Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
This project argues that American literary utopias of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, from Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward (1888) and William Dean Howells' Altrurian Romances (1907) to Aldous Huxley's Island and Ursula K. LeGuin's The Dispossessed (1974), offer a unique narrative site to approach the ethical and political concerns of postmodernity. Literary utopias are conventionally read as either dogmatic and totalitarian schemes or impractical and fanciful dreams; they are interpreted as representations of an archetypal ideology. I contend that these conventional interpretations overlay and belie an essentially post-ideological irony and ambivalence inherent in the neologism "utopia"--the "good place" (eu-topos) that is simultaneously "no place" (ou-topos). Utopian narratives remain unfinished projects whose political and ethical potential resides in the suspension of utopia's realization, a notion discussed in Jacques Derrida's exploration of the irony and ultimate ethical significance of an idea that cannot be fully presented or realized (différance), a space that cannot be traversed (a-poria), and of a community-to-come engendered by these notions. Accordingly, my readings of American literary utopias disclose narrative characteristics, from temporal instability to radical shifts in points of view, to show that the value of utopian literature lies in its exploration of alternative possibilities without prescribing finite and present solutions.
Copyright 2009 Angela Marie Warfield
Warfield, Angela Marie. "Utopia unlimited: reassessing American literary utopias." dissertation, University of Iowa, 2009.