we could only fight against its consequences. We could try to get the current life conditions better according to the reality in which we are included.

We can notice the reverb of the utopian thinking change at the 20th century novel works, which showed the conflict between perfection and reality, in opposition of what was shown at the classics. It seems that finally the interpretations concerning to the utopian societies accepted its unavailability: new stories show utopias that became obsolete or that establish a severe fight to remain as they were at the initial idea. They're titles as A Modern Utopia, by H.G. Wells - at which a rural community lives under a perfect structure, but it dwellers start to leave it -- and Islandia, by Austin Tappan Wright, which exposes a country ruled by a total isolation politic, rejecting any kind of industrialization on a eternal (and ineffective) trial for obstruct external influences.

The edification of utopian values is still present in our post-modern contemporary times, but almost exclusively at sociologic and philosophic analysis. All romanticized utopia started to look inert and old-fashioned, and originated the destruction of the Utopian thought: authors like George Orwell (1984) and Aldous Huxley (Brave New World) were based on the routes that post-modernity was taking and described apocalyptic futures where the trials for utopian societies resulted on non-perfection. We will discuss more about it at the next article titled "Distopia's Literature".

Find out more:
Utopia - Thomas More (1516)
Liquid Modernity - Zygmunt Bauman (2001)
Lumières de l'utopie - Bronislaw Baczko (2001)

Image's source: 1, 2, 3.


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