Posted by: HAT | March 31, 2009

A thought on the core problem for utopia

One problem with utopia and utopian thinking is precisely the problem of relationship to what is different. Some people might be tempted to say “transcendent,” but it’s enough to say “different.”

The thinkers who figure in my dissertation — Adorno, Irigaray, Agamben — all deal with this problem and work at finding some intellectual solution to it in their work. For Adorno it takes the form of difference itself, “non-identity thinking,” and how to approach it, where the problem arises for thought in the experience of a gap between the concepts in which the philosopher thinks and the reality the philosopher tries to think about, which differs unspeakably from those concepts — and that difference arising even when we think the concepts have been drawn directly from the empirical world, but especially acutely when we begin to think the concepts have been drawn from any other source.

For Irigaray, the problem takes the form of some reality escaping language, feminine reality, barred from language, barred even from the language of the unconscious through psychoanalysis, escaping all categories of thought and unthought and language, hence completely inarticulate. But real. So how does that reality come to awareness, begin to articulate itself, and even more problematically, begin to articulate itself to the non-feminine or masculine that commands language and thought (in her textual world, here).

For Agamben, from Possibilities, the problem sounds like that of “the truth beyond language,” once again, something that language itself fails to grasp, embody — but because of that, then how articulate, reach, discern that truth beyond language (which he casts as the problem of language itself as language — that is, not problems that reside within language, but the problem for thought of thinking about language itself, the phenomenon — I don’t say this very well here, as “phenomenon” seems like the wrong word, and to already presuppose a lot that ought not to be presupposed — of language). The problem of how to be in some kind of relationship with something that really differs from what one can already talk about, say, understand, know . . . And then, for him, this comes to look like — anyone else, any other particular person or other.

This is a theological problem, the problem that makes Barth’s notion of the ganz anderes so poignant — wanting to make God so different from humanity that there’s no meeting place, no interface for communication — emphasis on the ganz in ganz anderes — and once that happens, then there being no even intuition, inkling, thought, notion, point of contact, entry for God into the reality of humanity.

The problem Christianity aims to solve at Chalcedon, and whether that’s a solution, or not, there’s a mystic formula that sums the problem up: two realities, but in communion, in communication, in relationship: without confusion, without alteration, without division, without separation. ?? No one really understands that.

The problem of the relationship, the possibility of relationship, the nature of the relationship, of A and B, where B is really different from A, which is also the problem of change, how one thing/state changes into another thing/state, which is also the problem of creativity, how one stands in one place and time and uses available materials and explodes something hitherto unknown into it, (leaving aside all the discussions of just exactly how unknown, just exactly how different, just exactly how unimaginable, or how nonexistant this newly created creation might possibly be able to be . . .) — this problem surfaces at the core of the utopian thought.

Because in the end the problem isn’t one of quantity/magnitude of difference at all, but of quality — we’re already in over our heads when the difference is the one Benjamin talks about, quoting the rabbis: the world to come will be just like this one — only a little bit different.


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