Sunday, October 14, 2007

Utopia - and "That Hideous Strength"

The Old Whig has been reading – and this comment has been picking at my brain since he wrote on 29 September...
Now I'm reading That Hideous Strength, by C.S. Lewis, after having read Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra - all on The Probligo's recommendation. Very enlightening stuff: pretty deep theology, delivered entertainingly. Since I'm not done with the last book of the series, I'm still not sure where there's a vision of a utopia that I'd actually want to aim for in them.

That last comment is the thorn that has been pricking my brain.

First I need to explain, and please I do not need to be told now, that when I first read the trilogy the theological references went over my head. That is until I met up with the Gaia mythology. However I know that Lewis would not have had this in his mind as he wrote. The deeper mires of Christian references I know are there and I (subconciously but perhaps intentionally) find them difficult to pin down.

Leave that aside, because it is the reference to “utopia” that is the very sharp point that I wish to pick up.

I do not believe for a moment that Lewis had a utopian vision in mind. As I read the stories I have a far sharper picture of “dealing with existing realities” than providing an ideal future. Al may like to remember that my recommendation came as a part of a fairly barbed comment about “objectivists”. That was based upon some of the final scenes in “Hideous Strength” involving the “Objective Room” and the attempts to persuade Mark Studdock to denigrate the symbols of Christianity.

I get a far stronger message from the trilogy that, among other things, Lewis was arguing strongly of the relationships between science and religion.

On the wider front, I want to talk about utopias in general.

Yep, I am biased. There is no such thing as a practical utopia. I do not think that “Atlas” presented a practical utopia any more than “Brave New World”. I must go back and read the full “Lilliput” stories (Swift) and refresh my memory for I believe that the same message came clear and strong from him as well.

All of the stories I have read that involve the presentation of a utopia include either or both of –

The seeds of its demise – BNW is based upon the control of the society through drugs and the principle of “man is worth no more than his ability to contribute”. Add to that the element of predetermination and the future of that society does not even need the “thinking man” (in the persona of “the native”) to emphasise the flaws.

The application of a level of exclusivity; the “grand society” – such as “Atlas” and the presentation of the perfect capitalism. On a wider scale, every utopia (and distopia) has a fundamental political theme behind it that reaches into the same parts of man’s psyche as does religion.

I can not escape the feeling that every picture of “perfection” starts to crumble as soon as you put mankind into it. I prefer the reality of living as best one may, with care and with honesty, and with respect for every other person. That is not a utopia; I suspect that I would feel the same whether rich as I am in NZ or as poor as I might be in India or China or Zimbabwe. It is my environment (in what is around me and what is happening around me) that shapes my life more than sweet dreams of religious redemption or political and military power.

1 comment:

Dave Justus said...

That Hideous Strength is typically considered a dystopia, not unlike Brave New World in some ways. Of course both are 'sold' to the people as utopia but the authors clearly regard them as anything but. Of course both Out of Silent Planet and Prelandra do present utopias, but neither (paradise like Mars and garden of eden like Venus) but they are not for 'fallen' man. Interestingly enough, C.S. Lewis would agree with you completely about the ability of mankind to live in a utopia.

Of course one reason we don't see utopias in fiction is that if they are indeed utopias, it would make a very boring book. "Everyone was happy and perfect and had everthing they wanted. The End."