The excellence of things is in the middle.
—Aristotle, quoted in Mandeville
Utopia has always been about place, the Greek roots of this word squinting wryly at the dual possibilities of a “happy place” and “no place.” Even generically, the term utopia implies its own place, not as ambiguously poised between the ideal and “the not at all” but as a point of origin—a sign of incipient modernity—to which the medieval becomes “no place for utopia.” Utopia thus marks both the geographic space of possibility and difference and the genealogical space of transition from premodernity to modernity, so the historical narrative goes. Like most historical narratives with a fondness for originary designs, this one has the effect of provincializing the Middle Ages as that time before modernity when utopianism was not possible, or alternatively when it was possible only as a religious ideal that differed fundamentally from early modern secular utopianism and Thomas More's seminal text. The Middle Ages is relegated in histories of utopia to the realm of “the before”—before secularism, before modernity, before geography. Medieval antecedents of early modern utopianism are shunted off into that “inert, sealed off space before the movement of history.” The Middle Ages is out of step with modernity to the same extent that it is out of place in utopian studies. The irony of the “middleness” of the Middle Ages is that, contra Aristotle, it is marked not by excellence but by the inertia of premodernity—it is the “excluded middle,” if you will.