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THE CURIOUS ENLIGHTENMENT OF PROFESSOR CARITAT by Steven Lukes

THE CURIOUS ENLIGHTENMENT OF PROFESSOR CARITAT

A Comedy of Ideas

By Steven Lukes

Pub Date: Nov. 16th, 1995
ISBN: 1-85984-948-2
Publisher: Verso

 With inspiration from Voltaire's Candide, and a dash of Swiftian satire thrown in for good measure, a first novel that offers a new look at an old form. Professor Lukes (Political and Social Theory/European Univ. Institute, Florence) tries his hand at theory as fiction, though not always with stellar results. The story's Everyman, Nicholas Caritat, professor of the Enlightenment, is sent on a covert mission to find ``the best possible world.'' Hailing from Militaria, an oppressive regime run by the Pessimists, the persecuted professor is rescued by the revolutionary Optimists, who furnish him with the new identity of Professor Pangloss and send him in search of some optimistic news, some new model on which to base the hopes of their frustrated resistance. His first stop is Utilitaria, a smoothly running society, albeit obsessed with calculation. The longer Caritat stays the more evident it becomes that the country is just as repressive and fanatical in its own ways as Militaria (this is the running theme of all his travels), sacrificing individual freedoms for the good of increased productivity. Through a series of adventures, he finds himself in Communitaria and then in Libertaria, equally fantastical nations based on severe interpretations of ideas current in contemporary politics, with recent world events, thinly veiled, giving a humorous horror to the novel. At turns it's amusing and pensive, with the concepts of Enlightenment thinkers bandied about and discussions pertaining to the rights of man and the nature of freedom. But more often than not the book fails to create a sense of sympathy or concern for the professor, making more banal and predictable the events intended to shock. Humor and fine ideas that are held back, in the end, by an issue-driven tone that makes for a flat, one-dimensional narrative.