Lit & Culture (Utopias & Dystopias)


course takes as its theme works which illustrate imaginary societies
functioning beyond some sort of “Utopian trench.” Since 1516, when Thomas
More’s fictional king Utopus cut a defensive channel between his island of
“high culture” and a nearby continent teeming with the “uncouth” and the
“rude,” utopian writers (or, as Frederic Jameson calls them, “crackpots”) have
continued to hypothesize the advantages and disadvantages of a great divide
between the what-is and the what-might-be. Most of the works we’ll look at in
this course examine twentieth-century societies that have gone wrong,
especially when individual freedom is concerned. These texts, which form part
of the utopian sub-genre called “anti-utopias” or “dystopias,” depict societies
and individuals that suffer, for instance, the daily spiritual acidity of
oppressive, totalitarian systems; or they may fight androids for survival on a
post-apocalyptic radioactive earth; or, as inhabitants of a not-too-distant
future, they may be burdened by a withering physical and mental atrophy; or,
worse yet, they witness the utter victory of an unquenchable consumerist

be looking at several motifs in each of these texts: the nature and genesis of
“the trench”; tensions arising between forces of the particular and the
universal; characterization and representation of individuals and individual
response given such context; the resonance between the oppressive forces in the
fiction we’re reading and the “reality” we posit we’re living; instances of
quirky self-revelation on the part of the author; and, more generally, the
written representation of dystopian imagination as it plays out in human
relations, religion, gender, art, music, education, and science.

Since this is a second
year, Introduction to Literature course, you are not expected to bring
specialized information to this class. All I ask you to do is read every
of the assignments and think about them so that when we get together
as a class, you will have questions to ask and ideas to share. Our classes in
the English department are relatively small because we expect and depend upon
interested and animated conversation between professors and all students. I
call on everybody, a lot.As I do this, I hope that you, in turn, will
both express yourselves better and listen better to others by the end of the
course. To encourage you to read closely, I will give many easy, announced
quizzes. If you’ve read the assignments well, you’ll know the answers.

Through the semester, you will contribute weekly to an
informal on-line class forum on our Laulima page. You will do two written
presentations of your summary of a published article about a course text. You
will belong to a five-student team which will lead in-class discussions six
times. Since the course has a “writing intensive” designation (W), we will
spend a small part of our time together reviewing some of the basics of essay
composition and the basics of writing about literature: refining a thesis,
structuring an essay, using various rhetorical modes, formatting, etc. In
response to topic questions I’ll give you on the readings we do for class, you
will write and rewrite five
four-page essays. We will workshop these essays in class in order to refine our
skills of attentive reading and listening, of giving and receiving feedback.
The course final exam will be a take-home essay (a rewrite of the fifth of our
five essays) which will give you the chance to integrate and reflect upon the
various critical approaches we will have explored throughout the semester.

A last note:
Sinclair Library’s Wong Center has filmed versions of at least four of our
course texts: The Time Machine, Nineteen
Eighty-Four, Blade Runner
(from the book Do Androids Dream of
Electric Sheep?
)and Total Recall(from the story We Can
Remember It for You Wholesale).
As we do the essays for these works,
you will have the choice of writing a comparison/contrast essay on the two
versions. (We’ll have some brief readings on filmed interpretation of literary

Required Texts
(available at the campus bookstore)

Thomas More: Utopia
(Norton Critical 2nd Ed. ISBN 0393961451); H. G. Wells: The Time Machine
(Signet Classic ISBN 0451528557); Aldous Huxley: Brave New World

Perennial Modern Classics (ISBN-10: 0060929871); George Orwell: Nineteen
(ISBN-10: 0452284236); Philip K. Dick: Do Androids Dream of
Electric Sheep?
(ISBN-10: 0194792226); Yevgeny Zamyatin: We (Penguin
Classics ISBN 9780140185850)

texts (short stories and excerpts from longer works, approximately 300 pages in
all) will be available for downloading and printing from our Laulima Web site.