Utopia is a word that was first used by Sir Thomas More in his book of the same name, published in 1516. And by way of association with the subject matter of his novel the word has since come to mean an ideal or perfect society or set of living conditions, more generally.
The Greek etymology of the word, however, points to the fanciful nature of any such place actually existing, meaning as it does “no place” or nowhere.
What fascinates me, though, is that there also exists within the English language another word which is pronounced exactly the same way as utopia but which has a radically different etymological meaning, namely eutopia. And intriguingly the meaning of this word is a “place of wellness or well-being”.
The difference of meaning would also tend to indicate that a eutopia is not some unattainably ideal state of living, in the way a utopia most certainly is. In any event, I’m sure you will agree that a place of wellness is ultimately an extremely desirable prospect period.
Which now leads me to my telling you about my own personal search for eutopia. Or what I like to call my wellness retreat. A place where in mind, body and soul I can feel healthy and alive, while I bring expression to my various competing creative visions.
I thought I had found it once. I’m not joking. It was the perfect rural property on which to found my own eutopia. In fact, the whole end of my novel is actually set at the location I’m speaking of, albeit with a bit of embellishment here and there. And so, in order to describe it for you, I’ve lifted the following passage directly from the book:
“Thelapis House Cabins Resort sat perched at the topmost point of a range of mountains famous for their once-rich deposits of red gold. No central dwelling or structure actually marked the property as such. Instead, there existed a ramshackle collection of shingle-roofed slab huts and slap-up sleep-outs made from various bits of recycled timber dotted over the landscape, along with a traditional North American Indian tipi for good measure. In one corner of the paddock furthest from where Ipsum waited there also stood a converted railway dining carriage with a psychedelic mural painted down one side. The mural depicted a Nag Hammadi-inspired “Dawn of Creation”-type of scene, in swirling fluorescent day-glo colors and drew the eye from every angle on the property. Just as striking, though, were the billowing outcrops of wild bracken and glorious old-growth eucalypts which grew around the edges of the improbable bohemian fairyland.”
I was so ready to go ahead and buy it. And you were all going to be invited. It was going to be the perfect quintessential artists’ commune. There was going to be an organic farm on site, growing all our food needs, and free-range chickens and goats for milking. Man, I had a dream. If you’d also seen the claw-foot bath and its attached candelabra out under the stars, like I did, I believe you too would have thought this place represented a true eutopia.
So what went wrong? you ask.
Well, they call it the root of all evil for good reason. Money. Yep, I ain’t got none of it. But in the dream I had of founding my own eutopia, my novel was going to sell a whole heap of copies and end up financing the whole crazy fantasy. I’m not greedy, believe me. I just wanted enough of the cursed green stuff to bring my dream to life.
The property has since sold. And the new owners are undoubtedly completely unaware that where they live forms the setting of the climax of my novel. I certainly don’t begrudge them their prize, obviously.
However, it does mean I am still searching for my own personal place of well-being. My eutopia. My ultimate artist retreat, where you are all still invited, if and when I can find a way of actualizing the grand eutopian vision my novel ends with. A big name publisher with a penchant for darkly satirical surrealist fiction would be a damn good start, I’m thinking…
But that’s enough about me. Tell me, what does the idea of eutopia mean to you?