Utopia/Dystopia

A seminar taught at Bard Early College in New Orleans which encourages students to wrestle with the problems and possibilities of creating an ideal society.

Overview

Sir Thomas More coined the term utopia in 1516 by combining the Greek word οὐ (no place) with τόπος (place), a name that roughly translates to “no place”, but the term also echoes Eutopia—which means “good place.” As we will discover in the course, this double meaning resonates through the history of utopian models and experiments. Every utopian concept is a “good place” that exists in theory but also reflects social and political reality, just as every dystopia is an extrapolation of contemporary social and political trends. This course will explore the history of utopian theory and social experimentation, and its dystopian mirror image through literature, critical theory, case studies, and film. How have the perfect society and the dystopian society evolved from the classical era through modern times? What can these models teach us about their particular social era and our own moment in history?

Insanity in Individuals

Syllabus

  1. The Origins of Utopian Thought
    • Introduction & Definitions
    • Ridley Scott, Blade Runner
    • Thomas More, Utopia
    • Plato’s Republic
  2. Paradises Lost
    • Ovid, Metamorphosis
    • The Old Testament: Genesis 2:4–3:24, Ezekial 28:12-19
    • St. Augustine, City of God
    • John Milton, Paradise Lost
    • Marx & Engels, The Communist Manifesto
  3. Ameritopias
    • Christopher Columbus, excerpts from his journal
    • Bartolome De Las Casas, “The Very Brief Relation of the Devastation of the Indies”
    • Richard Campanella, Bienville’s Dilemma
    • Mary Louise Pratt, “Arts of the Contact Zone”
    • Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano
    • J. Weatherford, “The Founding Indian Fathers”
    • Intentional American communities
  4. Modern Day Ennui
    • Aesthetic Theory (excerpts), Theodor Adorno
    • “Futurist Manifesto”, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti
    • Manifesto: Towards a Free Revolutionary Art 1938, Andre Breton and Leon Trotsky
    • George Saunders, “The Semplica-Girl Diaries”
    • Analysis of teenage dystopian romances: Hunger Games, Divergent, et al.
    • JG Ballard, High Rise
  5. Looking Forward
    • “The End of Utopia”, Herbert Marcuse
    • “The Situationist Manifesto”
    • “Essays from the Minister of Defense”, Huey P. Newton (primary source)
    • Sun-Ra, Parliament-Funkadelic, the Electrifying Mojo and Detroit techno
    • Jonestown: The Life and Death of People’s Temple (documentary)
    • “People’s Temple and Jonestown: A Corrective Comparison and Critique”, James T. Richardson
Chalkboard 27 Dialectic Milton
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