However I have decided that what I will do is write an updated commentary, though I still believe the comments that I made originally still hold The evolution of Humanity played out on stage 27 March When I picked this book up again I noticed that I have already read and commented on it, and I suspect that the comment that I wrote was back when I simply commented on books that I had already read not realising that there were a number of books that I wanted to read again including this one. However I have decided that what I will do is write an updated commentary, though I still believe the comments that I made originally still hold true. Further I will make some specific comments on each of the five parts. Shaw calls this play a metabiological pentatuch, and the Biblical allusion is quite striking and intentional. In the introduction Shaw indicates that when he first wrote about his theory of human evolution in Man and Superman the whole premise of the play was misinterpreted. As we will gather from this play Shaw believes that the violent nature of humanity is actually degenerative and in the end they will wipe themselves out leaving only the peaceful and wise intellectuals.
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That it is a utopia in dramatic rather than prose form, deploys an unusual mix of largely comic genres and styles, pursues eccentric ideas of Creative Evolution, and is exceptionally long and unwieldy in production has led to a mostly limited and perplexed scholarly reception from within both utopian and Shaw studies.
Against this context, this article unearths the utopian potential of Back to Methuselah, where aging and longevity serve to make possible the emergence of superior human capacity, which is uniquely able to establish and sustain a better world because of the qualities acquired through extended life.
This pessimism, in turn, only strengthened in the early twentieth century, with an increasingly pervasive sense of fear, anxiety, and political uncertainty in the context of mass slaughter of World War I and the subsequent emergence of fascism in Germany, Italy, and Spain, as well as Stalinism in the Soviet bloc. Domination of the utopian genre by the anti-utopian and dystopian novel was vividly expressed in several popular and enduring works, including H. Wells, and Annie Besant, Shaw was an early member of the Fabian Society established in , and hence committed to a gradualist approach to socialism.
For Shaw, a commitment to the potential of human agency to transform social relations was interwoven with a subscription to the possibility of the power of Creative Evolution to enhance the human subject. Furthermore, as Mark R. One of the most striking contributions of this play is the exploration it undertakes of aging and longevity: It provides a new and fertile evaluation of the capacities of the very old. For Shaw, the Life Force gained in strength and profundity in old age.
His vision of very old age as having the requisite maturity to engage successfully with the complexities of the modern world brings with it some fascinating and radical insights to the identity politics of age. The Aging Question In common with dominant narratives of aging across historical periods, youth or youthfulness—of the body, intellect, and temperament—has most often been the ideal age phase in utopian representations.
As part of this attachment to youthfulness, the experience of aging and of older utopian citizens specifically has often been neglected. In fact, the occasional appearance of an older character has tended to take the form of a dissenter bitterly complaining about the new progressive utopian society. Their advanced years apparently explicate a reactionary nostalgia, itself proof that the older person is an ideological as well as physiological anachronism.
Yet, significantly, in the foundational utopian texts, old age was depicted as a stage in the life course deserving of sympathetic attention or high social status. In the towns, the oldest male relative is in control of the household.
Under these conditions, the wants of the elderly appear as excessive demand, monstrous desire, or hopeless and inconceivable fantasy that should be contained through social regulation at home or through forced or voluntary emigration abroad.
This is in the context of a culture dependent on material growth and economic productivity, the corollaries of which exclude attributing value to bodily decay and decline. A discourse of fear over the growth in the number of people age sixty-five or over in Britain intensified in the first half of the twentieth century, a period punctuated by the introduction of pensions in and the imposition of retirement in Blaikie 7. However, his focus on old age as central to his utopian vision is extremely unusual.
This unusual proposition is developed across the five playlets. The utopian societies of parts four and five emerge from the new social and political potentialities afforded by extended life, which—as well as offering the advantages of wisdom and maturity—also make possible the long-term investment in futurity and common interest central to establishing and maintaining the utopian good life.
Shaw was sixty-five when Back to Methuselah was published, and while sixty-five may connote the beginnings of old age today, it was perceived as late life for many in the s. While it is useful to note that the inclusion of infant mortality somewhat skews these markedly different life expectancy rates, Shaw was nevertheless considered to be old when he wrote Back to Methuselah, and this personal experience of aging is likely to have informed his utopian intervention into this subject.
The serpent suggests they consider mortality and proposes that Adam choose as the age at which he should die, as a solution to the numbing boredom of immortality and the potential extinction of humanity if they were to suffer an accident.
The serpent proposes birth as compensation for relinquishing immortality so that human life has the opportunity to continue from generation to generation. After Cain a perverse Shavian superman, a kind of dialectical provocation has murdered Abel, instead of being cursed to wander the earth away from his parents, Cain is free to come and go wherever, whenever he chooses. These departures from scripture produced a Shavian dialectical set of tensions which were received with great pleasure.
Refashioning parts of Genesis as the cornerstone of an epic, expansive utopian vision produced a creative social myth, an essential supplement, Shaw believed, to political doctrine.
The Barnabas brothers  —Franklyn a cleric and Conrad a biologist —have been working on the theory of longevity, and Conrad has published a book with their conclusions: Living for years would provide enough time to accrue the experience and wisdom necessary for the long-term thinking and planning essential for the creation and sustainability of a better society.
Politicians Burge and Lubin hear the theory but their primary interest is its potential for aiding electioneering. The form of drawing-room comedy serves to accentuate the flaws of the characters and weaknesses of the social structure: People should be better and radical change is essential.
Although also short-lived, they are more mature and thus better at managing state affairs. It transpires that there are a few people who are long-lived and have a lifespan of years: the Archbishop of York and the Domestic Minister, Mrs. A visitor—a short-lived old man from the capital of Britain now comically relocated in Baghdad —returns to the islands of his ancestry but struggles to make sense of, and communicate with, the long-lived utopians who now inhabit these islands.
In many ways, this part resonates of classic utopia in its employment of the convention of a visitor traveling to a utopian land, this encounter serving to produce the double effect of re-familiarizing the initially strange utopian ideas and simultaneously making strange—and increasingly undesirable—the familiar, non-utopian society of the spectator.
The long-lived community is fully established and the short-lived community no longer exists. The focus of this part is on the birth of a new utopian—from an egg—who is born fully grown. The utopians are living hundreds and sometimes thousands of years now: They are potentially immortal, although a fatal accident is inevitable, the spectator is told.
The utopians are also maturing much more quickly, arriving from eggs fully grown and wishing to relinquish childish play at four years of age. The scene includes two sculptors, Arjillax and Martellus, who participate in debates on the acceptability of the Ancients the really old utopians as worthy subjects for sculpture. Written between and published in , Back to Methuselah was first performed by the New York Theatre Guild at the Old Garrick Theatre in , and then in Britain at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre in , this production transferring to the Court Theatre in London in As is evident from the above synopsis, it is a monumental play: One of the longest, epic in temporal reach, formally unusual, and titanic in ambition.
That the play itself is somehow an impossibility is peculiarly befitting of the shifting, otherworldliness of the utopian vision it expresses. The utopian communication of Back to Methuselah is couched in and contextualized by a variety of different political and aesthetic registers, allowing spectators to consider utopian ideas in manageable portions.
The farcical and satirical aspects serve to interpellate a particular mode of attention, a mode that encourages laughter and mockery as much as it does critical thinking and utopian desire. Shaw also suggested that the run was better received than in New York, where audiences had, he thought, been sent into a stupor Wherl An even more intense presentation took place in at the Arts Theatre, where all five playlets were performed in one day.
The event started at 2 p. At the Atlanta Theater production of the play in November directed by Michael Evenden, the performance was presented in two parts and the audience moved around various spaces for the five playlets Hulbert A recent production directed by Bill Largess at the Washington Stage Guild was multi-seasonal with parts one and two presented in , parts three and four in , and part five in , the performances presented along with readings of the other parts as well as panel discussions.
As these different formats show, the play is excessive, excessive in its temporal coverage of human history both past and future , excessive in its duration as a piece to be read or watched at the theatre, and excessive in its use of different genres, styles, and modes.
Yet the excessive quality of the cycle is, I would say, part of its utopian otherness: its refusal of non-coincidence with familiar dramatic and utopian texts, modes, forms, and spectatorial experiences. That said, while much is surprising and eccentric, there is enough in the play that is familiar from other utopian texts in both prose and drama to provide spectatorial anchoring: critique of economic structures and political governance; imagining a post-capitalist system; radical rethinking of traditional discourses in this case the Bible ; envisaging the implications of future technological advances; and challenging conventional ideas about gender, class, and human identity more broadly.
Of course, most profoundly, and unusually for a utopian text, Back to Methuselah takes up the aging question. Lutestring—are vital, serious, and authoritative. We are told that Mrs. The year-olds are represented as being in a state of extended middle age, this life phase marked as both dynamic and commanding, a combination of qualities the play considers essential for engaging with the complexities of the modern world.
Much of this part consists of dialogue familiar from classic utopias where the visitor to utopia—in this case the elderly gentleman—converses with a range of primary, secondary, and tertiary utopians about the advances of the new society, advances facilitated by the extraordinary capacities bestowed by longevity.
These characters are important intermediaries in the transition period in the development of longevity and the concomitant improvement to social relations and social structures, but Shaw is most interested in the potential of extreme longevity, which is documented at the end of the cycle.
Shaw imbues his Ancients with a progressive aptitude for amassing intellectual, spiritual, and emotional strengths. This offers an explicit counter-narrative to dominant accounts of decline. Through the advantage of longevity, the Ancients acquire an aggregation of superior qualities and an accrual of memories and different selves, producing a richly resourced utopian subject. The Ancients are only partially revealed, remaining strange and just out of sight or understanding.
Utopian subjectivation requires a fundamental reconstitution of the self, which in turn, for Jameson, is a form of death wish the death of the non-utopian self. The insignificance—or lack of meaning—conventionally attributed to late life is relocated in the play to the earlier parts of the life course, and an accumulative profundity manifests in the very old. This directly contrasts with the progressive restrictions of space associated with dominant depictions of old age.
In a discussion of the exclusionary implications of the professional mediation of old age for example, through care work, residential homes, and other institutional forms , William F. Their free movement is paralleled by a psychic depth and plasticity, an intellectual agility stretching far beyond what the play considers to be the superficialities of youth.
The more profound engagement with the world that old age has the potential to facilitate poses an explicit Shavian counter-narrative to the hegemonic view of old age as decline and deterioration, and is also one that troubles the association of old age with anachrony: The idea that old age is non-synchronous with the contemporary.
The older person is not in time, is out of date, and is in an important sense, untimely. Shaw uses this association to produce a distinctive vantage point for old age. Giorgio Agamben also makes a case for untimely figures as bearers of knowledge: … those who are truly contemporary … those who truly belong to their time, are those who neither fully coincide with it nor adjust themselves to its demands.
They are thus in this sense irrelevant. But precisely because of this condition, precisely through this disconnection and this anachronism, they are more capable than others of perceiving and grasping their own time.
The utopian Ancients, in the final act, long for the day when—through the process of Creative Evolution—they will be able to shed the body and exist as pure thought. This is my body, my blood, my brain; but it is not me. The representation of physical decline as defective: as an attenuation of what it is to be human, precipitates, as Sally A. This informs the cultural invisibility of the aging body, where that body serves as an observable delimitation of the human subject. Shaw resolves this conflict by rejecting corporeality, but in the process, perpetuates official censure of the aging fleshly body.
How to measure these states is just one problem with this concept, but more fundamentally, this vision of aging validates some forms of life—forms expressed through the fit, healthy, active body a body that simultaneously simulates a young abled body —and undermines others, particularly lives aligned with disabled, dependent bodies. While Shaw perpetuates a familiar rejection of the old frail body, he does not—unlike advocates of successful aging—replace the old, infirm body with a simulation of youth.
While Shaw perpetuates familiar Platonic and Christian notions of the body as an obstruction to the mind or soul, it is important to recognize that Shaw is no more interested in the youthful body than he is in the aging body, and in this sense is not culpable of repeating familiar ideas of the aged contra youthful body as abject.
Indeed, the body in all life stages was such a bore for Shaw that disembodiment figures as utopian yearning in his drama. And suddenly it came into my mind that this monstrous machinery of heads and limbs was no more me than my statues had been me, and that it was only an automaton that I had enslaved. For the Ancients, the body remains a bathetic encumbrance. It is in unproductive tension with the intellect, consciousness, and the spirit, wherein the Life Force manifests.
In addition to the specific peculiarities of his work identified above, the dominant theme of his utopian plays—enhanced human capacities enabled through greater longevity—is also one that does not fit with modernist preoccupations. For scholars of modernism, it seems Shaw is not modernist enough; for scholars of utopias, Shaw is not utopian in the right way. The play sincerely assumes that longevity is a scientific possibility, and while this may have seemed fantastical to many in particularly because the characters simply willed it , the attainment of a significantly longer life span is less farfetched today.
The subject of longevity is peculiarly resonant in the twenty-first century, when aging and longevity are among the most conspicuous of social changes of our age. Aging and death have remained perplexing issues for scientists. While Shaw got some of the science wrong, he correctly predicted the likelihood of significant leaps in age attainment. Shaw exploited the lack of scientific knowledge of the causes of aging and death, and combined scientific possibility with a supra-normal investment in the idea of Creative Evolution.
In some ways, the play proposes a high-tech, futuristic vision of human being—as opposed to an impossible fantasy of magic and the supernatural. The prospect of humans reproducing via non-viviparous means is certainly within reach, as a Guardian article, which discusses the recent success of lambs being developed in artificial wombs, evidences Prasad. Sincere engagement with this play as a utopia means pressing at the edges of utopian taxonomies. This genre-blurring, eccentric, and ambitious play combines with an audacious idea of human capacity and social possibility not in tune with scholarly discussions of writing of the time.
In Back to Methuselah, the individual is the site of interest, which is unusual in utopian literature.
Back to Methuselah
Adam: That is too short a word for so long a thing. Back to Methuselah Part 1, Act 1 Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will. Back to Methuselah Part 1, Act 1 Life must not cease. That comes before everything.
Back to Methuselah Quotes
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In the Beginning
That it is a utopia in dramatic rather than prose form, deploys an unusual mix of largely comic genres and styles, pursues eccentric ideas of Creative Evolution, and is exceptionally long and unwieldy in production has led to a mostly limited and perplexed scholarly reception from within both utopian and Shaw studies. Against this context, this article unearths the utopian potential of Back to Methuselah, where aging and longevity serve to make possible the emergence of superior human capacity, which is uniquely able to establish and sustain a better world because of the qualities acquired through extended life. This pessimism, in turn, only strengthened in the early twentieth century, with an increasingly pervasive sense of fear, anxiety, and political uncertainty in the context of mass slaughter of World War I and the subsequent emergence of fascism in Germany, Italy, and Spain, as well as Stalinism in the Soviet bloc. Domination of the utopian genre by the anti-utopian and dystopian novel was vividly expressed in several popular and enduring works, including H. Wells, and Annie Besant, Shaw was an early member of the Fabian Society established in , and hence committed to a gradualist approach to socialism. For Shaw, a commitment to the potential of human agency to transform social relations was interwoven with a subscription to the possibility of the power of Creative Evolution to enhance the human subject. Furthermore, as Mark R.