Utopian Writers of the 17th Term Paper

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  • Subject: Literature
  • Type: Term Paper
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Excerpt from Term Paper :

" In other words to understand any writer's utopian vision, one must compare and contrast that particular vision to what utopian authors in the classic traditions have already put forward.

DEFINITIONS of UTOPIA: J.H. "JACK" HEXTER:

Historian, professor and humorist Jack Hexter wrote that "Utopia implies that the nature of man is such that to rely on individual conscience to supply the deficiencies of municipal law is to embark on the bottom-less sea of human sinfulness in a sieve." Utopians approach conscience with "legal sanctions," Hexter believed. In a "properly ordered society," he asserted, the "massive force of public law performs the function which in natural law theory ineptly is left altogether to a small voice so often still" (Davis 56).

EASTERN DEFINITIONS of UTOPIA: BUDDHISM, DAOISM, and CONFUCIANISM:

The Buddhism utopia is conceived in the "antithetical images of Heavenly Paradise and Hell" (Wu 1995, p. 24), according to author Qingyun Wu (Female Rule in Chinese and English Literary Utopias). Like the Christian concepts the Buddhist Heaven is a place where good people go as a reward and Hell is a place where "evildoers and sinners" are punished. In Buddhism messianism (philosophy) a "subversive, this-worldly myth of utopia" is invented that "pronounces the end of the world and the salvation of humanity..." (Wu 24). "The time of Maitreye (the future Buddha that Buddhist followers believe will eventually appear on earth to achieve enlightenment) is described as a Golden Age in which kings, ministers and people will vie one with another in maintaining the reign of righteousness and the victory of truth" (Wu 24).

In Daoist utopianism, Wu explains (23), Dao is "the law of nature" and is the model for "perfect individuals and an ideal society." Further, the model rejects civilization as "the root of evil." Daoist utopia is located in one of two places: either in a "hidden mountain valley with a small population" - featuring an extended family structure surviving on "scanty but sufficient sustenance" - or in a remote country. In Tao Yuanming's story, the Peach Blossom Spring, utopians are escaping the war and the "tyranny of the Qing Dynasty." They till the land and thrive in a natural world harmonious existence with little concept of "time or evil" (Wu 24).

Author Wu explains on page 24 that the Confucian version of utopia is much like the city-state utopia in Plato's works. The Confucian utopia did exist at one time in history but due to "social disorder" it vanished, Wu goes on. The future utopian society (according to Confucian thought) will feature the following:

Order, justice, and virtue are essential to this society in which everyone has a place." Officials are chosen based on their merits, not on cronyism. "Men and women, old and young, love each other, and widows, orphans, and the disabled are well taken care of," Wu explains. The Confucian version of utopia is "...the most influential current of utopian thought in China," Wu asserts, because of its "social practicality."

UTOPIAN LUMINARIES: FRANCIS BACON:

Bacon's New Atlantis is recognized as a classic piece of utopian writing. Critic Max Patrick writes that "Bacon fired the imagination of his readers" and moreover "...roused his countrymen to awareness of the possibilities of co-operative research, applied science, and organized learning" through his New Atlantis project. Clearly, Bacon was aware that his New Atlantis could not be "imitated in all respects," Patrick explains. The geography, isolation and history would not be possible for England to duplicate. But the point of Bacon's work was not that this would be something capable of being emulated or copied; the point was readers can take what they want from a story like this, and perhaps make England a better place for all its citizens by adopting even a few of the precepts put forward.

The need for a greater emphasis of the simple dignity of the individual, Patrick goes on, was something Bacon hoped to bring into the conscience minds of the English people. "Calm courteousness in human relations" along with careful attention to "religious toleration" and "reverence for the family," along with a careful review of hygiene, are some of the aspects of life in the New Atlantis that certainly did apply to life in England in the 17th Century.

Bacon was visionary. That is perhaps not as well-known among readers of literature as it should be; but in his New Atlantis, Bacon approximates the future invention of submarines, telephones, airplanes and more. If people would life truly Christian lives, Bacon explained through his narrative - which is a kind of investigative journalism depicting a highly functional and practical world that does not seem surrealistic in the least to a reader in 2007 - and keep an open mind about how mankind can interact with nature, they could live lives that are more moral and socially substantial.

What Bacon devoted a lot of energy to in this story is, according to Patrick, is that material things do not necessarily bring happiness and human fulfillment. Science and technological advancement is desirable in New Atlantis, but taking science too far "would warp men's lives and thinking," Patrick writes.

In New Atlantis, Bacon explains that this strange and fascinating world has "large and deep caves" sunk up to 600 fathoms, which are used to produce "new artificial metals" and for curing diseases. Also, these caves prolong life among some of the "hermits that choose to life there" - longer life is always an attractive idea to civilizations in all parts of the world. Those caves are the "lower region" but New Atlantis also has a "higher region" which juts up a half a mile and is used for "insulation, refrigeration, conservation" and for better viewing of meteors, snow, rain, hail and even wind.

Reading through the descriptions of the world that Bacon described in his 1626 "Search the New Atlantis" portion of New Atlantis, a reader can easily see how this could be categorized as utopia in seventeenth century England. For example, New Atlantis has "great lakes" with plenty of fish and fowl and an apparent desalinization technology in "...pools...which some do strain fresh water out of salt, and other by art do turn fresh water into salt." As for the human conveniences, Bacon's world offered "great and spacious houses, where we imitate and demonstrate meteors," and they also had "chambers of health, where we qualify the air as we think good and proper for the cure of divers diseases and preservation of health."

There are "large and various orchards and gardens" in this utopia of Bacon's; yes they respect nature and beauty there, but also they graft and "inoculate" the fruit trees to produce creative results. There are parks where "beasts and birds" thrive; they conduct experiments on the animals including poisons and medicines to make them "greater or smaller" and even more fruitful as well as coloring and shaping them in creative ways. There are also "brew-houses, bake-houses, and kitchens," where meats and breads and drinks are produced. The wines that are produced along with drinks made from fruits, grains, roots, get mixed with honey, sugar, manna and dried fruits.

This is all well and good, but what if people get sick? For that, Bacon offers "dispensatories or shops of medicines" that are obviously more than "you have in Europe (for we know what you have)..." Moreover, this world offers houses where various sounds are experimented, and "harmony, which you have not, of quarter-sounds and lesser slides of sounds." And there are houses that offer perfumes, and in those houses are smells that imitate smells in the natural world.

Let's not forget the mathematical houses, where geometry and astronomy are practiced and experimented with; for anyone who needs to learn juggling, New Atlantis has that as well, along with war toys like muskets and engines that are "stronger and more violent than yours, exceeding your greatest cannons and basilisks."

PURITANISM as UTOPIA: When 16th Century voyagers like Vasco de Quiroga and Franciscan missionary Geronimo de Mendieta made their way to the New World, Holstun continues, they conceptualized the Native Indians as "soft wax" (37). The theory was put forward that those "soft wax" individuals would be easily molded into any new form that the colonists wished for them; hence, the utopian idea here was similar to Socrates' metaphor embracing a slate, or tablet. Roman Catholic men like Quiroga and Mendieta were "possessed by a quasi-Protestant fantasy" of re-writing the history of the church by "...erasing the centuries of intervening corruption" and with utopian intentions these explorers would have a "clean slate and need not find some way to wipe it clean themselves" (Holstun 37).

Meanwhile, in Puritan life - both in England and America - utopia meant taking…

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