Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Potential Sources

A list of literary works to consider, grouped loosely under the headings of Utopia and Dystopia:

UTOPIA

Francis Bacon - New Atlantis
Jorge Luis Borges - Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius
Margaret Cavendish - The Blazing World
Robert Heinlein - For Us, The Living
Plato - The Republic
Thomas More - Utopia
Franci Rabelais - Gargantua
B.F. Skinner - Walden Two
Henry David Thoreau - Walden; or, Life in the Wood
HG Wells - Men Like Gods
Tao Yuanming - The Peach Blossom Spring Story

DYSTOPIA

Margaret Atwood - The Handmaid's Tale
Ray Bradbury - Fahrenheit 451
John Brunner - The Sheep Look Up
Philip K. Dick - Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said
E.M. Forster - The Machine Stops
Aldous Huxley - Brave New World
Franz Kafka - The Trial
Ursula K. LeGuin - The Lathe of Heaven
Alan Moore - V For Vendetta
George Orwell - 1984
Yevgeny Zamyatin - We

Saturday, 16 March 2013

The Vision and the Void

To begin my research I have taken a few books out from the University library that seemed broadly relevant to the topic. The first of these that I will write about, and probably the one that has inspired the most in-depth response from me in relation to its length, is:

Manley, R. (1998) The End is Near!: Visions of Apocalypse, Millenium and Utopia. Los Angeles: Dilettante Press. ISBN 0966427270

This book is essentially a catalogue of an exhibition held at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore from May 1997 to May 1998. The exhibition focused mainly on 2d work, particularly paintings, and thus misses out on the entire outsider genre of Visionary Environments, which are very relevant to the Utopia/Dystopia project, as they often represent concrete attempts to actually create a perfect world, rather than simply offer a window to heaven or hell.

As with all outsider art or 'art brut' that finds its way, by whatever means, into the fringes of the 'official culture' ( of which museums, books held in university libraries must be held to be a part) there are a lot of uncomfortable questions to be asked here about prurience, the romanticisation of mental illness, and good old fashioned exploitation. Some revel in this; the book includes an essay by Feral House's Adam Parfrey, a man who in his gleeful revels in the dark underbelly of culture has ended up dedicating his life to the confused (and so stereotypically right wing American) belief that being extremely reactionary is the same as being radical. A failure to recognise that some extremists beliefs are not so much outside the American mainstream as tributaries of it; that it is much more common to see a right wing extremist on television than it is a left-wing artist, for much the same reason it is more common to see a ufologist or an alternative therapist than a bona fide scientist. There is a suggestion in Parfrey's essay (which is, admittedly, balanced out with none other than the Dalai Lama) that, by not criticising the bizarre fundamentalist, sexist and racist beliefs that drive many of the artists featured in this book, that they have been given fair treatment which society has denied them. Like the Manichean narratives of the apocalypse artwork, this tries, like many less sophisticated counter-cultural visionaries, to construct a worldview in which everything that is 'official' is bad and everything that opposes the official is good. All others ethics are swept to one side, and though people like Parfrey claim to simply be showing hard truths that others would like to ignore, in fact they present a cartoonish worldview, defined by that which they claim to oppose in much the same way that Satanism is defined by Christianity, and act as legitimisers for neo-fascists, fundamentalists and other unpleasant extremists.


Monday, 11 March 2013

A busy month

The month since I made my last post has been a busy one, although it feels like I haven't made as much progress with Utopia/Dystopia as I would like. The main reason for this is that I have become self-employed, and have been working towards establishing my online identity and getting creative work locally. Meanwhile, though I have been progressing in fits and starts with various bits of the project along several fronts, I have had a bit of a block; or perhaps it has simply been difficult to build up steam again after Vectis. I often find myself having this sort of problem. One thing that has been helping somewhat with this block is exploring my passion for fantasy illustration with the official creation of an artistic alter ego, DS Blake. It strikes me that, as I am finally pushing towards completing a blog post on visionary and outsider art, it is a propitious time to be bringing the attention to the world of this figure, given the allusion of his name. Perhaps I can use this alter ego in my future 'academic' work? I hope to have more of relevance to Utopia/Dystopia in the next month, as well as bringing all of my online presence together in one cohesive and easily understandable network.