Utopia and Dystopia  

by Matteo, Qian Shuo, and  Yu Lan (钱硕 于澜)

 


Project coordinator: Daniela Ianni


Graphic project: Ernesta Cicini



Definitions

 

UTOPIA: literally it means <<place that does not exist>> and describes an imaginary world in which it is effective the social justice and where are underlined the rules and the principles that could guarantee it.

The utopistic narrative involves the descriptions of societies similar to the the authorís one but based on better principles. The author tries to stimulate the reflection of the readers about the differences between reality and fiction with the final purpose of improving reality itself.

 

There are some basic points in a utopian novel:

   The story is set in an isolated place

 

   The story is developed by following the principles of that place

 

   In the place there is a ruling class

 

  A tragic development occurs in contrast with the expectations of the reader

 

 

DYSTOPIA: the term was coined in the late 19th century by some British philosophers in contraposition with UTOPIA and, like this, it indicates an indefinite world, in which the contradictions of the authorís society brings to a pessimistic vision of the future.

The characteristic elements of this kind of literature are:

 

  A hierarchical society where divisions between the upper, middle and lower clasess are definitive and unbreakable (Caste system).

 

The propaganda and the educational system have the purpose of preserving the Caste system

 

  The cancellation of individuality

 

  The presence of symbols presented  as commandments of a religious faith,  that at the same time  summarize and hide the aims of the state

 

  The constant surveillance by state police agencies

 

  Back story of a disaster that justifies the dramatic social changes

 

  A protagonist that doubts of the society

 

  More advanced technologies.

 

 

Historical points

 

The history of utopian and dystopian novels is really connected, or better consequential so it is useful to have a quick summary of it:

We can say that the history of the utopian novels starts with Plato (427 b.C.) that for the first time wrote a work (The republic) in which he theorizes a society that rationally proposes the fulfillment of a world in which the harmony and the perfection of the justice could be realized and  preserved. Obviously he based his thought on the existing form of governement, by proposing a new Athens that mirrored the achievements of his philosophy. In the centuries there have been other examples of utopian philosophers that theorized this fantasized society, however by starrting from their point of view,permeated by the contraddictions and the problems of their own world,  such as Thomas Moore, Tommaso Campanella, Francis Bacon, and so on.

 

We can observe that, since Platoís time up to the eighteenth century, the utopian literary production shows a deep trust in human beings, a sort of belief that the ďfairĒ is part of them, the greatest part, and that the evil contraddiction comes from the ignorance of that.

After the industrial revolution the situation changes, it is a period in which the technology progress brings to different trends of thought:

at the same time there are capitalistic trends, obviously, but also an opposite one that sees in this system a big mistake that substituted the individualism with the concept of mass.

Later this position developed in various theories, from those that aimed at the improvement of the system up to the ones that proposed the total destruction of the progress of the machines (Luddism - 1811- ).

 

This was the recognized starting point of the pessimistic utopias, called dystopias, that, for some aspects, are really similar to the first ones but give a mistrusted view of human actions, ranging from the rulers to  the ordinary people.

 

For example, like Plato, dystopian writers underline that the virtualization of the information - of the truth for Plato -  loses part of the truth and so we have to search for the real source of it - the ideas for Plato.  On the contrary, like in 1984, that writers present an extremely evil being of the powerful classes who utilize communication in a distort way, for influencing and conditioning the people.

This is often accompanied by the rule of the technologic comunication progress seen as an overpowering thing. The myth of Ulysses disappeared, the belief that the movement, the travel to the experience or the information (the truth) can train the good man (Paul Virilio) is missed in a world in which the information came to you trough the mass media and, in that novel the exasperation of the need of control on the peopleís thought of the ruler classes is, as said, a relevant element, source of great considerations. The development of this fear in some novelist have brought to present a society in which the technologies used for example in medicine for curing the heart are apply to improve human ability or to create a cyber man (do androids dream on electric sheep?), an humanoid, an assembly of mechanical peaces that can act as a human being and in some cases also to have an individual thought, a personality that can make who destroy it, because considered dangerous, to feel him self as a killer. There is the fear that one day the machines could take the power on the men, the fear that this immortal, but not really alive for a dictionary, creatures could rebel because their task is just to serve the men as is already appended in the past centuries between men and men. In 1984 we donít find the presence of this kind of reality but the attention is put on the rule that an immense employ of the technology could have in the management of the power.

 

By observing, in the novel there isnít a pitch description of the technology employed but the great talent recognized to Orwell (1903-1950) is in the use of a language that in detail make a portrait of a totalitarian society by satire and allegory. Orwell criticises the Russian Communist regime in Animal Farm, in the form of fable, but we can consider the dystopian 1984 a more complex work that can be put in contrast with all totalitarian dictatorships: the memory is quite cancelled, the past is considered as someting to forget, people are moulded by an improper use of the mass comunication form, there is the presence of a symbolistic culture that stymulate continuosly the belief forced in peopleís mind and all disagreement is punished. An apocalyptic description, of course, but our history has seen lots of realization of this unbridled desire of power and a book as 1984 can bring us to some deep consideration useful for our conscious memory.   

 

Here are some relevant facts about the book:    

                

       Nineteen Eighty-Four was written under the working title of The Last Man in Europe.

 

       The sector containing the northern half of Africa, the Middle East, southern India, Indonesia, and northern Australia, has become the main battlefield for the three powers (that duck the war in their own territories), and provides a useful source of slaves, used only for propaganda purposes

 

       In The Lion and the Unicorn, 1941, Orwell says that there is nothing conservative in patriotism.

     In his novel Orwell created a world in which citizens have no right to a personal life or thought. Leisure and other activities are controlled through a system of strict mores. Sexual pleasure is discouraged; sex is retained only for the purpose of reproduction, although artificial insemination (ARTSEM) is more encouraged.

 

      Through their constant repetition, the terms become meaningless, and the slogans become axiomatic. This type of misuse of language, and the deliberate self-deception with which the citizens are encouraged to accept it, is called doublethink.

 

       Winston worked in the Ministry of Truth, changing historical facts to suit the Party.

 

       Winstonís commits his first act of rebellion by writing in a diary.  The act of recording his present circumstances constituted an extreme disloyalty to the Party because Winston was actually documenting history.

 

 

by Matteo, Qian Shuo, and  Yu Lan (钱硕 于澜)


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