Essay on Book Review: Houston
Since its creation in 1516, the idea of utopia has been critiqued and changed. Among those critiquing the idea is Chloe Houston, Undergraduate Admissions in the Department of English Literature at the University of Reading. In a 2017 book review, Houston analyses the history of utopia from its creation to its modern-day view. Through words and phrases such as “inextricably linked,” “curiously distant” and “anti-neoliberal call to arms,” she maintains an analytical tone throughout the piece with the only shift occurring at the end when her tone becomes urgent, almost to the point of passionate. Houston also makes strong points to support her stance that utopia is still relevant today. These points include the fact that the idea of utopia is found in modern-day politics, but unfortunately, modern America is no longer on the path to improvement. Thus, learning about utopia could yield a much-needed warning for the future of the country.
Houston begins making her point about the relativity of utopia in paragraph one with the question “What place does Utopia have in 2017?” (Houston, 2017). This question grabs the reader's attention and provokes thought. The idea of utopia is not as widely thought about as it was during the early years of the term's existence. Because of this, Houston’s question invites the reader to think about how utopia could be present in the modern world. Houston continues to reference modern culture further on when she writes, “In literature as in politics, utopia and dystopia are of course, inextricably linked, two side of the same coin” (Houston, 2017). As in her opening question, Houston again challenges a modern ideal with an uncommon approach. By comparing utopia to politics, she brings something familiar to her argument. Americans are taught about politics from a young age, but Houston compares it to a lesser-known topic to demonstrate her point. This proves effective as she continues through the rest of the section.
She furthers her point in the middle of the review by criticizing modern-day America and capitalism. An example of this is when she states “modern society has become so comfortable that we have ceased to strive for improvement” (Houston, 2017). However, before this quote, she mentions Rutger Bregman, author of Utopia for Realists. Bregman touts modern-day accommodations and appliances such as hotels, refrigerators, couches, and televisions, have set a new standard for life, but he purposely leaves out the scientific and technological advances of the time. This could be because Bregman wants to exaggerate his point and bring the issue to the readers’ eyes. Americans have started becoming content with their current settings instead of working towards advancements. Unlike predecessors, modern day Americans no longer have the need to hunt or work for our necessities. Houston also points out that Bregman says, “‘It is capitalism that opened the gates to the Land of Plenty, but capitalism alone cannot sustain it’” (Houston, 2017). Houston uses this except to exaggerate a misconception that a majority of people hold. She references “the Land of Plenty” and this could be a reference to the biblical Promised Land, where the people were provided with what they needed before they were fully aware that they needed it. Houston uses this example and then warns that capitalism will not sustain this lifestyle to which Americans have become accustomed.
Houston's makes her last major point near the end of the piece when she provides a warning to readers. She states, “Realists need dystopia, too, because they offer warnings that might improve the future of human society if heeded in time” (Houston, 2017). Houston directly addresses realists in this statement. Realists are known for seeing situations as they are and Houston uses this reference probably because they are able to see the connections between the futuristic novels and the current path of America. Houston ends the phrase with “if heeded in time.” Not only does this phrase increase the serious tone of the matter, but it also hints to the reader that consequences could occur sooner than believed. “Dystopian literature… can help us to avoid the worst of all possible worlds…” (Houston, 2017). Again, Houston is providing the reader with a warning. This time the warning is against the world becoming something much worse than anyone could imagine. When people think of terrible worlds or outcomes, they often think of futuristic, horror movies. Houston is not referring to some movie in this warning though; she is providing a warning for our real, natural world.
Houston ends her book review by leaving the readers with something more to think about. The last paragraph begins with, “It is a tough job to reclaim the idea of utopia for the the twenty-first century and deploy it in the battle against the neoliberal agenda”(Houston, 2017) This statement, along with many others throughout the review, causes the reader to