LITR 5439 Genre, Movement, Style

Literary & Historical


Summer 2011

Homepage & Syllabus

undergrad course summer 2013:

 Literature of the Future

2011 Utopias syllabus

Summer 2011   *1st 5-wks session *   M-T-Th 3-6pm * Location?
Research  Readings Prof. White's homepage


Instructor: Craig White   Office: Bayou 2529-8     Phone: 281 283 3380.       Email:

Office Hours: Mondays & Thursdays, 12-1, 6-6:30, and by appointment

Course texts

Thomas More, Utopia (1516)

Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward (1888)

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland (1915)

Ayn Rand, Anthem (1938)

Genesis, Revelation, & Book of Acts (BCE > 1st century AD/CE)

Plato's Republic & Golden Age myths

selections from other classical, multicultural, & postmodern texts  

Ernest Callenbach, Ecotopia (1975)

Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake (2004)


Student Assignments

Midterm 23 June (in-class or email) (app. 30-40%)

Research Postings (2 installments + review in final exam) (20-30%)

Final Exam 7 July (30-40%)

Transmitting your passages electronically:

note on grading

final grade report

Seminar leadership, participation, attendance, etc.

Informal presentations:

Class participation

Course policies

reinstate student highlights

Terms & Objectives

Terms: Utopia has historical and literary meaning:

historical utopia = an experimental community intended to reform or escape from normal human society, often by substituting planning, cooperation, or collective values and practices in place of laissez-faire, competition, and individualism; a.k.a. "intentional community"


literary utopia = a novel or fiction representing life and characters in such a community

“Utopia” comes from Thomas More’s Utopia (1516). More coined the word from Greek parts, either

ou (no) + topos (place, as in “topography”) to mean “no place”


eu (good, as in “euphoria”) + topos (place) to mean “good place”

Variations: Dystopia = a society opposite from a utopia, or a utopia that’s gone dysfunctional. (“Any utopia is someone else's dystopia.”)

Ecotopia = Ecological Utopia, a community whose collective social health imitates nature’s interconnectivity
--from our final text, Ecotopia, 1975 novel by Ernest Callenbach.

Millennium or apocalypse is often associated with utopian narratives, as when the Book of Revelation ends in heaven.

List of Utopian Communities and Texts

Counter-Utopian (or anti-utopian) Tradition

Standard features of utopian / dystopian literature



Objective 1. the Utopian Genre

1a. How to define the literary genre of “utopias?” What are this genre's standard conventions or features? What attractions and detractions? What audiences are attracted or put off?

1b. What genres join with or branch from utopia? Examples: dystopia, ecotopia, Socratic dialogue, science fiction,
fantasy, novel / romance, adventure / travel narrative, journalism, tract, propaganda, satire. Others?

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

1d. To identify the utopian author both within and beyond traditional literary categories—e.g., as activist, agitator, reformer, prophet / visionary?

1e. Utopian Rhetoric and Poetics: How does Utopian Fiction rebalance literature's classical purpose to entertain and educate?

Objective 2. Utopian Narratives

2a. What action rises from or fits the description of an ideal or dystopian community?—e. g., journey, dialogue, exploration, learning, liberation, conversion?

2b. What problems rise from a utopian story that minimizes conflict and maximizes equality and harmony? What genre variations derive from these problems with plot?

2c. What tensions between the author’s description of a social theory and the reader’s and author's need for a story?

2d. How essential is “millennialism” (apocalyptic or end-time event) to the utopian narrative?


[New Objective 3? How interdependent are utopia and dystopia? (e.g., “Anyone's utopia is someone else's dystopia.”)

Methodological options: dialectic; structural and post-structural linguistics (semiotics);

Historical & fictional narrative (dystopian experience stimulates utopian thought, or vice versa); causation] 


Objective 3. Historical / Cultural Objectives

Obj. 3 To get over the routine dismissal of utopias--"they don't work," “never happened,” or “castles in the sky”--and instead to regard utopias as literary and historical experiments essential to Western Civilization and education.

3a.To investigate historical, nonfiction attempts by “communes,” “intentional communities,” nations, or cults to institutionalize or practice utopian ideals.

3b.Are utopian impulses limited to socialism and communism, or may freemarket capitalism also express itself in utopian terms and visions? Is utopia “progressive / liberal” or “reactionary / conservative?” What relations between “self and other” are modeled?

3c. In postmodern history, is the utopian impulse extinct? Can utopian ideals survive the postmodern universal of irony?

3d. What relations are there between fictional and actual utopian communities? What has been the historical impact of utopian fictions?

3e. Do utopian forms mirror and confirm social norms or oppose them?

3f. How seriously to evaluate gender roles and standards of sexual and love relationships in utopian communities? How do these differ from or resemble traditional norms? How essential are such changes to their intended transformation of society?

  • What changes result in child-rearing, feeding, marriage, aging, sexuality, etc.?

3g. What social structures, units, or identities does utopia expose or frustrate?

  • Social units or structures: person/individual/self, gender, sex, family [nuclear or extended], community, village/town/city, class, ethnicity, farm, region, tribe, clan, union, nation, ecosystem, planet, etc.

  • How may utopian studies shift the usual American arguments over race, sex, faith, and gender to cultural and socio-economic class?

3h. What is utopia’s relation to time and history? Does the utopian society model itself on past, present, or future? Does a utopia stop time, as with the millennial rapture or an achievement of perfection? Or can utopias change, evolve, and adapt to the changes of history?

3i. Since our major texts are set in North America, how do Americans regard utopias? What problems do the Founding and recent history of the USA present for utopian discussion? Discussing socialism or communism, for example, the Cold War and collapse of Marxist-Stalinist Communism; discussing alternative economic, reproductive, or child-rearing policies, the ascendance of religious and freemarket fundamentalism or American culture's stress on the family?)

3i. Are utopias limited to Western Civilization, rationalism, and social engineering, or may they exemplify multiculturalism?

  • Is the utopian impulse universal or specific only to Western culture or civilization?

  • If utopias or millennia are detected in non-Western texts or traditions, are such terms appropriate, or do we simply project our identities and values on cultures that are in fact doing something else altogether?

Objective 4. Interdisciplinary Objectives

4a. What academic subjects or disciplines are involved with utopian studies? Examples: literature, history, sociology, economics, architecture, urban planning?

4b. How may utopian or millennial studies serve as an interdisciplinary subject of study? What strengths and weaknesses result from this status? (Comparable interdisciplinary subjects include women’s studies, gender studies, ethnic studies [e. g., African American studies, whiteness studies], future studies, millennialism.)

4c. Do some interdisciplinary subjects underprivilege multiculturalism? Do utopian studies privilege western civilization?

4c. Is “utopia” too simple and singular a word or concept for the variety of phenomena it describes? Conversely, what does utopia reveal about an author’s or culture’s cosmology or worldview, as well as cosmogonies or origin / creation stories?

4d. How do literature and literacy appear in utopian or dystopian cultures? Include computer literacy: What is a “virtual utopia” in science fiction and technology? How has utopian speculation, communication, and organization adapted to the Web? How does the Web itself assume utopian or millennial attributes?

Objective 5. Instructional Objectives

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?

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

5c. What difficulties does utopian instruction typically present? 

  • Preventing discussions from stalling on "Utopias don't work" or "Why are we talking about this?" (Utopian communities fail, but some people keep attempting or learning from utopias.)

  • Why do American curricula emphasize dystopias?

  • Since utopian studies offers so many non-literary subjects, how much to limit the discussion to literature or expand to interdisciplinary or social / political concerns?

5d. To evaluate teaching and learning methods for special course content

  • Instructor and students exchange standard knowledge and new contexts or applications; students offer reactions to first-time readings and to critical and classic backgrounds of history and genre, while instructor looks for fresh extensions of accomplished knowledge.
  • Exams require comprehension and expression of instructional contents, but excellence is achieved by students extending or refreshing what they learn with new examples, insights, and expression.
  • Can new sections of courses build on previous sections' accomplishments?


Reading, meeting, and presentation schedule—Summer 2013

(Syllabus will be updated to Summer 2013)


Monday, 3 June 

Readings: Genesis & Revelation

The Golden Age

Plato's Republic

Today's Agenda:
welcome, syllabus, website
review assignments, texts
ID cards
LITR MA Katie Vitek
thesis & research posts
Tuesday assignments

Tuesday, 4 June

Readings: Thomas More, Utopia (1516)—read through book 1 & start book 2

Discussion starter for Book 1: Omar Sayid

Web review: Thomas More sites on course webpage: Alicia Costello

Instructor's Presentation: Brook Farm (1840s) / Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Blithedale Romance (1852)

Today's Agenda:

Plato's Republic, fiction,


presentation plans

Discussion: Omar

Web: Alicia

Instructor's presentation

Assignments: Warning about Utopia: tedious reading, but clear and rewarding--"earned classic": could spend longer with it but may not want to

Work through Book 1 however you can and help each other out in discussion Tuesday.

Instructor's question: How does or doesn't Utopia resemble a novel? (Broadly, the "modern English novel" would not appear for app. 200 more years--DeFoe's Robinson Crusoe 1719).

As the novelistic passages are brief and dispersed, what other reading pleasures? Where does interest quicken or slacken, and why? What aspects of a novel are missing, and what happens instead?

What if any evidence of More as a Christian Humanist?

Historical background to More's Utopia (1516): Printing press developed 1450s (e.g., Gutenberg Bibles)--More's traveler makes references to Utopians learning printing from European visitors (2.32)
*Discovery of America 1492--More makes direct references to travels and writings of Amerigo Vespucci (1.1e)
*Renaissance (1400s-1500s) revives humanistic and empirical thought from Classical Greece and Rome, joining European emphasis on divine revelation and tradition from Middle Ages
*Rise of modern "power politics" in statesmanship, formalized in Machiavelli's The Prince (1513, 1532)--Utopia, especially in its emphasis on "If I were advising a leader" bits, often seems like a reply to The Prince that differs by emphasizing the need for leaders to be humble and models of virtuous behavior rather than power players; compare also to Plato's education of philosopher-kings in The Republic.


Thursday, 6 June

Readings: complete Thomas More, Utopia (1516); Walter Bellamy, Looking Backward through chapter 6

Discussion starter for Book Two of Utopia: Haylie Unger

Discussion starter for Looking Backward, chapters 1-5: Dru Watkins

Web review: Edward Bellamy sites on course webpage: instructor

Today's Agenda:--review genres
motivating utopia: pageantry (2.40), spectacle, emulation

discuss Utopia: Haylie
More historical background
Bellamy web review
discuss Looking Backward: Dru

More's Utopia: What problems with characterization does utopian fiction generate?

Historical background: full title: Looking Backward, 2000-1887; late 19c context: "Gilded Age" Plutocracy, division of labor and capital; "Robber Barons"; rapid urbanization & rising immigration, surplus of workers; cultural change from "Anglo"-dominant North American society to more diverse

Impact of Looking Backward: anticipates and influenced subsequent Progressive Era (progressive taxation, environmental and health regulations, worker protection); publishing sensation, discussion groups formed, sequels and fictional replies (as with Uncle Tom's Cabin)

Discussion Questions: For midterm: What formal and historical resemblances between More's Utopia and Bellamy's Looking Backward?

What balance of fictional entertainment and social instruction? What parts work best? What drives you crazy? What does the report leave out?

Welcome to raise other questions. Students are often irritated by the book and esp. Dr. Leete--Why? Can such irritation serve a utopian purpose, or do we simply read it differently than 125 years ago? (gender, family). Is it interesting or only irritating to observe how our ideas of utopia have changed from Bellamy's?

Monday, 10 June

Readings: Looking Backward (complete)

+Thomas Friedman, "New economic model a must . . . " (handout) (See "utopian" reference at end; how are concerns utopian?

Discussion starter: Katie Parnian

Web review: 19th-Century American Utopias: Katie Raney

Instructor's Presentation: Lois Lowry, The Giver (1993) (may relocate to Tuesday 14 June)

Today's Agenda:

research posts
disc: Katie Parnian
utopian motives
web: Katie Raney
Friedman handout
preview Giver

Discussion Questions:

Most of Looking Backward is descriptive dialogue, with a few scene-changes, but the climax of the novel twice-reverses the opening time-travel journey. How successful as fiction?--that is, reading for pleasure, not just instruction? (Also consider the love story in same terms)

Like Utopia, Looking Backward is a "literary utopia" in that everyone reads for pleasure and improvement. How convincing? + How convincing are the descriptions of "Berrian's novels?" (chapter 15)

How much do the arrangements for women sound utopian, or patronizing? Does a double standard continue, and how is it rationalized?

Tuesday, 11 June

Readings: Herland (through ch. 5)

Discussion starter: Nicole Wheatley

Web review: Charlotte Perkins Gilman sites: Nicole Wheatley

Web review: Jane Addams: instructor

Today's Agenda:
continue Giver prsn
discussion & Gilman Web Review
instructor: web review
2nd research post deadline
preview midterm

Discussion Questions:

Describe Gilman's prose style--what advances in utopian fiction as fiction?

How is Gilman's style still limited by utopian conventions in characterization, viewpoint?

What advantages to telling the story from men's perspective? Satire?

Ch.4 describes utopian literature--what misgivings? Compare "Berrian's novels" in Looking Backward

Thursday, 13 June

Readings: Herland (complete)

Discussion starter: Amy Shanks

Web review: Ayn Rand biography, institutes, ideology: James Seth

Instructor's Presentation: Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time

Today's Agenda:
Gilman & Beecher family
Research post update & topics
Herland discussion: Amy
Texts & textiles
1.46, 3.43, 3.88, 3.106, 9.54, 9.58, 9.66
utopian literature 4.69
Millennialism 5.60
utopian motives
utopian love? 9.51
religion 5.96
more research post topics?
web: James

Discussion Questions:

Continue questions above re style & genre.

Men's defense of modern American economy is "Social Darwinism," in which an unregulated freemarket creates class struggle & "survival of the fittest"; on what differing view of nature does Herland's woman community create an orderly but egalitarian ecotopia?

Note emphasis on education & childcare: why essential to utopia? What problems?

Continue discussion of ecotopia and eco-feminism. Compare-contrast emphasis on "relatedness" to masculinity as Terry.

What religious differences?

How convincing are the domestic or sexual relations? Written in 1915, so what limits to representation? How different from Looking Backward?

First research posting due weekend of 17-19 June

Monday, 17 June

Readings: Anthem, through chapter VII

Discussion starter: Patrick Locke

Web review: Twin Oaks & Los Horcones: Chrissie Johnston

Instructor's Presentation: (continue Woman on the Edge of Time)

Today's Agenda:
research posts > confer
women's retreats
Literature of Ideas
Anthem disc: Patrick
Web: Chrissie
Instructor prsn

Discussion Questions: compare / contrast Anthem to utopian texts

What "readability" or "appeal" of dystopian over utopian texts? Also, Rand's style--how characterize?

What do the utopias scant or blur that Rand develops?

Resemblance to other dystopias or satirical utopias like Brave New World, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies

Dystopia as "inversion" of utopia? (i. e., does dystopia simply turn utopia on its head, or inside out?)

Tuesday, 18 June

Readings: Anthem (complete)

Discussion starter(s):  Do American curricula emphasize dystopias? + other topics: Jenna Zucha

Hastings books site on Teen Dystopias

+ Meryl Bazaman on article re Rand & Christianity

Web review: Suburbs as Utopia: Meryl Bazaman

Today's Agenda:
discussion: Jenna
Anthem: millennium [1.9; 2.49
death of author 1.28-29, 1.36
review style: how describe?
1.32, 1.37, 4.1, 4.27
Meryl on Rand & X
Web: suburbs = utopia?
Question on Anthem & suburbia

Discussion Questions:
Conclusion to Anthem: does it expose some upsides to utopia?

How does Prometheus's new home resemble modern suburbia? How would you like Prometheus for a neighbor?

How rationalize “I” always being “he”? Is Golden One/Gaea a real character or more like a mythic symbol. Since Anthem is a woman-authored text, how deal with masculine privilege and womanly devotion? Is "Man" for humanity a period-style, or does it really mean man?

Why do Americans and American schools emphasize dystopias or satirical utopias?
See Laura Miller, "Fresh Hell: What's behind the boom in dystopian fiction for young readers?"

Thursday, 20 June: midterm assignment  

Monday, 24 June

Readings: selections from

Genesis, the Book of Acts, and Revelation

"The Golden Age"

Plato’s Republic & USA founding documents

Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations

Discussion starter:  Katie Raney (2-3 texts?)

Web review: Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists: Katie Parnian

Instructor's Presentation: Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia (1974)--guest presentation by William Boatman of Neumann Library

Today's Agenda:
midterms, preview session, final
Dispossessed presentation
Plato's Republic
Discussion: Katie Raney
Web: Katie Parnian

Discussion Questions: Overall, how much of a stretch to study these texts as "utopian/dystopian?" What happens to these terms? (Literary > political?)

Utopia as past or lost Eden / Golden Age

Sources of archetype? Is Utopia futuristic or reactionary?

"Founding documents" + Wealth of Nations:

Utopian Collectives meet Capitalist Individuality--

where do they meet and conflict or exchange?

Special topics for Genesis & Revelation

What is the relationship of the Apocalypse in Revelation to the earlier utopia of Eden and the later utopia of Heaven?

What exactly is utopian about Eden? How much does it begin to appear utopian upon its loss?

What is dystopian about the world of Revelation? What is utopian about heaven? How much is revealed of either?

(Issues of coding in apocalyptic narratives: symbols, allegories, etc.)

Tuesday, 25 June

Readings: selections from African American slave narratives & Dr. King’s Dream Speech

Discussion-starter:  Chrissie Johnston

Readings: Speech by Chief Seattle & "Messiah Letter" of Wovoka / Jack Wilson

Discussion-starter:  Sarah Coronado 

Web review: Kibbutzim of Israel: Patrick Locke

Instructor's Presentation: Toni Morrison’s Paradise (1997)

Today's Agenda:
Web review: Katie
research posts
Founding documents
King: Chrissie
Slave narratives
Seattle & Wovoka: Sarah
Web: Patrick

Objective 3i. Are utopias limited to Western Civilization, rationalism, and social engineering, or may they exemplify multiculturalism?

  • Is the utopian impulse universal or specific only to Western culture or civilization?

  • If utopias or millennia are detected in non-Western texts or traditions, are such terms appropriate, or do we simply project our identities and values on cultures that are in fact doing something else altogether?

Discussion Questions:

Why have utopian societies appeared so monocultural? Can this monoculturalism be defended as "Western Civilization?" How much have our utopias been conscious or unconscious of their homogeneity? Any counter-impulses?

What about Western Civilization creates a utopian tradition? (monotheism, modernization, progress + stability, print literacy?)

What issues in Old Canon-New Canon, Western Civ-Multiculturalism debates are relevant?

Is utopia compatible with multiculturalism? Does inclusion or enlargement strain the concept? Flipping, is calling non-Western texts utopian simply a projection of Western values on others?

What aspects of Western Civilization or dominant culture does utopia / dystopia expose?

Should we be concerned about excluding non-western texts from field of utopian studies?

African American slave narratives: Are the selections utopian, or just being pulled in for token representation?

Native American apocalypse narratives: connect to ecotopia?

Can millennialism (end-times) be a unifying factor?

Thursday, 27 June

Readings: Ernest Callenbach, Ecotopia (1976), at least through p. 66 (up to "Decline without Fall? The Ecotopian Population Challenge")

Discussion starter:  Dru Watkins

Web review: Cyberpunk: Sarah Coronado

Instructor's Presentation: Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash (1992); Dennis Danvers's Circuit of Heaven (1998)

Today's Agenda:
Research post 2, final, assignments
discussion: Dru
[break + evaluations]
web: Sarah
brief presentation

Discussion Questions: At this late point in the seminar, how does Ecotopia immediately connect to our other utopian texts as representatives of the same genre? (esp. course texts before midterm?)

1a. How to define the literary genre of “utopias?” What elements and difficulties repeatedly appear? What audiences are involved or excluded?

1b. What genres join with or branch from utopia? Examples: dystopia, ecotopia, Socratic dialogue, science fiction, fantasy, novel / romance, adventure / travel narrative, journalism, tract, propaganda, satire. Others?

1a. How to define the literary genre of “utopias?” What demarcations and difficulties repeatedly appear?

how identify genre? How does Ecotopia immediately announce that it's in a tradition of literary utopias?

How well does it work as entertaining fiction as opposed to didactic literature?

Second research posting due weekend of 30 June-4 July

Monday, 1 July: 
(Dr. White's "personal day of mourning for the untimely and unfortunate break with our mother country")

Tuesday, 2 July: final exam (due by . . . )

Readings: Ernest Callenbach, Ecotopia (1976), complete

Ernest Callenbach's website

Discussion starter: Alicia Costello

Web review: Auroville: Jenna Zucha

Instructor's Presentation: B.F. Skinner, Walden Two (1948) + Authors' interview: Thaler & Sunstein, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (2008) + Holmes on Willpower & Poverty

Today's Agenda:
New Objective 3?
Utopias list
LITR 5831 fall
final grade report
discussion: Alicia
utopian fiction
web: Jenna
prsn: Walden Two
utopian authors

Discussion Questions:

How does Ecotopia show datedness? What remains impressive? What surprises?

How convincing is the sexual drive or realization at center of narrative and social structure? Does it help characterization, or is it just embarrassing and hippie?

How does the utopian genre evolve? How well does Callenbach shift to and from reporting (instruction) & narrative (entertainment)?

Compare overall narrative to conversion narrative.

Compare to earlier utopian texts for character, sexuality, narrative-dialogue mix.

How multicultural is Ecotopia?

Pleasures of didactic literature?


Thursday, 4 July: no meeting—Independence Day holiday 

Utopia, Texas

(named in anticipation of a utopian project, cancelled after the failure of La Reunion near Dallas)

syllabus 2009

syllabus 2007

syllabus 2005

syllabus LITR 5733 Seminar in American Culture: Utopias (1995)



Our texts within Western and American history:


historical period

historical tradition /
economic trend

More, Utopia (1516) European Renaissance / Reformation; exploration & settlement of New World America as site of Eden; communal Native America as precontact ecotopia
Bellamy, Looking Backward (1888) late 19th century, "Gilded Age" industrialization, urbanization, plutocracy of limited government, freemarket economics controlled by "Robber Barons" and "Captains of Industry"; gaps b/w rich and poor; high rates of immigration
Gilman, Herland (1915) early 1900s, Progressive Era (associated with Pres. Theodore Roosevelt) labor laws, scientific government and social work, woman's suffrage, environmental conservation and protection, industrial regulation; progressive income taxes
Rand, Anthem (1938) mid-1900s, New Deal & Fair Deal (Franklin Roosevelt & Harry Truman) peak of socialist-oriented government in USA; restricted immigration, government guarantees of social welfare (e. g., Social Security) + Cold War with negative totalitarian utopias of Soviet Union and Communist China
Callenbach, Ecotopia (1975) 1960s-70s, liberal politics & social wealth (Civil Rights, Great Society safety net, war on poverty, hippies) extension of New Deal to minorities; liberalization of immigration laws; peace movements; youth culture > adverse reaction by wealth & traditional values


Yves Charles Zarka, "The Meaning of Utopia" 2011

Rachel Monroe, "I worked hard for no pay — and I dug it" (report on Twin Oaks commune)

Michael Lind, "Stop Pretending Cyberspace Exists," Salon.Com 12 Feb. 2013

Noah Berlatsky, "Imagine There's No Gender: The Long History of Feminist Utopian Literature," The Atlantic 15 April 2013