Description   |   Syllabus

Dreaming Utopia: The Theory and Practice of Ideal Worlds
Bard College
Fall 2007


HR 230
Monday 1:30 — Olin 310
Tuesday 1:00 — Olin 107

Mark Danner

Since Plato and before, writers and thinkers have conjured pictures of ideal society and contrasted these glittering dreams with the reality they found around them. Such "utopias" - or "no places," to use the word coined by Sir Thomas More nearly two millenia after Plato - served as a philosophical critique of the present and millenarian aspiration for the future, and, in the hands of some more ambitious, charismatic and sometimes ruthless dreamers, as a model for radical social experiments in the here and now. In this class we will study some of the landmark works in the history of utopia and dystopia, including writing by More, Owen, Fourier, Marx, Bellamy, Welles, London and Orwell, and examine the provocative and sometimes catastrophic embodiment of the utopian ideal in the so-called "real world."


Requirements. This is a seminar class, built around reading and class discussion. The single most important requirement — on which the bulk of the grade will be based — is that you attend class and come prepared to take part in the discussion. A short final paper will be required at the end of the term, due on December 4 — with a one-paragraph "abstract" required the week before.

The Reading. The reading list will be revised and supplemented as we progress through the history and the discussion of our enquiry. Supplemental reading, much of it drawn from The Utopia Reader (edited by Claeys and Sargent; NYU Press, 1996) and the required Norton editions, will be assigned week to week.

Some Recommended Texts

John Gray, Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and The Death of Utopia (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2007) Russell Jacoby, Future Imperfect: Utopia Thought for an Anti-Utopian Age (Columbia, 2005) Lewis Mumford, The Story of Utopias (Viking, 1962 [1922])

Required Reading List — A Sketch

November 5, 2007

Thomas More, Utopia (Norton, 1992 [1516])

November 6

Thomas More, Utopia (Norton, 1992 [1516])

Ovid, "The Golden Age," in Utopia, "Backgrounds"

"The Acts of the Apostles," in Utopia, "Backgrounds"

Lucian of Samosata, "Saturn's Age," in Utopia

St. Ambrose, "Naboth's Vineyard," in Utopia

St. Benedict, "Monastic Rules," in Utopia

"Cockayne," in Utopia

Tasso, Chorus from Aminta in Utopia

Amerigo Vespucci, "The First Voyage," in Utopia

More, Giles, Erasmus et al, "Humanist Letters," in Utopia

November 12

Plato, The Republic (Basic, 1991 [c. 360 BC])

Allan Bloom, "Preface" and "Interpretive Essay" in The Republic

November 13

Plato, The Republic (Basic, 1991 [c. 360 BC])

Hesiod, Works and Days in The Utopia Reader

Ovid, Metamorphosis

Vergil, Fourth Eclogue

"The Garden of Eden," Genesis

Pindar, Fragments

Horace, "Epode 16"

"The Land of Prester John"

Solon, "Elegy and Iambus"

Lycurgus, "Laws" (from Plutarch's Lives)

Aristophanes, Ecclesiasusae


Iambulus, Heliopolis

Lucian, Saturnalia

The Revelation of St. John

Baruch, The Apocalypse

St. Benedict, "The Rule of St. Benedict"

St. Francis, "The Rule of St. Francis"

Telecleides, "The Cockaigne"

"The Land of Cockaigne"

Rabelais, from The Life of Gargantua

Montaigne, "Of the Cannibals"

November 19

Francis Bacon, "New Atlantis" (1627) in Three Early Modern Utopias (Oxford, 1999)

November 20

Henry Neville, "The Isle of Pines," (1668) in Three Early Modern Utopias (Oxford, 1999)

November 26

Edmund Wilson, To the Finland Station (New York Review Books, 2003 [1940])

November 27

Edmund Wilson, To the Finland Station (New York Review Books, 2003 [1940])

December 3

Marx & Engels, The Communist Manifesto

December 4

Dostoevsky, Notes From Underground (Norton, 2001 [1863])

December 10

Charles Nordhoff, American Utopias (Berkshire House, 1993 [1875])

December 11

Charles Nordhoff, American Utopias (Berkshire House, 1993 [1875])

December 17

Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward (Oxford, 2007 [1887])

December 18

William Morris, News From Nowhere (Penguin, 1994 [1890])

© 2022 Mark Danner