Inventions of Nemesis: Utopia, Indignation, and Justice

A wide-ranging reevaluation of utopian literature and philosophy, from Plato to Chang-Rae Lee


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Nov 10, 2020
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Examining literary and philosophical writing about ideal societies from Greek antiquity to the present, Inventions of Nemesis offers a striking new take on utopia’s fundamental project.

Noting that utopian imagining has often been propelled by an angry conviction that society is badly arranged, Douglas Mao argues that utopia’s essential aim has not been to secure happiness, order, or material goods, but rather to establish a condition of justice in which all have what they ought to have. He also makes the case that hostility to utopias has frequently been associated with a fear that they will transform humanity beyond recognition, doing away with the very subjects who should receive justice in a transformed world. Further, he shows how utopian writing speaks to contemporary debates about immigration, labor, and other global justice issues. Along the way, Inventions of Nemesis connects utopia to the Greek concept of nemesis, or indignation at a wrong ordering of things, and advances fresh readings of dozens of writers and thinkers—from Plato, Thomas More, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edward Bellamy, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and H. G. Wells to John Rawls, Robert Nozick, Fredric Jameson, Ursula Le Guin, Octavia Butler, and Chang-Rae Lee.

Ambitious and timely, Inventions of Nemesis offers a vital reconsideration of what it really means to imagine an ideal society.