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The Peculiarities of World in Dystopian Texts

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Utopianism has slowly made its way into a literary genre by authors comparable to Thomas More. More’s book, Utopia was written to show his disdain about the political corruption that happened in Europe during his life. Comparing the word “Utopia” to both a good place and no place. Although Thomas More was the “father” of Utopia, his neologism leads other authors: Gregory Claeys, Darko Suvin, and Ruth Levitas to publish their input on what a Utopia means. Since Utopia’s conception, Utopia has come to suggest a place we can solely dream about, an actual paradise. Dystopia, which is the direct contrary of Utopia, is a term used to describe a Utopian society in which matters have gone wrong. I am here to argue that the nature of Utopia is to realize the dystopian characteristics that exist in the real world.

Gregory Claeys begins his article by stating no single definition works for Utopia. Mentioning the three main components of the tradition: the literary, the communal, and the ideological. Claeys argues, “a social realist definition of Utopia which prioritizes a historical reading of the various components which comprise the Utopian tradition” (Claeys 9). Proposing the Five Languages of Utopia being literature, religion, progress, psychology, and history. While Utopia is also not exclusively literature, a branch of theology, synonym for social improvement nor a state of mind. Claeys emphasizes that although Utopia is not exclusively literary, religious, psychological and progress centered, “Utopia is not to dismiss the relevance and importance of these components to the Utopian tradition as a whole” (Claeys 10). He then furthers his argument by explaining his social aspect as, “an ideal of enhanced social order, communal cohesion and focus, achieved not by the abolition of ranks, but by the separation of wealth from power a disdain for luxury and the rejection of plutocracy”(Claeys 12). Secondly using Thomas More’s “Utopia”, Monastics, Indy Communities, Early Christianity, and Sparta as his “realistic” aspect. Claey then ends his article in that the realistic definition of Utopia, “permits us to a realizable future it is a map for avoiding undesirable outcomes” (Claeys 15). Claey has an appropriate understanding of Utopia is hard to pinpoint.

However, Darko Suvin finds it quite simple by confining himself to, “a consideration of Utopia as a literary genre”(Suvin 38). Using the Oxford English Dictionary to define why Utopia is a verbal construct. Later comparing all the definitions to each other explaining how most have “imaginary” involved. Moving on to the idea that Utopia is an estrangement. There is not a defined example of Utopia ever existing, and yet it is a perfect place. It has never existed, so we have nothing to compare it to. Suvin relates Utopia to science fiction as he believes Utopia is man-made. Strongly arguing most Utopian authors on “What is Utopia?”.

Ruth Levitas tries to not define Utopia, but help her readers understand what Utopia could be. Levitas begins her essay with her argument of Utopia being the imaginary reconstruction of society, also called the IROS method. Believing the IROS has, “an archaeological or analytical mode and an architectural or constructive mode” (Levitas 47). The IROS is a device to defamiliarize the known and create a space where the reader had the judgment on an alternative experience. Levitas writes her purpose of her writing is not to bring upon a new definition of Utopia, but to provoke people about the term. Her Archeological/analytical mode evaluates what is wrong in the current society, while the Architectural/constructive mode is hoping to find a solution. Levitas ends with how Utopia should be understood as a “method” rather than a goal (Levitas 65). Levitas examines how Utopia has been used by commentators and social theorists. Leaving the readers with the same two questions the IROS method brings, “how should we live” and “how can that be” (Levitas 66)? Those two questions bring the concept of Utopia is possible.

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Experts in the field are still arguing if Utopia is possible in the real world and if a society has ever been a perfect model to prove such a claim. Claeys believes that Utopia was somewhere in, “Sparta, in primitive Christianity, in monasteries, amongst the indigenous peoples of the New World” (Claeys 13). Articulating that these societies were achievable, the problem was how to recapture the virtue once it was lost. Leading to Levitas’s IROS, which found a problem within the society, and then would come up with solutions to fix it. Adam and Eve are residing in the Garden of Eden at some point of Genesis 1-2 is an example of a Utopian lifestyle. When they first sin by consuming the forbidden fruit in Genesis 3, the World will become a dystopia. They tried to live a perfect life, but the corruption of mankind, in the end, changed the world into a dystopia (Britannica). Both Claeys and Levitas believe a Utopian society is possible. Further, Claeys and Levitas believe that dystopian societies are in place in the real world. Claeys describes dystopia as an, “asylum” or “prison”, which are a real problem. Today prisons are mostly overcrowded and full of violence (Claeys 14). Levitas mentions a huge concern for today’s society, school shootings. She writes, “a six- year old boy took a gun to school and fired it, resulting in the death of a classmate” (Levitas 63). Unfortunately, school shootings have been made into view for the public eye recently, with no actual solution making America as a form of dystopia. An example of Utopia is hard to find; however, dystopias are easily spotted. The easiest example of a dystopia would be the Holocaust. In the Holocaust, he pressured human beings to do things in the trust that it would lead to a perfect world. He brainwashed his troops into doing horrific things for the betterment of the whole world. In the end, he had almost the identical factor as every other dystopian government.

Realistic Utopias are normally a critique of the current society. Suvin argues Utopia is a verbal construct, in “man-made” books from “man-made” history (Suvin 62). Meaning that society itself creates their idea of Utopia. The society can come up with better ideas for their community or compare it to a dystopia to see where they lie on the spectrum. Utopia cannot exist without dystopia because there would be no comparison, just as there is no good without evil. Luke Martell states the first step to social change being, “Utopianism is a basis for critical assessment of the present. An idea of an ideal society is something against which we can evaluate the present” (Martell 2). Martell shows his readers where the present does not match up to what we think society should be, turning Utopian thinking into a footing for critique and change. Levitas also agrees on Utopia being a process to make a better society. The first part of her IROS method is to determine what is wrong with the present society. A “Utopian” place can quickly turn to dystopian by, “the suppression of individuality, in intolerance… and demanding perfection” (Claeys 11). You cannot create a dystopia without first finding what is making a society dystopian. Today, the Utopian spirit is far from dead.

Utopias prevent dystopian ideas. It functions as a map for avoiding undesirable outcomes. Claeys mentions, “Utopia stands for the avoidance of plutocracy, the limiting of inequality, and the management of common resources for the common good” (Claeys 15). Meaning Utopia is just a map to avoid dystopia, these are goals proven to be worth attaining and preserving. Suvin agrees that Utopia is structured like blueprints he mentions, “Utopia operates by examples and demonstrations” (Suvin 37). Suvin and Claey both relate to Utopias preventing dystopias. Utopianism is an ideal future that drives change away from the present to something different. Something that supports criticism, idealism and a wish for a better world can help social change.

The purpose of having Utopia is to make our world better. To find what dystopian characteristics we have in our societies, so we can fix it. Gregory Claeys, Darko Suvin, and Ruth Levitas all have different ideas on what Utopia means, however they all acknowledge the dystopian aspects of daily life. One purpose of having dystopia literature is being able to relatable to the audience. The genre of Utopia has an emotional effect on people and how they feel about the world and on different issues they face. A Utopia can be a blueprint for an ideal society in the future or a different place, preventing a dystopia. Too detailed or rigid a plan may not allow us to adapt to unforeseen circumstances or allow collective democratic determination of how society should be organized. But if we are to change to a better society it is important to have some idea of what that would be like and how it would operate in a way that would make it better than current society. Otherwise, large-scale change is a big risk. Having a plan also stops people misusing a political idea in the future because the society we should have has not been set out, as it could be said happened in so-called communist societies.

Works cited

  1. Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Garden of Eden.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., https://www.britannica.com/topic/Garden-of-Eden.
  2. Gregory Claeys, “The Five Languages of Utopia: Their Respective Advantages and Deficiencies With a Plea for Prioritising Social Realism”, Cercles 30 (2013): 9-16.
  3. Levitas, Ruth. Utopia as Method: The Imaginary Reconstitution of Society. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014
  4. Martell, Luke. Utopianism and social change: Materialism, Conflict, and Pluralism, Capital and Class “Https://Pdfs.semanticscholar.org/46e4/ddfc84cb97387a25d99be09d37b0746579fa.Pdf.”.
  5. Suvin, Darko, Positions and Suppositions in Science Fiction (London: Macmillan 1988)
  6. Wilborne, Brian, “From Dystopia to Utopia: Nazi Euthanasia/Eugenics and Their Re-Emergence.” Quadrant Online from Dystopia to Utopia Nazi Euthanasiaeugenics and Their Reemergence Comments, https://quadrant.org.au/magazine/2012/09/from-dystopia-to-Utopia-nazi-euthanasia-eugenics-and-their-re-emergence/.

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The Peculiarities of World in Dystopian Texts [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 29 [cited 2023 Jan 31]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-peculiarities-of-world-in-dystopian-texts/
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