Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools

Navigation

Notes on Nowhere

Feminism, Utopian Logic, and Social Transformation

1997
Author:

Jennifer Burwell

Notes on Nowhere

Using contemporary feminist science fiction, Jennifer Burwell examines the political and literary meaning of utopian writing and thought. “Notes from Nowhere makes an original, significant, and persuasive contribution to our understanding of the political and literary dimensions of utopian writing.” --Nancy Fraser, New School for Social Research

Using contemporary feminist science fiction, Jennifer Burwell examines the political and literary meaning of utopian writing and thought. “Notes from Nowhere makes an original, significant, and persuasive contribution to our understanding of the political and literary dimensions of utopian writing.” --Nancy Fraser, New School for Social Research

“Jennifer Burwell provides an interesting and contentious contribution to the burgeoning literature on utopian criticism.” Extrapolation

The term utopia implies both “good place” and “nowhere.” Since Sir Thomas More wrote Utopia in 1516, debates about utopian models of society have sought to understand the implications of these somewhat contradictory definitions. In Notes on Nowhere, author Jennifer Burwell uses a cross-section of contemporary feminist science fiction to examine the political and literary meaning of utopian writing and utopian thought.

Burwell provides close readings of the science fiction novels of five feminist writers-Marge Piercy, Sally Gearhart, Joanna Russ, Octavia Butler, and Monique Wittig-and poses questions central to utopian writing: Do these texts promote a tradition in which narratives of the ideal society have been used to hide rather than reveal violence, oppression, and social divisions? Can a feminist critical utopia offer a departure from this tradition by using utopian narratives to expose contradiction and struggle as central aspects of the utopian impulse? What implications do these questions have for those who wish to retain the utopian impulse for emancipatory political uses?

As one way of answering these questions, Burwell compares two “figures” that inform utopian writing and social theory. The first is the traditional abstract “revolutionary” subject who contradicts existing conditions and who points us to the ideal body politic. The second, “resistant,” subject is partial, concrete, and produced by conditions rather than operating outside of them. In analyzing contemporary changes in the subject’s relationship to social space, Burwell draws from and revises “standpoint approaches” that tie visions of social transformation to a group’s position within existing conditions.

By exploring the dilemmas, antagonisms, and resolutions within the critical literary feminist utopia, Burwell creates connections to a similar set of problems and resolutions characterizing “nonliterary” discourses of social transformation such as feminism, gay and lesbian studies, and Marxism. Notes on Nowhere makes an original, significant, and persuasive contribution to our understanding of the political and literary dimensions of the utopian impulse in literature and social theory.

Jennifer Burwell teaches in the Department of English at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.

Notes on Nowhere

Jennifer Burwell teaches in the Department of English at Ryerson University.

Notes on Nowhere

“Jennifer Burwell provides an interesting and contentious contribution to the burgeoning literature on utopian criticism.” Extrapolation

“Notes from Nowhere makes an original, significant, and persuasive contribution to our understanding of the political and literary dimensions of utopian writing. Sophisticated in conception and writing, it will be of wide interest to scholars and graduated students in women’s studies, literary studies, American studies, and related fields.” Nancy Fraser, New School for Social Research

This relatively brief book proposes-and carries ou

a complex and ambitious undertaking: to locate utopianism in its political, philosophical, and literary past; to establish and to critique the relations between utopianism and feminism; and to demonstrate that some forms of feminist analysis have redefined utopianism in ways that make the notion of utopia uniquely valuable in the postmodern world.” CHOICE

Notes on Nowhere is a complicated, though fascinating, exploration of social transition through the lenses of feminist and utopian theory. Burwell presents an interesting look at utopian and critical logic- two opposing, yet balancing, forces of utopian literature.

Utopian Studies

Most compelling about this study is the way Burwell builds her argument, beginning with a difficult theoretical question and answering it methodically and through rigorous theoretical investigations and literary readings.

Signs