Utopia: journey through time and space towards real Noland

Consideration of the main stages of development of utopia as a philosophical idea, expressed in literary works. Research and characterization of specific features of a retrospective, prospective utopia and utopia that exists in an indefinite time.

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Utopia: journey through time and space towards real Noland

Kravchenko Tamila, Cheban Alexandra



The article dwells on main stages of development of utopia as a philosophical idea expressed in fiction. As it is ideal-oriented with the aim to make mankind happy, utopia reflects hopes and views of a cultural epoch, which is why exploring the history of utopias one can explore the history of the social views of mankind. The article highlights different views on utopian ideal and the possibility of its implementation in real life. It analyses typical features of a utopian society as based on mechanical theory of happiness and the place of people in it. The article also provides characteristics of utopia as a literary genre as well as its typical literary forms. According to the localization of a utopian culture on the historical time scale one can single out retrospective (an ideal society is placed in the past as reminiscences of Golden Age), prospective (a utopian culture is described in the future, as happy time-to-come) utopias and utopia which exists in indefinite time (as if in presence, for example as an island country, just to prove that the happy life is somewhere near). At present one can state that genre chronotop has changed one more time, as a new kind of utopia has appeared - aspective utopia - in which the presence is shown as idealized, flawless, without trouble and problems, for example as the “worlds ” created in advertisements.

Key Words: Utopia, utopian thought, genre, chronotop, retrospective, prospective, aspective.

1. What is Utopia

In all epochs despite their differences people feel that the world they live in is not as perfect as it may be. They miss Paradise lost and try to regain it on the Earth, having the vision of an affluent society where all people are happy. Happiness has been called summum bonum, i.e., the ultimate goal of human thoughts and actions. Yet, in a world torn apart by miseries from devastating natural disasters to social, political and economic inequalities, happiness often turns out to be a mere illusion.

In 1516 a book “A Pamphlet truly Golden no less beneficial than enjoyable concerning the republic's best state and concerning the new Island Utopia” (commonly known as Utopia) by Thomas More, English humanist, finally gives name to all the attempts to picture an ideal society. The book title is a literary pun for it plays on ambiguity between Greek “eutopia” (good place) and “outopia” (no place). More himself was aware of both implications of this pun, intending the irony when he wrote this genre-setting novel.

Moses Finley, an American historian, states that in contemporary scientific literature the word “utopia” has a great number of meanings ranging from the aspiration for better life to the fantasies of a paranoiac or a schizophrenic [see 3, 297]. There is no single traditionally accepted definition, rather a patchwork of ideas. Some critics see in utopia a permanent unattainable dream about golden age, others, on the contrary, define it as a real principle which is implemented with the every stage of the mankind's spiritual and practical development. One more group of critics perceive utopia as a pre-scientific way of thinking, something intermediate between religion and science, while other connect it with the contemporary development of knowledge. Another category of researchers state that utopia is dead being completely outdated by the historical development and their opponents speak about the rebirth and wide spread of the utopian conscience.

As it has already been stated people were not satisfied with their own community (society, state etc.), so they placed the ideal commonwealth either in the future or in the past, or in the present but somewhere away. We set it our goal to make a small survey and trace the trajectory of utopian thought through time and space, giving attention to the points in genre development which are the most crucial to our mind. These are the points when it changes its “direction”. Of course, “time” and “space” are only conventional terms in regards to utopia because it is a real “no place” and “no time”, but these terms are of great help for understanding the correlation between the genre chronotope and people's aspirations and the historical background.

The creation of perfect worlds is a Western proclivity, though many cultures had myths of a golden age and other proto-utopian forms. The West utopias owe much to ancient classical images of ideal social existence [8, 524].

Stanislav Lem, a Polish writer, states that utopia can be viewed as a theory of objective reality explained via objects [2, 429]. Utopia is based on the mechanical theory of happiness, which denies the doctrine of the original sin affirming a man's inherent goodness. The theory leads to the conclusion that the cause of all problems lies in the surroundings, in the society or political structure. The elimination of the drawbacks of the society will make all people happy. The society should function in a clockwork fashion according to the prescribed rules; otherwise it won't be a “happiness machine”. As a consequence its citizens are deprived of free will, the feature that differentiates a human being from all other creatures. People lose their individuality and are turned into a mere function of the society.

2. Utopia as a Literary Genre

The idea of perfection is an established literary conduct dating back to the conventions of Gilgamesh and the Eden of the Bible and Koran. The view of Eden in Genesis (Chapter 2) was sketchy enough to make man wish more to describe it more fully [9, 461, vol. 4]. It is possible to state that utopias present a vast array of answers to the question how to create a happy human life.

Utopia as a literary genre presupposes a detailed description of the political, social life of an imaginary country. The country has an ideal political structure characterized by equity and justice. In the course of the centuries the desire to find happiness has assumed many different forms [1].

O. Khayyam, a Persian poet, mathematician and philosopher, voiced the attempt to devise a better system for people living together in “The Rubaiyat”

Ah, Love, could you and I with Him conspire

To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,

Would we not shatter it to bits - and then

Remold it nearer to the Heart's Desire! [see 7, 9]

Utopias have appeared in almost every literary form - travels, letters, visions, dialogues, novels, treatises, and in both prose and verse. Sometimes it is difficult to say whether the author creates utopia as a fiction or as an ideal to be realized in the future [2, 422]. They have been the vehicles of seriously argued religious, political, and philosophic views set out didactically in a succinct and interesting manner and of propaganda. Many have sought to move men to action, while others have been visions for contemplation, dreams to think on. They virtually defy orderly classification, though some writers have tried to divide them into restrictive, rigidly controlled societies, totalitarian in their social policies, or expansive realms of freedom knowing only a minimum of control. This division coincides roughly with a division between those in which harmony, statically conceived, is maintained by the repression of spontaneity, and those in which perfection is seen as a relative condition dependent upon progress and individual freedom of choice and action. The static, dynamic, repressive, and expansive characteristics may owe something to the kind of men who have written utopias and the role which these works played in their own lives and perhaps also in those of their readers.

There have been few literary masterpieces among the utopias, perhaps because it is difficult to write interestingly of perfection, of states without the usual conflicts which form the stuff of romance and tragedy. Nevertheless, at their best, utopists have shared in most of the great intellectual debates and their works have often been not only stimulants to change but prophetic of the future [9, 465 vol. 4]

3. Retrospective Utopias

Harold Priest, an American researcher, characterizes the Ancient times as the nostalgic yearning for golden age, simple pre-urban spiritual life at peace with nature [7, 10-11]. In this simpler era work was not complicated, men's needs were few and their desires limited. Both were easily satisfied by the abundance provided by nature.

The vivid example is the portrayal of the Golden Age in the works of Hesiod, Works and Days namely (ca. 750 B.C.). He describes a time when “... the fruitful earth spontaneously bore[men] abundant fruit without stint. And they lived in ease and peace upon their land with many good things rich in flocks and beloved of the blessed gods” [see 9, 460, vol. 4]. There were no motives of idleness, luxury, war, religious strife and other forms of conflict, ennui and malaise.

This kind of utopias may be defined as retrospective. They “exist” in the past as a nostalgic backward glance, an image never regained and probably because of that very attractive. Many cultures preserve the image of such a golden age knowing that utopia has forever gone as long as life is complicated, urbanized, and filled with contention. L. Mumford, an American researcher, has argued that “Such a society had indeed come into existence at the end of the last Ice Age, if not before, when the long process of domestication had come to a head in the establishment of small, stable communities, with an abundant and varied food supply....”[see 9, 460, vol. 4]. The first utopias would seem to be the pleasant but nostalgic folk memories of this state, standing in idealized contrast to the urban regulated world of war and social strife which succeeded as Iron- Age populations grew and rational and religious control systems were elaborated with the founding of the ancient cities.

Idyllic depictions of the Golden Age among Arcadians, Hyperboreans, Panchaeans, and Atlanteans appear in the works of Euhemerus, Ovid, Lucian of Samosata, and others. Plato's “Laws” (ca. 340), Aristotle's “Politics”, and Xenophon's “Cyropaedia”, while not utopias, provide materials from which later writers borrow institutions, notions of enlightened rule and conceptions of human goodness and happiness to be found in civic, particularly urban, life.

4. Utopias Existing in the Indefinite Time

The Renaissance sees a rebirth of the utopian writing after the Middle Ages when utopian thought contradicted the Christian tradition of sinful and imperfect man unable to establish the Paradise on Earth. Geographical discoveries, especially Columbus' voyage produce hope that somewhere in the unknown countries life is better than in the existing known ones. That hope led to the change in the genre chronotope. More places his perfect commonwealth on the island, providing a dreamy image with the “material” form. Thus, utopia starts “existing” in presence, but far away. Before More's “Utopia” the number of elaborately designed utopian commonwealths is small. Most of the writings are small and misty. The great outpouring of utopia literature came after More since his work gave a great impetus [7, 12].

More's “Utopia” sets a pattern and a style for the genre which was unchanged until the late eighteenth century. The timeless, static society in which history is discounted, the totalitarian patterns of control, the location of the society in the present but in a remote, unexplored area, the concern with communism, natural religion, and the overcoming of the problem of economic scarcity by means of a strict control of production, distribution or population--all these became hallmarks of the genre in the sixteenth century.

This kind of utopia may be represented as an Island of Happiness, Edem that does exist but nobody knows how to get there [9, 412, vol. 2]. For instance T. Campanella's “City of the Sun” (1623) is located on the island called Taprobane, “Christianopolis” (1619) by V. Andreae as well as F. Bacon's “New Atlantis” (1624) are placed on a distant island.

With the lapse of time utopia gets “closer”. In 1772 French writer D. Diderot's “Supplement to Bougainville's Voyage” presents an account of place on the map and its existing society - the Island of Tahiti, unlike earlier utopias being inspired by the eighteenth century vogue on primitivism and the image of the “noble savage” promoted by J. Rousseau. Utopias, which has always been moral, became happy places, and it is clear that this happiness will be the product of sensual gratification as it is for Diderot who is overridingly preoccupied with the sexual relations of the natives leaving unexplained the organization of the society [7, 18].

5. Prospective Utopias

In the same year of 1772 utopia shifts from space to time as it can be seen in “The Year 2440” by Louis Mercier, a French writer. The conceptual novelty belongs to his contemporaries, B. Turgot, M. de Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet, P. Dietrich, Baron d'Holbach, and Claude Adrien Helvetius, French enlighteners, all of whom elaborate theories of progress in which secular, dynamic social and psychological forces act inevitably to bring about progress in the arts, sciences, and morals [9, 463, vol. 4].Серія «Філологічні науки», 2015

Hence the first prospective utopias appear providing a great scope for imagination [1]. They reflect the belief that the progress is inevitable. It is a vision of a glorious future society, the discovery of an anticipated history. The motive of journey is replaced by that of a dream, when a character awakes in the future. Prospective utopia turns into uchronia, as “no place” becomes “no time” [5]. If the society is perfect, there is no room for improvement and the idea of progress vanishes, which results in time stop and gap in the history.

Ed. Bellamy locates his “Looking Backward” in 2000. He is confident that human ingenuity will invent for comfort and convenience of mankind having no fear for the further advances of technology. W. Morris on the contrary discards his ideal commonwealth placed in 2001 of advanced technology and complex structure in “News from Nowhere” (1890).

It is interesting that the interval between the time the author lives in and his utopia is getting smaller with the lapse of time. For example V. Odoevskiy, a Russian writer, creates the novel “4338” in 1838 putting utopia off for 2500 years, while G. Orwell's “1984” is placed only 36 years ahead seeing signs of his utopia in the present. utopia retrospective philosophical

The eighteenth century also produces a rather different view of utopia in the work by Robert Wallace, a Scottish clergyman, “Various Prospects of Mankind, Nature, and Providence” (1761). Wallace believes that utopias can function as analytic models helpful to the social theorist [9, 463, vol. 4]. This idea was greatly supported by XIX utopists, especially in Russia. It is so-called social utopianism.

6. Aspective Utopia

The twentieth century has produced more utopias than had been written by 1900. Indeed, F. Russell, an American scholar, estimated in 1932 that “the eighteenth century produced as many as the sixteenth and seventeenth together, that the nineteenth almost tripled that number, and that the twentieth [had then seen]... almost as many as the nineteenth” [see 9, 464, vol. 4].

Another conceptual novelty appears much later in the XXth century, influenced and supported by the pop-culture and postmodernism, cultural dominate of the second half of the twentieth century. One of the features of postmodernism is the fragmentation of time into a series of perpetual presents. Time and history is replaced by speed, futurness, acceleration and obsolescence (6). T. Cherednichenko in the article “Prazdnichnosf ” (Solemnity) states that a new type of utopia has appeared as compared to retrospective and prospective ones. It is the aspective utopia (either from Latin “aspectus” - sight, performance or the absence of time reference negative suffix “a”). The brightest example is advertisement. In the aspective utopia the ideal has been already achieved, not in the past or future, but here and now, as if here and now. It is our reality but devoid of different “rubbish”, the enchanted present [4].

The aspective utopia indicates the depletion of historical conscience. The examples from the past are not correlated with the axiological scale. The same can be said about examples from the future. The sense of life is attached to the things which are easily attained and rather common. There the ideal has been reached not in the past or in the time-to-come or “no place”, but here and now, as if here and now. The thing is that the reality is the same, “our” reality, but rather conditional and purified from problems - as if reality. This is especially true with the image market. The contemporary excitement about pop stars, actors, top models as well as politicians is spurred by their purely existential status. Their existence is exceptionally performative. Their marriages, guards, incomes, parties are perceived as both real and unreal at one and the same time [4].


Utopian writings have played a significant role in Western thought. Some belong to the literature of whimsy and escape, others to science fiction, a considerable number to satire, and many to that ill-defined genre, the philosophic tale.

We tried to trace the “trajectory” of utopia in time and space. It may “exist” in past being tied with the reality as a nostalgic longing, in “present” somewhere on a beautiful island being an embodiment of the author's image of an ideal society which usually criticizes the one he or she lives in. It may also “exist” in future being one of the variants of the society development or even the plan of the society reorganization to be fulfilled. Recently a new type of utopia appeared which represents the present as an attractive picture making it real “no place”.

Works cited

1. Ковтун Н. Образ идеального общества в русской ментальности [Електронний ресурс] / Наталья Ковтун. - Режим доступу до статті: http://arctogaia.krasu.ru/laboratory/m3/kovtun.

2. Лем С. Научная фантастика и футорология / Станислав Лем. - М. : ACT, 2004, - Т. 2. - 667 с.

3. Теория и жизненный мир человека / под редакцией В. Г. Федотовой. - М.: Ифран, 1995. - 336 с.

4. Чередниченко Т. В. Праздничность [Електронний ресурс] / Татьяна Чередниченко - Новый Мир. - 2002. - №11. - Режим доступу до статті: http://www.magazines.russ.ru/novyi_mi/2002/ll/chered-pr.

5. Эпштейн М. “Ухрония / Проективный словарь философии. Новые понятия и термины” [Електронний ресурс] - Режим доступу до статті: http://www.topos.ru/article/2031.

6. Irvine М. “The Postmodern,” “Postmodernism,” “Postmodemity”: Approaches to Po-Mo [Електронний ресурс] - Режим доступу до статті: http://www.georgetown.edu/faculty/irvinem/theory/pomo.

7. Priest, Н. Utopia and Utopian Literature. Lincoln Neb: Cliffs Notes, 1999, 64 p.

8. Snodgrass M. E. Encyclopaedia of Utopian Literature. - ABC-CLIO, 1995. - 647 p.

9. “Utopia” The Dictionary of the History of Ideas, pp 459-466. [Електронний ресурс] The Electronic Text Center at the University of Virginia Library - Режим доступу до статті : http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/cgi- local/DHI/dhi.cgi?id=dv4-62.


Кравченко Т.М., Чебан О.М. Утопія: подорож крізь час та простір до справжньої Нідеї. У статті розглядаються основні етапи розвитку утопії як філософської ідеї вираженої у літературних творах. Через орієнтацію на ідеал та маючи на меті зробити людство щасливим, утопія відображає сподівання та погляди культурної епохи, тому дослідивши історію утопії, можна вивчити історію соціальних поглядів людства. Наводяться різні ставлення до утопічного ідеалу та можливості його втілення у реальному житті. Аналізуються особливості утопічного суспільства, як побудованого за механістичною теорією щастя, та місце людини в ньому. Зазначаються особливості утопії як літературного жанру та наводяться його типові літературні форми. За локалізацією утопічної культури на шкалі історичного часу виокремлюються ретроспективна (ідеальне суспільство поміщається у минуле як спогади про Золоті часи), проспективна (утопічна культура описується у майбутньому, як щасливе прийдешнє), та утопія, що існує у невизначеному часі (наче у теперішньому, на кшталт острівної держави, як доказ, що щасливе життя існує десь поряд). Наразі можна стверджувати, що хронотоп утопії знову змінився, оскільки виник ще один її різновид - аспективна утопія - в якому наш час подається ідеалізованим, позбавленим проблем та негараздів, як, наприклад у рекламі.

Ключові слова: утопія, утопічна думка, жанр, хронотоп, ретроспективний, проспективний, аспективний.


Кравченко Т.М., Чебан О. М. Утопия: путешествие сквозь время и пространство к настоящей Нигдейе. В статье рассматриваются основные этапы развития утопии как философской идеи, выраженной в литературных произведениях. Ориентируясь на идеал и имея своею целью сделать человечество счастливым, утопия отображает надежды и взгляды культурной эпохи, поэтому исследовав историю утопий, можно изучить историю социальных взглядов человечества. Приводятся различные отношения к утопическому идеалу и возможности его воплощения в реальной жизни. Анализируются особенности утопического общества, как основанного на механистической теории счастья, и место человека в нем. Указываются особенности утопии как литературного жанра и упоминаются его типичные литературные формы. Согласно локализации утопичной культуры на шкале исторического времени выделяются ретроспективная (идеальное общество помещается в прошлое, как воспоминания про Золотой век), проспективная (утопичная культура описывается в будущем времени, как грядущее счастье) утопии и утопия, которая существует в неопределенном времени (словно в настоящем, сродни островного государства, как доказательство, что счастливая жизнь существует где-то рядом). В настоящее время можно утверждать, что хронотоп утопии снова изменился, так как появился еще один ее вид - аспективная утопия - в котором современность подается идеализированной, лишенной проблем и неприятностей как, например, в рекламе.

Ключевые слова: утопия, утопическая мысль, жанр, хронотоп, ретроспективный, проспективный, аспективный.

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