Sociology of the Imagined World


Essay, 2003

11 Pages, Grade: A+


Free online reading

Table of Contents

Introduction

Mara and Dann

Brave New World

A Clockwork Orange

Bibliography

Primary Literature

Secondary Literature

Further Reading

Introduction

Since Thomas More’s Utopia – maybe even since Plato’s Politeia – the imagined world is the place where political and sociological ideas are realized.[1] This does not mean that these are always the imagined, fictionalized realization of a complete societal model – a positivistic example. The imagined world is a place that offers itself for experimenting; it is the perfect place to manifest ideas and exemplify them,[2] to confront contemporary society - through the eyes of one out of their midst, but still, safely detached - in satire - by subversion, by conceptual metaphor, by codifying its observed ills in the language of the imagination.[3] It is a place to extrapolate possibilities and consequences of particular aspects of civilization.[4]

In Doris Lessing’s Mara And Dann, Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, however, we find the confrontation of individuals with societies they cannot – or do not want to – fit in. The different characters of the books – Mara, Dann, Alex, Bernhard, Helmholtz and John Savage – all interact with complex societies profoundly different from those the novels were written in – from those the readers know; the character is existing in alien circumstances in the imagined worlds.[5] Thus, these scenarios offer an insight on some of the forces shaping society and influencing social behavior, and on the interaction between the individual and the world it lives in - extracted from its empirical surrounding. This offers indeed a powerful view – certainly depending on how far we can trust the author, his or her grasp of the world surrounding him or her, his or her ability to apply it to a world imagined by himself or herself, which ultimately is nothing but speculation. After all, however, the ideas of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau or Karl Marx depend on their grasp of the world as well, on their interpretation of it, that is.[6] And no one would disagree with the thought that their views have shaped our conception of the world at one point or another.

I deliberately chose such a sociological–psychological-political frame of reference for this essay, not only for the reason of traditions.[7] I am very well aware that the theorems included in sociology are not necessarily part and intention of the texts I am considering. Still, the texts under discussion agree very well with certain aspects of sociological thinking, and I mean not only by fictionalizing and exemplifying them, or by necessarily mirroring aspects of real society to emulate a realistic-appearing imagined society, but also in just being another form to represent socio-psychological thinking.

In my considerations I will focus on some classical dualisms of sociological thinking manifested in the novels, considering narration, the form of representation and the genre. The major dualism individual/society is reflected in dichotomies of thinking like individualism/holism, social action/social system, conflict/consensus, homo economicus/homo sociologicus and micro/macro. Those dichotomies do not only shape sociological arguments and social models, they lie as well on the core of judging society.[8]

Due to the simple reason of space and time I can touch each novel only very briefly.

Mara and Dann

Doris Lessing’s Mara And Dann evolves around two very present individuals at the center - especially Mara, who is as well the main projector of the narration. Although stemming from an aristocratic family the early lives of both, and their socialization, are characterized by need and the fight for survival.[9] The drought threatening the continent of Ifrik causes an increasing lack of water and food. The community of the village only sticks together as far as needed, to ward off strangers, to be safe from the dangerous wild animals.[10] Being disliked and disregarded, Mara and Dann, together with their guardian Daima – later the roles between Mara and Daima switch – can survive only through constant watchfulness.[11] However, even in this hostile environment there exists a minimum level of corporation, a minimal social order, preventing the three to simply be robbed and killed by the others. The same principal of assistance they encounter in their later flight to the north, a fragile state of cooperation that does not allow for solidarity or real help – defying leadership, discussion and consensus – but in which the group offers at least some protection against the hard surroundings.[12] It is state of being born off need, allowing individual and social freedom only in the overwhelming confines of the fight for survival – the provision of water and food being the highest principles of human existence.[13]

The homo economicus and its fight for survival seems to prevail in this environment – but in the relationship between Mara, Dann and Daima, and to some lesser extent in the relationship between Daima and her neighbor Rabat, even in the village, we trace the homo sociologicus. However, those prove to be at the micro-level of society, intra-family and intra-group relations, which only in the relation between Mara, Dann and Daima are really altruistic and not aimed at pure survival.[14]

The community of the village dissolves in Mara and Dann, leaving no one but Mara and Daima – who finally dies – in the village, Dann having left earlier with two of their kin, only to return in the end.[15]

As Mara And Dann basically is a travel novel, the characters encounter different forms of society, social order and political order from then on. The journey to the north is like an accelerated civilizing process. The loose communities they are a part of in the beginning are replaced by societies governed by the institutionalized form of state.

Soon, the fight for survival converts from the strife for water and food to a sociological struggle for freedom and independence in the different political and social systems they are thrust into. The forces threatening them are less and less single individuals,[16] but the ‘law’, the ‘state’ and its agents.

Mara and Dann prove to be independet individuals, unable to fit absolutely into society owing to their history. In Mara it is her far-sightedness together with the outsider view that allow her to see the weaknesses of the states and societies she enters. She is bound to her fear of nature, her regard for the basic needs of human survival together with her longing for knowledge.

From that morale superior stance, she comes to disclose the weaknesses of all those systems. The slavery-caste state of Chelops, with its aristocratic–feudalistic features is determined by the corruption and degeneration of the leading class, the Hadrons, and the subtle surge for control by the Kin.[17] Although they superficially seem to be able to provide the rest of the population with all they need – as especially the Kin very well believe – and to uphold justice, their own enclave of luxury and their strong focus on the group make them blind to the actual state of things and society – they do not even seem to notice the emptying of Chelops. Social security is confined to the inside of the group, owing to the group’s position in the state – still Mara is threatened by the outside group of the Hadrons.[18]

Dann, in his distrust (later proving to be disloyalty as well) towards human beings beside Mara – to some degree owing to a childhood trauma, but also to the many times he had to provide for himself in a hostile world – experiences the dark side of that society from the very beginning, being an outcast in an area outside the direct state control from the beginning.[19]

Due to reasons of space, I will not elaborate on the other states or social bonds Mara and Dann pass through – together or separately. Their encounters with the states in the River Towns, their time in the hierarchical soldier society of Charad – which is justified as a welfare state by General Shabis, where everyone belongs to the army – and Mara’s period of serving in the Charad-mirroring army of the Hennes, and finally their time at the Center all bear significance. What they share is their inevitable corruption – corruption in the sense, that the state as the governing principle of society is determined by the quarrels of the ruling classes, their preoccupation with themselves,[20] and the ruling classes’ corruption and obsessions with certain beliefs and ideologies.[21]

There is much more to say about Mara’s and Dann’s own role in dealing with the different society, it is a quite complex issue. Their will to reach a better place north is only one of the aspects turning them antagonists to most of the states they encounter – their ungovernable strong free will - besides the weaknesses they find in all those societies.[22] However, finally it is the small, self-governed unit of the family-like commune at the farm that resolves them from their constant struggle in the world – at least socially, as they are in a place with people they love and trust, and in which they are together able to defend themselves from a still hostile and threatening world.

Brave New World

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is a Utopian novel, set in the future. It develops the vision of a united worldwide society – though divided into different geographical sectors. Under “the World State’s motto, COMMUNITY, IDENTIY, STABILITY”[23] nearly every aspect shaping society is institutionalized and controlled. “Hatchery and Conditioning Centre[s]”[24] take the function of reproduction and education, members of the society are produced – instead of being individuals, owing to socialization and to the genetic outfit. They are ready-made to fit into the positions they are needed for by conditioning and genetic engineering - clones. This produces a caste system of groups of identical beings, divided into Alphas, Betas, etc. all contributing to society in the way they are needed. Freedom is restricted to the confines of their social function. On the scale of macro-sociology the world society is structured around consumerism and production: it has to consume in order to make production profitable.

This state of order is complemented and upheld by complex systems in the domain of micro-sociology: controlling behavior, fulfilling needs and manipulating desires – linking everything to production and consumption. The means for this are the indoctrination[25] with an ideology of hedonism and consumerism – concerning e.g. love, sex, clothing, spare time –, the use of drugs – like soma – and the banning of everything threatening the order – including e.g. Shakespeare and the Bible.[26]

Every one is the same in being the slave to social order in this society – the World Controllers themselves, represented by one of them, the impressing Mustafa Mond, are no exception, their leadership is completely unselfish and happens in the spirit of world order.[27]

However, in the novel this perfectly working utopian[28] society is confronted with three individuals: Bernard Marx, who exemplifies its non-perfection by not quite fitting into his class – probably due to an accident during his hatching – and feels inferior and thus unhappy;[29] Helmholtz Watson, whose superiority even for his class let him see his limitation in society;[30] and John Savage, a non-engineered human being, entering society from a reservation outside the absolute state control.

In this the novel focuses as well on the mutual relation between individual behavior and state control, between freedom and order. The novel remains ambiguous, and, as Bradshaw indicates in his introduction, it can indeed be read as more than a dystopia satirizing e.g. neo-liberalist views on consumption,[31] namely as “oblique and despairing endorsement of scientific planning”[32] – especially as World Controller Mustafa Mond is in many regards superior to the book’s main characters.[33]

Interestingly, the model for society Brave New World includes, assumes that absolute social order can only be achieved by controlling the macro-sociological factors of society and the micro-sociological factors – which means also fulfilling human needs.

A Clockwork Orange

Burgess’ A Clock Work Orange again confronts social order with one individual. The novel features a “near-future society”[34] – being published in 1962. Its social setting at the start is youth culture.[35] As everything is seen through the eyes of the novels main character, Alex, the only view we get on society is through his eyes.

Alex himself is violent, anti-social, without interest in school or work, not able to adapt to society – social reasons for this we are not given, only boredom.[36]

Prison proves to be no constrainer for his criminal energy, so he is conducted to a new governmental program of conditioning.[37] However, A Clockwork Orange takes the ultimately stance in favor of individual freedom, even if opposing social order, and even if threatening the freedom of others. Especially since the government measures prove to be equally cruel acts of violence, only in an institutionalized form – the police forces prove to be recruited from the very ranks of juvenile ‘evildoers’, they are supposed to oppose, using the same violence later in the book.[38] The conditioning of Alex proves to be corporal punishment from the inside.[39] In this context, together with the democratic parties turning out to use Alex – both sides – and the fight against violence as a means of getting and staying in power[40], A Clockwork Orange reminds us[41] that the institutionalized state itself can be a quite real danger for the individual’s physical well-being.

After all, the measures for state control and achieving social order are usually very close to each other, and what from one perspective is stabilizing, is repressing from another.[42]

Bibliography

Primary Literature

Burgess, Anthony. A Clockwork Orange. London et alii: Penguin Classics, 1996 (reprinted 2000).

Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. London: Flamingo Modern Classic, 1994.

Lessing, Doris. Mara And Dann. London: Flamingo, 1999.

Secondary Literature

Bradshaw David. ‘Introduction’. Brave New World. Aldous Huxley. London: Flamingo Modern Classic, 1994. No pages indicated.

Morrison, Blake. ‘Introduction’. A Clockwork Orange. Anthony Burgess. London et alii: Penguin Classics, 1996 (reprinted 2000).

Van Krieken, Robert. ‘Beyond the ‘problem of order’: Elias, habit and modern sociology or Hobbes was right’. Internet WWW Page at URL <http://www.usyd.edu.au/su/social/elias/confpap/order.html>.

Further Reading

Butler, Samuel. Erewhon. London: Penguin Classics, 1970 (Reprinted 1980).

Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. Edited by Richard Tuck. Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Marcuse, Herbert. One-Dimensional Man. Boston: Beacon Press, 1964.

More, Thomas. Utopia. Edited by George M. Logan and Robert Adams. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s Travels. London: Penguin Popular Classics, 1994.

Vogel, Julius. Anno Domini 2002; Or: A Woman’s Destiny. Auckland: Exisle Publishing, 2000.

Wells, H.G. The Food of the Gods – and How it came to Earth. Wellington: School of English, Film & Theatre, 2001.

Wells, H.G. The Time Machine. New York: Signet Classic, 2002.

[...]


[1] Or rather: imaginatively tested.

[2] Like the various ideas on possible benefits of certain policies, technologies and social order in Julius Vogel’s Anno Domini 2000; Or: Woman’s Destiny.

[3] Like in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travel or Samuel Butler’s Erewhon.

[4] Like in H.G. Well’s Food Of The God and The Time Machine.

[5] With the exception of the world of Clockwork Orange, which is a radicalised version of our own. Further, there remains the underlying question: are not all fictional worlds alien from the worlds they stem from? Is this not an inherent part of representation? Is not every world an imaginary world?

[6] Certainly most of them are more like predecessors to what we would call modern sociology, they are more at home in the field of philosophy and not so much in the field of scientific method, e.g. survey and statistic. The empiricism of John Locke e.g. is based on experience, but not one determined by scientific method. As the fiction of an imagined world basically is based on abstracted - and in the imagined world reinstated - rules and forces. Their theories depend on the textual representation of such abstractions – although they are governed by different rules of genre.

[7] As such, my approach is not a genuinely literary-criticism-approach.

[8] Cf. Robert van Krieken: ‘Beyond the ‘problem of order’: Elias, habit and modern sociology, or Hobbes was right (Internet WWW Page at URL <http://www.usyd.edu.au/su/social/elias/confpap/order.html>).

[9] Cf. Doris Lessing: Mara And Dann (London: Flamingo, 1999), chapters 1 – 3, pp. 1 – 82.

[10] Cf. ibid, e.g. pp. 38ff.

[11] Cf. M ara And Dann, chapters 1 – 2, pp. 1 – 64.

[12] Cf. ibid, pp. 115 – 123.

[13] Cf. e.g. ibid, pp 97ff. This is the powerful scene, where Dann steals from two strangers, who eventually die.

[14] Cf. ibid, chapters 1 – 3, pp. 1 – 82.

[15] I will put no emphasis on the role of race and ethnicity, which are certainly powerful topics in the novel.

[16] Although the most dangerous individual threatening their life, Kulik, follows them until he is killed in a final showdown outside the confines of state control. Still, he is a threat changing in accordance to his environment. While he impersonates the tyrannical bully in the microscopic society of the Rock Village (cf. Mara And Dann, chapters 1 – 3, pp. 1 – 82), he turns into a member of the policing forces in corrupt Chelop (cf. ibid, chapters 6 – 8, pp. 134 – 203, especially pp. 179ff), and later into a freelancing bounty hunter for the Generals of the hierarchical society of the Charad (cf. ibid, pp. 349ff).

[17] Cf. ibid, chapters 6 – 8, pp. 134 – 203.

[18] Certainly, there is much more to say about Mara’s own rise inside the group, her constructive influence and her own strife to contribute to that society. Indeed, she proves to be happy in that society. The reason for her to finally leave is the outward threat of the drought, together with the threat that the Hadron’s will to mate with her poses to her freedom.

[19] Cf. Mara And Dann, pp 173ff. A place Mara could only avoid by trusting her kin – and owing to her hereditary social status in that society.

[20] As family – exemplified by the fate of Mara’s and Dann’s own family preliminary to the story of the book -, as group – the Hadrons versus the Kin (cf. Mara And Dann, chapters 6 – 8, pp. 134 – 203) -, or as members of the institutions of state – the corrupt members of the council in Bilma (cf. ibid, 336ff), or the conflict between the four generals of the Charad (cf. ibid, pp. 281ff).

[21] Especially Felix and Felica in the Center (cf. ibid, pp. 368 – 386), and the stubborn, not quite human Hennes.

[22] Indeed, Dann and Mara prove to be able to adapt very well to some of the forms of society, e.g. both in Charad, Dann in the Centre (Mara to some degree), and Mara in Chelops.

[23] Cf. Aldous Huxley: Brave New World (London: Flamingo Modern Classic, 1994), p. 1.

[24] Brave New World, p. 1.

[25] E.g. in the form of advertising, slogans, music and general media.

[26] Cf. Brave New World, chapters XVI – XVII, pp. 198 – 219. The discussion between John Savage and Mustafa Mond.

[27] Cf. ibid.

[28] Or dystopian. An utterly dreadful vision from the perspective of our individuality-obsessed Western civilisation, as well as from the point-of-view of e.g. the New Left – elements of such a society are indeed reflected, or seen, in the US society, with globalisation and cultural hegemony worldwide as well.

[29] This in combination with his intelligence as an Alpha male leads him to become self-reflexive.

[30] Which is the Alpha-Plus class, the class of next-to-perfect human beings, physical and mental. Cf. David Bradshaw: ‘Introduction’, Brave New World (London: Flamingo Modern Classic, 1994), no pages indicated

[31] Cf. Bradshaw.

[32] Bradshaw.

[33] Especially the pathetic figure of Bernard. In his discussion with John Savage the World Controller seems not to be morally or rhetorical inferior to John Savage – and after all, the solution the World State finds for the rebels – sending them to an island – is extraordinary human for a totalitarian state (like the spraying of soothing drugs the police forces use for law enforcement is as well, cf. Brave New World, pp. 195ff), even satisfying for Helmholtz and Bernard. As for the death of John Savage: after all, it is his obsession – right or wrong – with individualism, passion, rapidity including despair that eventually leads him to commit suicide (cf. Bradshaw).

In any case, it features ideas that are later reflected in the Criticial Theory of Herbert Marcuse e.g. – One-Dimensional Man on US culture of consumerism – as well as ideas from classical state planning – like Hobbes Leviathan (or De Cive). And, as a novel, it can afford to take both perspectives, the macro and the micro, the classical dualisms being at the very bottom of the novel.

[34] Blake Morrison: ‘Introduction’, A Clockwork Orange (London et alii: Penguin Classics, 1996 (reprinted 2000)), p.viii.

[35] Owing much to the then present youth cultures in England - the Teds a little bit earlier, then the Mods and the Rockers, later the Skin Heads.

[36] Cf. Anthony Burgess: A Clockwork Orange (London et alii: Penguin Classics, 1996 (reprinted 2000)), Part One, pp. 3 – 56.

[37] Cf. ibid, Part Two, pp. 57 – 97. Social order is supposed to be achieved by manipulating the freedom of choice (whatever that really means) and by the state intruding into directly into the private space mind to prevent certain form of behaviour before it is translated into action – simply to the conditioning in Brave New World.

[38] Cf. A Clockwork Orange, pp. 109ff.

[39] Cf. ibid, Part Three, pp. 97 – 141.

[40] By the classical democratic means of influencing public opinion. Cf. ibid, Chapters 4 – 6, pp. 112 – 132.

[41] Like Mara And Dann does as well.

[42] This is even true for such an utterly not corrupt society as the one in Brave New World, as here ideologies take the place of the despot. And after all, this aspect of Brave New World is absolutely utopian.

11 of 11 pages

Details

Title
Sociology of the Imagined World
College
Victoria University of Wellington
Course
ENGL349: Utopias, Future Worlds and Satiric Fantasies
Grade
A+
Author
Year
2003
Pages
11
Catalog Number
V109185
File size
361 KB
Language
English
Notes
The Table of Contents, the titles in the text and the title page were in this form not part of the essay as it was handed in. The essay was one of three in-term assignments. Word length is 2149.
Tags
Sociology, Imagined, World, ENGL349, Utopias, Future, Worlds, Satiric, Fantasies
Quote paper
Marc Regler (Author), 2003, Sociology of the Imagined World, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/109185

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