Anticipating Utopia: Utopian Narrative and an Ontology of Representation

  • Jennifer A. Wagner-LawlorEmail author
Living reference work entry


While the words “utopia” and “anticipation” frequently appear together in discussions of the concepts of utopia and dystopia, little attention to the relationship of Anticipation Studies to utopian studies exists. Moreover, the relevance of literature and the arts to Anticipation Studies seems almost (not quite) invisible. This essay focuses on the structuring of the original utopian narrative, Sir Thomas More’s Utopia (The Utopia of Sir Thomas More. New York: Macmillan [1895 edition] 1516), in order to understand how this seminal text conceptualizes utopia’s relation to past, present, and future. This analysis focuses on the complex framing devices characteristic of utopian narrative, as well as its open-endedness. The embedding of narratives sets up the dynamic movement between past, present, and future – the various forms of temporality – that allows us to clarify the nature of utopian anticipation.

Throughout the chapter, I attempt to connect utopian textual and conceptual theory to specific concepts in the emerging field of Anticipation Studies, with which Utopian Studies, a long-established interdisciplinary field, have not yet engaged. Of particular interest is the notion, promoted by Miguel Abensour, that utopia is always a disruption and thus not an anticipation in any “natural” or logical sense: “what matters is the orientation toward what is different, the wish for the advent of a radical alterity here and now” (Constellations 15(3): 407, 2008). From this premise, we can reintroduce a neglected literary term from science fiction theorist, Darko Suvin: the novum. The eruption of a future from a point of radical alterity – an ontological accident – opens up radical implication for the nature of utopian anticipation and futurity.

Finally the essay suggests that Robert Poli’s and Robert Rosen’s description of an anticipatory system as comprising “the predictive model of itself” within the genre’s formal characteristics is in fact present in the structure of the utopian narratives: that is, that the persistence of utopia – as a literary genre and as a political concept – inheres in the narratological structuring of the possibility of another story and another listener. Utopian narrative thus ultimately anticipates not only temporal relationality, but an ethical relation between the outside narrator, the utopian traveler/narrator, and the reader. It anticipates another story.


Utopia Narrative Literature Plasticity Alterity and difference Persistence Process theory Speculation and Speculative Standpoint Performativity Historicization of the present Novum Virtual Reality 


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies and EnglishThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA

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