I’ve been busy. For most of the summertime that’s now ending regular readers of this blog might have noticed there’s not been many new posts to be regularly reading. Because I’ve been away. Not entirely away from Liverpool, but away nonetheless. In a fictional place of my own making as well as many days spent writing and imagining in a real place that’s been helping with the fiction.
And what follows is an excerpt from that fiction. Not to tell you the whole of the story I’ve been writing but to let you into little piece of it, a story that’s about time, as well as it’s about utopia. The whole of the story, which is my dissertation at the University of Liverpool, will follow soon, maybe.
Two slideshows from my dissertation are included here as well. ‘Utopianism’ at the beginning of the excerpt, then ‘Port Sunlight: Walking Through Time’ at the end of the post.
In this excerpt three notable academics have gathered in Port Sunlight to discuss a possible conference about Utopianism. Here one of them, Vee, is presenting her thoughts to the other two, who are visitors from an earlier time.
“Utopianism then,” presented on what she was betting was the first iPad these two had ever seen, beginning to flick through the pictures, “Utopianism, it’s a Tower of Babel. Loads of voices with little or nothing to do with each other, talking about so many different things and calling them all Utopia. Now I don’t know about you, but when I got my invitation to do this I thought why me? I know nothing about Utopia? So I did what you do. Google-Scholared it.”
“Even went to the library, gathered up everything I could and started reading, reading these.”
Her audience settled down to watch, reassured after ‘Google-whatevered’ by the double use of the much more reassuring ‘reading.’
“Thomas More, dreams of perfect heavens, religious tales, explorer’s tales, imaginary voyages, Gulliver’s Travels, the Marys Wollstencroft and Shelley, perfect humans, revolutionary thinking, Industrial Revolution, the enclosures, workers’ villages and rights, capitalism and philanthropy. More pictures, Robert Owen, garden cities, William Lever, and yes, William Morris, Looking Backward, communitarianism, communism, Auguste Comte, Jane Jacobs, George Orwell and all the way to New Towns, cohousing, brutalism, science fiction, Ursula K. LeGuin, Marge Piercy, The Handmaid’s Tale, dystopias, climate chaos and the end of all human life on Earth, and let’s move to another planet, like Mars?”
“And I still didn’t get whether they might all be connected or think they were necessarily all talking about the same thing, so I went looking for some theories.”
Her comforted audience settling even deeper in at ‘theories’ as their instructor moved more slowly through her exposition.
“Mannheim, Marxism, Socialism, Fascism, Bloch, Ruth Levitas, form and function and Kumar, is it a western phenomenon only and let’s have some conferences and gather all the papers and see what we’ve got? And I’ve got all of them and was getting deeper into somehere, but still looking for a utopia I wasn’t finding until these two books turned up and, finally, finally started making some sense out of all the Babel.”
Shows them the covers of Greg Claeys and Lucy Sargisson.
“Yes, utopian books don’t do great covers do they? But inside these two, taken together, are Greg Claeys and his making sense guide to the past of it, with a nod to the future. And, forwarding to the Sargisson picture, her best of the lot on practical utopianisms for the future, also with nods to the past. And…” one last big breath, “the pair of them, all note-taken, ideas-grouped, clustered and titled, finally guided me to the four big discussion headings, slogans as you said Charlie, that I’m suggesting we begin this conference with, or at least our own discussions, as our guides to what utopia might be about or for?”
Next Vee reads from the leaflet, more or less the same words as on the screen. “Taken all together the four utopian categories read like a fairy story:
We are not the fairest of them all;
But although – We have tools for a better life;
We have a crippling sense there is no alternative ;
So – We’re going to have to imagine our way out of this one.
And that’s it. So what d’you think?”
Thanks to everyone at the Port Sunlight Village Trust for your help and friendship over the summer while I’ve been walking around the village writing this. And your kindness and understanding whenever I’ve said things like “I’m in 1920 today.“
This post is published as part of my Sociology MA Dissertation. You can read more of my university writing here.