“IS THIS DYSTOPIA?” Sometimes a simple stencil of bold red letters sprayed across a lamppost in a shabby part of town under lockdown stops us in our tracks. As though its message were addressed exclusively to us.
It might be some part of the phrasing that for a moment holds all our attention. For me, it was the word this. Was the dystopia our society, now and here? Or was “this” the contemporary world as a whole? And did it matter which? Is there a real difference between these alternatives?
The question on the streetlight was patently rhetorical. It acted as a dramatic provocation by implying an answer so evident it hardly needs stating and is not expected. Yet at least one passerby whom it similarly arrested was compelled to respond. What the querying hand had left tacit another felt bound to spell out, making definitive what had merely been intimated. As if to suggest that the answer, undesirable though it might be, was unavoidable, and that not supplying it clearly, passing the question over in silence, was irresponsible, smacking of indifference at a time when, things falling apart as they were, the exact opposite attitude was called for. And so, for their own sake or ours, somebody affixed below, scribbled in black marker, a resounding—an unequivocal—“Yes!”
But let us return to the reflection that “IS THIS DYSTOPIA?” seemed designed to provoke. It was, of course, a simple yes-or-no question. Under the new dispensation and prevailing social conditions, the presence of that critical word dystopia all but presupposed an affirmative reply. Publicly asserting, making the implicit explicit, at once proved the query’s dialogic efficacy and spurred others to answer it for themselves, blocking neither repetition nor continuation of dialogue. That, by withholding the obvious, the questioner had meant to spare us from what we might not wish to hear is just as unlikely as that the answer was given to rub our faces in an inconvenient truth.
And once we accept the truth, what next? To this the question had even less to say. The realization, however, that our world and dystopia are the same sets our mind in motion. Its likeliest effect is a negative reaction, a resistance. A mental step in the right direction is already progress. Simple questions are easy to dismiss and underestimate. If this one gave me pause, it is because confronting the actual state of the world, here or everywhere, evokes (betrayed) utopian aspirations, highlighting our epic lack of success.
If this is dystopia, which way to utopia?1 The question central to this book is equally straightforward. There can be no doubt that utopian thinking persists. Its energies have not been extinguished. But how is such thought possible in our dystopian world (or worlds)? Is it reasonable to hope for utopia, to continue and renew our hopes for its realization, in a place where more and more of us each day struggle to survive, let alone to pursue happiness? Is there an appropriate, reality-congruent, pragmatic utopian thinking we should adopt that might get us out of this mess? Under the circumstances, when the best we can realistically hope for is slowing down irreversible and often unintended widespread damage, does it still make sense to think utopian thoughts?
Throughout modernity, utopia has been a handy term of criticism among educated elites. Early modern and Enlightenment political philosophers, theorists of the social contract, were wary of being taken for writers of utopias.2 In polemics and politics, utopia branded the adversaries of those who thought themselves realists for desiring and fighting for the possible, only to be stigmatized as utopian in their turn. In 1849, within a year of the French Revolution of 1848 and the bloody June Days Uprising, the socialist revolutionary Auguste Blanqui, accused of inciting popular violence, defended himself thus against the charge of utopianism:3
Utopia! impossibility! devastating word nailed to our foreheads by our enemies that means “murderer”! homicidal appeal to the egoism of the living generation, which does not accept being cut down in bloom and buried in order to fatten future generations . . . ! This weapon is terrible, we know a thing or two about it; but it is disloyal. There are no utopians, in the overdrawn acceptation of the word. There are thinkers who dream of a more fraternal society and seek to discover their promised land in the shifting mists of the horizon.4
Two decades later, in prison, and haunted by the brutal suppression of the Paris Commune as by its promise of a more fraternal society, Blanqui would pen his “astronomic hypothesis,” Eternity by the Stars, finding a desperately utopian vision in the shifting mists of the heavens.
A similar enthusiasm for the Commune sustained two German thinkers who, in 1848, had met the “nursery tale of the spectre of communism” then haunting Europe with a jointly authored manifesto of the Communist Party. In it, they had distanced themselves from visionaries too busy dreaming to act historically and wanting initiative when it came to agitating for change.5 “Since Marx,” twentieth-century philosopher of utopia Ernst Bloch observed in his magnum opus, The Principle of Hope, “mere utopianizing, apart from still having a partial active role in a few struggles for emancipation, has turned into reactionary or superfluous playful forms. These do not lack a seductive quality of course, and are at least useful for diversion, but this is precisely why they have become mere ideologies of the existent, beneath a critical-utopian mask.”6 Such historical glimpses go to show that utopian thought had its peaks and valleys even—especially—for its exponents.
A century after the revolutionary wave of the Spring of Nations had swept across an “Old Europe” of principalities, kingdoms, and empires, the liberal philosopher Isaiah Berlin, posing as a man of sense in the postwar years, merely stated a commonplace when he equated utopianism with escapism, anachronism, and impracticality. He laid out the reasons for his dislike of the homo utopiens, the generic utopian thinker, as follows:
What is it that we mean when we call a thinker Utopian, or when we accuse a historian of giving an unrealistic, over-doctrinaire account of events? After all, no modern Utopian can be accused of wishing to defy the laws of physics. It is not laws like gravitation or electromagnetism that modern Utopians have ignored. What then have addicts to such systems sinned against? Not certainly the laws of sociology, for very few such have as yet been established, even by the least rigorous, most impressionistic of “scientific” procedures. Indeed, the excessive belief in their existence is often one of the marks of lack of realism—as is shown on every occasion when men of action successfully defy them and knock over yet another false sociological model. It seems truer to say that to be Utopian is to suggest that courses can be followed which, in fact, cannot, and to argue this from theoretical premisses and in the face of the “concrete” evidence of the “facts.” That is certainly what Napoleon or Bismarck meant when they railed against speculative theorists.7
For Berlin, acting on utopian ideals was, if not an outright demerit, at any rate a potential liability. Yet he could not deny its power to effectuate a radical break, letting in new and practical ideas for the betterment of society. “The passionate advocacy of unattainable ideals may, even if it is Utopian,”—or, more accurately, because it is utopian—“break open the barriers of blind tradition and transform the values of human beings.”8
Utopia has not gone away as a term of abuse. In its old haunts, its notoriety seems secure. It has, however, become something of a buzzword. That its positive invocations have, in our age, filtered into mass and commercial culture testifies to the idea’s growing social relevance. To say that they are, most of them, skin-deep and gratuitous is not to dismiss all such uses out of hand. Utopia on a can of organic tomatoes or a bag of California-grown artisanal cannabis might mean its producer truly believes their product contributes to improving society, for buyers of their brand anyway. Björk’s 2017 album, Utopia, is a surreal treatment of bona fide utopian images. As Pierre Boulez once remarked of liberal society, “The economy is there to remind us, in case we get lost in this bland utopia: there are musics which bring in money and exist for commercial profit; there are musics that cost something, whose very concept has nothing to do with profit. No liberalism will erase this distinction.”9 He might have added: in the bland “utopia” of value pluralism, where one thing is as good as the next, there are musics that hunt for an exit.
Each place utopia makes an appearance is different. Despite the word’s entry into market vernacular, its positive connotation—as the opposite of dystopia—is still not generally a given. Yet there is plenty to suggest that something of what it stands for has acquired, if not cachet, then at least greater visibility and sex appeal it did not previously have. In view of these developments, it is no longer credible to associate the idea of utopia with intellectual elitism. Judging by its popularity as a transcultural signifier of a positive, forward-looking attitude or of well-being, the meaning of the term has lost much of its former focus. It is diluted, diffuse, nebulous, floating above ideal political systems and programs of social engineering, to which it once exclusively referred. Yet for that very reason, utopia today has occasion to awaken the social imagination in contexts where it would otherwise remain unknown.
How has the trace of something that previously, in the Cold War era, set off alarm bells and called up images of failed totalitarian experiments, come to pervade everyday life without raising an eyebrow? Utopia’s wider acceptance has as much to do with neutralizing or rendering innocuous its incitement to transformation as with its evocativeness. We have the Weltgeist to thank for it. For the world spirit so arranged things that the “utopia” of the free market could colonize whole areas of life, from entertainment to fitness to sex. Utopia has lent its name to everything from 1980s video games and yoga studios to the latest multispeed vibrators. Looking around us, capitalism more than deserves the title of “cauldron of utopias,” its concoction a witches’ brew of satisfaction guaranteed. Utopian semiosis mostly without commitment to alternative holistic social visions thrives on the value pluralism of globalized societies. Because it operates through commodity fetishism, its utopias do not pose a threat to the established economic order, being themselves perfectly fungible and reconcilable. Once they are attached to commodities, radical utopian ideas and values, such as social harmony, health and well-being, joy and pleasure, lose their link to the will actually to remake social bonds. The play of utopian gestures, no matter their political complexion, is easily assimilable to uncontroversial standards of pleonectic social happiness built around limitless and predatory economic growth, underwritten these days by a green or techno-capitalist agenda. More-of-the-same automatically gets utopian credit for a smart aesthetic (e.g., packaging makeovers for beauty products) and clever marketing (calling a new mega-mall American Dream, or selling biomass, destructive for the environment, as a “renewable”).
A hard look at the situation is enough to turn believers into cynics. To those who oppose it, the diversion of socialist utopias to capitalist ends or the appropriation of utopian elements for financial gain does not justify abandoning all utopian thinking. And even if we feel utopianism as a conscious striving for social perfection to be unsalvageable, and we must indeed let it go, we may be simultaneously setting the bar for ourselves higher, not lower. For it is now clear that, to get out of the present dystopia, humans must be prepared for almost superhuman sacrifice and effort. We must be ready, in other words, to do the impossible, synonym for utopian. The ambition puts us back, willy-nilly, on the track of utopian thinking. Only the particulars of the destination have changed, been obsolesced—some would say regressed, adding that there is little that is recognizably utopian about the new end. It does not much resemble the utopias of old and might seem more moderate by comparison, but the impossible task to be accomplished is, all the same, the embryo of a just and harmonious society. The project’s unwitting, higher level utopianism demonstrates an important truth about utopia, namely, that it is never really about devising a precise social blueprint to satisfy all. Today, the only feasible blueprint is a “blueprint for survival,” as The Ecologist called it fifty years ago.10 Forestalling social breakdown and catching up to the harm already inflicted on the environment is as ambitious a plan as we can hope to carry out. However otherwise emancipatory or utopian such a precise and modest-sounding goal may be, it is, by its very nature, limited. But so are all particular utopias.
One of the most stubborn misconceptions about the utopian genre of thinking, of which Bloch left us such a breathtaking inventory—from the freedom of the Cynics to the sensual hedonism of the Cyrenaics, from athletics to alchemy, from Zionism to ordinary daydreams—is that utopia consists in an imaginary place depicted in greater or lesser detail. This is the legacy of Thomas More’s Utopia, which gave the Platonic ideal state a new twist.
The twentieth century’s retooling of utopia has done a lot to complicate this picture. More may have presented his island of Utopia as actually existing but inaccessible to most—attainable in principle, hence doubly attractive. Yet, contrary to received wisdom, Utopia itself was a jocoserious creation, rather than an earnest proposal for a model society, much less a guideline for development. Emphasis on the dialectical character of More’s invention, then, fought against its vulgarization, on display in utopia’s heyday in the nineteenth century. Especially following the miscarried utopian experiments in society-building that were Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, and Maoist China, historians and theorists on the left, such as Bloch and Miguel Abensour, called into question the narrow conception, held by its twentieth-century critics, of utopia as an abstract rational model imposable on material social realities, be it at the price of mass suffering. Moving away from the totalizing visions that defined it in past centuries, utopian world-making thus became a heuristic device, an organon, critical and self-reflexive, provisional and open-ended.
Building on these novel conceptions, utopia came into its own as a sociological method. In Ruth Levitas’s holistic analytic, rather than descriptive, approach—the “imaginary reconstitution of society”—utopia was to be understood in terms of desire, instead of the narrower hope. It generated “a method which is primarily hermeneutic but which repeatedly returns us from existential and aesthetic concerns to the social and structural domain.”11 In its critical-creative (as opposed to compensatory) role, utopianism still yielded “explicit alternative scenarios for the future,” whose “explicitly hypothetical character,” however, allowed for “provisionality, reflexivity and dialogic mode.”12 Conceptualizing utopia as method—in contrast to goal, concrete destination or telos, precise plan for empirical execution, or, at the other extreme, ideal for contemplation, regulative idea—presupposes looking at human society as a problem in need of a solution, a perspective that best responds to current realities.
Attempts to bring some order to the profusion of utopian scenarios, modalities, and their combinations have continued alongside theoretical updates like Levitas’s. Darko Suvin, for one, proposed a trio of spatial categories, locus, horizon, and orientation, where locus designates the defined place (chronotope) of an agent in motion at any given point; horizon, the “furthest imaginatively visible goal,” such as abstract, nonlocalized utopian programs and blueprints, toward which the agent is moving; and orientation, the direction of projection or movement that acts as a vector conjoining locus and horizon. The ideal is a dynamic utopia, in which the oriented locus never fuses with the horizon.13 Indeed, the scholarly field of utopian studies, already vast and well plowed by the late twentieth century, shows no signs of enclosure. Thanks to efforts at definition, classification, and systematization, at redefinition and retheorization, utopia now names a great and growing family of phenomena. It is known not only as hope or desire, but also as impulse, propensity, spirit, mindset or mentality, mode, image, dream, vision, projection, project, method, process, and practice. Besides assuming myriad forms with a wide variety of ideational contents, utopia performs a number of functions: consolatory, educative, hermeneutic, critical, problem-solving, experimental, anticipatory, socially transformative, and so on.
Asking about the fate of utopia in dystopian times cuts a path through this wild conceptual garden and its intricate history. It is not obvious what utopia is anymore, or what it means for us. Answering the question obliges one to be unabashedly selective. Those looking to find their interest in or take on utopianism represented in these pages are bound to come away disappointed. Those who leave their prejudices at the door may later find them changed. Far from dashing or encouraging hopes, I propose different grounds and structures for them. Whether these prove useful in our current predicament, in all its economic, political, and cultural ramifications, is another matter, and material for another book—to be written post history. I say this with a tinge of sarcasm out of a distinct if common sense that things are coming to a head. Either way, human history—the history of human making—could end, if otherwise than hitherto prognosticated. What comes afterward is anyone’s guess.
Despair, it seems, is hope’s deepest well. As an underground resource, the images it produces of hoped-for relief or redemption are normally not the castles in the air fancied over the rainbow by starry-eyed philosophers and social planners. The question about the fate of utopia today is not so much whether there is enough hope as what are the ends to which hope is directed. Suffice it to say that not every socially inspired hope or action is utopian. The dichotomy between hope as reasonable expectation and utopia as wishful thinking or fantasy was recognized by the godfather of utopia himself.14 The denigration of hope for its passivity, rooted in monotheistic theology, is all too familiar. The pantheist philosopher Baruch Spinoza conceived of this affective-cognitive state as mingled indissolubly with fear, hence pain, as lined with sadness, and as contrary to reason and virtue—not only not good, but sinful. As such, hope interfered with what he called striving (conatus) for self-preservation, with the augmentation of the human mind’s power to think/imagine and the human body’s power to act virtuously (perseverance being the principle or essence of all things, not just humans). Spinozan hope is a sign of “a defect of knowledge and a lack of power in the mind.”15
Just when one thought that nothing could further ruin its chances as a psychic resource for action, the atheist thinker Raoul Vaneigem, whose lifelong utopianism is nourished by his interest in heretical and millenarian movements, scorned hope once and for all as “the leash of submission,” for maintaining the hopeful in inaction. In this strongly negative light, hope is vain, inefficient, fixating on an object and fantasizing about it while leaving its attainment to others or to God, rather than taking steps to put it within reach.16 Nonetheless and more fundamentally, without hope, the lived, mediate future would not exist at all. As Eugène Minkowski argued, aspiration (hope along with desire) constructs an “ample” future before us, irrespective of our reasoned attitude—pessimism or optimism—toward it. Permitting us to look far into the future, hope frees us from “the embrace of expectation” (whose linear prolongation it is not). It ought not, therefore, be spurned as vain, naïve, instinctive, or a proof of inexperience.17
Hope keeps company with anxiety: as an escape from anxious expectations.18 During the crises of capitalism and climate, despite the “vast bureaucratic apparatus for the creation and maintenance of hopelessness” to which we are captive, there has been no shortage of alternative futures, not all of them alarmist or postapocalyptic.19 In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, interest at the White House in Thomas Piketty’s best-selling history of growing wealth and income inequality (his recommendations to save capitalism from capitalists being limited to the “useful utopia” of a global progressive and redistributive taxation of capital) gave the left reason to hope that change was coming.20 Marxists proposed a high-stakes, provisional, “minimum utopian program,” and public left-leaning libertarians put on the table “realistic” ideas for social reconstruction in a “return of utopia.”21 For “party communists” and “disaster communists,” international revolution as nonnegotiable is back on the table.22 Visions of a new social order after capitalism abound.23 If these are not signs of hope, what is?
We have seen time and again how the public emanation of hope can activate desire for a better world. In North America, from the civil rights movement to Black Lives Matter, from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech to Barack Obama’s 2004 address at the Democratic National Convention, hope has been a potent stimulant. In Obama’s discourse, hope became “audacious” to demarcate it from “blind optimism,” that “almost willful ignorance.”24 It was no longer just ordinary, quotidian hope. It was manifest, providential hope, spiritually and practically potent. “Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope! In the end, that is God’s greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation. A belief in things not seen. A belief that there are better days ahead.”25 That 2004 speech, which brought hope home, greasing the wheels of Obama’s race for the presidency, struck frankly utopian notes—utopian not only with hindsight, relative to the presidencies that preceded and, especially, that followed his, but utopian in the sense of expecting radical measures to improve life for a majority of the American people. The message put out by Obama in books, posters, and paraphernalia for the general election season of 2008 wedded hope to a presidential hopeful and thus to a tangible political opportunity, which lasted eight years, until 2016. Despite or because of the train wreck of Donald Trump’s single term in office, it was reasonable to suppose that peak hope would be reached in the run-up to the 2020 election. The projected Democratic victory would rescue the country—and world—from utter chaos. And then the pandemic hit.
An unfit Republican in the White House proved that hope is not enough to save us. The election of his challenger, Joe Biden, proves the impotence of utopian slogans, be it MAGA, Make America Great Again, or (more to the progressive Democrats’ taste) MEGA, Make Earth Great Again. What, then, we might ask, is the relationship of utopian hope to desire for real change, and, even more important, their relationship to will, to agency? Since imagination does prosper in hopeful idleness, some amount of some kind of hope—though on its own an insufficient motor—seems to be an indispensable ingredient of utopia-oriented transformative action. To the motivating spirit of negation within despair we can add the stimulating energy of angst and anxiety as generative of hope;26 these passions can be said to set the agenda of our age and its structure of feeling. “If utopia arises from desire” for a better way of life, writes Levitas in The Concept of Utopia, “the transformation of reality and the realization of utopia depend on hope, upon not only wishful thinking but will-full action. The presence of hope affects the nature of utopian expression,” yet does not entail realization. The utopian dream, desire for utopia, “becomes vision only when hope is invested in an agency capable of transformation” or seeing transformation as its task.27 Levitas’s account here simplifies what is actually a reciprocal relationship between hope and desire: hope being activated by utopia-spinning desire, and vice versa. But she is right to insist that, to be invested in transformative agency, to have a shot at socially transformative effects, utopian hope and utopian desire, dream, or wish must work in tandem. No matter which of these two affective entries it uses, utopia can supply an impetus to action as its wish-turned-hopeful-vision incites the will.
Writing these reflections about utopia exercised my hope for humanity. If they encourage the reader to exercise theirs to be in ever so slightly better shape for the future, they will have served their purpose. The workout begins with a fresh look at the problematic of utopia and its relevance to our time. Understood as a myth, utopia presupposes the existence, in fact the proliferation, of different versions of the good society, modified with each telling. Such an understanding is threatened from two sides. On the one hand, there is the abovementioned stereotype that utopia contains a more or less detailed plan for an imaginary society presented by its creator as more or less perfect. On the other hand, utopia is dogged by the belief that, as an image of a just and happy society, it should be practicable and submit to attempts to realize it. If the image, as a particular ideal, does not necessarily demand realization, the experiment, a real social possibility, does not necessarily require perfection, accepting compromise with ideals as the cost of realization. Plato can be said to have bequeathed us both alternatives: while Kallipolis in Republic and the “first-best” state in the later Laws (the more democratic of the two, with common property across the board) stand as ideals, the “second-best” regime of Magnesia represents a major compromise with the flawed reality of human nature. Reconciling the ideal and the real seems impossible, and utopia—Plato’s as much as anyone else’s—appears forever caught in an endless oscillation between them, however useful this may be for critical reflection on the existing social order.
Has the time finally come to release the concept, especially in common parlance, from swinging between idealization and realization, which has for so long plagued it? I invite the reader to consider embracing utopia—worn out though it may be—at once as indeterminate speculation about a qualitatively better future for human society and as a hypothesis, by assuming it to be possible. With this assumption, we hold on to a holistic expression of the highest earthly aspirations of humankind, aspirations we have no good reason to abandon when their realization seems further off than ever. These two facets of utopianism as advanced in the present book—that is, the speculative and the hypothetical, or utopia as conjecture about, and utopia as possibility in, the future—amount, in fact, to the shift, discussed earlier, from identifying utopia with concrete visions and practices aimed at their materialization, and toward understanding utopia as provisional conjecture about a future that would be qualitatively better, as different from anticipation of what lies ahead. Utopia in this second sense is the imaginative genesis of surmise about how the world might be substantially improved (not what it would be at its best), rather than just what might become of it. The change in conception is not as drastic as it may seem at first blush. Utopia retains its narrative roots (even its artistic blossoms, if “hopepunk” and the more straightforwardly utopian “solarpunk,” new turns in speculative fiction, are any indication).28 It also remains, as ever, critical of the status quo. What it gains, however, is social-theoretical grounding.29
Social speculation about a possible, radically other and better future (without committing to any determinate version of it) cannot be equated with reformism or with fiction disconnected from reality. It consists in dialectical play with what social analysis turns up as trends and forces, desires and concepts (conflicting or contradictory), affinities and tensions at any given moment at work in society. It starts from the present by asking: to what better futures can existing tendencies lead us? This is starkly different from the question: toward what super-dystopia is the world likely headed? Its point of departure is thus not an imaginary, wish-list future to be reverse-engineered, only to reveal that the present lacks the resources to build it. This means that utopia-as-speculation describes not a real, practical possibility (let alone expectation), but a hypothetical one. In this mythic guise, it is neither abstract nor concrete; neither fantastic nor experimental; an extrapolation neither from normative principles nor directly from history. The utopist assumes nothing about utopia except its future possibility. A more metaphoric way of putting it would be that, instead of flexing our hope by trying to seize this or that elaborate utopian project, we extend hope by letting go of such projects for good.
Hope draws strength from desire, as vice versa, and it is to training desire that I turn next. This is the desire for the good society that subtends and impels utopia as speculative storytelling and as something whose possibility—that it can be actualized, if in a form that will continue to elude us—we assume. Desire for utopia arises from the experiences and interests of an individual or members of a group and is, therefore, conditioned by particular felt wants and physical capabilities. To the extent that the state of the natural world today provides a shared premonition of doom, the historical moment affords a collective horizon of experience on an unprecedented scale. Never has there been greater consensus about what is wrong with the world, what is rotten and missing in it. Never, then, have there existed more fertile conditions for a universal desire for utopia. Yet the place of desire per se on the path to a better future, as the majority tend to envision it, has shrunk on the basis of the premise that present desires need to be radically constrained if humanity is to survive, still less to attain lasting happiness. Unless we want utopia to mirror economic austerity, such a plan is misguided and unsatisfactory as a way of modeling this radiant future. And that is simply because the transformation of our desires does not hinge on their repression or reduction, or, to put it differently, on having the same desires, only less pronounced or fewer.
The experience of survival, of our existence coming under acute or chronic threat, is instructive and valuable in this respect. Between the calculation of remaining resources and the adrenaline-fueled tunnel vision from which pain has receded, survival leads us to realign our priorities. We become aware of desires entirely dependent on objects unavailable to us or beyond our control, of whims and velleities that do little for us, of desires whose maintenance and fulfillment is secondary or detrimental to our welfare, and of those which are for us unnecessary, compared to others that are indispensable, essential. Instead of being deliberately reined in, retracted, reduced in amount and intensity, desires become spontaneously focused and rerouted toward the primary, the vital. Thus, in the most difficult and creaturely of conditions—which, throughout recorded human history, has been the breeding ground for heroes—we discover a potential source of utopian desire unchained (if incompletely) from desire’s habitual deformation by the capitalist economy. Anything that jeopardizes survival temporarily loses its value; any relative excess we had grown accustomed to, or perhaps never had to do without, is the first to be forfeited. Its retention as a wish, in fantastic form, involves its abstraction and sublimation. Such desires as survive this sorting process, adapted to the exigencies of self-preservation, undergo alteration by amplification and even refinement. The objective limits placed on their indulgence render them more valuable. At the same time, the new perspective can serve to mount a critique of praxis aspiring to plenitude yet at best assuring organic self-preservation, as well as to call for solidarity and cooperation.30
Of course, even if survival might suddenly seem like a shortcut to utopia, survival alone will not take us all the way. Yet the modification and appreciation just outlined will do as a pattern for desire in that looked-for place, where the condition of the struggle for survival no longer obtains (the menace to existence being absent). Desire, overgrown in the wilderness of capitalism, needs no cutting back or stunting as such for the purposes of utopia. We can think of learning to live within our means in the interest of the general good as the training of desire on the espalier of our resources. Desire and its gratification have two sides: that structured by lack (compensatory, reserved, regressive), and that founded on expenditure and abundance (extravagant, expansive, progressive). The first side gives direction, the second force. Desire’s training, or “education”—such as happens in survival—requires reorienting it away from its alienated form, as desire for commodities, and toward its nonalienated form, as desire for sensual and intellectual enhancement through social and creative activity. For all these reasons, utopia’s aesthetic and political connections to survival are worthy of attention.
The materials and artifacts assembled in this book are by and large social-theoretical. They fall into the general category of critical-utopian thought, in which the critical social analysis a pessimo is characteristically complemented by a desire ad optimum. What follows is a look at select moments and currents in utopian thinking in a variety of spheres and registers. Political and critical social theory intersect in them with anthropology, literature, and practical action motivated by desires and hopes for radical social transformation. The common denominator is their relationship to survival, and since the latter is a deeply embodied experience, the book’s through line is embodiment.
For some years now, I have been preoccupied with the historical divergence of politics and utopia.31 I attribute their divorce not to the well-known critique of utopian socialism by Marx and Engels, but to the progressive theoretical disembodiment or spiritualization of the utopian project in the twentieth century. As the historical evidence against utopianism accumulated, positive sociopolitical visions and experiments of community building on broadly communist principles increasingly aroused justified suspicion. In effect, utopian thinking came to function defensively as a nonpolitical alibi, all but precluding active political engagement, in a range of heterodox Marxist and post-Marxist political theory (notably, in the work of left-libertarian Abensour, its considerable hermeneutic value notwithstanding). More recently, however, the rising rhetoric of hope, the embrace of prefigurative praxis in radical democratic social movements32 like the movement to take back the commons, and other communal, physical elements of such action began to point to a possible reinvigoration of both utopianism and radical politics taking place on the theoretical and historical planes. Historicizing the long-standing discursive disconnect between utopian and radical democratic energies seemed to me necessary for bringing them together and thus preempting the bankruptcy of their respective visions. This rapprochement is also what drives the present book.
The range of periods and social contexts in which utopian values take root demonstrates the utopian tradition’s plurality of signification and valence. But the tradition itself warrants remapping. In an earlier work, I looked back through the history of utopian literature to trouble the beginnings of modern European utopian thought and imagination. I found these beginnings not, as is customary, in Utopia, More’s canonical Renaissance text, but in the popular late-medieval topos of Cockaigne: the profane corporal imaginary of a land of shared plenty, pleasure, and leisure, for the most part omitted from the major and wide-ranging studies of utopia.33
Cockaigne’s importance as a myth, meanwhile, is paramount. The depiction, in one of the Kildare Poems (mid-fourteenth century), of society turned upside down, linking social justice with abundance, has been recognized in Marxist historiography as complementing the revolutionary thought behind the English Peasants’ Revolt, which put equality first.34 Cockaigne was “the Utopia of the hard-driven serf, the man for whom things are too difficult, for whom the getting of a bare living is a constant struggle.”35 The satisfaction of bodily appetites, including erotic desire, that defines the plebeian pays de Cocagne—the most synthetic literary example of which is an anonymous, mid-thirteenth-century French poem—resurfaced powerfully in the somatic-utopian visions of the Marquis de Sade and, especially, of Charles Fourier. These authors projected (differently, to be sure) a dream society rooted in the lived body and its passions by availing themselves of Cockaigne’s logic of the subversion of hierarchies, laws, and moeurs. My panorama aimed to correct the bias that the modern utopian tradition sprang from More and to draw attention to the intermittent resurgence, amid and in tension with city utopias, of utopias of the body.36
The present book expands this picture of a minor, mostly latent and neglected strand of utopianism as a resource for utopian thinking across the humanities and social sciences. As science works wonders and technological advances make some people dream of immortality, as nature refuses to be mastered and the environment to cooperate, the human body remains the real frontier of utopian dreaming against what Bloch called our “hardest non-utopia,” namely, death. All pleasure wants to last forever, alle Lust will Ewigkeit, says Nietzsche. If there is an ultimate utopian telos, it is surviving the body as perishable, as pourriture—a survival that does not pass through suffering and resurrection. Mortals long elevated spiritual immortality to perfection because the body was experienced primarily as displeasure and pain. From a reduction in bodily suffering comes the appeal of a fleshlier immortality. Vampires, potentially immortal, are intermediate to the new conception, insofar as their dependence on mortal death for sustenance and everlasting life is for them a continual source of anxiety and fear of dying. The vampire survives mortality, rather than dwelling in immortality. During capitalism’s crises, the figure of the zombie comes to life as dystopian critique: rather than surviving mortality, the living dead define the nadir of survival. The body reaches utopia as a wreck and is reconstituted there. Biological bodily survival in a social world harmonious with its environment is the minimalist utopia to true immortality’s maximalist one, ceteris paribus. As the horizon of possibility, the utopian spirit adapts and even changes its mind.
The second chapter of this book looks at the role played by corporal desire in twentieth-century utopian conceptions of emancipation, focusing on the French context. The exposition commences with three “scenes.” The first, the post-Marxist phase of Surrealism, is Fourierist in inspiration. The second zooms in on the Situationist International, deepening the Surrealist critique of repression and alienation while offering a theory of society as spectacle and, as a remedy, the passional revolution of everyday life. The third scene opens in May ’68, with another wave of critique, this time going after the spurious utopia of sexual liberation. At stake here is desire’s recuperation by (rather than knowing complicity with) capital, which peddles as freedom what has become an obligation, a new circle of the market hell, further alienating us from ourselves. The revolutionary energy of the “sixty-eighters,” particularly as relates to sexual mores, put the body front and center, building on preexisting critiques of desire and lack.
The critical currents discussed, tendering utopian visions of sovereign passion, all represent resistance to the spiritualization of utopianism then under way, as well as to its melancholization owing to the disappointment with the Soviet experiment, from which the left has yet to fully recover. Registering the rampant economic growth and wealth of postwar French society, they adopted the notion of survival to theorize, first, the inferior form of life conforming to society’s “programmed lack,” and, subsequently, the lived experience providing a utopian springboard. The advent of environmentalism further underscored the importance of dialectically articulating survival with desire, tying radical ecological sense to antistate somatic utopia. These debates and struggles, in which ecological met critical-utopian consciousness, merit replaying on account of their remarkable relevance and sophistication.
The third chapter then extends this critique of survival in seeking to overturn the presupposition that “bare life” is incompatible with radical utopian politics. The project of moving beyond the state form, there to protect life from brutish existence yet incapable of honoring the social contract, continues to animate critical social theory sensu lato. Theorists of this tendency, I argue, ought to take a more dialectical view of survival: as a source of utopia, rather than simply as anathema to their down-to-earth political vision. In some recent, broadly neo-, post-Marxist, radical democratic, and anarchist incarnations, critical theory has been guided by the recognition that human biological and cultural survival depends on our dual, critical and utopian, capacity to desire against and beyond the biopolitical state. Yet the converse—that the critical-utopian impulse springs also from the individual and collective experience of the struggle to survive—has yet to be widely acknowledged. The twenty-first-century utopian politics of survival, describing radical struggle with diverse modalities of bodily mobilization that responds to the biopoliticization of sovereignty, embodies both the promise and the risk of politics.
Finally, the epilogue is dedicated to bodies for and in utopia: the corporal constitution of community approximating the utopia to be universalized. What interests me is, on the one hand, the relationship of desires in the present to their idealized, utopian form; and, on the other, the configuration of the utopian imagination by bodily whereabouts, structured by displacement physical or imaginary. I move on to say that utopianism’s strength as a myth continues to lie in its simultaneous “iconoclasm,” its resistance to determinate content, rather than in its hell-bent pursuit, as in times past, of positive recipes, blueprints, or programs for the future. Utopia’s normative “deficit,” for which first-generation Critical Theorists Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer have been criticized, is also the dialectical guarantee of its truth. I briefly take up the body in Adorno’s thought to highlight its importance as an ethical index. The historical problematics presented in the book and the corresponding modalities of utopian desire are those of utopias of the body, which liberate bodily passions instead of rationally mastering them. The final accent falls on the living conditions sufficient for utopia-inspired or utopianizing action and on what utopia might look like in our survival-centered age.
The ensuing pages tease out a set of utopian criticisms, sentiments, projects, and expectations, to suggest how these might inform, caution, and illuminate contemporary left politics. The utopian current, coded “warm” by Bloch on account of its link to imagination, passion, and will, has not always run alongside the “cold stream of analysis,”37 which can strengthen utopianism’s language and clarify its aims, but also chill its energies. If utopian thinking is once again “hot,” it is because analysis has shown that the political stakes in the global ecosocial crisis are clearly greater than those of the nuclear threat’s “balance of terror.” The imminence of a planetary apocalypse becomes the index of wishful, optative immanence, of an urgent desire to overcome the causes of our ruin. But the sense of crisis to which we are prone and that (bound up with it) of possibility, following the rhythms of capitalism, are not new. Utopia is not a totalitarian nightmare or a liberal façade for the global exploitation of labor. It is a unified response to both crisis and the possibility for dramatic improvement arising from it.
Indeed, utopia can be many things at once. My intention in arguing for a different composite version of it is punctual and undogmatic. If the constellation of utopia includes garden-variety social blueprints, the asterism within reach of our naked eye excludes them. The pattern coming into view, closer to our concerns and outlook, is twofold. On the one hand, utopia is any embodied desire, here and now, for a good society; a desire capable of giving form to individual and collective action and thus becoming prefigurative of such a society, which nonetheless remains latent and dynamic, rather than being elaborated as a social plan.38 On the other hand, utopia is a futureward myth that activates hope and orients, without purporting to normatively determine, action. A can-do attitude depends on having a purpose. Utopias, even those cast centuries into the future, should furnish only revisable goals.
Historically speaking, utopia is a wheel that, if it is not to come off and put society as such in peril, requires reinventing every few generations. This is the tenor of Slavoj Žižek’s break with its earlier, “false” conceptions, the unrealizable ideal and the realizable libidinal utopia of capitalism (satisfying ever new desires): “The true utopia is when the situation is so without issue, without a way to resolve it within the coordinates of the possible, that out of the pure urge of survival you have to invent a new space. Utopia is not kind of a free imagination. Utopia is a matter of innermost urgency. You are forced to imagine it as the only way out, and this is what we need today.” “It’s a matter for survival. The future will be utopian, or there will be none.”9
Even reinvented, however, the utopian wheel needs to be realigned from time to time. I understand my principal role to be that of a wheelwright. Those interested in a systematic, comprehensive review of available conceptions of utopia and a thorough treatment of individual themes united in this book will be better served elsewhere. The pages that follow, the fruit of (so far) fifteen years spent working through the problems of the utopian tradition from an essentially Critical Theory perspective, pull out merely a few of its threads of greatest relevance to the present. Parti pris and polemics are a vital, not a regrettable, part of this process; rather than creeping into it, they move it along.40 It is not a matter of trailblazing, but, taking Herbert Marcuse’s advice, of weitermachen, of carrying on.
A book about utopia these days is also necessarily inconclusive. To conclude would go against the openness and mobility of immanent utopian horizons. The only way to end is by inviting the reader to attend to their longing for a qualitatively better world both despite and because of the doubtful survival of the one we currently inhabit.
1. Utopia (nonplace, imaginary nonexistent place) is used here in the common sense of (e)utopia, or good nonplace, as the obverse of dystopia, or negative utopia. As a place, utopia has rectified what critique had exposed. As a discursive genre, it blends with critique and even social theory. It might then give rise to a political and social program, which acts on the critique to get to the place.
2. Consider, for instance, Thomas Hobbes’s worry in Leviathan: “I fear that this writing of mine will be numbered with Plato’s Republic, [Thomas More’s] Utopia, [Francis Bacon’s New] Atlantis, and similar amusements of the mind.” Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan: With Selected Variants from the Latin Edition of 1668, ed. Edwin Curley (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1994), 244n15, translation modified. (The reference to More and Bacon is absent in the first, English edition of 1651.) Or the way Baruch Spinoza illustrates a lack of realism plaguing political philosophy: “Philosophers . . . conceive men not as they are, but as they want them to be. That’s why for the most part they’ve written Satire instead of Ethics, and why they’ve never conceived a Politics which could be put to any practical application, but only one which would be thought a Fantasy, possible only in Utopia, or in the golden age of the Poets, where there’d be absolutely no need for it. In all the sciences [that] have a practical application, Theory is believed to be out of harmony with Practice. But this is especially true in Politics. No men are thought less suitable to guide Public Affairs than Theorists, or Philosophers.” Benedictus de Spinoza, “Political Treatise” (1677), in The Collected Works of Spinoza, ed. and trans. Edwin Curley, vol. 2 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016), 503–4. Jean-Jacques Rousseau likewise recites the “usual suspects” to highlight the realism of his Social Contract (1762), “taking men as they are, and laws as they can be”: “Since there was a Government existing upon my model, I thus did not tend toward destroying all those that existed. What! Sir; if I had only made a System, you can be sure that they would have said nothing. They would have been content to relegate the Social Contract along with the Republic of Plato, Utopia [of More], and Sevarambes [of Denis Vairasse] into the land of the chimeras.” Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, trans. Christopher Betts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), 45, trans. mod.; Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “Letters Written from the Mountain,” in The Collected Writings of Rousseau, vol. 9: Letter to Beaumont, Letters Written from the Mountain and Related Writings, ed. Christopher Kelly and Eve Grace, trans. Christopher Kelly and Judith R. Bush (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2001), 233–34.
3. I draw no systematic distinction between utopia and utopianism.
4. Auguste Blanqui, Oeuvres complètes, vol. 1: Écrits sur la révolution: Textes politiques et lettres de prison, ed. Arno Münster (Paris: Galilée, 1977), 257. Where not otherwise noted, English translations are my own.
5. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, trans. Samuel Moore (London: Pluto, 2008), 31 (part 3, sec. 3, “Critical-Utopian Socialism and Communism”).
6. Ernst Bloch, The Principle of Hope, trans. Neville Plaice, Stephen Plaice, and Paul Knight (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995), 583. The work was written in the United States in 1938–47, revised in 1953 and 1959, and published in 1954–59.
7. Isaiah Berlin, “The Sense of Reality” (c. 1953), in Berlin, The Sense of Reality: Studies in Ideas and Their History, ed. Henry Hardy (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1996), 36.
8. Isaiah Berlin, “Political Judgment,” in Berlin, The Sense of Reality, 53.
9. Michel Foucault and Pierre Boulez, “Contemporary Music and the Public” (1983), trans. John Rahn, in Foucault, Politics, Philosophy, Culture: Interviews and Other Writings, 1977–1984, ed. Lawrence D. Kritzman (New York: Routledge, 1988), 317.
10. “A Blueprint for Survival” was the title of a reformist manifesto for radical social restructuring, first published as an issue of The Ecologist in 1972, in advance of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held that same year. It was coauthored by the journal’s editors (Edward Goldsmith et al.) and announced the formation of the initially national Movement for Survival (MS), on whose eventual internationalization the authors staked their hopes. The Ecologist 2, no. 1 (1972): 1, 23.
11. Ruth Levitas, Utopia as Method: The Imaginary Reconstitution of Society (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), xiii. See also chap. 8, “Future Perfect: Retheorising Utopia,” in Levitas, The Concept of Utopia (1990) (Witney, UK: Peter Lang, 2011), 207–31.
12. Levitas, Utopia as Method, xviii.
13. Darko Suvin, “Locus, Horizon, and Orientation: The Concept of Possible Worlds as a Key to Utopian Studies,” in Jamie Owen Daniel and Tom Moylan, eds., Not Yet: Reconsidering Ernst Bloch (London: Verso, 1997), 122–37; Suvin, “Erkenntnis: Keystones for an Epistemology (11 Theses and 1 Indication),” version 8 (2012), https://darkosuvin.com/2015/05/23/erkenntnis-keystones-for-an-epistemology-11-theses-and-1-indication/.
14. This is the distinction between sperare (hope or expecting) and optare (desire or wishing) at the end of More’s Utopia, where the author’s fictional stand-in, Morus, concludes: “I freely confess that in the Utopian commonwealth there are very many features that in our own societies I would wish rather than expect to see” (quae in nostris civitatibus optarim verius, quam sperarim). Thomas More, Utopia, ed. George M. Logan and R. M. Adams, trans. Robert M. Adams, rev. ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 107; Thomas More, Utopia: Latin Text and English Translation, ed. George M. Logan, Robert M. Adams, and Clarence H. Miller (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 248.
15. Benedict de Spinoza, “Ethics” (1677), in A Spinoza Reader: The Ethics and Other Works, ed. and trans. Edwin Curley (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994), 225 (II/246, P47). The relevant passages are on 228 (II/250, P54), 161–62 (II/150, P12, P13).
16. Raoul Vaneigem, The Revolution of Everyday Life (1967), trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (London: Rebel, 2001), 58.
17. Eugène Minkowski, Lived Time: Phenomenological and Psychopathological Studies (1933), trans. Nancy Metzel (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1970), 94–96, 100.
18. Minkowski, Lived Time, 101.
19. David Graeber, Revolutions in Reverse: Essays on Politics, Violence, Art, and Imagination (London: Minor Compositions, 2011), 31–32.
20. Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014), 515.
21. Benjamin Kunkel, Utopia or Bust: A Guide to the Present Crisis (New York: Verso, 2014), 16; Rutger Bregman, Utopia for Realists: And How We Can Get There (2016), trans. Elizabeth Manton (London: Bloomsbury, 2018) (subtitles of other English editions: How We Can Build the Ideal World and The Case for a Universal Basic Income, Open Borders, and a 15-Hour Workweek).
22. Kai Heron and Jodi Dean, “Revolution or Ruin,” e-flux 110 (2020).
23. E.g., David Schweickart, After Capitalism (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002); Gar Alperovitz, “America beyond Capitalism: Reclaiming Our Wealth, Our Liberty, and Our Democracy,” Philosophy and Public Policy Quarterly 25, nos. 1–2 (2005): 25–35; and Alperovitz, What Then Must We Do? Straight Talk about the Next American Revolution (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green, 2013); Peter Frase, Four Futures: Visions of the World After Capitalism (London: Verso, 2016); Paul Mason, Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future (London: Allen Lane, 2015).
24. Barack Obama, transcript of Keynote Address, 2004 Democratic National Convention, Fleet Center, Boston, MA, Tuesday, July 27, 2004, http://p2004.org/demconv04/obama072704spt.html.
25. Obama, transcript of Keynote Address, 2004 Democratic National Convention.
26. Anarchist Uri Gordon identifies anxiety-based forms of hope operative in the prefigurative politics (stressing means-ends unity) of contemporary social movements in response to environmental collapse in a toxic, no longer revolutionary, future. Gordon, “Prefigurative Politics between Ethical Practice and Absent Promise,” Political Studies 66, no. 2 (2018): 521–37. For more on prefiguration in this sense, see also note 32, below.
27. Levitas, Concept of Utopia, 230–31.
28. The “hope” in “hopepunk” is “hope as resistance, hope as the antidote to apathy, hope as a motivating force to inspire action in the face of overwhelming odds.” Its fans see hopepunk—a creative protest and a welcome positive alternative to both climate-apocalyptic science fiction and technological dystopia—as a potent destresser and a public service. Rebecca Diem, “Hopepunk and the New Science of Stress,” Tor.com, March 2, 2020; Aja Romano, “Hopepunk, the Latest Storytelling Trend, Is All about Weaponized Optimism,” Vox, December 27, 2018.
29. This is not to be confused with utopian social theory, one of the three faces of utopianism, or social dreaming, identified and discussed by Lyman Tower Sargent in “The Three Faces of Utopianism Revisited,” Utopian Studies 5, no. 1 (1994): 21–28. His first attempt at classification divided utopianism into utopian thought or philosophy, utopian literature, and communitarian movements or experiments. Sargent, “The Three Faces of Utopianism,” Minnesota Review 7, no. 3 (1967): 222.
30. Compare Elias Canetti’s classic conception of the logic of survival: “each man is the enemy of every other.” Canetti, Crowds and Power, trans. Carol Stewart (New York: Continuum, 1981), 227–80.
31. S. D. Chrostowska, “Coda: Utopia, Alibi,” in Chrostowska and James D. Ingram, eds., Political Uses of Utopia: New Marxist, Anarchist, and Radical Democratic Perspectives (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017), 269–310.
32. I have previously noted the convergence of utopia and politics in such practices (see, again, my “Coda: Utopia, Alibi”). Prefiguration refers to the utopian dimension of anarchism and of other forms of nonviolent communitarian direct action. Rather than the anticipation of a predetermined end, it stresses the consistency of means and ends in radical political practice. The term was originally defined by Carl Boggs with reference to a tradition spanning nineteenth-century anarchist, syndicalist, council communist, and New Left forms of radicalism as “the embodiment, within the ongoing political practice of a movement, of those forms of social relations, decision-making, culture, and human experience that are the ultimate goal.” Boggs, “Marxism, Prefigurative Communism, and the Problem of Workers’ Control,” Radical America 11, no. 6/12, no. 1 (1977–78): 100. Winifred Breines described prefiguration in New Left politics and (from 1965 on) the mass student movement in the United States as “the effort to build community, to create and prefigure in lived action and behavior the desired society, the emphasis on means and not ends.” This comprised “the spontaneous and utopian experiments that developed in the midst of action while working toward the ultimate goal of a free and democratic society”—exemplary experiments that grew in theoretical sophistication and defied the labels “apolitical” and “expressive” politics (i.e., uncompromisingly idealistic, irrational and chaotic, extremist and nihilistic). Wini Breines, Community and Organization in the New Left, 1962–1968: The Great Refusal (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1989), xiv, 6, 47, 3; see also 46–52. As Andrew Boyd sums up the purpose of prefiguration in a manual for activists in the twenty-first century: “To give a glimpse of the Utopia we’re working for; to show how the world could be; to make such a world feel not just possible, but irresistible.” Boyd, “Tactic: Prefigurative Intervention,” in Boyd and Dave Oswald Mitchell, eds., Beautiful Trouble: A Toolbox for Revolution (New York: OR, 2012), 82. Beyond articulating ultimate social desiderata as immediate guidelines to present praxis meant to embody them in microcosmic “foreshadowings,” prefiguration designates physical attraction here and now to a better world—and not after a piecemeal social revolution, when systematic planning would have created the right conditions. Rather than “ends-guided”—that is, positing beforehand “remote and long-distance ends which are to be either achieved or lived up to”—it is “ends-effacing,” to the extent that its ends emerge from practice and are understood as provisional, evolving. Dan Swain, “Not Not But Not Yet: Present and Future in Prefigurative Politics,” Political Studies 67, no. 1 (2019): 57. For an alternative conceptual analysis, associating prefiguration, on one end of its contemporary spectrum, with negativity and dystopianism, see Ruth Kinna, “Utopianism and Prefiguration,” in Chrostowska and Ingram, eds., Political Uses of Utopia, 198–215.
33. S. D. Chrostowska, “The Flesh Is Not Sad: Returns of the Body in the Utopian Tradition,” diacritics 46, no. 3 (2018): 4–30.
34. A. L. Morton, The English Utopia (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1952), 21.
35. Morton, English Utopia, 14. “It may be argued,” Morton adds, “that in these fantasies, Cokaygne dreams and symbolic festivals, this revolutionary feeling was canalised, diverted and rendered harmless. It would be truer to say that this was a period in which revolution was not objectively possible though popular riots were, of course, frequent, and that they were the means of keeping alive hopes and aspirations that might otherwise have died away, and which at a later date would prove of immense value” (23).
36. For a definition of body utopia, see chap. 2, note 3, below.
37. Bloch, Principle of Hope, 1369.
38. For an endorsement of this view, central to what she terms transgressive utopianism and anchored in a critique of liberal private property relations, see Lucy Sargisson, Utopian Bodies and the Politics of Transgression (New York: Routledge, 2000); and Sargisson, Fool’s Gold? Utopianism in the Twenty-First Century (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). David Harvey’s proviso bears recalling here: “We have to find a path between ‘body reductionism’ [“the idea that the body is the only foundational concept we can trust in looking for alternative politics”] on the one hand and merely falling back into what Benton (1993, 144) calls ‘the liberal illusion’ about political rights . . . on the other”; that middle way is the “relational” view of the body “as a nexus through which the possibilities for emancipatory politics can be approached.” David Harvey, Spaces of Hope (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000), 119, 130.
39. Slavoj Žižek in the documentaries Žižek! dir. Astra Taylor (Hidden Driver Productions, Documentary Campaign, US, 2005) and Slavoj Žižek: The Reality of the Virtual, dir. Ben Wright (Ben Wright Film Production, UK, 2004). This is practical, “Real utopia” in the Lacanian sense of “Real.”
40. The thinkers of utopia and interlocutors to whom I directly owe the development of my present position in this area are cited here, albeit not exhaustively. My other contributions to utopian studies, extending and deepening some of these engagements, can help fill in what might be perceived as gaps or even glaring omissions. They are noted at the end of this book, in the bibliography.