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Utopias.

Vita Fortunati, Oscar Steimberg, and Luigi Volta, eds. Buenos Aires: Ediciones Corregidor, 1994. 366 pp.

The essays in this collection, a collaborative enterprise involving the Faculty of Social Sciences, Philosophy, and Letters at the University of Buenos Aires, the University of Bologna's Interdepartmental Center for Research on Utopia, and the Italian Cultural Institute of Buenos Aires, are arranged under the following headings: "La idea de utopia" (four essays), followed by "Las palabras literarias" (twelve), then "La imagen utopica" (seven). As promising of a nicely articulated discourse as that tripartite division is, though, the actual performance of the multivoiced, cross-disciplinary narrative set forth by Utopias resists clear plotting. "La palabra utopia es particularmente polisemica; su oso, a menudo ambiguo, ha incorporado ... significados muchas veces divergentes," as readers of the volume's "Introduccion" are aptly cautioned to recall and anticipate (10). What clear distinctions there are for a structurally coherent apprehending of Utopias are provided in the opening two essays, Raymond Trousson's "Utopia y utopismo" and Vita Fortunati's "Las formas literarias de la antiutopia." Responding to "la irritante cuestion de la definicion del objeto mismo de nuestros analisis," Trousson draws a sharp line between "la utopia como un genero, como un artefacto literario," and "el utopismo [como mentalidad], pespectiva mucho mas extendida que engloba tambien las ciencias, la economia, el urbanismo, la politica, la historia, la ciencia ficcion, etc" (19, 23); and Fortunati outlines a disjunction no less remarkable for its pedagogical tidiness, between the world of literary utopias and "el mundo al reves" of "antiutopias (distopias o contrautopias)": "La antiutopia revela de manera clara la conexion genetica que el genero utopico tiene con la satira, porque en la antiutopia prevalece la parte destruens sobre la parte construens" (38). Such architecture as Utopias has, in other words, is founded on distinctions so broadly unexceptionable as not to be distinctive or defining at all.

Regrettably, seasoned students of "utopia" looking less to grasp the big picture than to learning from particular instances and sites of utopian speculation are not much better served by this volume. Like Trousson's and Fortunati's, most of the essays belabor the obvious, rehearse observations of what by now must be old hat. Massimo Gilardi's "Colon y el retorno al Paraiso perdido," for example, which relies heavily on Tzvetan Todorov's reading of "the discovery of America," makes a point well worn with frequent use: "Tanto el mito platonico de Atlantida, como el de la Ciudad de los Cesares, et de las Amazonas o de El Dorado, parecen tener sus estratos germinales en una proyeccion del espiritu humano que tiende a construir un mundo nuevo en una terra nueva, donde fuera posible realizar una capacidad creativa libre de ideologias avasallantes" (120). Nor does Graciela Schienes add anything new when she remarks in her "De la utopia del Nuevo Mundo a la utopia del fin del mundo" that "la utopia surge con el descubrimiento de America: America: concebrida por el europeo como espacio vacio y disponsible, incita a la idea de utopia" (139). Carmelina Imbroscio's essay on "la condicion de la mujer en utopia entre los siglos XVI y XIX" and Nadia Minerva's, on "la utopia en la mesa," likewise drive home observations that come as no surprise: "Despojada del rol de educadora, la mujer desaparece del horizonte de la proyectualidad utopica" relegada a las tareas domesticas" (167); "la agricultura es la mas pura de la actividades humanas ... recuerda la simplicidad y le pureza arcadicas" (153). And certainly no reader could contest the veracity of the recollection that opens Jorge Glusberg's "Arquitectura y utopia": "Utopia es el nombre que acuno el ingles Tomas Moro par designar a la republica islena descripta en su libro de 1516. El termino fue tomado del griego: ou (no) y topos (lugar); en efecto, era un pais inexistente el senalado por Moro; sin embargo, el humanista y politico britanico tuvo tambien en cuenta el homofono vocablo eu-topos, esto es, pals de la felicidad" (287). The fact that a good many of the individual pieces collected in Utopias were not specially written for the volume reinforces the overall impression it conveys, of a stale production. Fortunati's essay, for example, is a translation from a collection she helped edit, Paesi di cuccagna e mondi alla rovescia (1989); Krishan Kumar's "William Morris: News from Nowhere: la renovacion de utopia," from William Morris: 'News from Nowhere' cent' anni dopo, collected by A. Corrado et al (1992); Luigi Firpo's "Leonardo da Vinci y su ciudad ideal," from his edition, Leonardo architetto e urbanista (1973); and Bronislaw Backzo's "Orwell y Soljenitsin. Hacer fronte al totalitarismo," like Trousson's contribution, from the conference proceedings Per una definizione dell' utopia, Metodologie e discipline a confronto (1992), edited by Nadia Minerva. The main body of essays in Utopias seems well designed to impress readers with the notion that there is nothing new under the sun. Sloppy copyediting, as evinced by the many typographical errors and stylistic inconsistencies in the endnotes to the contributions by Trousson and Fortunati, for instance, additionally reinforces the impression of work summarily done.

What few redeeming moments there are in Utopias issue from local knowledge. Hebe Clementi's "Una utopia espanola para la America: del siglo XXI," a recollective study of the pronouncement in favor of "la humanizacion de la historia" and "la universalizacion de la cultura" (206, 207) made in Enrique Vera y Gonzalez's utopian novel set in Argentina, La estrella del Sur (1904), is genuinely instructive; and Oscar Steimberg's "El fanzine arcojuvenil: una utopia del estilo," on such contemporary publications as Aguante, La Feroz Nihilburgo, Morgana, and Kulote de vieja, all based at or near Buenos Aires, shows what can be done when an acute reading of rhetorical conventions issues from a close knowledge of particulars. Would that such moments of authentic illumination as Clementi and Steimberg provide were less exceptional in Utopias.
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Author:La Bossiere, Camille R.
Publication:Utopian Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1997
Words:970
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