Wednesday, 23 November 2011
Theory of Everything
200 posts already clocked up on this Morris-and-utopias blog, and with this item I start my next 200; so this perhaps constitutes a good moment to pause and take stock. I have previously wondered whether there is any topic which could in principle not feature here (31.03.2011). Dog shit, you might think, would be one such; but no, for it briefly features in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s utopia Herland: ‘when Jeff told them of the effect of dogs on sidewalk merchandise and the streets generally, they found it hard to believe’ (ch.5). But if you are a dog lover who would prefer your canine turds rather more thoroughly utopianised, you just have to turn to Aldous Huxley’s Island: ‘”Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful! Even dogs’ messes.” She pointed at a formidable specimen almost at their feet’ (ch.14).
My good friend Pamela White, when challenged to suggest a topic I would be able to make nothing of, promptly uttered ‘doughnuts’; and I must confess that I am still struggling with that one, though there is a brief mention of ‘the underflannel-and-doughnuts mother’ in Herland (ch.12). My students at the University of Notre Dame always wanted to bring doughnuts along for breakfast at our early morning seminars, but I don’t suppose that can count here.
I used to think that it was the genre of the blog itself – nimble, opportunistic, serendipitous – which meant that it could potentially scoop up any kind of topic into its capacious maw; and I’m sure that’s partly true. But now I’m inclined to feel that it is just as much the focus of this particular blog, its Morris-and-utopias emphasis, which makes this greed-for-content possible. For the literary genre of utopia would seem to have an in-built encyclopaedism to it; it wants to map out every conceivable aspect of life in its perfect world, so that in principle no topic whatsoever, no detail however tiny, escapes its totalising ambitions, which are well symbolised by that giant index or ‘universal eye’ of utopia in central Paris in H.G. Wells’s A Modern Utopia. While this might in some ways be politically scary, it can also lead to an agreeable aesthetic quirkiness too. How often, for example, should you have your teeth checked by the dentist in utopia? Well, the answer is there for the taking in B.F. Skinner’s Walden Two (ch.22).
So I confidently predict that, though I haven’t come across it just yet, there will be some utopia out there somewhere in which doughnuts will turn out to be the main staple of utopian diet.