One of the most important texts ever written in the early modern period, Thomas More’s Utopia has had an enormous effect on global literature, politics, and the so-called ‘western canon’ since its first publication in 1516 in Latin, and subsequent issue in English from around 1547 onwards. Many scholars credibly claim that More functionally ‘invents’ a type of thinking which we now describe as Utopian, imagining a strange elsewhere in order to learn something about our somewhere. Plato might dispute that, but it is undeniable that Utopia has entered our lexicon as a way of imagining how the world, and human society in particular, might work.
Food for Thought:
What advantages are there to creating a Utopian society and using it to critique the actual society you live in? What examples of utopian thinking in popular cultures today can you think of, and do these examples discuss any themes similar to those you found in Thomas More?
J.C. Davis, ‘Thomas More’s Utopia: Sources, Legacy, and Interpretation’ in Davis, Alternative Worlds Imagined, 1500-1700: Essays on Radicalism, Utopianism and Reality (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), pp. 173-196.
China Miéville, ‘Introduction’ to the Verso Utopia (2016).
Ursula K. Le Guin, ‘Essays’ accompanying the Verso Utopia (2016).
Terry Eagleton, ‘Utopias, Past and Present: Why Thomas More Remains Astonishingly Radical’, Utopian Studies, 27:3 (2016), pp. 412-417.
Gregory Claeys, ‘Utopia at Five Hundred: Some Reflections’, Utopian Studies, 27:3 (2016), pp. 402-411.