Posted by: HAT | April 7, 2009

A pretty example of a( )spir(e)ation

A pretty example of a( )spir(e)ation

I’ve been thinking about the value of utopian discourse, in a general way — that is, what’s the value of pursuing an investigation into utopian discourse, why would people concern themselves with utopian conversations, why think about what utopia might look like. Fredric Jameson, in Archaeologies of the Future, ultimately concludes that the value comes in “thinking the break,” something the utopian literary form forces, and which is appropriate to a current political moment in which we have difficulty even imagining any alternative to the present system, and definitely fail to see how impulses to any alternative could crystallize into a coherent political program for substantive systemic change.

Certainly, thinking about utopia, or even what other people have thought of utopia, has something to do with thinking about how the world might be different. How different the world might be. It is a kind of dream of happiness. Imaginary happiness, anyway, whether or not if the utopian world were instantiated its inhabitants would really be happier than we are in our own world.

But this imagination of happiness has its practical side. Without it, how do people start to free themselves? Or take advantage of possibilities for freedom when they arise? Unless people start to imagine worlds that are free of the sources of unhappiness, the constraints that hold happiness back, the conditions for happiness? Unless people engage in a peculiar practice of fantasy combined in a way with realism, an alteration of some elements, while holding other elements more or less unchanged (e.g., “we would still have bodies, but . . .” or “we would still eat together, but . . .” or “some people would still go mad, but . . .”).

So communities formed around a commitment to work for the transformation of the world have these utopian impulses at their core. We might call a community formed around that kind of specific utopian impulse “a utopian community,” if we could still perceive the utopian impulse at work in the life of the community. Like in a community that writes a book in which it names one of its ends as working for the transformation of the world.

Does a utopian community like that justify a degree of hope, even in the present circumstances? I don’t know, although I would like to think so. I keep hoping so.


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