Dr. Andrew Wood
Office: HGH 210; phone: (408) 924-5378
In this piece, Frank Manuel outlines a history of utopian thought that studies differing conceptions of the human psyche through history. This piece is useful to our studies given the dialectical relationship between psyche and community - the notion that who we are is shaped in large part by our societies. Manuel begins by offering a fairly broad definition of utopia: "My conception encompasses 'extraordinary voyages,' [imaginary] moon-travelers' reports, fanciful descriptions of lost islands, ideal constitutions, advice to princes on the most perfect government, novels built around life in a utopian society . . ." (p. 69). Utopias have played various roles in public life: waking dreams fixed in prose, policys tract on ideal government, or allegorical warnings against impending social collapse. Manuel supposes that the most useful form of division is to separate utopias of permanence from utopias of change.
Utopias of permanence, those of "calm felicity" as he describes them, presume a largely static world that emerges when three goals are accomplished: (1) the equality of humankind, (2) the establishment of peace, and (3) the elimination of private property. Certainly, utopias of permanence dealt with these challenges in more or less literal terms. Some utopias allowed for some property, individual fame, or even ritual violence; however, these qualities served as exceptions to the rule of a calm and orderly society: "The mood of the system is sameness, the [tone is] one of Stoic calm, without excitation. Utopia is unchanging; one day is like the next except that natural holidays related to the seasons and nuptial rites punctuate the year with occasional festivities" (p. 76). Utopias of permanence employ instruments of social order to define and shape the ideal individual.
A second form of utopia, defined by its orientation toward change, may be called euchronia (good time) rather than eutopia (good place). Manuel suggests that utopias of change resulted from two simultaneous movements: (1) the European and American valorization of progress as a perpetual state of social improvement and (2) the apex of the Renaissance notion of the individual, free from the constraints of church and state. The twin cults of progress and personality called for a new ideal in public life: "the new vision entailed a constant management of run-away historical forces: to take the future, to know in order to predict and control, to change the world - but always in accordance to historical destiny" (p. 82). In this new world, individuals' supposedly innate instincts toward violence and domination would be channeled, their passions organized, their individuality celebrated. From this perspective, utopian novels such as Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward (1887) are relegated to mere reactions to the "new man."
Later in the course, we will examine Leo Marx's distinction between the garden and the machine. The garden refers to the pastoral myth of eternal return; a good place and time where tradition, not progress, is the template of public life. The machine, in contrast, refers to the discipline of technology to rebuild the world and improve the human condition. From this perspective, one can imagine the garden utopia of Samuel Butler's Erewhon (1872) or the machine utopia of Francis Bacon's New Atlantis (1627) as two sides to the same question: can utopia be built or must it be remembered? A key to understanding this distinction between garden and machine is that their fanciful space-times cannot necessarily be organized chronologically. Even so, in the twentieth century, it appeared that the machine had triumphed over the garden. According to Manuel, the mechanized warfare, globe-girdling totalitarianism, and moral nihilism of this age portended to some the end of utopia. The bad place (dystopia) had overcome the good place. As William Butler Yeats wrote in his poem, "The Second Coming":
Perhaps the vicious states imagined by Aldous Huxley and George Orwell had replaced the gentle utopias of the previous age. Manuel responds, however, that humanity "could not stop dreaming even as he stood beneath the gallows of the atomic launching pads" (p. 87). He describes two contemporary utopias: human evolution toward higher consciousness and human elimination of repression. The former might be illustrated by Teilhard de Chardin's notion of the noosphere: a higher plain of community that transcends the individual self - a new age of spirituality. The latter utopia is a response to the Freudian sentiment that libidinal urges must somehow be mastered. The elimination of repression neatly sidesteps the limits of state to craft perfected individuals; in the non-repressive utopia, self-actualization, not communal harmony, is the state of utopia.
Activity: Think about Star Trek as an artifact of contemporary culture (broadly defined). What kind of utopia was imagined by Gene Roddenbury? How does a character such as James Kirk or a race such as the Borg shape this utopia? Select a representative cluster of components from Star Trek to define the kind of utopianism (or dystopianism) evoked by the show.