In an age of anxiety where protection from putative nightmare scenarios is offered as a substitute for the dreams and hopeful promises of yesteryear, utopianism is waxing fruitful in contemporary Australian fiction. Had Australia’s birth as a nation not been so painfully established on dissatisfaction with most of its population attempting to escape the British class system or being unenthusiastically transplanted, it would be quite unlikely that many Australian writers would have been so inclined to sprinkle their narratives with repetitive utopian impulses (see works cited section). In numerous novels, the mainland or its southern geographical appendage is either depicted as the setting of these unthought-of and rather offbeat ideal societies or as the model with which they implicitly compare. I will here use the terms “utopianism” or “utopian impulse” rather than “utopia,” because if I were to speak strictly of “utopia,” discussion would be limited to Gerald Murnane’sThe Plains (1982), which is the closest Australian narrative to Thomas More’s Utopia (1516).
The idea for an article linking paranoia and utopianism through an exploration of the concept of projection in four narratives in the past twenty-five years by Murnane (The Plains), Peter Carey (The Unsual Life of Tristan Smith), Christopher Koch (Out of Ireland), and Rodney Hall (The Last Love Story), came after the reading of Christian Marouby’s Utopie et primitivisme. In this seminal book, Marouby argues that utopia and primitivism are both the result of the projection of European consciousness although they come under different expressions. According to Marouby, the utopian construct appears to be in its geography, architecture, political organization, social hierarchy and repressive policy a “structure of defence” against a threat perceived in all aspects of nature. Following Marouby’s analysis, I will argue that utopian thinkers (referring here to novelists and characters alike) appear in their Meliora sequamur quest somewhat as silent tyrants laying the foundations for the birth of a totalitarian society. I will try to show that utopianism-packed narratives, whether they are set in the past or future, are the result of projections.
The very notion of projection challenges Raymond Ruyer’s “utopian mode” which he defines in L’Utopie et les utopies as “a mental exercise on lateral possibilities,” as Frank Manuel reminds us (Manuel x). To my mind, utopian possibilities–unlike the possibilities offered in the sister speculative genre of science fiction–cannot be lateral, since utopian projects, as the Latin etymology indicates (pro jactare), are invariably cast (jactare) forward (pro) on a vertical axis with stories which might be set in the past but whose prime intent is that of transcendence, the primitivist yearning for some golden age or for some paradisiacal states. They may also be projected on a horizontal axis with tales set in the future, i.e. cast forward in time. This idea owes much to Paul Tillich’s theory of two orders, one in the horizontal plane, the order of finitude with its possibilities and impossibilities, its risks, its successes and failures; and another, a ‘vertical order’ (the term now used symbolically), an order which secular and religious utopias have expressed in symbols such as “Kingdom of God,” “Kingdom of heaven,” “Kingdom of justice,” and “the consummation.” (Tillich 308)
I will attempt to demonstrate that because utopian impulses are born of a present regarded as so constricting, writers feel the urge to seek elevation of the spirit or to open up the possibility of a brighter future. Consequently, these impulses can only be conceived of as projects or projections, as models cast forward in space or in time precisely because human beings cannot associate reality with parallel or lateral dimensions; hence the shifting into the future of a vision of a society imagined in the present and the yearning to recover a bygone Earthly paradise.