Sunday, 22 July 2012

Butterflies in Utopia

In his later years, the great English literary critic F.R. Leavis would occasionally start student seminars at Cambridge University by bemoaning the decline of the butterfly population of East Anglia rather than addressing the text in hand. One assumes that butterfly populations will recover and flourish handsomely in utopia; but though Morris tells us that birds of prey are much commoner in News from Nowhere, he alas does not mention butterflies. So if you want a seriously lepidopteran utopia, you will have to turn to Aldous Huxley’s Island; for the multifarious butterflies of Pala are very much part of the wonder of this tropical utopia to its English visitor Will Farnaby: ‘Why were they so large, so improbably cerulean or velvet-black, so extravagantly eyed and freckled?’ And the nineteenth-century French theorist Charles Fourier takes this relationship between butterflies and utopia one stage further by installing these colourful insects in the very structure of his utopian theory. The ‘butterfly passion’ is one of his three most precious human passions (the others being the cabalistic and the composite) and will require complex institutional arrangements in utopia to satisfy its constant demand for change and variety. So not only will there (quantitatively) be more butterflies in utopia, but we ourselves (qualitatively) will have become lepidopteran there too.

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