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The Edge of Time: The Critical Dynamics of Structural Chronotopes in the Utopian Novel

LOHMANN, SARAH,ELIZABETH (2020) The Edge of Time: The Critical Dynamics of Structural Chronotopes in the Utopian Novel. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

PDF (PhD Thesis Sarah Lohmann)


This thesis takes a structural approach, based on systems theory, to the interpretation of literary utopias: it argues that examples of utopian fiction are best understood as science-fictional thought experiments determined by dynamism-based Bakhtinian chronotopes. Initially, it draws on Cannon’s work on homeostasis and that of Maturana and Varela on autopoiesis to argue that utopian texts from premodern periods – including Plato’s Republic, More’s Utopia, Bellamy’s Looking Backward, Wells’s A Modern Utopia, and Morris’s News from Nowhere – generally embody a ‘homeostatic chronotope’; this explains the social stasis, spatiotemporal isolation, and presentism characterising these works, enhancing modern understandings of how utopias fall short regarding the functioning of a social system, e.g. through coercive practices. The thesis then argues that a later group of utopian novels – Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time, Russ’s The Female Man and Le Guin’s The Dispossessed (Moylan’s ‘critical utopias’) – are conversely based on a ‘complexity chronotope’, informed by the work of complexity theorists such as Prigogine and Cilliers: the narrative fragmentation, dynamism, and socially charged nature of these texts is understood through their depiction as self-organising, self-optimising complex adaptive systems, characterised by an inherent structural dynamism. The thesis suggests that the critical utopias therefore hold a unique position in the history of utopian literature – not only through their non-hierarchical inclusion of women and marginalised groups, but because their utopianism is inherently sustainable and autopoietically self-generating or ‘living’. The final chapter confirms this hypothesis through analysis of two temporally separate feminist utopian novels, Mitchison’s Memoirs of a Spacewoman and Slonczewski’s A Door into Ocean, which attempt to apply the complexity chronotope beyond the human realm, but reintroduce internal boundaries within the feedback mechanisms determining complex functioning. Overall, the homeostatic and complexity chronotopes are thus presented as enlightening interdisciplinary tools for a more holistic and sustainability-based understanding of utopia.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Utopia; science fiction; feminist utopias; critical utopias; feminism; complexity; dynamism; chronotopes; homeostasis; autopoiesis; complexity chronotope; homeostatic chronotope; Mikhail Bakhtin; Tom Moylan; Plato; Thomas More; Edward Bellamy; H. G. Wells; William Morris; Marge Piercy; Joanna Russ; Ursula K. Le Guin; Naomi Mitchison; Joan Slonczewski; Republic; Utopia; Looking Backward; A Modern Utopia; News from Nowhere; The Female Man; Woman on the Edge of Time; The Dispossessed; Memoirs of a Spacewoman; A Door into Ocean
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > English Studies, Department of
Thesis Date:2020
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:10 Jul 2020 12:45

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