Science Fiction Studies

# 20 = Volume 7, Part 1 = March 1980


Winter on Utopia

Michael Winter. Compendium Utopiarum: Typologie und Bibliographie literarischer Utopien. Erster Teilband: Von der Antike bis zur deutschen Frühaufklärung. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1978. 287p. DM 150-

This massive undertaking of a two-volume reference work on literary utopias clearly owes its very life to Ernst Bloch's philosophy of hope and to the debates about social alternatives which were fueled by the student movement of the 1960s and which, at least in West Germany, were strongly influenced by Bloch's heretical Marxism. At first sight, the heavy oversize volume with its numerous indices and appendices, its charts, tables, and illustrations seems to belong with what Bloch used to characterize as the cold stream of intellectual life. Utopia academicized! The ever powerful human drive beyond the present toward a better future catalogued, classified, and typologized, made manageable and controllable for the specialist scholar. And yet, although Winter's elaborate listings and typologies may indeed call forth a flood of meager and irrelevant publications on this or that aspect of utopian literature, one cannot but pay respect to the scope of Winter's project and to the energy a single author has invested in such a thoroughly dystopian labor.

The book calls for a description. The present folio-size volume deals with the whole body of European utopian literature from classical antiquity to the early German enlightenment; volume two, which has yet to be published, will then carry the reader from the mid-18th century to the present. The book is divided into four sections. The introductory section contains a substantial essay on the relationship between utopia as fiction and utopia as a program for political action. This essay, which outlines the conceptual framework of the whole project, is followed by explanatory notes and a guide to use of the typological chronological title bibliography which comprises the core of the present volume. This second section contains 153 consecutively numbered and chronologically arranged bibliographical entries beginning with Lycurgus, Aristophanes, Plato, Aristotle, and Iambulus, moving on to the Christian-chiliastic texts of the Middle Ages, to the classical utopias of the Renaissance and the Reformation, More, Miintzer, and Giordano Bruno, to Campanella's Civitas Solis, Francis Bacon's New Atlantis, and the numerous French utopias of the 17th century (among them Fontenelle, Du Quesne, Fénélon), and ending with Defoe and Swift, Marivaux and Montesquieu, and finally with the major German example of a utopian novel in the 18th century, Johann Gottfried Schnabel's Insel Felsenburg (1731-43). Included are both fictional and non-fictional literary genres ranging from philosophical essay, pamphlet, treatise, report, dialogue, and letter to comedy, travelogue, satire, and different forms of the novel.

Winter does not claim comprehensiveness for his bibliography. Since the very notion of literary utopia is still ill-defined, in terms of content as well as of genre and form, comprehensiveness would indeed be an illusory goal. It is nevertheless one of the great merits of this bibliography to have brought to light a rich body of utopian texts which were buried in European libraries-some of them rediscoveries, others entirely new discoveries. And to compensate for the lack of comprehensiveness, Winter has tried to construct a typology of literary genres into which any later discoveries or simple oversights could be fitted.

In each individual entry the bibliographical information is followed by a usually extensive commentary. The commentary begins with relatively substantial content summaries of the text in question taken from literary dictionaries (especially Kindlers Literaturlexikon) or from specialized studies of utopian literature (Begley, Dupont, Gibson, et al.). Whenever called for, Winter's subsequent remarks give additional biographical and content information; but the main purpose of his commentary is to elucidate the social, cultural, and literary context of a work and then to define it generically and typologically. Multiple cross-references enable the reader to develop an understanding of the various groups and sub-groups of utopian literature, of influences, history of reception, and the development of specific sub-genres. The commentary closes with selected bibliographical references to relevant secondary literature.

Section 3 contains a resume of Winter's typological constructs, which may be studied profitably before looking up any individual entry in section 2. Winter offers four major categories for charting the body of utopian literature, fully aware that his construct can only provide a basis for further discussion and research. First he divides utopian literature into different genres of fictional and non-fictional texts according to their content. Then he distinguishes the various utopian models according to property structure and forms of domination. A third graph charts the different forms of literary presentation (e.g. pamphlet, treatise, letter, various forms of the novel, comedy), and the fourth one attempts to distinguish three broad groups of utopias in terms of their political intention: conservatism, reformism, and revolution. A final chronological table of all the listed texts then characterizes each according to the four basic categories and, under a fifth rubric, provides historical and social "background" information in abbreviated form. This chronological-typological table thus synthesizes the individual bilbiographical entries of section 2 with Winter's typological charts in section 3. Section 3 concludes with a bibliographical appendix containing relevant secondary sources (bibliographies, monographs, collections of texts, etc.).

The fourth and final section contains five indices. Besides the usual author, title, and subject index and a list of abbreviations, there is an index of names which includes printers, publishers, translators, critics, and scholars, thus providing an additional useful entry to this reference work.

No question about it: this compendium is a gold mine of information and it offers manifold challenges to the informed reader. One problem, of course, is the attempt to integrate essentially synchronic genre classifications with diachronic historical descriptions. The material covered is so overwhelmingly large that Winter's (to my mind) excessive concern with typology may confuse rather than enlighten. I would suggest that while the broad classifications and categories are useful and help us understand various important aspects of utopian literature, the fine screen imposed on the materials by the genealogical charts is on occasion unnecessarily confusing, if not abstract and meaningless. The attempt, for example, to classify literary forms according to length and then to ascribe a specific content to a short form as opposed to a long form (chart 3) runs aground simply because the same subject matter may indeed appear in both the long and the short form. Further-more, genre distinctions between, e.g., the short forms "Traktat" and "Essay" on one hand and "Abhandlung" on the other are dubious at best.

To give yet another example: in the case of typology 4 (political intention) one can easily accept Winter's distinction into conservative, reformist, and revolutionary utopias. But the subdivisions that follow become meaningless when Winter ascribes to each of these categories an aristocratic and an aristocratic-bourgeois standpoint, and where both reformism and revolution can additionally appear in bourgeois form. Here the lack of history makes the typological screen utterly meaningless; one is reminded that historical and cultural processes are not that easily presented in diagram form.

It is to Winter's credit, however, that history is amply present in the commentaries on individual utopias, which are all interpreted as responding to their specific historical, cultural, and social context. Winter himself suggests (pp. 227 ff.) that the typologies are most helpful when the literature is related to historical developments. It is indeed important to know that the major impulses for post-medieval utopian literature come out of early capitalist developments in England, the Reformation, the English civil war, the absolutism of Louis XIV, and the bourgeois enlightenment. In terms of literary presentation and genre, the bibliography reveals a major shift in the mid-17th century. Heretofore dominant forms such as philosophical dialogue, descriptive report, and treatise are increasingly replaced by fictional genres such as the novel of action or the travelogue. Descriptive utopias lose ground to utopias presented as biographies of individuals (e.g., Winter argues for "hidden elements" of Puritan utopianism even in Robinson Crusoe). Winter is certainly correct in suggesting that this shift towards individualistic perspective and personal adventure is connected with the historical emancipation of the merchant bourgeoisie, and, I would add, with the rise of the novel as the dominant literary genre of the European bourgeoisie in general.

Another interesting result of Winter's work is that--contrary to a commonly accepted notion--utopian models based on private property by far outnumber those characterized by communist structures, and monarchic forms of government outweigh anarchic and democratic-republican forms. Of course, this observation does not imply that private property utopias are necessarily any less revolutionary than communist ones. In the age of early capitalism and bourgeois emancipation the insistence on private property and constitutional monarchy as forms of political organization were certainly revolutionary.

One last critical point concems Michael Winter's own intellectual and political position, as it is revealed in the introductory essay and in the Preface. There may be a point in categorizing More and Müntzer as opposing, if complementary, representatives of two qualitatively different forms of utopia--utopia as fiction vs. utopia as a program for political action. In particular, utopian literature usually blocks out the question of how best to get to the ideal society, whereas the activist, the revolutionary, struggles in an immediate way to transform reality. But it is impermissible to assert that the writer of utopian fiction is more realistic than the activist, since he supposedly knows that power is power and that radical social change will never come (see p. xviii, left column). Here the May 1968 slogan "l'imagination au pouvoir" ("power to the imagination") with its utopian potential and the Blochian "principle of hope" have been all but abandoned, and Winter comes dangerously close to antiutopian resignation or indeed to that pragmatic bourgeois idiocy which equates utopian thought with unrealistic fantasies and crackbrain daydreaming.

Similarly, the Preface makes the untenable claim that "Western" civilization--in its visions of happiness as well as in its prophecies of doom--never paid heed to its utopias, but rather followed objective historical necessity (den historischen Sachzwängen). This is the language of a technocrat, not of a utopian. And when Winter goes on to characterize anarchist thought as aimless and negative, denying its relationship to genuine utopian thought, he not only contradicts his later commentaries and typologies, in which anarchist utopias figure significantly (about 20 out of the total of 153), but runs the risk of providing a political justification for the West German government's equation of anarchism with terrorism (as in the Baader-Meinhof affair) and the subsequent calculated incrimination of the whole West German left as anarchist. Or could this possibly be Winter using a kind of Brechtian cunning, a disguise to counter political pressure?

Nonetheless, precisely because the 1970s are such a strong depressant to utopian thought and action, Winter's work may contribute to keeping the utopian flame alive. The power and energy of concrete utopia in the Blochian sense need to be reaffirmed and lived, not curtailed or abandoned.

--Andreas Huyssen

Lasky's Utopianism

Melvin J. Lasky. Utopia and Revolution. On the Origins of a Metaphor or Some Illustrations of the Problem of Political Temperament and Intellectual Climate and How Ideas, Ideals, and Ideologies Have Been Historically Related. Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 1976. viii + 726 p. $10.95.

Melvin Lasky's leisurely pace and abundant quotation in Utopia and Revolution will not appeal to every reader. He pursues no strikingly original theses and uses no particularly novel methods of historical analysis, and too often this lengthy book seems on the point of becoming an anthology of well-chosen passages from major, minor, and forgotten ideologues. At times his failure to identify the author of a passage in the text can be aggravating. But Utopia and Revolution is well worth staying with.

The subtitle should alert the reader to the intent of Lasky's expansive volume. He argues--and these 700 pages are meant to document--the supremacy of ideas, words, metaphors, symbols, and rhetoric in the study of comparative ideologies. Perhaps his success in demonstrating their importance might be taken as one of the book's major achievements, for, without being explicitly anti-Marxist, Lasky has persuasively examined "early modern" revolutions in an extensive analysis which is almost exclusively intellectual and which is also determinedly dialectic. Though certainly Marx would not disagree with Lasky's belief in the power of metaphor, economic and social factors do not significantly enter Lasky's discussions, and Marx himself is treated as part of the early modern cycle of ideological thought.

Lasky's own metaphor for this cycle illustrates part of the heritage of the book's chrestomathic method and the author's analytical approach. The "great chain of human hope" activates the "action dreaming" of utopian longing and the familiar imagery of revolutionary commitment. In fact, "revolution" itself is one of these metaphors, a master metaphor, "the great metaphor, repeated endlessly over three centuries, [which] never fails to take on the verbal magic of traditional incantations" (p. 14 1). Borrowed from astronomy, "revolution" originally signified a return to a point, a restoration of the past, a correction of a present which had deviated from the true path. Lasky exploits the meaning of this metaphorical imperative often, for example, in explaining the absence of utopianism in American revolutionary thought as the result of an emphasis upon the restoration of the freedoms of Englishmen, or in discussing the "mystical unity" of "revolutionary metaphysics and ideology" in the writings of Franz Fanon.

Lasky over and over makes his point that the "symbology," vocabulary, and grammar of ideology and politics are remarkably limited, yet incredibly resilient and powerful. Nevertheless, the ideas, the words, and the rhetorical strategies-though not in themselves sufficient to account for large social movements-are persistently the key to understanding the dialectical cycle of utopia and revolution. Utopias, "written out of both hope" for the future and "despair" over the betrayal of ideal values in the present, need revolutions to bring about the changes envisioned in their blueprints and models. Indignation is transformed into the fire (or fever) of commitment which results in the whirlwind (or lightning, storm, explosion, earthquake) of change. But, then, the success of the revolution means the petrifaction of ideology into dogmatism, leading to arbitrary order, authoritarianism, and heresy from the doctrine of the now established former revolutionaries. The "heretic's true cause" develops into a new utopian ideal, and the cycle continues to repeat itself, as predictably as do "the circles of time and the very progression of the heavens" (p. 243). Given this cyclical nature of ideological development, history must be the account of inevitable failures and tragedies; and often the historian's tone is one of "sadness," an attitude somewhere between hope and horror. For example, Lasky in several of his many epigrammatic moments: "Thus does political wisdom subvert humane reason, and in tragic turn become subverted itself" (p. 160). "The history of revolutions appears to circle around a gaping and omnivorous dustbin" (p. 280). Such judgments are scattered throughout Utopia and Revolution; one more quotation-from his discussion of "the ideological aspect of Maoism--may serve to illustrate the ambivalent and dialectical character of the cycle:

It is traditional doctrine, made up of the essential links in the great chain of human hope: utopia and revolution. Like all ideologies of the past, be they of higher or lower orders, it carries within itself the seeds of its own dissent and diversion. As a manifesto of practical government, it produces social crises and contradictions; as a religious dogma, it entangles itself in fallacies and heresies; as a secular faith, it faces the inevitable trials of human disillusionment. (p. 148)

Shelley's line from Prometheus Unbound fits this sense of cyclical history perfectly: "the melancholy ruins of cancelled cycles."

However inevitable the collapse of idealism and the horror of violence in the "agitated chronicles" of utopia and revolution, Lasky sees value and purpose in his "great chain of human hope." What disturbs him more than the disenchantment, intolerance, and irrationality involved in such cycles are the 20th-century departures from them. These, he believes, began with Marx, for whom the means had become the end: "revolution itself was utopia" (p. 31 et passim). It is on this note of "post-ideological sadness" that Lasky concludes his study: "Guiltless and without conscience, they [contemporary revolutionary ideologues] embrace an anonymous future in the name of invented but undisclosed values. The sweet dream has become inviolate dogma. The revolution remains their utopia" (p. 602). On the other hand, however, variations of the cycle may be peaceful. One of Lasky's subtheses is that the nonrevolutionary nature of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 "subverted " and influenced political ideology in England for three centuries (pp. 432-33). Writ large in the national character are the "sobriety, prudence, caution, and care" which form "a deep English antipathy to the exhibitionism of the theatrical personality, and to its habit of public overstatement" and "ideological dramatics" (p. 537).

In this sampling of Utopia and Revolution, I have made Lasky sound more conservative and melancholic than he is, and his book more theoretical and thesis-oriented than it is. His lively discussions spend much less time hammering away at cycles than they do in examining such figures as Marchamont Nedham, "literally the first 'revolutionary' ideologue" (p. 248), and Henry Redhead Yorke, whose "utopian artistry" "amounted to a rare and extraordinary ideological configuration, almost unrivaled in its range of revolutionary imagery and ethico-rhetorical richness till the age of Marx and the apocalyptic Left" (p. 556). His sympathy for and often enthusiastic appreciation of such minor writers create both the volume's bulkiness and its interest. For pages the reader may forget the cyclical tragedies of history and the "omnivorous dustbin" and enjoy the vigorous thinking of Lasky's cast of ideologues. And an epic cast it is. Drawing mainly from Puritan England, Revolutionary France, and the Age of Marx, Lasky ranges widely among ideologues, subordinating millenarists and novelists in a preference for the more purely political thinkers. Yet his interest and emphasis remain primarily upon the imaginative "vision" of utopian inspiration and revolutionary fervor. Content for the most part to allow the patterns of history to emerge from his display of well-chosen texts, Lasky lets his organization of chapters and passages nudge the reader gently toward the critical reasonableness and tolerance that constitute the wisdom of many years' reading.

--Donald Watson

Aldous Huxley Revisited

Donald Watt, ed. Aldous Huxley: The Critical Heritage. London & Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975. 493 + xxiv p. $28.50.-

"Tragedy is the farce that involves our sympathies, farce, the tragedy that happens to outsiders." That statement, from Ape and Essence ( 1948), defines Huxley's main limitation as a novelist. By and large, he looks upon human tragedy from the outside, or at a distance, without aspiring to render its phenomenal realities with the kind of substantiality and balance that make for true comedy. And on those rare occasions when he does try to engage the reader's sympathies (as, perhaps, in the death of John the Savage at the end of Brave New World [1932]), the effect is not tragical but melodramatic. Huxley is in his element writing satiric farces: tragedy and comedy are outside the range of his fundamentally Puritan consciousness. A strident moralist (like his grandfather), he is quite capable of vividly caricaturing the carnal "ape" in Man, and especially in woman; but the human "essence," the more or less disembodied transcendental that he is forever gesturing towards, forever recedes ethereally beyond his novelistic horizon (and is, perhaps, never more elusive than when he attempts to approach it, as in Island [1962]).

All this amounts to saying that Huxley's position as a writer remains insecure. The Critical Heritage volume devoted to him will not make it any less so. The contemporary reviews that, in accordance with series' policy, take up most of the book are not particularly violent in their praise or condemnation; and from them--as the editor himself points out--no consensus explicitly emerges as to Huxley's novelistic worth. On the other hand, that he should leave even highly perceptive and intelligent readers so singularly uninspired raises grave doubts about the profundity of his thinking and hence about the perdurability of his reputation.

A case could, of course, be made for Huxley's importance as an experimenter with novelistic form; but that possibility receives only passing editorial mention. Nor is there much else in Watt's book that will further anyone's understanding of Huxley. The reviews, though competently selected, are (as I have already hinted) negligible. Moreover, in reprinting these, Watt has more often than not omitted the reviewers' plot summaries, which, by their various emphases, might have provided data for sociological investigation. Watt has been resourceful and conscientious in including material other than reviews of Huxley's books, most notably a symposium on Huxley in the August 1955 London Magazine. But again, the main interest these essayistic snippets hold pertains to their authors (Evelyn Waugh, Angus Wilson, John Wain, and others), not to their common subject. The same can be said for the excerpts by Orwell--though in this instance thanks primarily to the fact that Watt has chosen to suppress from Orwell's review of Zamiatin the detailed discussion of Huxley's putative debt to We. In short, Aldous Huxley: The Critical Heritage is one of those imperfectly useless books that library journals usually refer to as "indispensable,."

--Robert M. Philmus

Unselective Excerpts

Dedria Bryfonski, ed. Contemporary Literary Criticism: Excerpts from Criticism of the Works of Today's Novelists, Poets, Playwrights, and Other Creative Writers. Volume 10 in the series. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1979. Cumulative Indexes to Authors and Critics in Volumes 1-10; viii + 613 p. S48.00-

Of the approximately 150 writers listed, this volume adds one SF author, Philip K. Dick, to the approximately 20 or so treated in previous volumes (20 out of about 1000) and carries only two--Bradbury and Brunner--over from earlier entries. Most of the criticism on Dick is taken from popular periodicals, a few of which are primarily literary, such as TLS and Best Sellers; but the majority of which are cultural, e.g. The Nation, the New Republic, the New Statesman, etc. While some of the criticisms of Bradbury and Brunner are drawn from sources specifically devoted to SF, all of them are at least three years old, of limited range and uneven quality. It's difficult to see what value these critical snippets have or what function they serve. Although students might find them useful for cribbing, the critical selections give little or no indication as to the methods or aims of contemporary literary criticism. The series is clearly designed for libraries rather than individual purchase and to enable readers to get the gist of an author's work and current reputation before (or as a substitute for) going to the original critical articles. If the series has any value at all, this seems to be it.

--Charles Elkins

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