Utopia and Dystopia

Monday, October 17th, 2016

This week we were been led to exploring Utopia and Dystopia through seven kind of aspects based on lots of reading and discussion activities at class.

Before doing the reading I didn’t think about there were so many debates based on definition about what is utopia. My original idea about utopia is a imagined place where the evil power doesn’t exist, no levels or too much desire, and the social system is completely perfect to make everyone satisfied, so it’s a dreamland for everyone to live in peacefully. I guess my definition of Utopia kind of based on an Classical Chinese we learned in junior school, which the idea and the way of writing of this ideal place really left a strong impression in my memory.

This is a good translate version of this classical  Chinese story I found —-

桃花源记——陶渊明

The Peach Colony (translated by Lin Yutang 林语堂)

晋太元中,武陵人捕鱼为业,缘溪行,忘路之远近。忽逢桃花林,夹岸数百步,中无杂树,芳草鲜美,落英缤纷;渔人甚异之。复前行,欲穷其林。林尽水源,便得一山。山有小口,仿佛若有光,便舍船,从口入。初极狭,才通人;复行数十步,豁然开朗。土地平旷,屋舍俨然。有良田美池,桑竹之属,阡陌交通,鸡犬相闻。其中往来种作,男女衣着,悉如外人;黄发垂髫,并怡然自乐。见渔人,乃大惊,问所从来;具答之。便要还家,设酒、杀鸡、作食。村中闻有此人,咸来问讯。自云:先世避秦时乱,率妻子邑人来此绝境,不复出焉;遂与外人间隔。问今是何世?乃不知有汉,无论魏、晋!此人一一为具言所闻,皆叹惋。余人各复延至其家,皆出酒食,停数日,辞去。此中人语云:“不足为外人道。”

During the reign of Taiyuan of Chin, there was a fisherman of Wuling. One day he was walking along a bank. After having gone a certain distance, he suddenly came upon a peach grove which extended along the bank for about a hundred yards. He noticed with surprise that the grove had a magic effect, so singularly free from the usual mingling of brushwood, while the beautifully grassy ground was covered with its rose petals. He went further to explore, and when he came to the end of the grove, he saw a spring which came from a cave in the hill, Having noticed that there seemed to be a weak light in the cave, he tied up his boat and decided to go in and explore. At first the opening was very narrow, barely wide enough for one person to go in. After a dozen steps, it opened into a flood of light. He saw before his eyes a wide, level valley, with houses and fields and farms. There were bamboos and mulberries; farmers were working and dogs and chickens were running about. The dresses of the men and women were like those of the outside world, and the old men and children appeared very happy and contented. They were greatly astonished to see the fisherman and asked him where he had come from. The fisherman told them and was invited to their homes, where wine was served and chicken was killed for dinner to entertain him. The villagers hearing of his coming all came to see him and to talk. They said that their ancestors had come here as refugees to escape from the tyranny of Tsin Shih-huang (builder of Great Wall) some six hundred years ago, and they had never left it. They were thus completely cut off from the world, and asked what was the ruling dynasty now. They had not even heard of the Han Dynasty (two centuries before to two centuries after Christ), not to speak of the Wei (third century A.D.) and the Chin (third and fourth centuries). The fisherman told them, which they heard with great amazement. Many of the other villagers then began to invite him to their homes by turn and feed him dinner and wine.After a few days, he took leave of them and left. The villagers begged him not to tell the people outside about their colony.

既出,得其船,便扶向路,处处志之。及郡下,诣太守,说如此。太守即遣人随其往,寻向所志,遂迷不复得路。南阳刘子骥,高尚士也,闻之,欣然规往,未果,寻病终。后遂无问津者。

The man found his boat and came back, marking with signs the route he had followed. He went to the magistrate’s office and told the magistrate about it. The latter sent someone to go with him and find the place. They looked for the signs but got lost and could never find it again. Liu Tsechi of Nanyang was a great idealist. He heard of this story, and planned to go and find it, but was taken ill and died before he could fulfill his wish. Since then, no one has gone in search of this place.

 

 

this is an animation been made based on the story.

The background of this story is really important for understanding it. Since the author was living in an unpeaceful era, and he was really unsatisfied with the dirty, cruel reality. So in this story he connected the ideal and reality together and depicted a place where normal people live free, peacefully and equal to each other, and been once accidental found by an piscator and never can be found ever. The people there all originally escaped from war for centuries ago, and never get in touch with outside world ever.

From the story we can see their is only farming culture exist in this ‘Utopia’ for people lived in East Jin Dynasty. People live with nature peacefully and following the mind of Confucianism. All political thing kind of been weaken.

I didn’t think of this ancient chinese I learned before I started writing review of this lecture I took. At class we were been asked about what’s our utopia demands, and I wrote things like everyone can do their own things properly instead of trying to get something good from others, and live peacefully with less desire I think? although at first I want to write the only demands is no human being, but then this answer become too extreme so I changed it to that.I guess my ideal of utopia was influenced by that classical chinese I learned, only the difference is that’s not a society with only farming culture but with more people focus on their own job like doing cultural change and social change not based on desire of money or power and won’t be controlled by that feeling.

From the reading we do about concepts of utopia and dystopia from Thomas More, we know that utopia is a conflict idea that represent desire of a better world that’s too good to really exist.

When the idea of Utopia as blueprint been introduced, I found this kind of static, fix physical form in purpose to make everyone live equally as it look, which make it looks like a prison as well. Since the terrain was leveled area already, it showed the benefit for some certain level or certain purpose more obviously. City like Dubai, Las Vegas and Pruitt were been mentioned between discussion at class.

contemporary intersections between art/design and utopian practice.

The main theme of 2016 London Design Biennale is about Utopia, and our group chose the design from Saudi Arabia and Shenzhen from the Biennale to identify, and connect with the book <the principle of hope> by Ernst Bloch to find how content, form, and function been intersected in art and design field of utopia practice. The utopia impulse, which could transform the essence of utopia thinking—- the desire to a method for an imaginary reconstructed society. From “what it will be” to “what it could be” is working in the process as method.

When Utopia as Political practice been talked about at class, our group have an interesting conversation started with education system in China to education in German, about how kids and teenager are being educated to be sorry about what their ancestor did and should be humble and at the same time how Chinese teenagers were taught to Love their country and Communism without teaching us to critical thinking the related subjects and societal issues. From german student’s sharing, I know some social issues are not being delivered to teenagers that well in German which cause lots of them start rave movement and being angry about knowing little of it.(but all youth I know from German think their government has highly transparent system, and youth all concern about a lot of social issues, but still..i don’t know all..)

Which I felt there are a lot of issues from nowadays are not been included in our education system, like the recognition of ourselves, our emotion and the highly developing digital world we are living in. Although we learned about a lot of classical chinese as well, but there are still lack of different aspects of Chinese culture. But more importantly, I think the social issues link with society today need to be taught about more, and critical thinking should be taught by different teaching methods as well.

 

other points at class that’s not so clear or familiar much yet:

-queerness of utopianism

-what these different approaches to utopia(as blueprint, method and practice)have meant for urban design (eg Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh),

art and design (eg Jeremy Deller, Deterritorial Support Group—-analysing their Ten Growth Markets(tendency) for Crisis, the relevance of critical imaginative potential of future action for art and design.)

and politics (egIn discussion around Lucy Sargisson’s work on intentional communities,the kibbutz and Auroville were brought up as examples we could critique.).

 What is a concrete or everyday utopia?

How are critical dystopias actually utopian? 

 

 

 

Reference:
Deterritorial Support Group (2011) Ten Growth Markets for Crisis, A Trend Forecast https://deterritorialsupportgroup.wordpress.com/2011/12/07/ten-growth-markets-for-crisis/

Levitas, R. (2010) Preface to 2nd edition and introduction, in The Concept of Utopia. Oxford: Peter Lang.

Moylan, T (2014) Introduction, in Demand the Impossible: Science Fiction and the Utopian Imagination. Oxford: Peter Lang.

Muñoz, JE (2009) Introduction: Feeling Utopia, in Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity, New York: New York University Press, 2009.

http://www.londondesignbiennale.com

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