Tuesday 26 April 2016

The modern desperate need for utopia (and Heaven)

It strikes me that one great appeal of the best (from my perspective the best!) fantasy novels, is their depiction of utopia in the sense of not an ideal but a 'good' society - and that this is a thing which is otherwise almost wholly lacking in modern culture.

Tolkien's Lord of the Rings has an unmatched range of good, believable and powerful appealing societies: The Shire, Tom Bombadil's little world, Bree, Rivendell, Lothlorien, Rohan, Minas Tirith - take your pick!

Lesser fantasy fails to provide any such vision of the good life (and is praised by mainstream literary critics for this lack - which they assert, from their nihilistic and purposively-destructive roots, makes it 'dark', 'edgy', 'realistic' and 'subversive' - the ultimate accolade of those who are ultimately motivated by despair and hatred) - and therefore cannot provide what we so desperately need.

Because utopia is a selective microcosm of Heaven, and Heaven is necessary for Hope - and Hope is a necessity for the good life.

What I would love to see is believable and realistic descriptions, creative depictions and speculative discussions on the subject of Heaven; and perhaps fantasy is the best vehicle for this at present.

Heaven has become (and not merely by accident - but also by purpose) unimaginable to modern man. Thus Heaven has become ineffectual: it must therefore be made imaginable, we need actively to imagine Heaven, and to engage with this imagination.


David Balfour said...

Perhaps another post (I would love to see this):

What do you imagine heaven to be like?

I personally really love William Arkle's paintings of tranquil, happy scenes with people walking in beautiful landscapes, playing and exploring, an enjoying creative pursuits! Am I being naive to hope that the next life may be something like this (but of course with work, worship and further sacrifice of the ego ad well)?

*My email of yesterday was in response to the removed comments from yesterday's posts. My understanding was you had send me an email in response to these and hence my other email to which you replied and I received yesterday.

Bruce Charlton said...

@David - I didn't send you an e-mail - I just didn't post your comment because you didn't provide a useable reference!

(I posted your comment, and my reply to it - then I deleted both as being of the nature of a private exchange and of no interest to the general readership - I did this on the assumption that you got comments forwarded automatically. I usually delete private exchanges, when I remember; leaving only comments that have relatively lasting interest.)

I was trying to get you to transcribe the sentences from William W's book that you found interesting and relevant, because giving a page number isn't useful, given that the book is not online.

David Balfour said...

Ah I see. No I don't get comments forwarded automatically. I will upload the quote from WW'S book another time. I look forward to hearing more in relation to this thread also. I would love to hear more of what your and other readers conception of heaven is and what they imagine or belief it might be like.

Bruce Charlton said...

@David - The thing is, if I or most other people were just to plank-down a list of the characteristics of - say - Rivendell or The Shire, then it would sound like a set of bureaucratic bullet-points rather than a utopia!

To describe something beautiful such that beauty is communicated needs beautiful writing - and we can't all manage that.

John Rockwell said...

For one

All construction used to be sacred reflecting the cosmic order(or refracting and making visible the glory of God):

Where what is built is simualtaneously ornament and function.

In contrast to the construction of modernity for one.

That's what fantasy dreams up in the LOTR universe.

As well as functioning societies in general.

Don said...

A small cabin near a lake in the mountains. The lakes and streams are full of feisty trout. The mountain jays will take bread right out of your hands, my family is there and we play and fish all day and sing, make music, dance, and play games and just talk all night.

Don said...

Sorry to be OT but have you watched 'The Messengers' the show seems very LDS in it's cosmology.

Bruce Charlton said...

For depictions of Heaven that 'work for me' there is Adam Greenwood's 'Sweetness of Mormon Life' theme:


which are lovingly-crafted epiphanic expansions of the kind of scenario Don depicts.

I find that there are such moments or short periods in life, and that they are often the things I remember - if I can notice them while they are happening, or just afterwards, then that can be extremely hope-full and motivating.

It is hard to decribe an overall picture of Heaven as a society or ecosystem (!), but it is rich with such moments, and we are able simultaneously to be In them and to Appreciate them.