LITR 5439 Literary & Historical Utopias

Lecture Notes

The Dispossessed

27 March


Research Posts

Due this weekend, with usual fudge factors

return in 2 weeks

grade for both posts

next week lighter reading assignment



bring both books and Atwood handouts




Le Guin

Confession: if I like a lot, most other people won't

personal tastes differ

but evidence of genius?

quality + quantity

literary fiction (dialogue with existing works)

281 the moment was gone . . . he was in its keeping

no more walls


117 in brilliant hands, the genre can be brilliant

UKLG's characteristics

118 16 novels, 10 short story collections




65 complex wholeness

123 moral complexity proper to the modern novel

123 "describe reality, the present world" = mimesis



Plato's Republic as dialogue, dialectic?


E.O. Wilson, sociobiology / Evolutionary Psychology

364 societal bond of fear of stranger

348 relate to small world


Plato's Republic

dialectic of machine and garden > code?




Classic as book that won't stay closed

utopia as mimesis of a whole world, overly detailed but can't finish telling everything

see connections of values and practices: pp. 324-5


Shevek modeled on Robert Oppenheimer


chapter structure: 13 chapters alternate between Anarres & Urras

complicates timeline of narrative: jump forward ch 1, jump back ch 2

timelines not equal length: Anarres story nearly all of Shevek's life; Urras story a year?

Shorter sequence on Urras more dramatic, faster moving, characters more essential?



anarchism as Amerind voluntarism


342 Anarres "an experiment in nonauthoritarian communism"





propertarian: ct. Woman on the Edge of Time

also Kibbutz

332 women as property

52 man wants freedom, woman wants property



literary fiction

science fiction, metaphor, Literature of Ideas

1c. Can utopias join science fiction, speculative fiction, and allied genres in a “literature of ideas?”

Atwood 115 sf an awkward box

122 "thought-experiment" = literature of ideas




Shevek with numbers, walls

p. 295 you are an idea

anarchism made flesh (allusion)

Chapter 11 [extended dialogue]




ask question before launching

essence of idea

wordplay, inversion, reversal, paradox

1 a wall, boundry, two faced [paradox]

11 lock in, lock out, same thing [paradox]

38 role was playing them [paradox, inversion]

50 Having's wrong, sharing's right [aphorism, inversion]

52 man wants freedom, woman wants property

55 can go home again, place never been

62 brotherhood begins in shared pain [aphorism

84 Odo's grant: To be whole is to be part; / true voyage is return [aphorism]

139 Odo, Social Organism: "To make a thief, make an owner; to create crime, create laws."

219 hurt another, hurt myself

285 Nobody goes hungry while another eats. [no abundance, but equality with less, socialism]

335 sunlights differ; only one darkness [aphorism]







77 pile of newspapers (no e-media)

80 telefax



machine x organism

305 sergeants give privates orders, coercive mechanism

95 ideal of complex organicism

101 The Social Organism



5a. How may a seminar classroom serve as a microcosm, model, or alternative for American culture? How does use of web instruction alter social dynamics to humanize or dehumanize?

5b. What does utopian / dystopian literature instruct concerning education?

99 children around + learning center



120 Rulag!

121 working 8 hours a day!

123 first year, individual contact

123 he was parental, as I am not. The work comes first.

123 proud of you . . . Unreasonable Propertarian

124 biologically mother and son > brother and sister [hierarchy > egalitarian]


hierarchy x equality

135 capitalist economy, plutocratic-oligarchic state

social cooperation, mutual aid > survive (Anarres)



231 the Chief . . . the Forerunner, before the Millennium




News from Nowhere

 Dispossessed 48 immorral to do work you didn't enjoy

will people work for other reasons than profit?

ch. 9 demonstration, strike in Capitol Square, cf. Bloody Sunday 1887





[First week discussion: hard & soft sf; space travel, technology, extrasolar planets

literary and genre fiction

Anarres x-change; desert as timeless

John: British imperial system

#2 gender fluidity]


Midterm revieiw


embarrassed, made subject more interesting than I had, freshness of discovery


Anthem never meant as a utopian fiction except insofar as utopian category includes dystopias 


individual x collective > Wilson

Joan on satire > utopias make us see ourselves

Cynthia: change what you read for: critiques of current society, reminder of ideals



By learning of these utopian and dystopian societies, one learns more about our current world, and continues to attempt to grasp the extensive, maybe even inaccessible, understanding of humanity.

Robyn: Although Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which we will study in the second half of the semester, represents--to me--a place that was anything but “good” or “perfect,” that society was designed to be somebody’s idea of a utopia, just like the communist culture in Ayn Rand’s Anthem was designed to be somebody’s idea of a utopia.

Grant on Garden City > News from Nowhere, Looking Backward, Genesis (Revelation)

Jesus: Its true motive is to inspire deeper thought and to demonstrate different ways of approaching certain issues of our time.

Sisson on mundane utopian characters > Utopian characters as background, upholding positive social conventions rather than disrupting them

Jenna on absence of characterization, usually most important or distinguishing element of great literature > premises of our social life and literature

pleasure of re-reading previous students' accomplishments, realizations through fresh eyes


Atwood, "Queen of Quinkdom" 2002

OED quink = Scottish for a kind of goose or duck


115 sf as awkward box

other compartmentalized genres

science fiction proper, science-fiction fantasy (magic), and speculative fiction (society)

membranes permeable, osmotic flow

116 literary ancestors: Atlantis, Utopia, Gulliver's Travels

folk tales, Norse sagas [Wm. Morris], adventure-romances of chivalry  = cousins

last fictional repository for theological speculation

117 19c earnestly hopeful speculative fictions

20c darker visions of themselves

space operas

in brilliant hands, the genre can be brilliant

UKLG's characteristics

118 16 novels, 10 short story collections

uses, misuses of language

Ekumen and Earthsea

120 "ansible"

mother writer, father anthropologist

121 Mobiles = dedicated professionals, observers, personal lives

122 Left Hand

122 "thought-experiment" = literature of ideas

123 moral complexity proper to the modern novel

123 "describe reality, the present world" = mimesis

124 peculiar arrangements of gender and sexuality

imagined worlds, provisions for sex, Herland

126 "Paradises Lost" literary fiction

127 metaphors for the one human story

127 quintessentially American writer