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Spring 2006 and Fall 2005

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Course Syllabi and Announcements
  LIT 165 Syllabus
  LIT 165 Announcements and Assignments
  WRT 120 Syllabus
  WRT 120 Announcements and Assignments

Notebook for Topics in Literature: Imaginary Worlds (Spring 2008)
  A Reading of THE TEMPEST

Notebook for Topics in Literature: Rites of Passage (Spring 2006)
  Goals of the Course
  Fundamental Questions about Literature
  Valuing Literature
  Critical Thinking and Reading Literature
  Critical Approaches to Literature
  Literature as ART
  Ambiguity
  Approaching the Art of Fiction
  Defining the Short Story
  Evaluating Short Fiction
  Craft of Fiction: PLOT
  Craft of Fiction: CHARACTER
  Small Group Exercise
  ARABY by James Joyce
  WHERE ARE YOU GOING, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? by Joyce Carol Oates
  Our RITES OF PASSAGE Theme
  A note about GIRL
  POE and the art of STORY OF A HOUR
  THE YELLOW WALLPAPER
  YOUNG MAN ON SIXTH AVENUE
  Notes on Innovative Fiction
  Assignment Sheet for Paper #1
  Fiction and Ambiguity - Your Questions
  Writing Workshop - Short Fiction
  Poetry Journal Project Assignment Sheet
  LITERARY SYNTHESIS PROJECT
  Defining Poetry
  Reading Poetry
  The Craft of Poetry
  Drama and Tragedy
  Study Questions: DEATH OF A SALESMAN

Notebook for Effective Writing I (Spring 2006)
  Paper #4 Assignment Sheet
  Critical Thinking and Commentary
  Casebook: Evaluating Sources Worksheet
  Selecting Information
  Evaluating Arguments
  CASEBOOK PROJECT Assignment Sheet
  Approaching Persuasive Writing
  Topic Development - Profile Essay
  Generating Ideas for the Profile Essay
  Paper #2 Assignment Sheet
  Profile Exercise
  Analyzing THE FIVE BEDROOM, SIX FIGURE ROOTLESS LIFE
  Objective Writing: Selected Readings
  Writing Workshop: Paper #1
  Expressive Writing in the NYTimes
  Writing Effective Introductions and Conclusions
  Paper #1: IDENTITY
  Expressive Writing
  Open Letter Exercise and Examples
  EMERSON on Individuality vs. Conformity
  Literature related to IDENTITY
  Understanding the 'Rhetorical Situation'

Go Exploring
  Weblog for WRT 120
  Writing Assistance on the Web
  Blackboard at WCU
  WCU Homepage
  WCU's Francis Harvey Green Library

Notebook for Topics in Literature: Imaginary Worlds (Fall 2005)
  One Last Look at Imaginary Worlds
  Franz Kafka's BEFORE THE LAW
  Analyzing WAITING FOR GODOT
  Approaching WAITING FOR GODOT
  Paper #3: Assignment Sheet
  Paper #4: Independent Project
  The Problem of Stability in BRAVE NEW WORLD
  UTOPIA/DYSTOPIA Links
  Analyzing Huxley's BRAVE NEW WORLD
  Defining Utopia
  Embarking on Huxley's BRAVE NEW WORLD
  A Reading of Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST
  From today's news (11/3/05)
  Assignment Sheet for Paper #2
  Goodbye to Dante's Imaginary World
  Stepping Through Dante's Inferno: Cantos 10-34
  Stepping Through Dante's Inferno: Cantos 1-10
  INFERNO: Questions/Analysis: Cantos 32-34
  INFERNO: Questions/Analysis: Cantos 18-31
  INFERNO: Questions for Analysis: Cantos 12-17
  INFERNO: Structure
  INFERNO: Questions for Analysis: Cantos 1-5
  INFERNO: Analyzing Canto 1
  Relating to Dante's Inferno
  Approaching Dante's DIVINE COMEDY
  A Little Help with Dante's INFERNO
  Assignment Sheet for Paper #1
  Notes on LEAF BY NIGGLE
  Responses to LEAF BY NIGGLE
  ON FAIRY STORIES: An Essay by Tolkien
  Notes on Axolotl
  Reading Ovid's Tales
  From Myth to Literature: Approaching Ovid's Tales
  Notes on THE EYE OF THE GIANT
  Functions of the Genesis Tales
  Analyzing Mythic Tales
  Defining Mythology
  Filtering the Introduction to FANTASTIC WORLDS
  Commentary on LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI by Keats
  Commentary on DARKNESS by Byron
  Handout: Imagination Poems Set
  What is Imagination?
  Our Course Theme: Imaginary Worlds
  LIT 165 Assignments: Fall 2005
  LIT 165 Announcements: Fall 2005
  Imaginary Worlds: Course Syllabus

Notebook for Effective Writing I (Fall 2005)
  Paper #4: Independent Thinking/Reading/Writing
  Casebook Preparation Checklist
  Casebook Assignment Schedule
  Evaluating Sources for the Casebook
  Casebook Project Assignment Sheet
  Notes on Rational Argument
  Argument
  Assignment Sheet: Objective Writing
  Reviewing Elements of the Profile Essay
  Writing the Profile Essay
  Readings: Objective Writing
  Assignment Sheet: Expressive Writing
  Rubric for Evaluation of Writing
  About SKIN DEEP
  Emerson on Individuality vs. Conformity
  Mind-map: Identity
  Understanding the 'Rhetorical Situation'
  Assignments Page
  Announcements Page
  WRT 120 Course Syllabus for Fall 2005

ENG Q20: Basic Writing

Go Exploring
  Weblog for WRT 120
  Writing Assistance on the Web
  Blackboard at WCU
  WCU Homepage
  WCU's Francis Harvey Green Library

 

~~ Defining Utopia ~~

 
Drawing by Ashoka

PRINTER FRIENDLY

What are utopia and dystopia?  Here are two simple definitions: A utopia is an imaginary place, situated in a particular time and space, that is socially, morally, and politically ideal.  A dystopia is an imaginary place, also situated in a particular time or place, but which is socially, morally, and politically terrible, a state in which people are dehumanized, oppressed, terrorized, or completely dominated.  

The word “utopia” is derived from Greek roots u or ou, meaning “no, not” and topos meaning “place.”  Thomas More (1478-1535) coined the word “utopia” in his book by that name (Utopia, 1516) as a pun on eutopia, or “good place”—so that utopia sounds like “good no-place.”  

Brave New World is generally considered a utopian satire, or a dystopia.  These two ways of describing the novel aren’t synonymous; they’re actually slightly different ways of describing Huxley’s purpose. In either case, readers don’t generally believe that the world the novel envisions is in any way superior to the one we live in now; but many people believe it accurately describes the tendencies inherent in our society today—that we are living through the birth of the brave new world.  

The utopian writer is someone who closely examines his or her present society to determine its significant elements, and then asks: what if those significant elements were fully developed?   How about if we try to extrapolate some of the significant elements of our society today—what would you say our culture seems to value most?  Here’s how my list looks: we value entertainment, wealth, status, material comfort, youth, “beauty” (in ironic quotes, because we define it so narrowly), and the latest technology.  And what do we de-value?  I have to agree with Huxley: art, history, morality, rationality, freedom, individuality, truth.  I guess I’m one of those who agree with Huxley that the conditions for a Brave New World are ripe—and ripening more every passing year.  Though that might seem depressing, it doesn’t have to be.  But I admit it does make me try that much harder to make what I feel are the necessary adjustments in my own life and hope society will one day take better care of itself.   

Let’s look at the definition of “utopia” in more detail.  Literary critic Northrop Frye defines utopia as an imaginative vision of the telos or end at which social life aims (notice the emphasis on “social life”—not the individual but the individual as a member of society).  The utopian writer, therefore, looks around at his or her present society, and observing its most significant elements, extrapolates a hypothetical outcome.  That projection can have all the feeling of myth and metaphor—but whereas we have repeatedly claimed that mythic stories express an internal, abstract truth, the utopian story is always speculative rather than true.  We don’t ask whether the utopian vision exists or not, whether it’s true or not, by faith or otherwise; we recognize that it is fictive—idealistic rather than realistic.  Frye points out how taking utopian vision literally has led to many a failed experimental community.  

Ideologies can change as quickly and as radically as fashions; yesterday’s utopia can seem like today’s horror show. Furthermore, it should be understood that any utopian vision is a particular perspective that might appeal rosy to some while appearing dark and disturbing to others.  One person’s “utopia” may become another person’s “dystopia.”  I’m sure Hitler and his comrades had a utopia in mind when they sought to create the Thousand Year Reich…but Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and other victims of his vision would beg to differ.  Our idealistic (utopian?) insistence on “democracy in the Middle East,” where we want to put “freedom on the march” may seem dystopian to thousands of Arabs displaced and killed and still fighting against that cause.  Our own “Declaration of Independence” is an idealistic, maybe even utopian document that talks about man’s “inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  But reasonable people would quickly admit that this is and has always been an unfulfilled vision, a pleasant, noble, idealistic dream more than an everyday reality in America.  Read Langston Hughes’ poem “Let America Be America Again” and see if you agree.  Or look around.

Generally, the utopian vision is one that that author intends readers to find considerably better than society as it presently exists; while the dystopian vision is one that the author intends for the reader to find considerably worse than the society as it presently exists.

An interesting semantic question: are “utopia” and “paradise” the same thing?  “Dystopia” and “Hell”?  I would say they aren’t—“paradise” is a place that is meant to exist outside of time and space, in a no-time, no-space mythic otherworld, but the “utopia,” although hypothetical, is situated in recognizable time and space.  One is mythic, the other fictive. One might say that paradise has metaphorical truth, while utopia is far more literally fictive.  Our literature abounds with both.  Visions of paradise include the biblical Garden of Eden, Homer’s Elysian Fields, Hesiod’s “Golden Age,” Virgil’s Arcadia, Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights,” the medieval lands of Cockaigne and Dante’s Paradiso from the Divine Comedy.  The paradise is a place of simplicity, security, immortality or easy death, unity, abundance without labor.  These paradise worlds are gifts from the gods; they are sensual and social dreaming at its simplest.  But whereas paradise is a gift from the spiritual higher power, utopia is our very own contrivance, our own very human construct—and so it often takes the form of that other completely human construct, the City.  (Paradise vs. Utopia is almost as simple as the Garden vs. the City.)  

Plato’s Republic and Lycurgus’ Sparta (described by Plutarch) are two of the earliest utopias in western literature; they are precursors to the formal genre of utopian literature that Thomas More re-invented in 1516 with his book Utopia.  

Since More’s Utopia, the utopian tradition in literature has evolved in a few recognizable directions.  The religious  radicals of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were egalitarian; their schemes are often based on communal property-holding.  Their ideas give rise (ironically?) to the decidedly non-religious socialist thinking  of the nineteenth century.  The eighteenth century Enlightenment thinkers who welcomed the development of science and technology as the golden keys to progress—better health, longer life, more control over nature—gained incredible momentum in revolutionary movements here in the U.S. and in France.  The Romantics, by contrast,  idealized primitivism. The noble savage is a conception of “humankind unencumbered by civilization; the natural essence of the unfettered person. The concept symbolizes the idea that without the bounds of civilization, man is essentially good” (Wikipedia.com).  However, this notion has not stood the test of time very well: “The concept of the “noble savage,” because it is somewhat unrealistic, condescending, and frequently based on (or the basis of) certain stereotypes, is frequently considered a form of racism, even when it replaces the older stereotype of the “blood-thirsty savage.”  It has been criticized by many in academic, anthropological, sociological and religious fields.”  This concept of the “noble savage” is satirized in Brave New World.

The utopian satire is a spin-off of this utopian tradition in literature, and its purpose is generally understood to be critical of the existing society.  Many readers agree that Brave New World is a satiric work intended to criticize our modern assumptions about science, technology, progress and the “individual” pursuit of happiness. 


 

 

 

     

 


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