Accessing utopia through altered states of consciousness: three feminist utopian novels *. (Essays).
In this essay I address the process of accessing utopian visions in three feminist utopian novels. I contend that these altered states, which include dreams, trances, meditations and hallucinations, are intrinsically related to the texts' vision of feminist utopianism as rooted in creating a new spiritual and political consciousness. Debates relevant to this discussion include the idea of the "mental utopia," women's spirituality, ecofeminism and also feminist critiques that argue that women's experience of madness could lead to spiritual vision and transformation.
The three novels under discussion are Dorothy Bryant's The Kin of Ata are Waiting for You, Starhawk's The Fifth Sacred Thing, and Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time. These texts have been selected firstly, because in all three accessing utopia takes place through a specific process of altering states of consciousness. These altered states range widely from dreaming and meditation to psychic healing, telepathy, and psychotic hallucinations, thus the texts consider a broad repertoire of altered states whilst consistently linking these experiences with utopian possibilities. Secondly, all three texts have been widely read and discussed within the context of utopian and feminist utopian literature, without reference to their consideration of altered states: this essay will address this neglect. It should be noted however that an extensive range of feminist utopian novels also explores the connections between utopia and altered states. Texts of particular interest include Sally Miller Gearhart's The Wanderground: Stories of the Hill Women; Donna J. Young's Retreat: As it Was!; Rochelle Singer's The Demeter Flower; Joan Slonczewski's A Door into Ocean; Racoona Sheldon's [Alice Sheldon] `Your Faces, O My Sisters! Your Faces Filled of Light!'; and Nicola Griffith's Ammonite. (2)
"Mental utopias" or "euspychias" are utopias constructed by the mind, and emerge from philosophical idealism, the belief that the external world is created by the psyche. Jose Eduardo dos Reis explains: `for idealist philosophy, the world is a mental phenomenon ruled by spatio-temporal determinations and logical categories, the so-called a priori forms of knowledge, that are inherent to mental processes [...] to idealise does not mean to beautify or to perfect, but to make present (to re-present) the world through the mediation of the ideas and images of the knowing subject' (46). Reis argues that within this context utopianism can be represented as just another idea or state of mind. This view links with the idea of utopia as a state of temporality, as Reis claims that utopian texts often: `deploy coeval, past or futurist idealisations. Since it results from the will to perfect and live a better life, utopia is, therefore, a state of consciousness with different temporal ramifications, somehow existing with other states of consciousness directed toward the representation of the actual state of the world' (49). Reis, referring to the work of Ernst Bloch, argues that this utopian state of consciousness can (only) be achieved by accessing the "lived moment" which would involve `some kind of ontological transformation [...] a sort of epiphanic experience, purely immanent within the structure of the world, in which everything is seen as it truly is' (52). The feminist utopian texts under discussion often manipulate the temporality of past, present and future, as the narratives pursue this utopian "lived moment" or immanence.
The belief in the mutability of human nature and the world, and in the power of the mind to activate fundamental changes in society, can be linked to a number of philosophical and political theories. The psychoanalytic works of Erich Fromm, Norman O. Brown and Herbert Marcuse all argue, from different viewpoints, that the activation of fundamental changes in society would lead to the creation of a new consciousness. In The Fear of Freedom, Fromm argues that in order to avoid alienation and loneliness a utopian society should be centred on making spontaneous connections with others and nature. Consequently, this fusion with others would necessitate a fundamental change in consciousness. As Brown also argues, the act of changing consciousness implies a change in the unconscious; in Life Against Death, Brown claims that the development of a healthy culture will only be possible if we rid ourselves of repression, and therefore the unconscious, altogether. Brown, like Fromm, also calls for a return to nature as a process of healing in order to overcome alienation from the self. In Eros and Civilization, Marcuse argues that our ultimate goal in society should be liberation from repression, which would lead to a new consciousness. Marcuse claims that the realm of phantasy, which is dominated by the pleasure principle, acts as a utopian space in which to critique reality. In a healthy society, the pleasure principle would dominate our mental activities, and therefore a new consciousness would prevail. (3) However, while all three of these writers attempt to develop a theory of the utopian psyche, they all fail to provide any analysis of gender in their works, and, therefore, do not explore the connections between gender and the psyche or gender and utopia, which for the purposes of any feminist analysis are fundamental flaws.
The idea of the mental utopia or utopian psyche occurs repeatedly within feminist utopian literature, as utopian change is perceived to be a product of the ability to fantasise. Rosemary Jackson has argued that literary fantasy is always produced within, and determined by, its social context, thus: `the literary fantastic is never free [...] fantasy characteristically attempts to compensate for a lack resulting from cultural constraints: it is a literature of desire, which seeks that which is experienced as absence or loss' (3). Jackson emphasises the subversive aspects of fantasy, and describes abnormal psychological states such as hallucinations, dreams and insanity as being common in fantastic texts. The relationship between fantasy and utopianism has been touched on briefly by Lyman Tower Sargent, who claims that: `at its base utopianism is social dreaming, and includes elements of fantasy, most commonly early in the history of utopianism, but they never entirely disappear--probably because a degree of fantasy is necessary to human psychic health. But, of course, to get lost in fantasy is dangerous to that health' (4). In the same essay, Sargent identifies two traditions within utopian literature--the "body utopia" and the "city utopia", the former emphasising sensual gratification and the utopian body, which would include psyche, and the latter emphasising the ideal city or state. The three novels under discussion clearly fall into the category of body utopias, although all three authors do refer to some extent to architecture and the physical structuring of the community. The focus on the body/mind as the locus of utopian change makes the interest in fantasy a natural one if as Sargent states, `utopianism is social dreaming'. The dual propensity of fantasy to be both healthy and yet potentially dangerous has led some critics of utopianism to reject it out of hand, but, as Sargent concludes, once this conflict has been accepted, to then reject utopianism per se inevitably `produces both personal and social pathology' (28). Clearly the line between utopianism and personal pathology, or "madness" is one fraught with danger. Ernst Bloch in The Principle of Hope confirms this view, claiming that utopian thinking can often be linked with lunacy, paranoia, neuroses and delusions (92, 473). He argues strongly for the similarities between the utopian thinker and the schizophrenic and the paranoiac: `[a]lmost every utopia in fact, whether medical, social or technological, has paranoiac caricatures; for every real innovator there are hundreds of fantastic, unreal, mad ones. If one could fish out the mad ideas which are swimming around in the aura of lunatic asylums [...] we would find the most astonishing prefigurations created by paranoia' (93). Later he concludes that, `a utopian talent slips off the rails in a paranoid way, indeed almost voluntarily succumbs to a delusion [...] in the case of great utopians--we see that there is also method in their madness, (473). Bloch here presents a dialectical view of both utopianism and madness, one moment arguing for a fine line between the utopian and the mad person, and the next unable to separate the two at all. He therefore highlights the complexity of the relationship between the two, and reiterates Sargent's point that there are dual propensities within fantasy.
Focusing more specifically on women's fiction, Kathleen Komar argues that women writers have created literary utopian spaces in which to negotiate the relationship between madness and fantasy. Komar identifies two strategies in the treatment of space in women's fiction; the first is the exploration of female space in the external world, and the second is the interior space of the female mind. This interior space is textualised through fiction, as the text itself becomes a female space of definition and affirmation of the female (90-1). This use of the text to explore female spaces, Komar argues, is a strategy to avoid madness. Komar traces the ways that, `[f]emale characters retreat into the interior space of the mind [...] Female characters have long retrenched in the attic spaces of madness. But contemporary female characters often re-emerge from their bouts with near madness to declare a new, relational sense of the self [...] which emphasises preoedipal relationships and interpersonal connectedness' (98). She adds, `[t]his ego flexibility and relational thinking helps some contemporary women characters to escape madness into a new space of psychological, spiritual, and social relationships.' (98). Creating a female self through language, the text itself is transformed into a re-visionary site. Thus, Komar argues that women can create mental utopias within literary texts: `[t]he space of the literary text becomes a site of critical rethinking and often of female rebirth. The textual space allows women writers to create new psychological shapes that displace the hierarchical patriarchal structures in favour of relationship, communality, and interiority. This new literary space authorises women to throw a few new curves into contemporary culture' (105).
While it could be argued that `altered states of consciousness' cannot effect change in the material world, and that these utopias therefore represent a bleak form of escapism for women and a retreat into their psyches, I disagree. All of the texts discussed affirm the interaction between consciousness and the world. According to Jackson, the ability to fantasise often represents unconscious desires for change in the world. These desires, once articulated through utopian texts, can then act to problematise cultural stability. As David Harvey remarks in his recent work Spaces of Hope, `[t]hrough changing our world we change ourselves. How then, can any of us talk about social change without at the same time being prepared, both mentally and physically, to change ourselves' (234-5)? From a feminist perspective, Carol Christ expresses a similar view regarding the notion that the social and spiritual are intimately entwined and mutually interactive: 'women's spiritual quest provides new visions of individual and shared power that can inspire a transformation of culture and society [...] Women's spiritual quest thus is not an alternative to women's social quest, but rather is one dimension of the larger quest women have embarked upon to create a new world' (131).
The three texts under discussion are embedded in discourses of women's spirituality and ecofeminism, which are profoundly utopian in their search for alternative ways of living and being. Writing on feminist spirituality has evolved from cultural feminism of the 1970s and 80s, which argues for a distinct women's culture and experience; furthermore, cultural feminists frequently emphasise the role of the mind or consciousness in creating and changing the external world. Cultural feminism has been effectively utilised by many feminist utopian writers, such as Sally Miller Gearhart, Donna J. Young and E.M. Broner who open up a narrative space for women in which to explore feminist possibilities. Cultural feminists have been accused of essentialism because they argue for and emphasise sexual differences between men and women. However, this debate has been problematised because many cultural feminists argue that differences between men and women are not natural or biological, but cultural and psychic, and therefore can be changed, if culture and the psyche are transformed. However, while cultural feminism remains locked within conventional notions of sexual difference, however produced, ideas about utopian transformation are necessarily limited within binary gender paradigms.
Carol Christ, who writes from a cultural and spiritual feminist perspective, argues that women's spiritual quest seeks `a wholeness that unites the dualisms of spirit and body, rational and irrational, nature and freedom, spiritual and social, life and death, which have plagued Western consciousness' (8). Arguing that consciousness-raising has been fundamental to feminist changes and to women's awakening to feminist and spiritual possibilities, Christ roots women's spirituality in wholeness and spiritual integration, which, she believes, can (and will) effect real change in women's lives. Mary Daly reiterates this notion of a powerful woman-centred consciousness, which she believes needs only to be recognised and accessed by women in order to effect transformation. She claims that the women's movement has `the revolutionary potential of women's liberation for challenging the forms in which consciousness incarnates itself and for changing consciousness' (7). Consequently, a new space will be opened up, `a new space, in which women are free to become who we are, in which there are real and significant alternatives to the prefabricated identities provided within the enclosed spaces of patriarchal institutions' (40). While Daly is clearly essentialist on many levels because of her beliefs in innate gender characteristics in men and women, I think that parts of her work are useful because she expresses a belief in utopian transformation in women's lives. Starhawk is another writer who speaks powerfully on the issue of women's spiritual and political consciousness. Starhawk, who describes her work as uniting the spiritual and the political, is a writer and proponent of Goddess spirituality (Dreaming xxv). Her works, both fictional and non-fictional, constantly return to the issue of changing consciousness. She articulates new modes of thinking towards social and spiritual change through dreaming, asking, `[h]ow do we find the dark within and transform it, own it as our own power? How do we dream it into a new image, dream it into actions that will change the world into a place where no more horror stories happen, where there are no more victims' (Dreaming xxvii)? The dark within, which could be glossed as the dystopian elements within society, can and must be transformed, Starhawk argues, specifically through changing consciousness, through gaining power-from-within. Power-from-within, or `immanence' (Starhawk's' term, which links with the discussion above) could be articulated as a spiritual power emanating from the Goddess, or could more simply be located in the self. Utopian change can only be achieved, she argues, through `the art of changing consciousness at will' (Dreaming 13), which is the key to all of her writings. In her view, changing consciousness can be achieved through mundane activities such as protest, letter writing and speeches, but also through psychic development; ultimately, however, changing consciousness involves making connections with one another and with the earth. In her practical work in Goddess worship, Starhawk utilises trance states as a means of ritual, `I see "trance" not as one particular state, but as many fluid possibilities of consciousness. I know that human beings naturally move in and out of these states all the time' (Dreaming xvi). Starhawk's writing and political activities exemplify vital links between ideas and action; she lives according to her ideals, writing of her beliefs and visions of the future, promoting Goddess worship, and campaigning for ecological and political sustainability. Spiritual ecofeminism is therefore rooted in a new consciousness of the world that we live in, and of the possibilities of transformation for the future; articulating both an individual change in consciousness, and a communal vision of consciousness as connection to one another and nature.
Altering states of consciousness and spiritual transformation are key issues in feminist debates on women's madness. The works of feminists, post-structuralists, ecofeminists and writers on women's spirituality have all been utilised by feminist writers who argue for a re-conceptualisation of the meanings of women's madness. Feminist debates on women's madness are wide-ranging, but many writers argue that madness itself is a social construct and that women are more likely to suffer "madness" as a consequence of their oppression within society, and therefore that madness is gendered. These debates have been strongly influenced by the work of the anti-psychiatrists of the 1960s such as Thomas Szasz, R.D. Laing and David Cooper. Szasz, Laing and Cooper attempted to expose the ideological nature of psychiatry; Szasz for example espoused the view that there is no such thing as mental illness, and that society, through psychiatry, has designated certain behaviours to be `sick' rather than acknowledge them as rule-breaking, deviant, or different to the social norm. In a similar vein, Laing argued that `madness need not be a breakdown. It may also be a breakthrough. It is potentially liberation and renewal as well as enslavement and existential death' (133). Feminist writers such as Phyllis Chesler, Jane Ussher and Denise Russell claim that the experience of madness for women could be potentially liberating and healing; however, the fact that it is not is because madness has been circumscribed within the medical model and defined as sickness and disease. All of these writers accept the negative and destructive elements in the experience of madness within contemporary society, and these experiences should not be ignored or underplayed. However, they also argue that because madness is experienced entirely through its social construction as sickness, that alternative ways of interpreting "mad" experiences can be developed in a way that emphasises spiritual growth and knowledge. They therefore open up a (utopian) space in which the possibilities of mad experiences can be discussed. Phyllis Chesler, for example, draws extensively on myths of goddess figures in her classic text Women and Madness, because, she argues, they represent potent symbols of female spirituality, strength, and power that are not found in contemporary patriarchal society. The utopian vision of madness that these writers present is one of personal growth and transformation, of plugging into energies and powers that cannot be accessed normally, and are connected to a greater awareness of the earth and nature (Christ 66). In a similar vein, Doris Lessing argues in her fiction that women labelled as mad are in fact accessing altered states of consciousness, which can be immensely liberating and educative. She links these experiences with psychic powers such as telepathy, which she claims can be consciously developed, and could act as the key to utopian changes in the future. Thus, in these writings, madness is reinterpreted as an alternative state of consciousness that engages with ideas of women's spirituality. Indeed, Chesler's utopian solution to women's madness is that women need to experience a shift in consciousness that will allow them to nurture themselves and each other in order to gain power over their own lives and identities (321-23). (4) This psychological transformation links with the psychoanalytic theories discussed above that emphasise the importance of individuals making connections with one another, whilst adding gender to the discussion. While these feminist writers articulate madness as a product of social oppression, they also therefore forge links with discourses on subjectivity and repression.
Within the different oppositional movements of the 1960s and 70s, therefore, developing alternative states of consciousness as a means of political resistance was clearly prevalent. As Debra Michals notes, `[t]he 1960s were awash with countercultural strategies for social revolution, many of which built upon varying notions of `consciousness' as the key to overhauling society. For these groups, consciousness referred to adopting a new perception, becoming aware of the ways in which the existing patriarchal, capitalistic order co-opted the individual's core human existence and identity' (42). In the women's liberation movement, consciousness-raising was utilised as a political tool to empower women, in order that they might make the connection between their personal problems and social and political issues. In the counterculture, it was commonly believed that "deconditioning" the mind from mainstream values was critical if social transformation was ever to be possible: `[t]o rid oneself of the drives that produced aggression, authoritarianism, sexism, racism, intolerance, and sexual repression, counterculturists sought to disinherit pernicious social conditioning through a process alternately dubbed "deschooling," "reimprinting," or "deconditioning"' (Braunstein & Doyle 15). While this process could be facilitated by the taking of drugs, such as LSD, other means of deconditioning the mind included major lifestyle changes as individuals "Turn[ed] on, Tune[d] in, [and] Dropped Out" (5) through experimentation in alternative religions, unconventional sexual relationships and alternative living arrangements, such as communal living. (6) Thus within the women's liberation movement, the burgeoning women's spirituality movement, within the counterculture, and within areas of psychoanalysis and anti-psychiatry, altered states were celebrated as a means of liberation from conventional modes of thinking and being. Clearly, it is no coincidence that these disparate (but often intersecting) movements were all turning inwards towards the mind for the answers to social problems. And it is certainly no coincidence that feminist utopian writers followed suit in exploring further the possibilities of altered states. This emphasis on consciousness and on developing alternative states of consciousness as a means of accessing utopia is explicitly explored in three feminist utopian novels, which I will now discuss.
Dorothy Bryant's (7) The Kin of Ata are Waiting For You, first published in 1971 (under the title of The Comforter) follows the spiritual growth and transformation of the narrator, a misogynislic thriller writer, who, though materially successful, is psychologically and emotionally barren. In the utopian Ata, he discovers his spiritual self through his renewed dream life. The utopianism of the novel unfolds through representations of various altered states of consciousness, primarily through dreaming. Dreaming is both a means of accessing utopia, and comprises utopia itself. As a means of accessing utopia, it works in a number of ways. The world of Ata is experienced by the narrator primarily through a dream: after crashing his car, he is plunged into his familiar nightmares of shadows and death, and when he wakes up in Ata he at first thinks that the murder he has just committed and the car crash were a dream. "Reality" and "non-reality" continue to be confused as he sits for long periods in the darkness of the ka, (the Atan word for home) thinking he has gone blind and deaf, for there is nothing to see, and no one to speak to. As he says, `I seemed to hang between two dark places, the nightmare of my death--sleep and this waking to blackness and shadows out of my sleep' (8). After he has learned to communicate with the Atans he learns that they in fact live to dream. Their sleep and dream time is more "real" to them than their waking lives. All aspire to be strong dreamers, and live their lives in order to dream well. Indeed, those who have waking dreams are viewed as particularly privileged.
Ata is clearly a utopian society, because it is represented as better than the outside world. Offering its inhabitants the opportunity for complete spiritual fulfilment and an end to repression, Atan life is structured completely around dreaming. The Atans' dreams dictate how they live their lives, although they accept that the messages of dreams are always opaque. "`[Y]ou believe in these dreams. You think they are reality?' The narrator asks Chil-Sing, an Atan inhabitant. "`Yes, they are reality."' Chil-Sing replies. Frustrated, the narrator retorts, "'But they happen only in your head!"' (66). Chil-Sing disagrees, but later demurs, `"Maybe you are the reality, and dreams are only dreams. From the beginning of time the kin of Ata have kept the way. Maybe your way is better"' (80). Here, Chil-Sing demonstrates the Atans' ability to allow alternative perspectives to influence their convictions. The Atans refuse any form of fixed ideologies or beliefs, believing only that they must strive to read their dreams accurately, for these are their only form of guidance in life. If their dreams offer new forms of knowledge, these become integrated into their philosophies. However they also acknowledge that they cannot read their dreams accurately yet, if at all, thus the ontological status of their "dream" lives is constantly disrupted. It is also important to note that Atans can appear in one another's dreams, and through dreaming can communicate with someone living in the "real" outside world; thus dreaming crosses several boundaries of individual and shared experience. While the narrator is healed psychologically and emotionally through his experience of dreaming in Ata, when he returns to the outside world at the end of the novel, he "wakes up" in a hospital immediately after the car crash, although he has lived in Ata for over 20 years. As a result, he remains unsure what constitutes "dream" and what constitutes "reality". He eventually realises, or accepts, that both worlds are real, because whatever he believes in becomes real to him. Bryant therefore emphasises subjectivism in her development of the characters and the narrative.
Commenting on The Kin of Ata are Waiting for You, Carol Pearson argues that the narrator 'steps off the edge of his own time into the core of his own integrity' and that he is only able to do so because of the release from linear time that the novel develops (`Of Time' 265). As the narrator comments, "`Time doesn't exist here," I told Augustine. "There is only now," she agreed. "It's because nothing changes." "Change comes, but very slow and sudden," she said. "You contradict yourself." "Yes"' (173). Pearson locates a new political theory in contemporary feminist utopian fiction that is based on the principles that: time is linear and relative; that although past, present, and future all co-exist, change can only occur in the present; and that moving into the utopian future involves taking responsibility for our own lives and also relinquishing control of everything (`Of Time' 260-1). Significantly, Pearson links this theory with mysticism or spirituality and psychic phenomena. She argues that these transformed views of time and causality indicate a new political practice which involves claiming our own lives in the present moment, and not waiting for political consensus, for only then can we, `take a leap of faith to be citizens of a utopian society--in progress--today' (`Of Time' 268). This theory provides a helpful approach to the reading of The Kin of Ata are Waiting for You, and also to Woman on the Edge of Time, for both texts manipulate time in order to access the "lived moment" as discussed above.
In addition to the radical destabilisation of the categories of "dream" and "reality," the novel also represents further examples of altered states of consciousness. Trances complement dream states: strong dreamers, such as Sbgai, Augustine, Salvatore, and later the narrator, all experience prolonged trance states in order to achieve higher levels of consciousness. Additionally, Augustine can read thoughts, has healing powers, and on one occasion effectively wills a tree to burst into flames. The Atans also have powerful mental powers when they focus as a group, as the communities shared consciousness activates utopian change. When a plane flies overhead they all freeze, and become invisible so that they remain unseen: this action protects Ata from discovery by the outside world, which would inevitably lead to its destruction. Similarly, when a ship heads for the island, everyone concentrates and the island itself vanishes from sight.
Dreaming also exists as utopia itself, because in Ata the object of life is to dream. Dreaming is both the end product of life, and also the means to achieving utopia. To dream is therefore to engage with utopia, to engage with the possibilities of life. Bryant suggests that utopia is both in and of the world: it is a perpetually present possibility. (8) The purpose of dreaming in the novel also holds further significance, because the Atans' way of life acts as a counter-balance to the `insanity' of the outside world, sustaining its existence.
Starhawk's The Fifth Sacred Thing, first published in 1993, is a novel written within the context of the Goddess and ecology movements. The narrative is set in post-Apocalyptic San Francisco in the year 2048, where the inhabitants have set up a utopian community. Outside San Francisco, war rages between the Millennialists, the totalitarian fundamentalist government, and anyone who resists their politics. The Millennialists seek to take over the utopian city, and battle begins between the two factions. But the war engaged in is one of imagination and consciousness, because the utopian citizens refuse to commit violence. As Maya, one of the central utopian characters argues:
The only war that counts is the war against the imagination [...] all war is first waged in the imagination, first conducted to limit our dreams and visions, to make us accept within ourselves its terms, to believe that our only choices are those that it lays before us. If we let the terms of force describe the terrain of our battle, we will lose. But if we hold to the power of our vision, our heartbeats, our imagination, we can fight on our own turf, which is the landscape of consciousness. There, the enemy cannot help but transform. (The Fifth 238)
The San Franciscans fight their war of passive resistance, refusing to be drawn into the processes of violence and antagonism with which the enemy engages. Instead, they continually offer the soldiers a place at their table and a chance to live in the utopian city, rather than to fight them. They also take up the haunting of soldiers who have killed members of their families. Methods like these ultimately succeed in saving the utopian city, although not without the loss of many lives.
The people are able to carry out their non-violent actions because they live with the belief that there are four sacred things: earth, air, fire and water. As they declare: `[t]he earth is a living, conscious being. In company with cultures of many different times and places, we name these things as sacred: air, fire, water, earth. Whether we see them as the breath, energy, blood and body of the Mother, or as the blessed girls of a creator, or as symbols of the interconnected systems that sustain life, we know that nothing can live without them' (The Fifth Preface). This belief in the consciousness of the earth, and their subsequent respect for it, leads to celebration of the four sacred things, through the manifestation of the fifth sacred thing, spirit, the most important of all. Through their conscious relationship with the earth, nature, and each other, the utopians achieve a psychic connection. Madrone, a healer in the city, can reach into a sick person's body and channel energy or ch'i into them. She can also view the structure of disease in the body, and fight it through her mental connection. Described by the outside world as "witches" for their ability to shift energies and heal, the utopians have structured their society around their belief in immanence, or power-from-within, described above.
This ability to effect magic or, in other words, to change consciousness at will, sustains the utopian reality of the text. But this utopian reality remains unstable, perpetually at risk from the dystopian possibilities that exist not only outside the city, but also within the self. As Maya explains, there is the Good Reality (El Mundo) and the Bad Reality (El Mundo Malo), which constantly vie with one another: `in the Good Reality you have a mild headache, in the Bad Reality you have a fatal brain disease [...] we walk in the Good Reality as if we were treading the thin skin on warm milk. It's always possible to break through and drown' (The Fifth 44). The line between utopia and dystopia is very fragile in The Fifth Sacred Thing, and the action constantly veers into the Bad Reality. Consequently, the text retains a problematic dualism between good and evil, which are set in binary opposition to one another. The narrative therefore retreats from a radical destabilisation of dualisms that would have opened the text up to further utopian possibilities, in a way that is available in Woman on the Edge of Time.
Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time was first published in 1976, and is the most well known of the three texts. Written within the context of socialist feminism in the 1970s and the anti-psychiatry movements of the period, the novel engages with key debates within these discourses. The text portrays the representation of utopia through shifts in consciousness, as Piercy presents her utopian vision through the perspective of "hallucinations". (9) Society labels Connie, the central character in the novel, as inherently sick and mad. Defined as a schizophrenic by the medical establishment for behaviours perceived as irrational and violent, Connie is positioned at the locus of a number of oppressive practices, the label of madness being only one of them. Piercy uses madness within the context of the utopian genre in order to blur the boundaries between states of consciousness deemed "mad" and those defined as "utopian." In so doing, Piercy disrupts constructed notions of sanity and insanity, arguing that madness is a gendered construct in patriarchal society, exploited by those in power and used as a means of oppression. In the process, she attempts to deconstruct the culturally erected boundaries between health and sickness, mental health and madness. (10)
In The Kin of Ata are Waiting for You altered states are explicitly linked with ideas about madness. Early on in the narrative the narrator tells Salvatore that `"Yours is a life based on delusion and hallucination"' (67), and associations between dreams and madness are consequently made on a number of occasions. At one point, the narrator, speaking with Augustine comments that `in the great world, we lock up people who see things while awake, and when I laughed, she looked sad' (112). Later, in conversation with Sbgai, the narrator argues that `"What you're saying is that you can't discriminate between the messages of a prophet and the ravings from a damaged brain." "Right"' replies Sbgai (160). When the narrator scoffs at this notion, Sbgai asks him for a definition of insanity, and he finds it impossible. Thus the dreamers of Ata are irrevocably linked with those who are "mad" because there is no way of distinguishing between the two, if there is a distinction at all.
Connie accesses the utopian world of Mattapoisett through her ability to achieve different states of consciousness; her first awareness of an alternative utopian reality is of hazy memories of dreams featuring the mysterious Luciente, and she awakens one morning with `the sense [...] that there was more she had not remembered, a sensation of return, blurred but convincing' (Woman 33). These cloudy memories and dreams soon overlap into daydreams and increasingly longer states of unconsciousness: by the end of the novel, Connie is spending up to twelve hours at a time in Mattapoisett. The narrative itself takes place entirely in Connie's consciousness, tracing her memories, fusing her current experiences in the mental hospital with her utopian and dystopian visions. Piercy does not validate one form of consciousness as more or less "real": all are possible co-existent realities. The existence of Mattapoisett is entirely dependent on Connie's consciousness, and similarly, she perceives Mattapoisett entirely through Luciente's conscious awareness.
Connie's utopian "hallucinations" represent an opening of her mind towards different ontological possibilities; Luciente explains that Connie is `an unusual person. Your mind is unusual. You're what we call a catcher, a receptive [...] a catcher is a person whose mind and nervous system are open, receptive to an unusual extent' (Woman 41-2). Connie's society does not value this receptiveness, but in Mattapoisett it represents the ability to imagine and realise utopia. As Magdalena explains to Connie, `We want to teach inknowing and outknowing [...] To feel with other beings. To catch, where the ability exists--instance, so strongly in you. We teach sharpening of the senses. Coning, going down, how to reach nevel, how to slow at will' (Woman 140). In Mattapoisett, as in the works of Fromm and Brown, connection with others psychologically, emotionally and psychically, provides not only the key to mental health, but also to individual and collective change. Consequently, the people of Mattapoisett recognise the importance of accessing different conscious states, as Luciente tells Connie, `in our culture you would be much admired' (Woman 42). This contrasts sharply with the label of violent, socially disorganised schizophrenic that Connie receives in her world.
In spite of their construction as "hallucinations", Connie's utopian visions materially affect her position in the hospital, as her long periods of unconsciousness lead to the removal of an implant from her brain. This implant is initially placed as part of a research project aimed at "taming" violent behaviour. The implications of the doctors' electrodes are horrifying because they represent an end to dreaming and fantasy--thus they figure an end to utopian dreaming and possibility. As one experimental patient comments, `I don't dream no more. How come I can't dream? Something's missing' (Woman 339).
As Tom Moylan notes, the relationship between Connie's `telepathic empathy and dreams and the "actual" utopian society and its political fight' asserts the beneficial power of utopian dreaming (153). Connie's dreams enable her to imagine a life different from her own, providing her not only with the desire, but also the drive and perseverance, necessary for political change. Her dreams and hallucinations, therefore, are not experiences that lock Connie into a private solitary world (a criticism often made of utopias that privilege individual or psychological transformation (11)) rather they allow her to reach out to others in order to embrace an alternative social existence.
While all three of the texts creatively explore the role of altered states within a feminist utopia, they do so in contrasting, and sometimes limited, ways. The Kin of Ata are Waiting for You fails to fully explore the possibilities of gender issues within the utopia, because Bryant continues to work within the paradigm of masculine and feminine dualisms. For example, while the Atans have their own language, it remains based on the dichotomy between masculine and feminine. The narrator comments that, `the language lacked all sense of the singular, the individual' (50), and therefore it emphasises the collectivity of humanity, but remains locked into the binaries of male and female. However, Bryant develops Atan language so that there are no gender pronouns, no words for he or she, and while there are words for man and woman, these are rarely used. Thus while the narrative destabilises certain notions of gender, it retains others. In Starhawk's utopia, dualisms between man and woman are also preserved. Starhawk relies on the oppositions between the Good Reality and the Bad Reality to sustain the conflicts within the narrative. While the utopians worship the Goddess who represents wholeness and therefore lack of division, their daily lives are still structured by difference: oppositions between health and sickness, good and evil, natural and unnatural remain. While the utopia is described as completely equal, without gender roles or oppression, it emerges from a cultural feminism that emphasises sexual difference and values women's experiences, rather than seeking to destroy gender differences. In contrast, in Mattapoisett, the language allows for no gender pronouns, as both men and women are referred to as `per.' Piercy engages with power differentials that result from gender differences, taking pregnancy away from women, and giving men the ability to breastfeed. The result is an androgynous people, who have moved beyond sexual difference. Piercy therefore renounces cultural feminism's notion of celebrating women's experiences and women's bodies, instead articulating a more transformational socialist feminist agenda, which seeks to break down the boundaries of gender through material and social change.
As discussed above, Sargent makes the point that utopian fantasy has a dual propensity to be both healthy and dangerous, and both The Fifth Sacred Thing and Woman on the Edge of Time explore the negative possibilities of altered states. Within the dystopian sections of The Fifth Sacred Thing, the Millennialists use psychological warfare as part of a strategy to break down individual minds; this is set in contrast to the utopians who access shifts in consciousness in order to activate utopia. However, more problematically, Madrone introduces the idea of `mind healers' (272) who "heal" people who do not fit into utopian society. Mentioned only briefly, the mind healers "help" the small amount of people who do not want to work, criminals, and rapists. The actual processes of mind healing and what it entails remains absent from the text, but offers a stark reminder that altered states can be abused. In Woman on the Edge of Time, the doctors repeatedly abuse the sanctity of the mind through the use of psychotropic drugs and surgery, and in the dystopian chapter, drugs are used to control bodies and minds. In Mattapoisett, healing is also mentioned as a way of treating criminals, but once again, there is no explanation of what this involves. If healing fails and a criminal commits a second crime then they are summarily executed. As many a dystopian text, such as George Orwell's Nineteen-Eighty Four and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World have shown, there are many negative ways in which drugs and mind control can be used against individuals within society. (12) Drugs, particularly hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD, played a significant role in aspects of the 1960s and 70s counterculture, during which many utopias and dystopias were written. In Woman on the Edge of Time drugs are used to control and manipulate Connie's behaviour in the form of a chemical straitjacket; however, it could also be argued that the drugs given to Connie may have facilitated her hallucinations. Huxley explores the dialectical possibilities of drug-taking in his dystopian Brave New World and utopian Island. In the former the drug soma is taken to provide an escape mechanism for any minor emotional distress:
Now--such is progress--the old men work, the old men copulate, the old men have no time, no leisure from pleasure, not a moment to sit down and think--or if ever by some unlucky chance such a crevice of time should yawn in the solid substance of their distractions, there is always soma, delicious soma, half a gramme for a half-holiday, a gramme for a weekend, two grammes for a trip to the gorgeous East, three for a dark eternity on the moon. (Brave 49)
Soma is just one in a number of paraphernalia utilised by the World Controllers to produce a stable society which has "evolved" beyond independent thought and creativity. Consciousness-altering drugs are therefore represented within the text as intellectually and emotionally stultifying, akin to the related measures to produce fully controllable genetic clones, programmed with hypnopaedic suggestion, however, in Island Huxley presents a very different view of drug-taking, as he privileges altered states in relation to utopianism. On the utopian island of Pala, the people believe in `Hypnotism and Pantheism and Free Love' (56) medical care includes attention to diet, autosuggestion, negative ions and meditation (66), additionally, the inhabitants of Pala regularly take moksha-medicine in order to undergo the ultimate mystical experience, which is described as therapeutic and transforming. (13) The mental transformation that occurs after taking the drug has overwhelming value for the individual, promoting an altered awareness of the world which Will Farnaby describes as a '"Luminous Bliss" (271) that allows him to love selflessly for the first time, and accept his own mortality. The taking of moksha-medicine enriches all concerned, uniting everyone in an experience of shared enlightenment which transcends any notion of the individual, as all become one in a `limitless, undifferentiated awareness' (272). In defence of the admonition that usage of this `dope' (as its critics call it) is a strictly private and solitary experience, and, by implication, without any social value, Dr. Robert McPhail, a Palanese resident argues: `So maybe the whole thing does happen inside one's skull. Maybe it is private and there's no unitive knowledge of anything but one's own physiology. Who cares? The fact remains that the experience can open one's eyes and make one blessed and transform one's whole life' (141). Huxley's later novel reflects his own experimentation with hallucinogenic drugs and his belief that they can facilitate mystical enlightenment. (14) While both The Fifth Sacred Thing and Woman on the Edge of Time raise complex issues about some of the dangers of exploring alternative states of consciousness within any society, neither fully engages with these problems. This debate also relates to the issue of freedom of thought (and perhaps action) within utopia, which Peter Fitting discusses in his recent article `Violence and Utopia'.
All three of these texts depict a specific relationship between utopia and altered states of consciousness, and I argue that this relationship is gendered. In each of the texts a woman is the agent of the most powerful psychic powers. In The Kin of Ata are Waiting for You, Augustine is the strongest dreamer and serves as the central spiritual guide for the narrator. In The Fifth Sacred Thing, Madrone is the dominant healer in the City, and it is she who travels out of the City in order to heal others and speak to them of utopian possibilities. In Woman on the Edge of Time, Connie's ability to access utopia is strongly linked to her gender, as well as her race and class, because her visions are related to her lack of power in the world. As Luciente says of her project to reach people like Connie to activate utopia, `most we've reached are females, and many of those in mental hospitals and prisons. We find people whose minds open for an instant, but at the first real contact, they shrink in terror' (Woman 196). This shift in consciousness clearly has a unique relationship to feminist utopianism.
But in spite of the fact that women figure as utopian links in these texts, the narratives are not arguing that women are the only ones who can access altered states of consciousness, nor are they proclaiming that utopia is a female space barred to men. Rather, rooted as they are in the traditions of ecofeminism, women's spirituality and debates on women's madness, they imply that at present women may be more likely to experiment with altered states through their positioning within patriarchal culture, their cultural alignment with nature, and their subsequent association with madness. With more to gain and less to lose from utopian dreaming they are more likely to engage fully with alternate possibilities. But all three texts also articulate a feminist utopian vision that embraces both men and women in societies that have moved beyond gender, or at least to a place where gender no longer remains significant in structuring social relations or individual psyches. As I have argued, some texts achieve this more successfully than others. And it is this movement away from an emphasis on sexual difference, and towards a society that promotes connection with others, that represents the necessary shift in consciousness that is intrinsic to the feminist utopias under discussion.
The relationship between utopia and the psyche is clearly a complex one, and its analysis necessarily relates to a wide range of philosophical, political and psychological theories. In this essay, I have attempted to draw at least a few of these threads together in order to explicate the uneasy association between the two. I have argued that the novels under discussion seem to make certain links between the idea of utopia as a state of consciousness and the processes of accessing utopian visions. Within the novels, altered states are repeatedly used in order to emphasise the importance of transforming attitudes towards the structures of the mind and its possibilities, at the same time making significant links with gender. Utilising the notion of the mental utopia or "eupsychia", the novels' exploration of the world as a mental phenomenon fully engages with the possibility of personal and social transformation. In pursuit of the "lived moment" as discussed by Reis and Bloch, all three authors engage with the mutability of the present as they blur the boundaries of past, present and future in order to create utopian possibilities. This emphasis on the "lived moment" encourages a particular focus on the experiences and possibilities of the present, facilitating spontaneity with self and others. Thus the authors open up literary utopian spaces in which to explore new relationships between individuals and in which characters can experience new psychological and psychic potential. This process, from Komar's perspective, is an escape from madness, as the text becomes a re-visionary site. For Piercy, however, a more complex dialectical view of madness is presented, so that madness becomes not only something from which to escape, but also a space within which to enact spiritual self-transformation. Madness becomes just one element in a far-reaching spiritual quest that seeks radical social change. To automatically condemn and lock up those who appear to be "mad" is therefore ill-advised, for `it would be the greatest foolishness to assume that whoever enters into an altered state of being is mentally ill, as if the shaman needed a psychiatrist to straighten him out' (Kovel 57).
All three texts therefore represent the importance of fantasy in utopian thinking, as both a means of accessing and visioning utopia. As Luciente comments, `We can only know what we can truly imagine [because] what we see comes from ourselves' (Woman 328). If making connections with one another and nature, both mental and physical, is one of the keys to feminist utopianism, then these connections can only be facilitated by altering states of consciousness. To return to Lucy Sargisson's claim that feminist utopian texts demand from the reader a `paradigm shift in consciousness' (229), then the process of activating utopia through altered states explicitly foregrounds the `paradigm shift' the reader must necessarily undergo, both to engage with the utopian text, and also, perhaps, to activate utopia themselves.
* A shorter version of this essay was presented at the Utopian Studies Society Conference at New Lanark, 28-30 June 2001. My thanks to all those who have given their help and time in the development of this essay, and also to University College, Northampton, for supporting my research.
(1.) As far as I am aware, there are no feminist utopias that utilise drugs as a means of accessing a eutopian consciousness. When discussed, drugs are more likely to be associated with dystopian tendencies, such as in Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time, where drugs are used, in the mental hospital and in the dystopia, as a form of oppression and behaviour control and modification. Only in a few male-authored utopias, such as Huxley's Island, are drugs used to access eutopian altered states. See below for further discussion of Island.
(2.) I am currently exploring the issue of altered states and utopia within the wider context of feminist utopian literature in my doctoral research.
(3.) This privileging of the pleasure principle, however, conflicts with the feminist utopian texts under discussion, which tend to prioritise the reality principle. These views also conflict with Lacanian ideas which emphasises difference, the Symbolic, and repression as necessary to human subjectivity.
(4.) Ironically, Chesler does accept that such a radical shift could actually cause women to go "mad" (321).
(5.) As David Farber notes, the phrase, "Turn On, Tune in, Drop Out" introduced by Dr. Timothy Leary as an advertising slogan for LSD, was intended to refer to a constructive expansion of the mind and to further interactions with others. However, it was interpreted by the press in a more limited way to mean simply getting stoned (32).
(6.) See Father and Miller for further discussion of countercultural experimentation.
(7.) Dorothy Bryant has also written another novel that address issues of utopianism, the psychic, and mental illness. Confessions of Madame Psyche follows the life of Mei-li, a medium who sets up a utopian commune in the Santa Cruz Mountains, but ends up in a mental asylum. Mei-li discovers her own mental utopia not in the commune, but in the asylum, where she finds herself completely free to explore her self.
(8.) Bryant, therefore engages with, and develops, Lyman Tower Sargent's definition of utopianism as `social dreaming' (4), and also Ernst BIoch's view of utopia as daydream.
(9.) It is a contested issue among critics whether Connie is "really" mad or not, and therefore to define her utopian visions as "hallucinations" is clearly contentious. I defend this usage, not because I believe that Connie is "really" mad, but because I prefer to leave the boundaries between sanity and madness blurred. In interview Piercy has argued that Connie's visions are neither hallucination nor real, rather they lie somewhere in between (Parti-Coloured 110). I argue that any reading of the novel that claims that the doctors are right and that Connie is clearly a schizophrenic, is inherently problematic, because the narrative repeatedly works to undermine the conclusions of the doctors. I therefore use the term critically in order to highlight these issues. For two different views on the "madness" of Connie, see Freibert and Rosinsky.
(10). Racoona Sheldon (pseud. of Alice Sheldon, who also wrote under the name James Tiptree Jr.) also connects utopianism and madness in her short story `Your Faces, O My Sisters! Your Faces Filled of Light!' The central protagonist is a woman who has run away from a mental hospital. She runs freely through the city streets of Chicago in her own mental utopia, where the world is all female, beautiful, peaceful, and free. Her perspective strikes very differently with those around her who see her as sick, helpless, and delusional.
(11.) See, for example, Frank and Fritzie Manuels' dismissal of these utopias in their discussion of utopian texts: `[b]ut if the land of utopia were thrown open to every fantasy of an individual ideal situation the realm would be boundless. The personal daydream with its idiosyncratic fixations has to be excluded.' They conclude, `[t]here are utopias so private that they border on schizophrenia' (7). As an example of such a schizophrenic text, the Manuels' cite an early feminist utopia, Margaret Cavendish's novel The Description of a New World, called the Blazing World.
(12.) The subject of drugs and their relationship to dystopian fiction is a fascinating topic, but unfortunately there is not the space to pursue it here. For a discussion of aspects of drug culture and its utopian and dystopian aspects, see Braunstein and Doyle.
(13.) There is a thirty-year gap between the published dates of the two texts, and the latter novel, Island, reflects Huxley's later beliefs that mystical enlightenment was the key to social problems.
(14.) Huxley describes his drug-taking experimentation in the Doors of Perception.
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Donna Fancourt is a Ph.D. candidate in the department of Literary and Cultural Studies at University College, Northampton. She has a B.A. (Hons) in English and Cultural Studies from DeMontfort University and an M.St in Women's Studies from Oxford University. Her research is currently focused on contemporary feminist utopian fiction and its relationship to altered states, particularly madness.
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