- Nowhere in the Middle Ages by Karma Lochrie
Nowhere in the Middle Ages begins with the premise that modern scholars believe that Thomas More's Utopia emerged from nowhere and that utopianism was the pure invention of More. In other words it had no past and the conception of utopianism, except for the medieval idea of New Jerusalem, did not exist before the early sixteenth century. Lochrie states that the boundaries of utopian studies in modern scholarship have been limited by this lack of a past for Utopia, and sets out to demonstrate that utopianism was 'somewhere' in the Middle Ages.
Instead of looking backwards from More to the Middle Ages Lochrie reads forward from the medieval utopian texts to More's Utopia. To establish the existence of utopian thought in the Middle Ages she believes that there is a need to establish a set of historical and theoretical questions other than those that are traditionally set for the study of utopianism after the sixteenth century. In short, there is a need to set new parameters to define utopianism. She first establishes four principles: (1) there is no need for utopianism to be concerned with the ideal society or a place; (2) it is not to be restricted to a single expression or genre, (3) it must be perceived to be located in productive dialogue with More's Utopia; and (4) the texts that she has chosen in this monograph are not intended to be exhaustive of medieval utopianism.
The main body of the monograph consists of five chapters, the first four looking at different aspects of utopianism from the Middle Ages and the last revealing how these aspects are embodied in More's text. Chapter 1 examines Cicero's Dream of Scipio, as known through Macrobius's Commentary, and Kepler's Somnium. Both of these texts involve travelling through other worlds, lunar and celestial, but neither defines a social blueprint for reform. After his death Scipio travels the celestial spheres and reflects back at the Earth. The Dream of Scipio offers the 'capacious philosophical parameters [End Page 233] for a cosmographic perspective on humanity's place in the world and the ethical placement' (p. 17). In a footnote Kepler states that he had Macrobius in mind when writing in Somnium of travels to an island named Levania (the moon). Both texts might or might not actually have a 'place'. Both texts share a utopian optic which stimulates philosophical and self- reflection that resemble scientific principles of cosmology. The texts should be considered as being utopianist without Utopia. Chapter 2 considers the fourteenth-century Middle English version of The Land of Cokaygne and the early thirteenth century French version Le fabliau de Cocagne. The land is an island defined by its abundance of food, drink, leisure, and the absence of work. There is no need for class disparities and the island is dedicated to pleasure. Lochrie demonstrates how enduring the concepts in The Land of Cokaygne are and remain a point of focus in the twentieth century. Chapter 3 examines the fourteenth-century text Mandeville's Travels, a travel story of the journey from Europe to Jerusalem and into Asia, and it considers the monstrous people and practices of the East. It acts as a mirror to invert worlds yet remains intact. It aspires to utopian possibilities in society. Chapter 4 considers William Langland's fourteenth-century poem Piers Plowman as describing a quest for the true Christian life. Its utopianism lies in its consciousness that embraces a social form of collective will. Chapter 5 reveals how these texts are related to Utopia.
Many Utopian scholars may be surprised at the initial premise of Nowhere in the Middle Ages that Utopia has no past. More was a humanist and most definitely was more interested in reviving ancient Greek and Roman thought, but he did not turn his back on medieval scholarship. More worked with Erasmus on his translations of the Greek satirist Lucian, which...