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Reviewed by:
  • Morus—Utopia e Renascimento, No. 6
  • Fátima Vieira
Carlos Eduardo Ornelas Berriel , dir. Morus—Utopia e Renascimento, No. 6. Campinas: Unicamp, 2009. 464 pp. Paperback, ISSN: 1808-561X.

No. 6 of Morus—Utopia e Renascimento consists of the minutes of the II International Conference of Utopian Studies held at the University of Campinas, Brazil, in June 2009. The title of the conference was "What Is Utopia? Genres and Modes of Representation." The poster used to publicize the conference—a reproduction of Magritte's Perspicacy, where the painter, using an egg for a model, paints a bird—is displayed on the cover of the volume and gives good expression to the editor's intention "to determine the literary nature of utopia and define modalities of its definition as a genre, as well as to examine the feasibility of such a project." The volume benefits from the contributions of a large number of authors from a wide range of fields of research: "History, Philosophy, Literature, Anthropology, History of Art, Linguistics, Psychology, Politics, Sociology, Architecture, Urbanism, and Rhetoric" (19).

The volume provides us with an exact idea of the way the conference was organized, from its very beginning, including a note on the program, the program itself, and the opening remarks by the organizer, Carlos Berriel. Altogether, forty-three articles are published, in several languages: twenty-six in Portuguese, eleven in Italian, three in French, two in Spanish, and one in English. Of these, only ten articles address the topic of the conference, but the variety and relevance of the perspectives presented fully justify the thematic organization of this issue and render a fair picture of the success of the conference. The other articles mainly deal with case studies, which, albeit laterally, contribute to the discussion of the nature of utopia. Such is the case of [End Page 185] Costica Bradatan's and Jorge Bastos da Silva's refreshing readings of Thomas More's Utopia or Carlos Berriel's examination of Campanella's imagination, among other possible examples. Many other utopists and utopian works deserve the attention of the contributors, from Plato to our days (with special consideration for Brazilian writers and works), giving an idea of the wide range of interests of the contributors to the volume, on the one hand, and the refusal, on the part of the majority of them, to subscribe to a restrictive (literary) definition of utopia, on the other.

The articles that directly deal with the problem of the definition of utopia have been mostly authored by academics who have published widely on the topic. Such is the case of Jean-Michel Racault, Arrigo Colombo, Vita Fortunati, Peter Kuon, and Cosimo Quarta, all of whom receive attention within this book review.

Michel Racault defends the idea that the notion of perfection in classical utopias is ambiguous in the sense that the perfect society is presented not as an ideal to be fulfilled—nor is it even perceived as something desirable—but as a means for a critical analysis of the existing societies or a heuristic hypothesis for imaginary exploration, a sort of anthropological-theological speculation on "possible laterals." Racault shows that some of the most famous classical utopias end up by losing their exemplarity by resorting to the cases of Foigny's hermaphrodites and Swift's Houynhnms, who are not "proper human beings" and who live in societies whose perfection is not compatible with the societies of "real human beings." Arrigo Colombo departs from the distinction between literary utopias and historical utopias to emphasize the importance of the latter. The historical utopia is based on the idea that a project by an author cannot truly change society; change depends on the desire and intervention of a movement of discontented people, and utopia should be seen as a project of and for humanity, something that takes time and which contributes to the construction of a society based on the principle of justice. Vita Fortunati reflects on the so often commented crisis (and death) of utopian thought and utopian literature in the twentieth century. She suggests that we can find, in the dystopian fashion of novelists such as Le Guin and Robinson, a potent heuristic value...


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