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This review is taken from PN Review 61, Volume 14 Number 5, May - June 1988.

MAGNIFICENT PROMISES Krishan Kumar, Utopia and Anti-Utopia in Modern Times (Blackwell) £24.50

The anti-utopia is the ugly sister of utopia but the one most loved by the twentieth century. Arcadia, The Golden Age and the Land of Cockaigne are distant and fanciful lands and not places we will reach through economic and political progress and determination. The astonishing freshness of H.G. Wells at the beginning of the century, who could announce that 'I flung myself into futurity', had become the jaundiced and despairing prophet who abandoned hope for humanity in Mind at the End of its Tether in 1945. Utopia is a resilient literary genre reaching back to Sir Thomas Moore for its formal style and to Plato's Republic for its early inspiration, but now it seems exhausted with, as Northrop Frye observed, contemporary literature suffering a paralysis of utopian imagination.

Krishan Kumar's critical history of utopian writing this century is committed to establishing a continuous line of utopian writing through the 1960s and wistfully recalls the Greening of America and the exultant sense of possibility proclaimed by the butterfly intellectuals Marcuse, Reich (Charles and William) and Leary, who were to be broken on the wheel of the 1970s oil crisis and recession. Kumar tentatively offers explanations for the decline of utopia and points to the decline in Christanity's spiritual yearning and the decline of religion generally (whilst earlier arguing that religion is ultimately anathema to utopia because of its concern for kingdoms not of this world). The form of expression has changed, with novels exploring private and individual ...


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