Sunday, May 14, 2006

Re-engineering Utopian Archaeologies

Utopia has always been a political issue, an unusual destiny for a literary form:

yet just as the literary value of the form is subject to permanent doubt, so also its political

status is structurally ambiguous. The fluctuations of its historical context do nothing to

resolve this variability, which is also not a matter of taste or individual judgment ...

Paradoxically, this exercize in pure Utopian formalism has brought us closer to

present-day political realities and contingencies than seems altogether desirable. Thus in

order to win back some degree of conviction, the content of the Utopian vision must seem

plausible (as Aristotle suggested about the tragic plot) without at all having to be

possible. We here return to the old generic problem that has been with us since the

beginning of this book: as a form, Utopia must be distinct from political reality; it must

offer a kind of mimesis of the political platform or manifesto while retaining, as it were,

its aesthetic distance. It must be marked as Utopian and thereby as partaking in a specific

and very special kind of aesthetic unreality: otherwise it falls into the world and,

particularly if realized, spells the end of Utopias in the way wryly distinct from the usual

prognoses of their current disappearance.

What can then today be the function of so ambiguous an entity as Utopia, if not as

a forecast of political and empirical possibilities?

... the secret message of all Utopias, present, past, and future:

"Are you really in danger?"

"Yes." His big head nodded in cordial agreement.

"You may fail us."

"Me? How?"

"You of your time. You individually may fail to understand us or

to struggle in your own life and time. You of your time may fail to

struggle altogether… We must fight to exist, to remain in

existence, to be the future that happens, That’s why we reached


===>Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time (NY, 1976), pp. 197-198.

Cultural Fictions II

The Centre for Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths is hosting a conference on the significance of science fiction for disciplines and practices associated with cultural studies, to be held on 15-16th June, 2006. In particular, we will be asking whether sci-fi’s privileged relationship to alterity – e.g. in the forms of the alien, the non-human and above all the future – is what makes it so attractive to politically and philosophically oriented research and other contemporary artistic practices.

In addition to the speakers named below (who more than justify the non-entrance fee on their own, I'm sure you'll agree), Steve 'Kode 9' Goodman, Infinite Thought and me should also be giving papers.

===>K-Punk: Cultural Fictions at Goldsmiths

Paradoxically, the older Marxist traditions, drawing uncritical lessons from Marx

and Engels’ historical analyses of Utopian socialism in The Communist Manifesto, and

also following Bolshevik usage, denounced its Utopian competition as lacking any

conception of agency or political strategy, and charactered Utopianism as an idealism

deeply and structurally averse to the political as such. The relationship between Utopia

and the political, as well as questions about the practical-political value of Utopian

thinking and the identification between socialism and Utopia, very much continue to be

unresolved topics today, when Utopia seems to have recovered its vitality as a political

slogan and a politically energizing perspective.

Indeed, a whole new generation of the post-globalization Left – one which

subsumes remnants of the old Left and the New Left, along with those of a radical wing

of social democracy, and of First World cultural minorities and Third World

proletarianized peasants and landless or structurally unemployable masses – has more

and more frequently been willing to adopt this slogan, in a situation in which the

discrediting of communist and socialist parties alike, and the skepticism about traditional

conceptions of revolution, have cleared the discursive field. The consolidation of the

emergent world market – for this is really what is at stake in so-called globalization – can

eventually be expected to allow new forms of political agency to develop. In the

meantime, to adapt Mrs. Thatcher’s famous dictum, there is no alternative to Utopia, and

late capitalism seems to have no natural enemies (the religious fundamentalisms which

resist American or Western imperialisms having by no means endorsed anti-capitalist

positions). Yet it is not only the invincible universality of capitalism which is at issue:

tirelessly undoing all the social gains made since the inception of the socialist and

communist movements, repealing all the welfare measures, the safety net, the right to

unionization, industrial and ecological regulatory laws, offering to privatize pensions and

indeed to dismantle whatever stands in the way of the free market all over the world.

What is crippling is not the presence of an enemy but rather the universal belief, not only

that this tendency is irreversible, but that the historic alternatives to capitalism have been

proven unviable and impossible, and that no other socio-economic system is conceivable,

let alone practically available. The Utopians not only offer to conceive of such alternate

systems; Utopian form is itself a representational meditation on radical difference, radical

otherness, and on the systemic nature of the social totality, to the point where one cannot

imagine any fundamental change in our social existence which has not first thrown off

Utopian visions like so many sparks from a comet.

The fundamental dynamic of any Utopian politics (or of any political Utopianism)

will therefore always lie in the dialectic of Identity and Difference iv , in the degree to

which such a politics aims at imagining, and sometimes even at realizing, a system

radically different from this one. We may in this follow Olaf Stapledon’s space-and-time

travelers, who gradually become aware that their receptivity to alien and exotic cultures is

governed by anthropomorphic principles:

At first, when our imaginative power was strictly limited by

experience of our own worlds, we could make contact only with

worlds closely akin to our own. Moreover, in this novitiate stage

of our work we invariably came upon these worlds when they were

passing through the same spiritual crisis as that which underlies the

plight of Homo sapiens today. It appeared that, for us to enter any

world at all, there had to be a deep- lying likeness or identity in

ourselves and our hosts.

[===>Olaf Stapledon, The Last and First Men/Star Maker (NY, 1968), p. 299.]

Stapledon is not strictly speaking a Utopian, as we will see later on; but no Utopian writer

has been quite so forthright in confronting the great empiricist maxim, nothing in the

mind that was not first in the senses. If true, this principle spells the end, not only of

Utopia as a form, but of Science Fiction in general, affirming as it does that even our

wildest imaginings are all collages of experience, constructs made up of bits and pieces

of the here-and-now: "When Homer formed the idea of Chimera, he only joined into one

animal, parts which belonged to different animals; the head of a lion, the body of a goat,

and the tail of a serpent."vi On the social level, this means that our imaginations are

hostages to our own mode-of-production (and perhaps to whatever remnants of past ones

it has preserved). It suggests that at best Utopia can serve the negative purpose of

making us more aware of our mental and ideological imprisonment (something I have

myself occasionally asserted ); and that therefore the best Utopias are those that fail the

most comprehensively ...

Archaeologies of the Future : The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions

by Fredric Jameson [2005]


Blogger Orange_Cross said...

Utopia, whether good or bad, exists to the letter and could be emulated. We could start with Florida, then Saudia Arabia, with funding.

Its a shame that "Utopia" is losing its meaning with all the parades of "Utopian" for "ideal" and most especially "contemptible ideal".

I would be violently suprised in a visceral way if something new and large loomed immediate and close before my eyes, however my reason would reflect that its not unusual to see new things. Chimeras, Hippogriffs and Cockatrices all confuse the issue, they are all composites of things that we assume people have seen, the most common things as to bastardize a reasonable consideration of newness. Why forget, that there was a time where, the hawk was new, the lizard, the lion, and even their most basic parts were once completely new to our perception. Don't throw out the jury, evidence points to new things.

6:06 AM  

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