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This article places Margaret Cavendish's most famous fictional "prose of a certain length," The Blazing World, in the welter of available genres from which she fashioned the fantastic hybrid attached to her 1666 Observations on Experimental Philosophy. In a time when the normative medium for imaginary narrative was verse, she hybridized her text further by writing in prose and attaching it to a work of natural philosophy. This article's chief effort is to reveal the hybridity of the work's satiric pastiche, with its calculated dazzle and challenge to its original readership's "real," and its responsibility in the history of literature in English for the emergence of the novel, not so much and but as science fiction. The work takes a major step toward the constitutive conflict of the modern novel between "inside" and "outside" experience, appearance, action. Its fantasia of the protagonist's cohabitation with her friend inside the body of her husband delights with a gender fluidity or boundary breakdown like that of its own form, followed by a spectacle of sublime female military power and violence on another world.
In 1924, a wealthy New York philanthropist, Dorothy Straight (née Elmhirst), married a Yorkshire-born agricultural economist, Leonard Elmhirst. The First World War had made both of them question the self-oriented, market-driven doctrine of laissez-faire liberalism that underpinned the Western world. ‘I found that the bottom of life had dropped out,’ Leonard Elmhirst wrote, ‘and that the old beliefs could not stand the test’. Both wanted to dedicate themselves to creating a community apart from mainstream society, where a better mode of holistically integrated, democratic living could be pioneered. In 1925 they bought a run-down estate in South Devon, Dartington Hall, and began a social, cultural and education experiment that they hoped would ‘set the pace’ for Britain and the rest of the world. They devoted the rest of their lives to this project, which became one of the best-known and most influential of the many small-scale interwar utopian experiments.
Karl Mannheim, who lectured at Dartington in 1941, argued that utopias are always in dialectical tension with the existing order; for all their ‘incongruity’ with the status quo, they remain deeply embedded within a ‘historically specific social life’. The fortunes of Dartington from its foundation to the present day exemplify the messy vitality of the exchange with the real world promised in Mannheim’s formulation. The estate offered countercultural alternatives. Yet its founders were determined that it would develop in symbiosis with the wider world rather than ‘preparing for some hypothetical community’ of the future. Dartington’s communion with the outside world was increased by the international collaborators with whom the Elmhirsts engaged in pursuing their ideal of promoting a unified life. This chapter looks at how, in the ninety-odd years since its foundation, Dartington has offered a reconfigured vision of the outside world, while being both sustained and constrained by this larger environment.
Chapter 1 examines demographic ideas in early Tudor England, centering on connections between the mobility and mutability of particular groups of people. It first delineates sources for demographic ideas, in particular the Bible and Aristotle’s Politics, and emphasizes the centrality of qualitative concerns about multitudes of people as a factor in the health of the polis. It then turns to a major context for English demographic thought, the enclosure of land from the late fifteenth century. It delineates a key theme in the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century literature of agrarian complaint, detailed in More’s Utopia: causal links between enclosure and depopulation (the removal of a functional multitude from a specific locale) and between mobility and degeneration (here, of ploughmen displaced by enclosure into criminals). The final section looks at the development – in Thomas Starkey’s Dialogue between Pole and Lupset, Thomas Smith’s Discourse of the Common Weal, and an anonymous set of “Polices” – of an idea of policy centered on restricting mobility to prevent degeneration and maintain proportions and relations between functional multitudes as components of the body politic.
Dartington Hall was a social experiment of kaleidoscopic vitality, set up in Devon in 1925 by a fabulously wealthy American heiress, Dorothy Elmhirst (née Whitney), and her Yorkshire-born husband, Leonard. It quickly achieved international fame with its progressive school, craft production and wide-ranging artistic endeavours. Dartington was a residential community of students, teachers, farmers, artists and craftsmen committed to revivifying life in the countryside. It was also a socio-cultural laboratory, where many of the most brilliant interwar minds came to test out their ideas about art, society, spirituality and rural regeneration. To this day, Dartington Hall remains a symbol of countercultural experimentation and a centre for arts, ecology and social justice. Practical Utopia presents a compelling portrait of a group of people trying to live out their ideals, set within an international framework, and demonstrates Dartington's tangled affinities with other unity-seeking projects across Britain and in India and America.
This chapter examines the dangers of utopian hope and strategies to limit them. It builds on the idea, emphasized throughout this study, that ideal theory shares overlooked features with apocalyptic thought. One long-standing worry with apocalyptic thought is that it promotes violence. Notably, both apocalyptic thought and ideal theory can fall victim to false confidence regarding their ability to identify and achieve utopia. Purported knowledge of the path to utopia has justified all kinds of bloodshed and cruelty throughout history, yet the ideal never comes. Partly in response to the explosive potential of apocalyptic belief, strands of Jewish and Christian thought stress the radical nature of human ignorance regarding what the ideal society looks like, how to bring it about, and when it might come. By pairing utopian hope with epistemic humility, the apocalyptic tradition – at least parts of it – suggests an approach that ideal theory would be wise to imitate.
This chapter explores Engels’s engagement with apocalyptic thought. Some reduce Marxism to a secularized version of Christian eschatology, a claim that functions as a rhetorical weapon against Marxism’s originality. I reject this simplistic view but take seriously the textual evidence showing Engels’s interest in the apocalyptic figure Thomas Müntzer and the book of Revelation. He praises Müntzer, going so far as to argue that the coming kingdom of God preached by Müntzer was actually a Marxist ideal marked by radical equality. Though Engels rejects Christian apocalyptic doctrines, he shares with them the belief that things must worsen and reach a crisis before a utopian future is possible. Whereas Machiavelli rejects apocalyptic hope and Hobbes tempers it, Engels embraces it.
This chapter explores what apocalyptic thought shares with ideal theory, with a focus on our grounds for believing any proposed account of the ideal society. As John Rawls understands it, ideal theory is based on plausible reasons that others should accept, whereas religious belief is unsuitable to collectively guide society. Some, though, have questioned Rawls’s confidence in ideal theory, and this chapter draws on social science research to place these criticisms on firmer ground. It outlines an argument for why future uncertainty makes it impossible to offer a plausible defense of ideal theory. As a result, ideal theory, like religious belief, ultimately must rest on faith. Though ideal theory must abandon aspirations of outlining an ideal to collectively guide society, there is still a potential role for it as a source of utopian hope.
The close of the book offers a brief overview of its arguments and revisits the parable that opens the study. It also considers a parable from the apocalyptic tradition, the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25:31–46, and offers an interpretation to highlight its potential wisdom for ideal theory. On this interpretation, the parable serves as a subtle reminder of the virtue found in pairing utopian hope with epistemic humility.
The book opens with a parable to introduce three central figures in the chapters to come – Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Engels – and their approaches to apocalyptic thought. It then defines key concepts and gives an overview of the three main arguments advanced in Apocalypse without God. The first argument is methodological: the study of secular apocalyptic thought would place itself on firmer ground by focusing on cases where secular thinkers explicitly reference religious apocalyptic texts, figures, and concepts. The second argument is interpretive: apocalyptic thought’s political appeal partly lies in offering resources to navigate persistent challenges that arise in ideal theory, which tries to imagine the best and most just society. And the third argument is normative: ideal theory and apocalyptic thought both rest on faith and are best suited to be sources of utopian hope, but not guides for collective action by a society.
Why would secular thinkers find in Christian apocalyptic beliefs – often dismissed as bizarre – appealing tools for interpreting politics? This chapter aims to unpack that puzzle. A helpful approach for understanding apocalyptic thought’s appeal is the lens of ideal theory, which tries to imagine the best and most just society. Ideal theory faces a daunting task: outlining a goal that is both utopian and feasible. To be worth striving for, the ideal must be utopian and possess sufficient moral appeal to justify the transition costs needed to achieve it. Yet the ideal also must be feasible, since it is difficult to justify dedicating limited resources to pursue the impossible. These competing goals result in a catch-22: a more utopian ideal is a less feasible moral goal, which diminishes reasons to strive for it, but a more modest and feasible ideal is a less appealing moral goal, which also diminishes reasons to strive for it. What I call cataclysmic apocalyptic thought proposes a way out of this dilemma. It embraces a utopian goal and declares it feasible by pointing to crisis as the vehicle to wipe away corruption and bring the seemingly impossible within reach.
This chapter surveys the now well-known notion of the end of history, popularized in particular by Francis Fukuyama, from a literary point of view. It does this, in the main, by looking at the work of the philologist Erich Auerbach. It begins with an overview of the idea of the end of history from the more general, historical viewpoint of eschatology, outlining some of the ways this notion seems to be becoming redundant in the contemporay era. It then moves on to trace the history of eschatological thinking via Auerbach’s corpus, making links between this author’s different works, and explicating how they relate to the main topic. If all escahtological narratives have a global dimension, Auerbach’s work also highlights the way in which the end of history is tied up with more specific notions of globalization, both in the imperialist era and in our own era of thoroughgoing globalization. The chapter thus sets about trying to think through the link between globalization, the end of history and literature, and it ends by drawing some conclusions on how these three things relate to one another in the contemporary era.
Apocalypse, it seems, is everywhere. Preachers with vast followings proclaim the world's end. Apocalyptic fears grip even the nonreligious amid climate change, pandemics, and threats of nuclear war. As these ideas pervade popular discourse, grasping their logic remains elusive. Ben Jones argues that we can gain insight into apocalyptic thought through secular thinkers. He starts with a puzzle: Why would secular thinkers draw on Christian apocalyptic beliefs – often dismissed as bizarre – to interpret politics? The apocalyptic tradition proves appealing in part because it theorizes a relation between crisis and utopia. Apocalyptic thought points to crisis as the vehicle to bring the previously impossible within reach, offering resources for navigating challenges in ideal theory, which involves imagining the best, most just society. By examining apocalyptic thought's appeal and risks, this study arrives at new insights on the limits of utopian hope. This title is available as open access on Cambridge Core.
The Coda to this book examines the latest edition of Dak’Art, Senegal’s biennial art exhibition, which – while operating in a neoliberal art market – has retained a Pan-African agenda. In Dak’Art 2016, the organizers used various colonial buildings to exhibit contemporary art and thus appropriated the colonial cityscape for its decolonizing agenda. More than 50 years after Senegal acquired its political independence, a nostalgia for Pan-African politics remains on the utopian horizon. In the Coda, this decolonial utopia is situated in a wider temporal landscape of lost and reclaimed futures. In Reinhart Koselleck’s understanding of historical time, the imagination of political alternatives in the historical present assumes an untimely quality. Indeed, as we have seen throughout the book, the process of decolonization is not a linear historical process; rather, it is refracted by ‘uncanny returns, repetitions, and re-enchantments’. The Coda explores how such untimely temporalities are embodied in the African Renaissance Monument, inaugurated in 2010 to celebrate Senegal’s independence amidst widespread dissatisfaction with government politics. It posits that the imagination of African futures is as untimely as it ever was.
General Faidherbe founded the École normale William Ponty in Saint-Louis to train the sons of colonial chiefs and assimilate them in French culture. In the early twentieth century, the school was moved from Saint-Louis to Gorée, then to Sébikotane, just beyond Rufisque. During the colonial era, the school educated many African students hailing from all over Afrique-Occidentale Française, several of whom went on to lead their countries into independence and became their first presidents. President Abdoulaye Wade was one of the Ponty students. This chapter examines Wade’s initiative to establish the University of the African Future on the same site where the ruins of the Ponty School stand today. It looks at the architecture of the campus, the envisioned curriculum, and its stated aim to stop the brain drain from Africa. Conceived as a Pan-African institution, the university was placed alongside the Ponty School as its postcolonial incarnation. However, as the funding for the project fell through due to changing international politics, the site now houses the ruins of two educational infrastructures standing side by side. This chapter examines how both infrastructures were conceived as Afro-utopias and generated Afro-nostalgia for futures to come.
Is hope a virtue? Not necessarily. We hope for many things, some of them good, some bad. What we do or don’t do about our hopes may also reflect on us, for better or for worse. Is hope pleasurable or comforting? Again, not necessarily. Hope may involve anxiety and pain. What about hopes in as well as for others? As good and generous as such hopes may sound, even they are not necessarily virtuous. If hope appears an unqualified good to you, independent of any specific context, it is likely for one of two reasons: first, you belong to or have been influenced by one of the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), in which faith-based hope counts as a virtue; second, you are a political liberal. Starting with supporters of the French Revolution, hope has served as shorthand for progressive politics. I start my literary history with the classical counterpoint, in which hope is at best problematic, something in need of regulation and restraint if not extirpation. I then turn to Judeo-Christianity, and European and American Romanticism, and offer a preliminary sketch of the reasons why hope features as a good thing in these over-lapping but distinct contexts.
The Nordic Model was originally understood as a compromise between Western and Soviet systems. The Soviet Union has been gone for a generation, but the Nordic Model survives. Much of this has to do with the Model's change from an economic to a largely cultural model. In particular the Model has come to emphasize human (especially women's) rights; environmental consciousness; and cultural innovation. While these each contain an element of fantasy, they retain sufficient substance to provide encouragement to 'progressive' circles in the United States, United Kingdom, and other countries. Important in its own right, the Nordic Model provides a fascinating case study of the transmission of goods and ideas between different regions, and the ability of a small and out of the way region to maintain its own identity in a globalized world.
This article argues that international law and the literature of civil war, specifically the narratives from the Philippine communist insurgency, present two visions of the child. On the one hand, international law constructs a child that is individual and vulnerable, a victim of violence trapped between the contending parties. Hence, the child is a person who needs to be insulated from the brutality of the civil war. On the other hand, the article reads Filipino writer Kris Montañez’s stories as revolutionary tales that present a rational child, a literary resolution of the dilemmas of a minor’s participation in the world’s longest-running communist insurgency. Indeed, the short narratives collected in Kabanbanuagan (Youth) reveal a tension between a minor’s right to resist in the context of the people’s war and the juridical right to be insulated from the violence. As their youthful bodies are thrown into the world of the state of exception, violence forces children to make the choice of active participation in the hostilities by symbolically and literally assuming the roles played by their elders in the narrative. The article concludes that while this narrative resolution appears to offer a realistic representation and closure, what it proffers is actually a utopian vision that is in tension with international law’s own utopian vision of children. Thus, international law and the stories of youth in Kabanbanuagan provide a powerful critique of each other’s utopian visions.
Climate change undermines the property concepts embedded within histories of capitalism and colonialism, placing them in crisis. As Arctic territories and Pacific island states recede to sea level rise, as wildfires burn through suburban communities in the wealthy world, as global fresh water runs dry, uncertainty shadows what it means to own, to use, and to inhabit. For the wealthier world, survival may depend on owning and occupying less, upon reducing the scale of supply chains and stewarding regional resources. Enter "the commons,” a concept and praxis tied to sustainability in the form of stable subsistence in anthropological literatures, to Indigenous economies and cosmologies worldwide, and to European peasant economies. For the world’s Indigenous, the concept may be, at best, an incomplete translation of Indigenous traditional knowledges. Yet the commons as concept attempts to combat extractive, colonial economies, offering a justice-oriented and site-specific alternative to the state and the market as organizing systems and stories. This chapter considers the dynamic intellectual history of the commons as it relates to climate change, environmentalism and decolonization.
Sophie Hackford explores the idea that the way that computers see the world is becoming our dominant reality. The idea that a physical object, and its data ‘exhaust’, are in constant dialogue with each other. As machine autonomy creeps into our everyday lives, we are creating a physical internet, where people, objects, vehicles move as seamlessly in the real world as data moves around the internet. Digital bots or ‘agents’ might represent us in interactions with our banks, friends, colleagues. Autonomous companies might soon be big players in the economy. Hackford will explore a world where human and machine ‘vision’ will collaborate, compete and even merge together.