Slavic R5A, Section 2: Reading and Composition: Encounters with Utopia

TT 8-9:30, 221 Wheeler. Instructor: Megan Barickman.


All Reading & Composition courses must be taken for a letter grade in order to fulfill this requirement for the Bachelor’s Degree. This course satisfies the first half or the “A” portion of the Reading and Composition requirement.

 Thomas More first coined the term “utopia,” which literally means “no place,” in the 16th century, but the idea of utopia, or paradise, has been around for much longer and it continues to occupy an important role in art and literature up to this day. Central to the utopian vision is the idea that life might be organized in a better way, and by describing various utopian societies, utopian writing purports to show us how we ought to live in order to improve our lives (or in the case of dystopian writing, how we ought not to live). In this course, we will read a variety of works in which visions of utopia are described, parodied or refuted, from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s brotherly paradise of “The Dream of a Ridiculous Man” to Yuri Zamyatin’s logical dystopia of We.

Our discussions will focus on elements of utopian thinking: the conflicting roles of faith and logic, the role of the individual in relation to utopian society, and the problems of personal life, gender, procreation and “misfits.” As many of the works we will look at have either a didactic or polemical intent, will also spend considerable time discussing the rhetorical strategies used by our authors to write their utopian stories: how are these imagined utopias situated in relationship to the world of their readers? How do these utopian visions respond to shifting concerns of science, religion and politics in the times in which they were written? And finally, how does the narrative work to convince or dissuade us of the desirability of a certain utopian vision?

The goal of this course is to develop the skills necessary to read critically and to write clear, persuasive, well-structured papers. Students will be expected to read approximately 50-60 pages per week and to come to class prepared to actively participate in discussion. Over the course of the semester, students will write several papers and participate in peer review sessions.

Required Reading

News from Nowhere, William Morris

Notes from the Underground, Fyodor Dostoevsky

The Bedbug, Vladimir Mayakovsky

We, Yuri Zamyatin

Course Reader: Selections and short stories

Prerequisite: Successful completion of the UC Entry Level Writing Requirement. Students may not enroll in nor attend R1A/R5A courses without completing this prerequisite.