UTOPIAS

 

 

Emma-Sophie MOURET

Mehdi GABA                                                                                                                                                  L2

Manon MULLIEZ

 

                                                                             

The term « utopia » from the greek « topos » (place) and « u » (negative) means « place of nowhere ». It’s the conception of an ideal society where human relations are treated in harmony. More’s account has a political, literary, and philosophical scope. The archetype of utopia is the famous novel by Sir Thomas More, Utopia published in 1516. Utopia was born during the Renaissance because it conveys a way of thinking which exemplifies humanism. This kind of writing was often revisited in different ways. This is why we are going to try to analyse one of these examples, the excerpt of “The Habbaye of Théléme” in Gargantua from François Rabelais. Rabelais was a major French renaissance writer. His work was related to fantasy, satire, but also of the grotesque. The place or date of his birth is not documented. He would be born in 1483 near Chinon, where his father worked as a lawyer. In early 1483, he may have left to study at the universities of Poitier and Montpellier. In 1530, he moved to Lyon (one of the intellectual centers in France) and wrote latin works for the printer Sebastian Griffus. He spent his time writing and publishing humorous pamphlets which critiziced the established authority and heightened his own perception of individual liberty. To do so, he used the pseudonym “Alcofribas Nasier”. In 1532, he published his first book entitled “Pantagruel” which is the starting point of the  Gargantua series. In this book Rabelais sings the praises of the wines coming from his own town Chinon through lively descriptions of “eating and drinking and scenes from adopting. Gargantua and Pantagruel relates the adventures of two giants: A father, named Gargantua, and his son, Pantagruel, in an amusing extravagant and satirical vein.

 

While the first book focused on the two giants, the rest of the series is mostly devoted to the adventures of Pantagruel’s friends, namely Panurge, Maverick and brother Jean, and others.  Some chapters are widely fantastic and quite obscure sometimes. A few serious passages have become famous for the humanistic description of the ideas of that time. In particular the Gargantua’s letter to Pantagruel and the chapter recounting Gargantua’s childhood, which presents a rather detailed vision of education. It is in his first book that Rabelais wrote about the abbey of Theleme built by Gargantua, where he adds fun to the monastic institution. In the abbey, there was a swmming pool, maid service and clocks inside. Below the humour was the real concept of Utopia and of the ideal society as well.

 

In that way, in the book, Gargantua had the abbey of Theleme built in order to reward brother Jean for having fought on his side. The abbey was a magnificient castle made for community life between young people of both sex, kind and rich. They were bound by only one rule “ Do what ever you like”. The abbey’s library included many books in old greek, latin, hebrew, french … The walls were decorated with frescoes bringing to mind the history of the earth and of mankind. All was made so that the members get to a high degree of culture in order to reach a high moral outlook based on personal responsibility. Moreover, the custodians were free from any material problem because there were a lot of domestics … That’s why this abbey is the inverse of Rabelais’s abbey. Nothing engaged its occupants for a life time when else where chastity poverty and obedience were required. Rabelais shows as well the moral of an elite, maybe that of all humans, when their education turns them into adults. His abbey corresponds to humanists ideas that he illustrates thanks to a utopia.

 

 

Thouvenin Clément

BRAVE NEW WORLD, HUXLEY, 1931

 

                Thomas More (1478-1535) founded a new literary genre, the utopia, which developed particularly during the Enlightenment. But with the emergence of a world increasingly governed by technology, some of these utopias proved increasingly feasible. Some authors have imagined then the application of these utopias into reality, and immediately denounced the totalitarian and dehumanizing potential they have. This is the case of Aldous Huxley, who wrote a famous anticipation fable in 1931, now considered a classic of science fiction : Brave New World. At a time when totalitarianism was gaining momentum, against the backcloth of a profound moral crisis and the transformation of industrial societies, he describes a nightmarish vision of a world certainly happy, but where happiness is secured at the price of freedom and human dignity. This novel is what one might call a dystopia : it warns against the danger that contains the idealistic visions of pure societies. Thus, several methods of control and propaganda based on technical devices are considered, such as eugenics, sleep-learning and other subconscious persuasions, and also the rejection of any form of education or culture. We shall see more precisely how Huxley warns us about the reality of a utopia in a technology-dominated world. To do so, we will divide our paper into three parts: first presentation, second explanation, third criticism.

 

                The world described by Huxley is characterized by a high degree of political, economic, or strictly social organization. This organization meets the needs of an endless and absurd production. To this purpose, society is divided into several castes according to a strict hierarchical system, and people are conditioned to this even before birth. A tight control over the population is exerted through bureaucracy, education, but also entertainment: individuals bear their condition thanks to a drug called soma, exhilarating and free of side effects. Family, kinship and relationships are perceived as stressors and thus as an obstacle to happiness, and were removed altogether. From an economic perspective, Ford is considered as the founder of a new era, because he imposed rationalism and placed it above all. The behaviour patterns required for such a society is allowed by a totally artificial and industrial mode of reproduction (which also helps regulate the population), but also through sleep teaching to which everyone is subjected during his childhood. Generally, all passion, all anger is dismissed.

 

                In this dystopia, Huxley warns us of some current trends in society. In particular, he has noticed, like others, a tendency of technology to free itself of all control. Thus, red-tape grows continually, and individuals are increasingly controlled by the state either for purely practical and pragmatic reasons, or to prevent any attempt to abuse, fraud or emancipate from society. He also highlights the existence of a homogenization process, initiated by the development of new forms of popular entertainment ever more effective in their escapist role, and by the democratization of a culture called « mass » culture. Interested in technological advances in psychological unconscious control and artificial insemination, he envisages a large scale application of these techniques.

                Utopian ideologies, emerging the individual in a « community » that would be his single repository, are therefore seen by Huxley as detrimental to family values and love, and thus as adverse to nature. Finally, according him, economic liberalism does not exclude a clear trend toward centralization, which he considers a threat. To put it briefly, he tries to warn us of a very possible evolution of our society towards a world ruled by machines, where men are themselves transformed into machines. This development proved true much faster than he had expected, particularly with the emergence of welfare states.

 

                Overall, the fable of Huxley is remarkably pertinent and far-sighted, given the evolution of western societies. Indeed, the decline of democracy and individual or local autonomy in favor of centralization and exhaustive control, developed outside any ideological considerations (the goal is the satisfaction of growing needs society), is a fact reported by many researchers and theorists (eg include Jacques Ellul1), and hotly debated among sociologists, political scientists, etc… We must not forget that it was written before the Second World War : the Nazi dictatorship gave vivid proof of the inevitable hazards (reported by Huxley) that the real application of a utopian and/or romantic world vision contain.

                However, the relevance of Brave New World must be qualified by the importance of the context of the time: in particular, it was influenced by the importance of heavy industries and the proletariat (caste society) but it is not really current in the western world. Moreover, the belief that man could endure such a company without prior predispositions (distractions, genetic modification, etc..) is certainly right, but not entirely: it is possible that the attraction of a well-ordered life planned in advance be higher than that of freedom and respect for individuality, because one brings no worries and the other brings insecurity. This contrast between happiness and freedom is not taken into account by Huxley.

 

                In conclusion, Brave New World is a work indispensable both in the field of philosophy and sociology, and of course literature (it is a great literary success, and especially a forerunner of science fiction). Finally, note that Huxley returned to his work by writing an essay (Return to Brave New World), and as an alternative, in other sketches, he proposes a company focused on local autonomy, in keeping with the views of the anarchists.

Bibliography :

Le Meilleur des Mondes, HUXLEY Aldous, Pocket, Paris, 2002

Retour au Meilleur des Mondes, HUXLEY Aldous, Pocket, Paris, 2006

Le Meilleur des Mondes : résumé, personnages, thèmes, ERRE Michel, Hatier, Paris, 1995

Le Meilleur des Mondes : analyse critique, ERRE Michel, Hatier, Paris, 1986

Notes :

1 La Technique ou l’enjeu du siècle, ELLUL Jacques, Economica, Paris, 1990

2 La Science, la liberté, la paix, HUXLEY Aldous, Le Rocher, Paris, 1999

 

Blandin Laurie

Boseggia Théo

 

Today, the word “utopia” means “impossible”, this is a dream, an imaginary construction which seems impractical. It offers another way of life through a fiction. However, ever since the first utopia written by Sir Thomas More, the protagonists of this kind of literature have wanted to expand the opportunities of the humans. Many of these works were allowed to criticize the present, to expose the existing order. Utopias testify to the desire for a better world by changing the political and social organization. Today, this genre is also utilized and we can find it in various forms of expression. We can see that through a contemporary film: “La belle Verte” (The Green beautiful). The Green Beautiful is a film realized by Coline Serreau in 1996. It shows a planet where people are “advanced” in the meaning that they have understood the solution to live for several hundred  years with no disease and in harmony with nature, they had given up the “modern” way of life with no car, no electricity, no meat and so on. Mila, one of them, decides to go on planet Earth where she could probably track down her ancestor and discover the “archaic” human way of life. Through her character, Coline Serreau points out current problems with a humorous tone.

We can consider this film as a philosophical fable which denounces the principal defects of our society, notably Western societies, resorting to funny situations. So, it advocates anti conformity, environmentalism, decay, feminism, humanism and pacifism. It opposes communication and technologies too. The scenes clearly show our every-day life, which seems ridiculous seen from another angle: the pollution and what we eat make us unhealthy;  the money, necessary for all, even to satisfy our basic needs; the overconsumption and the lack of attention to the others… To show that, Coline Serreau chose to exaggerate all the personalities of her characters : so the politicians are corrupt and only think about profit, a Parisian conductor is offensive and excessively disrespectful, Mila is nice, open-minded and innocent…That is a little bit clichéd but that is humorous. So, the film largely criticizes our consumerist and capitalist society.

But, as it is a utopia and not, like another film an “anti-utopia”, the film shows different positive views and issues. For example, the film-maker highlights that Earthlings are not so bad showing different people, probably in Africa, which live in harmony with nature and they are showed as more advanced. Moreover, even westerners can change: Mila can “disconnect” them and so they can enjoy life in an entirely different manner. Finally, the fact that we see Mila’s planet, which is shown as perfect and wonderful, is another positive issue. Like in some forms of Utopia, we discover that another way of life is possible. In The Green Beautiful, this world is natural, people communicate and appreciate simple things, they are open-minded and stand together. Mila’s children explain to  theEarthlings how it is possible to reach this  goal, because in their planet they also went through an Industrial Era and the consumer society : decay is proposed as a solution.

This film was widely criticized by the media when it was released. We can maybe reproach it for being a little bit too naïve or too simplistic but aren’t  utopias dreams? So let’s dream on!