Utopian Q&A: Sonya Blanck
Updated: Aug 12, 2020
Sonya Blanck is a pseudonym.
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?
SB: Growing up in America, I remember writing President Clinton letters about saving the environment at ages 5 and 6—probably inspired by Captain Planet, come to think of it. I drew pictures of things like trees, cars, and smog on the envelope, around the address for the White House, and was thrilled to get a response to each letter (although, again come to think of it, they were both the same stock letter, an early experience of anti-utopian bureaucracy too).
Are there facets of society you can imagine becoming utopian?
I’ve seen great work on implementing community-oriented horizontal democracy, which we saw most visibly with the original Occupy movement. A strong, accountable local community culture can go a long way towards utopia, but I’m not convinced that utopia can scale up—it tends to fall apart beyond groups of, say, a thousand people.
How is utopia most expressed in your life?
Given that I’m an anarchist living and raising children in a chosen family, at the moment utopia is something that I’m trying to practically implement on a household level, which certainly has its challenges! Negotiating harmony between people with different goals who want different things can get logistically difficult, but I can hardly expect to promote collective consensus within a community if I can’t achieve it at home.
If you had to live in a fictional utopia, which and why?
Probably whichever underground community arose amongst the refugees from Omelas, who would surely work towards a utopia not predicated on the infliction of suffering upon nameless others.
How has the idea of utopia influenced your writing?
‘To see the farm is to leave it’—considering and challenging power structures from a tender age has shaped not just my writing, but also how I interact with the social polity generally. I’m glad and grateful to have begun the process of questioning my privilege as a white woman early in life, an ongoing process which compels me to include characters with different experiences than my own in my writing. I’m also glad to have come to anarchism from an early age too, engaging with the work of writers such as John Zerzan which questions the very foundation of modern Western society, including unsparing explorations of the colonial history which has enriched the West at the expense of the cultures it thieved from and murdered. The anarchist tradition strives always for a utopian society of equals, and I’ve enjoyed exploring that in my work, especially given the alternative forms of governance likely to arise as climate change bites.
An early questioning of power structures also led me to esotericism from an early age—perhaps the ultimate in utopian ideology. Mystics have long prophesied and prescribed for a utopian age, in contrast to the age in which they arose, and those visions have truth and power that resonate even as the world changes around them. That strength of vision is something I hope to capture in my own writing one day.
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