ENG480H1F - L0201

Advanced Studies Seminar: Utopian Literature


Tuesday 11 am - 1 pm

Instructor: A. Walkden

E-mail: andrea.walkden@utoronto.ca

Brief Description of Course

When Thomas More coined the word “utopia” in 1516, he exploited the way this new term, with its origin in ancient Greek, could mean either “good place” (eu-topos) or “no place” (ou-topos). Four hundred years later, readers of More’s masterpiece, Utopia, would further complicate the meanings of the word by introducing another term “dystopia” or “bad place,” applying it sometimes to the newly imagined worlds of science fiction and sometimes to the ideal commonwealth described by More himself. 

In this seminar, we will be encountering the conceptual and metaphorical resources of the utopian genre in a variety of pre-modern and contemporary texts, pursuing such topics as colonial exploitation and slavery, sexual communism and eugenics, ecological precarity and migration. Together we will explore how utopian writings work to confront readers’ understanding of the normative and the ideal by presenting a vision of a near future or a nonexistent place that tells an alternative story of the present moment. To that end, we will be pairing the genre’s foundational works by More, Bacon, Margaret Cavendish, and Swift with such twenty-first-century texts as Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, Chang-rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea, Ling Ma’s Severance, and the Bong Joon-Ho film Snowpiercer.

Required Reading(s)

  • Thomas More’s Utopia
  • Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis
  • Margaret Cavendish’s Blazing World
  • Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels
  • Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake
  • Snowpiercer, directed by Bong Joon-Ho
  • Chang-rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea
  • Ling Ma’s Severance.

First Three Authors/Texts

  • Ursula K. Le Guin (short story), “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,”
  • Chana Joffe-Walt (podcast), “Some Like it Dot,”
  • Thomas More, Utopia.

Method of Evaluation

  • Participation, including discussion (in class or online) and workshops (20%)
  • Generating discussion questions for two class meetings (15%)
  • Final essay, developed in four stages: proposal annotated bibliography, partial draft, and final version (60%)
  • Seminar presentation about your research essay (5%)