Politics, Ethics, and Aesthetics in Erewhon : Samuel Butler’s Ambiguous Utopia

This article seeks to analyse Samuel Butler’s satirical treatment of Victorian institutions and values in Erewhon (1872). It focuses on the function of the utopian genre to account for the ideological struggles that inform society, and its capacity to suggest cures to social ills. Taking its theoretical bearings from Paul Ricoeur’s Lectures on Ideology and Utopia (1975) and Karl Mannheim’s Ideology and Utopia : A Sociology of Knowledge (1932) it attempts to explain why Butler faces the difficulty of reflecting objectively on a society in which he was culturally immersed ; In describing this difficulty, Ricoeur uses the expression “Mannheim’s paradox” to refer to the ambivalent intersection of ideology and utopia in utopian thinking. A symptom of this ambivalence in Erewhon, as we argue in this article, is the resort to satire not only to mock and make a clean sweep of the values of Victorian society in compliance with the work’s utopian impulse but to re-establish those same values on firmer ideological basis by resorting to carnivalisation.

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Hacene Benmechiche

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