Authored by: Andrea Krafft

The Routledge Handbook to the Culture and Media of the Americas

Print publication date:  March  2020
Online publication date:  March  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138479821
eBook ISBN: 9781351064705
Adobe ISBN:


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The literary genre of utopia is over 500 years old, first emerging with Sir Thomas More’s eponymous work in 1516 and evolving from there into countless forms. While the content of utopia shifts with the author’s historical and geopolitical situation, the nebulous specter of this genre typically materializes in a familiar guise. Deriving from the Greek word topos (place) and the prefix ou- (no or not), utopias are puzzling spaces whose boundaries somehow become permeable to outside observers and narrators (Sargent 1967, 222). Even though these sites may appear to be alien (particularly in the case of interplanetary utopias), the reader can still recognize them as “eutopia[s] or good place[s],” designed by their authors to act as “mirror[s] to man” and perhaps even as “crucible[s]” for change (Sargent 1994, 5; Suvin 1979, 5). This is where a fundamental misunderstanding about the genre emerges: utopias are not flawless, as perfect systems erase individual will for the sake of the greater good, ultimately mutating into dystopias (James 2003, 220). Instead, true utopias inspire transformation by envisioning how “norms and individual relations are organized on a more perfect principle than in the author’s community” (Suvin 1988, 35). From within these more perfect spaces, we can cast a critical eye over our own world, avoiding the temptation to treat utopia as a stamp through which we might impose the status quo.

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