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268Rocky Mountain Review thoroughly and who writes with confidence of important things. MARILYN ARNOLD Brigham Young University PETER RUPPERT. Reader in a Strange Land: The Activity ofReading Literary Utopias. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1986. 193 p. Xeter Ruppert's Reader in a Strange Land is an attempt to apply literary theories on semiotics and reader response to the Utopian novel. Since reader response criticism is a fairly new field and since Ruppert's book is, as far as I know, the first monograph in the area, he performs a valuable service to those interested in Utopian thought. He summarizes the weaknesses in Utopian literature which have led to the present lack of respect for the genre: on the one hand, it has failed to inspire the achievement of a perfect society which many readers expect from it; on the other hand, its dullness and rigidity make it a failure as fantastic literature. Ruppert defends the Utopian genre by stressing its effect on the reader. By engaging the reader in a dialogue, by challenging existing social values and disturbing and provoking the reader, the successful Utopian text activates and liberates us rather than leaving us passive and complacent. The reader thus plays an essential role as an "active producer of meaning" which "grows out of the interplay between social fact and Utopian dream" (6). The same utopia will produce different responses from readers because it is essentially a "work in progress," both subversive and constructive at the same time. According to Ruppert, there are two general types ofUtopian readers: those primarily interested in its sociopolitical functions and those who approach it as imaginative fiction. The first type, those who read utopias primarily as blueprints for perfection, do not make a sufficient distinction between nonfiction and fiction, fail to take into account the contradictions and paradoxes inherent in Utopia's apparent realism, and blur the distinction between utopia and history. Ruppert clearly prefers readers of the second type, among whom he differentiates three different schools ofthought: those who, like Darko Suvin, read utopias in terms of cognitive estrangement and value them for their usefulness in defamiliarizing the reader with the prevailing ideology; those who, like Northrop Frye, see them as therapeutic and mythic; and those — futurists like Alvin Toff1er and Marxists like Ernst Bloch and Louis Marin — who emphasize the "anticipatory" aspects of the genre. These diverse readings make it clear that Utopian literature is not as programmatic and onedimensional as it is often assumed to be, and that if we focus on the dialectic at the heart of utopia we will appreciate its essential value. In an expansion of this thesis, Ruppert discusses in detail the theories of Darko Suvin and of Gary Saul Morson, as well as Wolfgang Iser's TAe Act ofReading, from which comes the idea that literary utopias are best understood as a dialectical model "in which reader and text are welded together in mutual dependence" (55). From the "reader oriented criticism" of Iser, Umberto Eco, and others, he draws the distinction between "open" texts that invite the participation ofthe reader and "closed" texts that produce a more precise and passive response (60). Since for Ruppert the primary value of Utopian texts lies in their ambiguities, equivocations, and contradictions, the "open" text is the more useful. However, even books as apparently "closed" as Bellamy's Looking Backward can serve to "startle and confound the reader" (73) into Book Reviews269 becoming an active participant. The sort of utopia which Ruppert prefers is the "open-ended" or ambiguous utopia, which provides a "critical investigation into Utopian values" rather than an ahistorical vision ofperfect happiness (126). His best examples are Wells' A Modern Utopia, Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time, and LeGuin's TAe Dispossessed. Ruppert's emphasis on the deliberate ambiguities and paradoxes ofutopia opens up interesting new ways of looking at material we had come to regard as fixed and uninspiring, and his thesis is closely argued and stimulating. However, he devotes more space in his short book to what other critics have said than to the texts themselves. Ruppert inclines toward broad generalizations that do not always hold up in the light of actual...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-2833
Print ISSN
1948-2825
Pages
pp. 268-269
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-06
Open Access
No
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