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Newtopia 2

Thanks to everyone for the suggestions of Utopian novels to put on a student reading list.  Some may have to be promoted to the required reading syllabus.  I am ashamed of course of my own ignorance of many of these, but there's nothing new in that.  ANd as Samuel Joihnson (him I've read) says,   “Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it.” I know where.


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 6th, 2012 04:55 pm (UTC)
Utopia scholarship
A recent issue of Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts (vol 22 issue 2, 2011) has a long review of Ruth Levitas. _The Concept of Utopia_ that makes the book seem worthy of seeking out. It's part of a series that considers both fiction and real-world utopian experiments and politics, seven volumes planned by the Ralahine Centre for Utopian Studies at the University of Limerick.
This title (at least judging from the review) like most of the criticism I've found assumes that Utopian fiction stopped being created after the 1950s, so it's great that you're bringing the syllabus up closer to the present.

The study of utopias is a great theme for interdisciplinary Humanities courses (I've done a few myself, some team-taught), because it so painlessly combines philosophy, history, political theory, and literature. My students were always shocked when I included The United States of America on the list of Utopian experiments.
Apr. 14th, 2012 11:14 am (UTC)
Re: Utopia scholarship
Seven volumes! I'll begin with the review, thanks for the hint. I don't think Utopia stopped with the Jetsons, but dystopia certainly took the lead. The principle of a counterexample -- where everything is wonderful, even absurdly wonderful -- being able to spur thoughts on how to bring the better even a little closer, seems to have lost force.
Apr. 6th, 2012 08:25 pm (UTC)
I've heard the quote before, but had never looked it up (don't worry, not a misquotation - it is to be found in Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson). The observation came up in the context of the backs of books, which is interesting to see.

Definitely a place to be examined early on, and one wonders to some extent why the back matter isn't placed first. Then again, it is admittedly as readily accessible at a quick opening of the volume as the front.

Nevertheless, a place Wikipedians don't often consult, being satisfied to find mention of their subject on a Google Preview page (or worse, a Google Snippet) and to ignore the rest of the book.
Apr. 7th, 2012 03:55 am (UTC)
The backs of books
I think he means the spines - author, title, publisher's imprint, a quick impression of the interests of the books' owner and therefore of the owner. An Australian visitor to my office found only one title of interest. He ignored my protest that all my interesting books are at home. A small humiliation, not forgotten.

The book was Larry Wolff's Postcards from the End of the World: Child Abuse in Freud's Vienna. But I really do have other books. Can you any longer judge people by their books?

Apr. 14th, 2012 11:23 am (UTC)
Re: The backs of books
I would have to explain each of mine in order fro them to be revelatory. "This one I found at the dump and haven't returned ... This one isn't mine, it's my wife's... a friend gave me his self-published book of verse, haven't read it...This is research...This I read when i was fourteen and can't bring myself to discard...This one I forget how I acquired..." Etc. The difficulty is that more books come in than go out, even though plenty deserve to make the round trip.
Apr. 13th, 2012 07:20 am (UTC)
Taiwan calling....
John, I'm new to this blog and I'm new to your writing, too. I must apologize for being so out of it for so long, but life took me here and there .... mostly there....Japan in 1991 ...and Taiwan since 1996.....and funny, how life happens, and no Harold Bloom is not my uncle, though I once joked to Japanese writer Kenzaburo Oe that I was Professor Bloom's nephew or a party in Tokyo...I was a reporter there, 1990s....and now in Taiwan, John, the other day, my friend A-horn, 60 yrs old, he is reading your book LB in Chinese translation and he is an avid reader of Western books, so he asked me if I knew this book and I sat down on his porch, he runs a small Chinese medicine pharmacy of sorts, and I looked at the cover, Little Big, did not register in my 63 year old brain, 1949-2032 is my timestamp, if all goes well, but heart attack in 2009 might stop all that, smile, but then i see your name on cover, also no register, so I told A-horn, no, never heard of this book or the author, sorry, but let me go to the internet and wiki it, and see what i can find out. He told me the book was very "intersting" but alsov ery weird and hard to understand, so now that i read wiki on you and the book I see I see and I will explain it all to A-horn. But know that you have an avid fan in South Taiwan, A-born Tien, and a new blogging friend from Boston, moi, Tufts 1971, in Asia since 1991 and producer of a new sci fi book by Jim Laughter, real name, titled POLAR CITY RED, due out on April 22, google it. It's a cli fi book about global warming. Anyways, just wanted to say hi and tell you about A-horn, your fan in Taiwan. Now i gotta get your book in ENglish and start reading. Again, I apolo for being out of the loop. Cheers, Danny Bloom
Apr. 13th, 2012 12:07 pm (UTC)
Re: Taiwan calling....
Thsnks for all the news. I'm glad to know that my book in Chinese is being read by at least one person. If it would ever interest you to compare the English version and the CHinese translation I'd be very interested in an opinion. No translator contacted me to explicate things in it that would seem to me to be puzzling (the Japanese translator asked for several explications.)

I ]ike the term "cli-fi".
Apr. 14th, 2012 02:14 am (UTC)
Re: Taiwan calling....
RE: "I'm glad to know that my book in Chinese is being read by at least one person."

It got a first print here in Taiwan of 3000 copies, so more than one fan! SMILE

RE: "If it would ever interest you to compare the English version and the CHinese translation I'd be very interested in an opinion." Will do.

RE: ''No translator contacted me to explicate things in it that would seem to me to be puzzling ..." THIS is the problem with Taiwan's culture, a mix of China, USA and Japan, it's rush rush rush and never stop to ask questions. So my guess is translator just guessed at words he or she did not know and the result is a poor translation, VS Japan, where i also lived, and where attention to detail is paramount, and where translations There ask questions first. Taiwan is sloppy this way. Still an evolving country, run by military martial law for 50 years and still waking up. Japan has style. Taiwan has guts. CHINA has communism! SIGh

RE: ''the Japanese translator asked for several explications.'' YES, that is Japanese culture. BRAVO!

Apr. 13th, 2012 12:51 pm (UTC)
On utopias
The quite long, quite odd and occasionally quite turgid "Islandia" by Austin Tappan Wright, written in the 1930s. A kind wikipedia soul has put up an entry. Bucolic, full of characters perpetually fevered by noble emotions; from memory the national dress a form of knickerbockers - possibly made out of curtains, there is a Sound of Music feel to it all. Much as I admire the Dispossessed there's something about a real utopian vision thats much foggier and harder to grasp: the description of a "fully realised Utopia" seems somehow contradictory. Islandia is a bit like that.
Apr. 13th, 2012 12:59 pm (UTC)
Re: On utopias
On the list, but will students these days actually read it? Well there are a few on the list just as forbidding....
Apr. 14th, 2012 02:21 am (UTC)
As a student of newtopia and oldtopia and utopia, and now with my polar cities work with ''No Topia'', I wonder if students today might benefit from reading some climate change/global warming utopia/dystopia novels by Sterling, Brin, etc, since IF we don't face and conquer these co2 issues confronting humankind now, there won't be any topia at all in the future. I commissioned Jim Laughter to wrote "Polar City Red" (my title, his novel) last year and he wrote it in 7 months and due out on April 22 for Earth Day. My vision is that IF we don't solve co2 and coala and oil issues NOW or SOON, then the human species will not survive past 2500 AD. From 2100 to 2500 our followers will have to eke our desperate lives in what i call "polar cities" .. more like Mad Max Meets The Road....and it won't be a pretty picture. JOHN, i cry for humanity, i feel we are losing the battle, and there won't be a HERE here in 500 years, the Earth will abide, but humans will be gone. Forever. Can we really face that? Or can we fight and win? I am very worried, thus: bald on top and white hair on the sides, and 24/7 panic.! ouch.
Apr. 14th, 2012 10:30 am (UTC)
Re: Newtopia
I feel your pain. The problem, of course (insofar as it relates to books and reading, is that students at Yale who are even considering signing up for a course like the one I'm proposing are likely to be firmly on your side and even fairly knowledgeable about the problem. The difficulty -- you know this -- is not lack of knowledge, but lack of will, the huge difficulty for humans (especially those profiting from the present state of things in whatever ways) of acting on what they (or some cohort of them) determine to be the case, and the Prisoner's Dilemma of when to take a chance on cooperation rather than me-firstism.
Apr. 25th, 2012 06:26 am (UTC)
Kit Reed
It sounds like you have assembled quite a list, and it may be a bit late to add another title, but _Enclave_ by Kit Reed seems like it fits the bill perfect for the "utopia out of dystopia" theme. Aside from being a little more recent than the classic pieces suggested in your previous post, it also explores the mentality of the utopia's founders at the time of creation. All too often, we experience utopias only from the perspective of the disaffected or marginalized within it, and hear nothing from the true believers. _Enclave_ opens up this box a little more.
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