A World Elsewhere by Bernard Levin

Given that the world is imperfect and can often seem drenched in suffering and disappointment it is hardly surprising that humans have invented utopias. Some of these are located on Earth at some distant place or some distant time. Others are located in the afterlife or some transcendental realm.

The term ‘utopia’ was coined from the Greek by Sir Thomas More for his 1516 book Utopia, describing a fictional island society in the Atlantic Ocean. The word comes from the Greek: οὐ (“not”) and τόπος (“place”) and means “no-place”, and strictly describes any non-existent society ‘described in considerable detail’. By imagining an ideal society, More was able to sharpen the perception of the demerits of our own society. However, in describing this ‘world elsewhere’ he shows how there are prices to be paid in constructing it, and dark compromises to be struck in maintaining it. 500 years on from the publication of ‘Utopia’, there are no conclusive answers to certain basic questions 1) What is human life for? 2) How should we live better? 3) What does an ideal society look like? Perhaps More’s endlessly provocative work will still be discussed in 2516.

The discussion area is so fertile that the imaginings, plans, projects and dreams have been rich and exotic. Bernard Levin (d. 2004, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernard_Levin), long time columnist for the Times newspaper and author gives us an amusing Cook’s Tour of these Shangri-Las. Fancy a fantasy tonight? Take your pick.

To go with this, listen to the BBC Radio 4 ‘In Our Time’ 30 minute episode on Utopias. Available at the link  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p005462n  With  Anthony Grayling, human rights campaigner, lecturer in philosophy at Birkbeck College, London and Fellow of St Anne’s College, Oxford; John Carey, distinguished critic, journalist, broadcaster, Merton Professor of English, Oxford University and editor of, The Faber Book of Utopias. Chaired by Melvyn Bragg. First broadcast Thursday 7 Oct 1999.

236 pages in Jonathan Cape Ltd. paperback edition.

Originally published 1994.

ISBN 978-0224033312

Bernard Levin – not expecting any world elsewhere

Scroll to Top