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.

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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.

*Originally posted on April 24th, 2012.

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

  1. I think you’re right about the shades of grey. After all, even Arcadians are looking to the future, in that sense that they want future societies to function like a society of old. Like you, I think I’m more Arcadian in nature, but I do think we’ll always have cities. I just hope that the cities of the future adapt to a more pastoral, artisan base, and live more in harmony with the planet.

    I think your fashions are beautiful. Can’t wait to see a picture of the finished products.

    • Thanks Marlene. And I agree with what you say. I’d love for our future cities to be like some of the artistic communities in our past, like early Athens or Cairo. I’m always on a search for the perfect city (or just a city that I admire), but, not surprisingly, am dissapointed when I realize that the golden time has passed. Maybe we’ll be looking toward a more pastoral and craftsman centered future. That seems very possible to me.

  2. Pingback: Arcadian, Treasury | Naiad And The Moon Of·

  3. I’ve never thought of myself in these terms, but after reading this post I believe I’m more of an Arcadian. I definitely feel like something has been lost, and I don’t really look forward to any sort of utopia where cities are involved. I’d much rather be lost in the pastoral world of nature.

  4. Pingback: Being at Peace in the Present Time | Naiad And The Moon Of·

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