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. We invite you to hear how writers from disparate geopolitical contexts resist state and normative power to construct perfect worlds—for themselves alone.
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. It presents new ways of thinking about aesthetic difficulty, personal autonomy, and complicity and dissent.
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. Susan Stewart is a poet, critic, and translator, as well as professor in the English Department at PU. She won the National Book Critics Circle Award for her volume of poems Columbarium. Her most recent book of poems is Cinder: New and Selected Poems. Stewart’s books of criticism include The Poet’s Freedom: A Notebook on Making; and Poetry and the Fate of the Senses.