Posted by: HAT | December 7, 2009

Proto-Utopian Practice

Labyrinthine form

A more-than-ordinarily involved notion of what it takes to walk around walls

Do people really have to go all the way towards “the utopian program” or “blueprint utopianism” to engage in what might be called “pro-utopian” striving or practice, or “proto-utopianism?” Might there not be some practice that is short of articulating a “blueprint” in every specific, that leaves much to be worked out on the fly or as people live along, but that has some basic principles of practice that the group can use for points of reference, to keep returning to and refining, and to strive to put into practice?

If so, it might be possible to say that this proto-utopian practice is “labyrinthine” in that it meanders. Its labyrinthine character or form might be a product of its effort to create space within some structure or structures, by practice. Maybe this bears some similarity to interior practices, like sculpture, or mining — if the space to be created has to be inside some larger, containing or constraining structure. Or maybe it bears some similarity to exteriorizing practices, like weaving or bricklaying, if the space to be created has to be itself an enclosing or enveloping space. It’s just a question of whether circling or walking this labyrinth hollows something out, or builds something up.

That idea is still progressive and teleological, and that might be an objection to it. It still depends upon “practice over time” and “practice towards a goal” or standard. Its ultimate success might still be measured by arrival. On the other hand, there might be processual standards (continuity, intensity, attention, other dimensions of quality of process) that would or could be emphasized rather than the ultimate telos — whether or not that helps.

Ritual may participate in this ethos. May — depending upon the ritual, the values it embodies, the forward motion it ritualizes, the relationship of the ritual practice to some utopian vision. And of course the objection that ritual doesn’t do enough to actually bring about any particular utopian state or condition is pertinent. But at the same time, and particularly in an age in which utopian vision itself is impoverished, under attack by the forces of reasonableness and practicality, modest and individualized — taking the form of winning the lottery, for instance, rather than the form of liberating the nation and building the new paradise, for instance — the ritual cultivation of some form of collective pro-utopian imagination might be essential. Next year in Jerusalem. The heavenly banquet. [instances of ritual table fellowship that explicitly incorporate family and inclusive hospitality vis-à-vis the stranger] For instance.

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