Utopian Q&A: Adam Craig
Updated: Aug 12, 2020
Adam Craig is a writer and an editor for Cinnamon Press. His next novel, A Locket of Hermes, a follow-on to the short story, ‘Marietta Merz’ (see his collection, High City Walk), is scheduled to be published next year.
Rowan Fortune: It has been over half a millennium since Thomas More wrote Utopia, coining the name of a genre that applied literary wit to the dream of a better world. This conversation of texts played a pivotal role in shaping the narratives of modernity, as well as the novel, modern prose fiction’s most distinctive medium. However, the utopian imagination has also been read back into the earliest human stories.
Humanity is at a crisis point, beset by systemic catastrophes of ecology, economy and political legitimacy, the basis of which can be found in the upheavals of More’s period—the land enclosures and earliest intimations of industrial revolution. Utopia is often said to be at a low point, relatively dormant since its flowering in the 1970s. And yet, even discounting other mediums, novelists continue to explore utopia; for example, in the work of Iain M. Banks, Kim Stanley Robinson, Alan Jaccobs, Robert Llewellyn, Ada Palmer, Nisi Shawl, and Cory Doctorow.
Even in dystopian times, this imaginative leap makes its simple demand on artists.
What is your earliest memory of utopia?
AC: In retrospect, Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds series—a world without scarcity, governed by a single government, and in which there are tremendous acts of altruism and a strong humanitarian sense (even if Jeff Tracy refuses to let his grandmother retire and keeps her working as the family housekeeper). Next after that would be the original Star Trek series which, to the five-year-old me, seemed an inevitable model of the future. If, in both cases, it was the technology and adventure that made the biggest initial impression, the political/utopian threads of these series percolated through my childhood, which was still a time when Science Fiction was seen as not only having a duty to predict and speculate (this would be pre-Star Wars), but also when SF had a broadly optimistic stance.
Are there facets of society you can imagine becoming utopian?
We live in an age in which optimism and imagination are in short supply, so it’s easier to believe utopias are as unlikely as they ‘impractical’. But, if the broadest reaction to the recent confinement is to return to old ways with hedonistic zeal, there are a few signs of deeper change—most will give up cultivating their own food, for instance, but some won’t and I see that shift as a positive move away from the status quo towards co-operative, distributed models of living that refute the ‘there is no alternative’ delusions of Capitalist Realism. Likewise, the American autonomous zones demonstrate a passionate desire for change and, perhaps as Peter Lamborn Wilson (Hakim Bey) suggests, a series of such ‘rebellions’, coming and going like the tides, is a better step towards a new society than one grand revolution. But I also see crumbs in writers such as the folklorist and storyteller Martin Shaw, who argues against the ‘practical’ mindset in favour of a less mired, more ‘Romantic’ (i.e. imaginative and pro-active) approach to our problems, a position that finds echo in the work of the Hermeticist, Patrick Harpur, who champions a shift away from the linear, discrete, reductive approach of Modernism towards a more analogic/metaphoric mode of thought—one that’s creative, intuitive and apt to make great leaps. Essentially, without imagination, there can be no utopia.
How is utopia most expressed in your life?
Partly through a deepening interest in Hermeticism—the Hermetic as a model (metaphor) for the deeply interconnected state of our existence, as an urging for radical thought and radical acts of generosity, kindness and gratitude. It’s, as Martin Shaw has put it, Romanticism as activism, in a sense. But it’s also a segue into ecology, environmentalism and a desire towards greater self-sufficiency, greater localism and less reliance on the capitalist/market system. I’m quite happy to regard the landscape as aware and alive, in an animistic sense, while, simultaneously understanding a more scientific (if still interconnected) model of the same vista of rocks, trees, water courses, people, birds and plant life. For me, there’s a greater sense of connection with my surroundings in this, a greater sense of co-operation and egalitarianism, as well as imagination and (admittedly fragile) optimism, all of which strike me as utopian.
If you had to live in a fictional utopia, which and why?
Well, the five/six year old me would definitely have wanted to live in the world of Thunderbirds. But the fifty-something me is more drawn to the Kesh people of Ursula Le Guin’s Always Coming Home—egalitarian, anarchistic, ecologically stable, imaginative and less prone to the rigidity of thought that bedevils our society. I’m attracted, on the one hand, to Le Guin’s awareness of living from day-to-day (the Kesh are portrayed as favouring appropriate technologies, giving their society a very pragmatic feel), and on the other to the humanistic (these days, it’s tempting to say ‘sane’) approach to living in harmony with their immediate surroundings and the broader sweep of the biosphere.
How has the idea of utopia influenced your writing?
I think the idea of dystopia has had a greater influence over-all. But, in some senses, it’s easier to envisage disaster and our culture’s become adept at doing so whilst, simultaneously, pretending that nothing’s ever going to change. However, the writer Kathleen Raine (amongst others) maintained that we get the worlds we imagine, so I’m increasingly trying to conjure something other than endless catastrophes in my writing. Drawing on hermeticism and alchemy, Jung’s theories, I’m gradually developing a series of stories that incorporate a more positive, utopian thread. The important thing, for me, is to imagine alternatives—not literal alternatives, perhaps, but metaphoric or even poetic. To accept the world as it’s presented to us is to accept nothing much at all. So, perhaps most of all, these acts of imagining are the most utopian aspect of my writing.
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