Symbiosis and telepathy as biological basis of utopia in Olaf Stapledon's Last and First Men

Francesco Nieddu


Utopia is a privileged form of imagining the impossible and one of the central themes of Olaf Stapledon's literary and philosophical production. In Last and First Men he doesn't restrict himself to develop alternative socio-political models but he imagines a radical changing of the human nature, starting from its biological basis. The aim of the present work is to analyze the metaphorical use of biology emerging from the succession of different human species.

Through the ‘close reading’ technique guided by Jameson's hermeneutic model of utopia, it will be showed how biological concepts and organic metaphors permeate crosswise the allegorical levels of body, time and collectivity. The focus will be on the theme of telepathy. As a symbolic device of maximum openness to the other, it constitutes the cornerstone of authentic community. It will be showed how this capacity is metaphorically connected to the concepts of symbiosis and symbiogenesis, explicitly represented in the text as mechanisms of speciation. The evolutionary process imagined by Stapledon, in connecting biology and ethics, appear as a critic of the first place of egoism and competition for survival, posited by social Darwinism, in favour of the communitarian ideals of solidarity and cooperation.


Biology; Utopia; Symbiosis; Telepathy; Stapledon

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