Posted by: HAT | October 21, 2009

Utopia as Concrete

Materials in process

Materials in process

As Adorno points out, “utopia seems abstract in the midst of concrete things.” The activity of thinking about utopia, considering what people have said about it, reflecting on how it articulates with the state of things at present and how it might articulate with some alternative state of things, seems like an exercise in abstraction. Something denies this, however. Something ties utopia, however abstract it may appear, to the realm of concrete concerns. That something is utopia’s relationship to suffering.

The space of suffering is a space entered in the concrete. This remains true even when that entrance is imaginative: when causes of suffering are summarized, when minds are invited to consider suffering as generally as possible. The evocation of the thought of suffering imperiously demands personal examples, memories, traces, gnosis. All knowledge of suffering has a dimension of intimacy, participates in sensuous life, involves touch and taste.

Utopia embodies suffering the way a painting embodies paint, as its material. It draws its existence from suffering, as instigation and impulse, and as first draft, preliminary sketch, as study. In the “wrong world” named by Adorno, the world in which people still have reason to think thoughts of redemption, utopia makes itself present as idea and image, as possibility and as abstraction. But its presence in this form constitutes an invitation to creative endeavor (almost poiesis, though this activity does not precisely involve creation from nothing) and to work (artistic or transformative praxis) that points towards a bringing into being of the concrete work made at the invitation of this model.

Recreated and reworked worldly material makes up the place for which unredeemed time has no place. A gross criterion of radical change might relegate its image initially to “the same place.” Its sameness — its identity — is illusory. However minute or “micrological” the decisive “messianic” difference between that place and this, it spells the difference between the flawless beauty that is the “ever-broken promise of happiness” and the irreparably flawed face of its unimaginably real fulfillment.


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