Are you an Arcadian or a Utopian?

According to the late poet W.H. Auden, revolutionaries can be classified as either Arcadians or Utopians. Before I had heard of Auden’s Arcadian/Utopian axis I considered myself more a Utopian. At least, I had what I took to be utopian-like ideals, and spent much time over a period of a few years reading utopian literature and looking for utopia-like communities. Unfortunately, I’ve come to the conclusion that alternative communities are utopian, like me, in aspiration only, and often are struggling. It’s sad to realize that they just don’t as of yet seem possible. I’m certainly not naive, ideals are ideals I understand, but I’m still looking for something different.

And I still admire the possibility, as I did my senior year at the Savannah College of Art & Design, where I made my Utopian Fashion Collection. I had compiled my research and inspirations, and designed a winter collection that I envisioned in a utopian-like place. I used organic wools, cottons, and hemp silks, kettle-dyed wool yarn for embroidery, and clear quartz crystal points for fastenings. The collection was elegant and enchanting–how I assume fashion would appear in such a place.

Here are my watercolor illustrations of that collection. Eventually I will include photos of the finished garments in another post.

My husband later mentioned Auden’s distinction to me–knowing that I was, in Auden’s terms, actually more of an Arcadian. It seems Arcadians look to an idealized past, before history and culture, one that’s pastoral, simple, a garden of sorts; whereas Utopians idealize the future, think of attaining the goal of civilization, and usually envision something more civic. Both ideals are apparently beautiful, peaceful, humanitarian, though the former vision often accommodates fewer people. In short, Arcadians idealize the past, Utopians the future; Arcadians believe something’s been lost, Utopians believe something’s yet to be found; Arcadians think of a garden, Utopians a city.

I hope that an Arcadian lifestyle similar to the one found in Longus’s story “Daphnis and Chloe,” a Grecian pastoral romance, could be in my future. This story brings thoughts of barrels of wine, homemade cheese and bread, vast meadows, roaming sheep and goats, warm weather, and a close loving community to mind. I would certainly call that Arcadian. But I can also imagine a beautiful Utopian life, one straight out of William Morris’s “News From Nowhere”–a utopia where everything is handmade and beautiful, and where generosity, instead of money (which doesn’t exist), is a mark of wealth. But honestly, I do believe that something was lost that humanity did indeed have in the past, which is refreshing to me because if we lost it, then it’s possible, realistic, and I should be able to find it for myself.

Although Auden believed that revolutionaries were either one or the other, I believe there are shades of gray, and that most people fall somewhere in between. I’m a little of both, as are, I suspect, many of my personal heroines and heroes.

I’d love to hear what other people would consider themselves (revolutionary or not). Both ways of life sound beautiful to me. I feel that I’ve just always looked more to the past. Let me know your thoughts.

Fae has a new love for singing. Daddy is walking around our home with her sitting up in his arms and she’s doing just that. She sang through our evening walk last night, and through her after-dinner nursing. It’s pretty adorable.


9 responses to “Are you an Arcadian or a Utopian?

  1. I’ve never heard of the Arcadian distrinction before. I espeically liked how you articulated its hopeful message of something lost can be found rather than something that has never existed being created. I never considered myself Utopain but the Arcadian ideas I can see myself identifing with. I will have to read up on this.

  2. Hmm, interesting. I am going to think a while about Arcadian vs. Utopian in the way you have discussed. Here on the west coast, the garden seems to be the governing trope, and the popular classifications flung about are “paradise” and “utopia” (eliciting alternating frustration and hilarity from me in response to either, depending on the mood).

    Nice illustrations; I would like to wear them all.

    • Thanks 🙂

      There are so many ways to take the distinction. I’d imagine that here on the east coast the many people who believe in self-reliance would lean toward Arcadian, and people that are looking ahead toward change would be more Utopian, but that way of classification doesn’t even seem to work because transcendentalists (whom I assumed would be Arcadians), like Emerson for example, can certainly sound like Utopians as well.

      • It is hard or impossible to create firm distinctions when considering what such ways of life involve: questions of community, sustenance, type of government, resource management, religion, relationships, and geographical regional space all come into play so very quickly. Also, a big one, entertainment and socialising–Emerson was known to visit the nearby pub on a regular basis to imbibe and mingle.

        You may have noticed on my blog that the whole topic pretty much rules my life!

      • I did notice, and I got excited! It’s nice to see someone else who is searching for these answers and possibilities as well 🙂 It seems like an endless pursuit.

  3. Pingback: Are you an Arcadian or a Utopian? | Naiad And The Moon Of·

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