Notes on Nowhere was first published in 1997. Minnesota Archive Editions uses digital technology to make long-unavailable books once again accessible, and are published unaltered from the original University of Minnesota Press editions.
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.