Utopias of One
Utopias fail. Utopias of one do not. They are perfect worlds. Yet their success comes at a cost. They are radically singular—and thus exclusive and inimitable.
Utopias of One is a major new account of utopian writing. Joshua Kotin examines how eight writers—Henry David Thoreau, W. E. B. Du Bois, Osip and Nadezhda Mandel’shtam, Anna Akhmatova, Wallace Stevens, Ezra Pound, and J. H. Prynne—construct utopias of one within and against modernity’s two large-scale attempts to harmonize individual and collective interests: liberalism and communism. The book begins in the United States between the buildup to the Civil War and the end of Jim Crow; continues in the Soviet Union between Stalinism and the late Soviet period; and concludes in England and the United States between World War I and the end of the Cold War. The book, in this way, captures how writers from disparate geopolitical contexts resist state and normative power to construct perfect worlds—for themselves alone.
Utopias of One makes a vital contribution to debates about literature and politics, presenting innovative arguments about aesthetic difficulty, personal autonomy, and complicity and dissent. The book also models a new approach to transnational and comparative scholarship, combining original research in English and Russian to illuminate more than a century and a half of literary and political history.
Joshua Kotin is associate professor of English at Princeton University and an affiliated faculty member in the university’s Program in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies.