Please join us online via Zoom as Mark Schenker takes us on a guided tour of several literary utopias and dystopias spanning several hundred years.
Ever since Sir Thomas More (1478-1535) created the word “utopia” in the early 16th century, the double meaning of his coinage has informed centuries of Utopian literature in English. (The Greek outopia means “no place,” while eutopia means “good place.”)
By contrast, when Plato wrote The Republic around 375 BCE, he was in earnest in considering the possibility of a just city-state and the nature of justice as a human virtue. While there is irony in The Republic, there is no double meaning attached to his vision of an ideal society. But Plato was a philosopher and not a writer of literary fiction. Since More’s Utopia, writers such as Jonathan Swift and Margaret Atwood have created imagined worlds that reveal the dystopian reality behind the utopian dream.
After beginning with More’s masterpiece, Mark Schenker will survey other literary works from each of the past six centuries—books that engage the quest for societal perfection, the limits of human aspiration, and the various meanings of the old saying that “the perfect is the enemy of the good.”
Here's the schedule and please note that the sessions are not all on the same day of the week and also stretch from September to November:
- 9/7 Utopia (1516) Sir Thomas More (1478-1535)
- 9/14 Gulliver’s Travels (1726) Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)
- 9/21 Erewhon (1872) Samuel Butler (1835-1902)
- 9/28 The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) Margaret Atwood (b.1939)
- 10/3 King Lear (1606) William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
- 10/10 Station Eleven (2014) Emily St. John Mandel (b. 1979)
- 11/2 Cloud Cuckoo Land (2021) Anthony Doerr (b. 1973)
No charge for the program. These lectures are made possible with the
support of the Literary Series in Memory of Amy Quigley. Advance
registration required. Register online or call 203-762-6334. Although
Mark often makes cross-references, the lectures mostly stand alone.
However, as a convenience, you will automatically be registered for all
seven sessions. Please email Michael Bellacosa at
firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
Mark J. Schenker, having served in various decanal roles in Yale College since 1990, retired at the end of June. A former lecturer in the English Department, he received his Ph.D. from Columbia University with a concentration in 19th-century and early 20th-century English Literature. He had taught previously at Columbia, New York University, and Trinity College (Hartford, CT). Outside of academia, Mark has for over 35 years lectured on literature and film, and has led book discussion series in more than 100 venues in Connecticut, including public libraries, museums, and cultural centers. He also conducts monthly sessions for a number of private reading groups in the state. In 2001, he received the Wilbur Cross Award for Outstanding Humanities Scholar, presented by the Connecticut Humanities Council.
Later this summer Mark’s literature sessions website will go live offering weekly fee-based literature programs via Zoom (Wednesdays from 7-8:15pm), even as he will continue with his private groups and his programs at public libraries. Mark will be sharing the link to the new website shortly. In the meantime, know that his email is changing to email@example.com.