Thursday, 17 March 2011

A Syllabus for Utopia

Education is always a delicate, not to say positively tricky, issue for utopia. On the one hand, utopia certainly wants to inculcate its own benign values deeply into its young people; for how else could it make sure there will be no political backsliding to the bad old society it has left behind? On the other hand, it just as certainly does not want to impose these values too monolithically on its young; for that would, in effect, be to brainwash their innocent spirits into its ways and values, which would be totalitarianism rather than utopia proper.

Utopia must therefore find ways to educate its young people sensitively and discretely; and I think this is also true of the manner in which literary utopias educate their readers. Such utopias not only discuss education as an explicit theme within the book, they must also delicately educate their readers as they go along, subtly emitting signals as to what an appropriate ‘syllabus for utopia’ might look like.

Thus when Old Hammond in News from Nowhere twice mentions the French utopian writer Charles Fourier within twenty pages – first to criticise his notion of ‘phalangsteries’, second to praise his insights into creative labour – we must imagine the text saying to its readers: dig here, check this out, investigate further, explore the whole range of Fourier’s ideas and debate them with your comrades as impassionedly as the Socialist Leaguers argue out their visions of the future on the opening page of this book itself.

If we totted up such references across News from Nowhere, we would indeed arrive at a reading programme or syllabus for utopia, which would culturally qualify us as readers of the genre and as political participants in the present. Thus it is that utopia gently educates us even as it holds forth about the teaching of its own youth.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Tony,

Love the blog, really helped me with reading Morris -

Anonymous Student
(I don't want to be accused of arse licking!)

Tony Pinkney said...

Dear Anon, Thanks for the supportive comment. Hope you went far enough back in the blog to find 'In Praise of Student Protest', 5th December 2010.