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Formen der humanistischen Utopie: Vorstellungen von idealen Staat in englischen und kontinentalen Schrzfrtum des Humanismus 1516-1669.

Beate Gabriele Lusse. Formen der humanistischen Utopie: Vorstellungen von idealen Staat in englischen und kontinentalen Schrzfrtum des Humanismus 1516-1669.

Paderborn, Munchen, Wien, und Zurich: Ferdinand Schoningh, 1998. 9 pls. + 270 pp. DM 38. IBSN: 3-506-70826-0.

The key word in Lusse's title is Staat, a term virtually impossible to translate adequately into English. Especially as it is set within the framing or dialectic of this book, the German term resonates with post-Kantian conceptions not really congenial to the early modern texts being examined or modernist or post-modern Anglo-Saxon analysis. Yet, as Lusse explains in her Einleitung (introduction), her investigation will have a simple purpose: teaching a contemporary audience to image an ideal state. To that end, her book will investigate the various utopias of the period beginning with Thomas More and ending with the little-known 1669 Scydromedia. The author includes nine of these utopias in all, with introduction and conclusion, additional chapters on Erasmus's utopian texts and their concepts, a chapter on the reception of More's Utopia, and a digressive, highly illustrated chapter on the place of the city in these texts. Lusse also piles on a massive section in which she spells out the comparisons of thes e nine utopias in terms of eleven categories such as Arbeit (work); Krieg und Frieden (war and peace); Staatsform; Kommunismus; Familie. The publisher has provided a separate chart slipped into the inside back cover to crosscurrent the eleven and nine -- a kind of intricate "place-logic" of early modern utopias that would have sent a Peter Ramus or Fr. Ong into ecstasy.

However encyclopedic these "places," Lusse intends these utopias to act as Korretiv and standard (Massstab) for the measuring of die eigene Realiat (the special reality), one assumes, of all utopias. So used, the early texts, most English, focus the subject (Gegenstand) under consideration (Betrachtung) and reveal the ideal political community, der Staat (13-14). Thus, for Lusse, the point of reading early modern utopias is to find a Stimulus for a contemporary audience to reach das Beste fur die Menschheit und die staatliche Gemeninschaft (the best for human beings and the national community). If the author's Idealismus appears almost naive, in her Epilog it is set in an European and world reality, the breakdown (Zerfall) in the early 1990s of the sozialistisch-kommunistischen Systeme Osteuropas. Lusse's is therefore an anguished consciousness of the need for utopian thinking at a time of breakdown when there is wachsenden nationalen und internationalen Wohlstandsgefalles (growing national and international rifts in prosperity) and eine wachsende Minderheit (minority) of have-nots. Not to rethink the forms of an ideal state is so tragic for Lusse in the 1990s in Germany that she would plunge into masses of details to recover political hope (strategically centered for her in that modern masterpiece by the Marxist Ernst Bloch, Das Prinzip Hoffnung). Hers is a dialectic of passion.

The results in her text are quite mixed, however. If Lusse's readings tend at times to be mechanical, almost journalistic, and certainly undigested with little awareness, for example, of the recent critical resurgence in reading More and Bacon, she does reveal levels of utopian thought almost lost. She is especially good in discussing Campanella's La Citta del Sole with new insights into its Verwaltung und Recht (Government Administration and Law). She recovers Joseph Hall's Mundus Alter et Idem, demonstrating how this first major dystopia springs from the same Calvinist premises of the master of that genre, Jonathan Swift. She shows how textually trivial Civil War tracts and Harringron's Oceana operate in a network of influences. But overall what makes this grand survey more pedantic than it need be is that Lusse does not follow through the dimensions of her own dialectic, that is, what she calls the Dringlichkeitsappell utopischen Denkens (urgent outcry of utopian thinking)(252-55). Quite simply, she needs to set her analyses and charts and plates in more of a theoretical and ironic frame. This distancing of her idealistic drive into ambiguous readings would move her work from positivist continental scholarship (this is, after all, an expansion of her dissertation at the University of Mainz). It would certainly free her passionate voice to find a truer model, one more human and practical because of its very ironies. She could then answer more fully Nietzsche's lament from Also Sprach Zarathustra, the epigraph for Lusse's book: "Woe to you! There comes the time when the human being shoots the arrow of desire (Sehnsucht) no longer beyond self and has forgotten how the bow's strings sing in the air (schwirren)!"
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:SESSIONS, W. A.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 2000
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