Posted by: HAT | April 10, 2009

Undesirables

On the beach, with fence

On the beach, with fence

A brief thought in response to reading (yesterday morning, after going to meet the tow truck operator in the parking lot of Highlander Point and seeing the car off on its way to the dealership for whoknowswhat repair) Fredric Jameson, “Progress vs. Utopia, or Can We Imagine the Future?” in Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fiction (London/New York: Verso, 2005) 281-295, and especially

The question one must address to such a work — the analytical way into the utopian text in general from Thomas More all the way down to this historically significant Soviet novel [Ivan Efremov’s Andromeda] — turns on the status of the negative in what is given as an effort to imagine a world without negativity. The repression of the negative, the place of that repression, will then allow us to formulate the essential contradiction of such texts, which we have expressed in a more abstract fashion above, as the dialectical reversal of intent, the inversion of representation, the ‘ruse of history’ whereby the effort to imagine utopia ends up betraying the impossibility of doing so. The content of such repressed ‘semes’ of negativity will then serve as an indicator of the ways in which a narrative’s contradiction or antimony [sic] is to be formulated and reconstructed.

What happens to the undesirables? (What if we must turn out to be those undesirables? Who or what decides?) This question besets the utopian imagination. The exclusion or elimination or transformation of negative elements occupies a central place in utopian reflection.

In one way or another, these three philosophers (Adorno, Irigaray, Agamben) address this question and insert it into their utopian discourse, in effect refusing utopian discourse a recourse to an easy suppression or erasure of the negative moment. Their particular foci – Auschwitz, the feminine, the sacred (as in, homo sacer) – point back to regimes, with political ideals, that have actually held sway or, in the case of phallogocentrism, still do. Regimes whose lessons we would forget at our peril.

What happens to the “undesirables”, and how do any approaches to utopia guard against the commission of atrocities that appear, in the dim light of what we take to be the dawning utopia, as solutions?

We do not get to put off this question. It hammers at the door of the imagination, urgent, insistent. Our inability to answer it constitutes one of the most formidable obstacles to the utopian imagination in our day. Precisely those minds that suffer most from the cordoning off of utopian vision balk, fall back, at this very point, this ghostly angel with its sword.

These three theorists tackle this question. That effort itself constitutes a form of utopian discourse. Awareness of this issue and refusal to displace or ignore it impel an effort to preclude genocide with an otherwise unaccountable openness to the negative. The criterion of solicitude for the undesirables becomes an itinerary for the pilgrimage towards utopia.

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