EREWHON. SOUNDS WELSH – the soft ‘h’. That’s what I thought when I first saw the word on the higgledy-piggledy front fence of a bach in the South Island of New Zealand. But the word isn’t from Wales. It isn’t from any particular place. It’s made-up, a kind of anti-word. A word that speaks of how quickly the familiar can be folded back on itself and become ‘other’. Just as the cosy familiarity of Our Home is reversed into Emohruo to suggest more exotic possibilities, the place-names of Erewhon – and its alternative, Erehwon – are rearrangements, reversals of the word nowhere.
In the history of utopian thinking, it’s possible to read this word as a marker of mourning. Once the last place was marked on the West’s maps of the world, once the world’s coastlines had been traversed by the northern hemisphere, the age-old dream of discovering a Utopia somewhere beyond the realms of everywhere and anywhere known disappeared. And in the historical moment that followed, the ancients’ idea that Utopia or Arcadia or Paradise was some-place still to be discovered floundered and ran aground.
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