The United States today is afflicted with political alienation, militarized violence, institutionalized poverty, and social agony. Worst of all, perhaps, it is afflicted with chronic and acute ahistoricism. America insist on ignoring the context of its present dilemmas. It insists on forgetting what preceded the headlines of today and on denying continuity with history. It insists, in short, on its exceptionalism.
American Utopia and Social Engineering sets out to correct this amnesia. It misses no opportunity to flesh out both the historical premises and the political promises behind the social policies and political events of the period. These interdisciplinary concerns provide, in turn, the framework for the analyses of works of American literature that mirror their times and mores.
Novels considered include: B.F. Skinner and Walden Two (1948), easily the most scandalous utopia of the century, if not of all times; Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962), an anatomy of political disfranchisement American-style; Bernard Malamud’s God’s Grace (1982), a neo-Darwinian beast fable about morality in the thermonuclear age; Walker Percy’s The Thanatos Syndrome (1986), a diagnostic novel about engineering violence out of America’s streets and minds; and Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America (2004), an alternative history of homegrown ‘soft’ fascism.
With the help of the five novels and the social models outlined therein, Peter Swirski interrogates key aspects of sociobiology and behavioural psychology, voting and referenda procedures, morality and altruism, multilevel selection and proverbial wisdom, violence and chip-implant technology, and the adaptive role of emotions in our private and public lives.
"Professor Swirski is something of a phenomenon. His publishing record is superb by any standard. His background in European and American literatures is formidable. His style is witty, accessible, aably suited to his subject. A great teacher in the university classroom, Professor Swirski uses his pedagogical skills to take the reader via his books through a series of complex subjects on which he is obviously an expert. American Utopia is a superb example of his particular abilities manifesting themselves in a new and original project… a remarkably original contribution to American studies…. there really is no other book out there remotely like it."
-- David Rampton, Department of English, University of Ottawa
"This is a stunning book. Drawing on a rich blend of literary analysis, sociopolitical critique, and evolutionary biology, Swirski examines the hopes, horrors, and illusions of utopian social engineering through the lens of twentieth-century American fiction. Superbly crafted, accessible to the non-specialist, and intellectually exhilarating, American Utopia and Social Engineering should not be missed."
-- David Livingstone Smith, Department of Philosop...