Thursday, December 08, 2005

Adam, Utopian Visions, and December

What better time for Visions of Utopia than dreary and cold December, when daylight is short and covered. The book comprises essays (by three scholars) on the proposition of utopia, its problems and value in human life. Martin Marty, expert on religion in America, defends utopian visions regardless of their perfect record of failure. I’ve always wondered about utopia, the problems it creates, the siring of psychologies unable to negotiate reality, especially among the “religious.” The irony of extremism is that it is founded in utopian platitudes. The disability to accept the difference between what should be and what is unites a flock of people who are essentially deniers of nuance in life. Now, I don’t mean to say that life should work like a New Yorker short story, a rigid realism that pulls the heart out of life with carefully drawn characters and movement of plot that suggest pointlessness, an existential metallic stick of gum. Well, Martin Marty says this:

Yes, I know of utopian failures. Yet the world would be poorer had no one ever dreamed dreams of the no-place (u-topia) that is home to perfect sets of human arrangements. One looks for a way to rescue something positive from utopian experiments, since they can also inspire world-weariness and cynicism in the mode of those who groan: “Everything has been tried. Nothing works.”

Marty goes on, often tediously, with examinations of utopian works, mainly from the Christian realm. I appreciate what Marty has to say, about the importance of utopian paradigms, but I faintly see seeds of thoughts that seem alien to Islamic theology and ethos which traditionally managed an imperfect world as a Perfect Design, a crucible not for the achievement of perfection but, among other things, of forgiveness-seeking mortals, the Adamic essence that played out in the Garden-Satan episode in which Adam was not the model of fallen man, but of forgiveness-seeking man and, per Quran, forgiveness receiving. The salvation narrative goes back to this paradigm: the world designed for the impossibility of perfection but for the possibility of mercy and forgiveness, intangible qualities sought through intangible means, like sincerity. No violence necessary. Seeking what is impossible seems like the precursor to postmodern despair.

Visions of Utopia, by Edward Rothstein, Herbert Muschamp, and Martin Marty. Oxford University Press, 2003.


Anonymous Pete said...

Interesting discussion. If you're interested in reading detailed accounts of utopian experiments in America, I strongly recommend Mark Holloway's "Heavens on Earth: Utopian Communities in America 1680-1880." If you need the book's Powell's link, let me know.

My novel-in-progress "Eden" partly involves a failing fictional utopian colony--coincidentally, I happened to have set the colony in your area, on the west bluff of the Des Plaines River, north of what is now Romeoville.

12/08/2005 2:11 PM  
Blogger fromclay said...

Amazing: Utopian experiments. Thanks for the Holloway lead. I'll look it up. "Eden" in Romeoville? I got a traffic ticket from an "Eden" cop the other day for an expired sticker. My utopian explanation didn't work.

12/08/2005 4:07 PM  
Blogger Faramir said...


"... in which Adam was not the model of fallen man, but of forgiveness-seeking man and, per Quran, forgiveness receiving...."

Excellently put!


PS:- I like reading your posts! Wish you would post more often! :) Just a wish!

12/09/2005 10:18 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home