A Map to Utopia

4.2.3

source: http://www.waithinktank.com/A-Map-to-Utopia

Utopia is a state not an artist’s colony. 1

Utopias are sites with no real place. They are sites that have a general relation of direct or inverted analogy with the real space of Society. They present society itself in a perfected form, or else society turned upside down, but in any case these utopias are fundamentally unreal spaces.2

Utopia is thus by definition an amateur activity in which personal opinions take the place of mechanical contraptions and the mind takes its satisfaction in the sheer operations of putting together new models of this or that perfect society.3

Yet with Baudelaire, in the ‘death-loving idyll’ of the city, there is decidedly a social, and modern, sub-stratum. The modern is a main stress in his poetry. As spleen he shatters the ideal (Splee et Ideal). But it is precisely the modern which always conjures up prehistory. That happens here through the ambiguity which is peculiar to the social relations and events of this epoch. Ambiguity is the figurative appearance of the dialectic, the law of the dialectic at a standstill. This standstill is Utopia, and the dialectical image therefore a dream-image. The commodity clearly provides such an image: as fetish. The arcades, which are both house and stars, provide such an image. And such an image is provided by the whore, who is seller and commodity in one. 4

So far as a society producing under capitalist conditions is concerned, the commodity has not become any cheaper, the new machine signifies no improvement. The capitalist is therefore not interested in the introduction of this new machine. And since its introduction would make his present and not yet worn-out machinery simply worthless, would make old iron of it, would mean a positive loss for him, he takes good care not to commit such a utopian mistake.5

What can undoubtedly be said is that the model of society proposed by William Morris certainly would not be utopian in a world where all men were like William Morris. 6

He called it “Utopia,” a Greek word which means “there is no such place.”7

Utopia leaps beyond time…, using means whose existence was determined from the beginning within a given reality, it desires to achieve a perfect society: paradise, a fantasy dependent on its time.8

Utopia was not built for those who exist. It was built for those who come later. In order to create the new man it was necessary to destroy the old. 9

Utopia has two fields of possible realization. 1. Existing power, whatever it is, assimilates the means, the criticisms, and the project of utopia, therefore, in a certain measure, its goals, by rejecting them. But, if there had not been a fundamental modification of the existing order, a share of utopia nevertheless passed into reactionary praxis. 2. The revolution that destroyed the topos theoretically permitted a total realization of utopia, which becomes a (revolutionary) topos. In advance, one cannot determine what will constitute the revolutionary praxis of this topos and what will remain theoretical and reintegrated in theory. The realized utopia is a new topos, which will provoke a new critique, then a new utopia. The installation of utopia passes through a (total) urbanism.

And that is the complete process.

Topos(conservative) —critique/utopia/revolution— urbanism / topos (revolutionary and conservative)/new utopia…etc. We call that Dialectical Utopia. Utopia is the phase of theoretical construction, but it is absolutely indissociable from the other planes and can only exist as part of dialectical utopia. It is only through dialectical utopia that we can elaborate, outside and within the present system, an urban thought.10

Above and beyond this one could perhaps say in general that the fulfillment of utopia consists largely only in a repetition of the continually same “today.”11

But I believe that we live not very far from the topos of utopia, as far the contents are concerned, and less far from utopia. At the very beginning Thomas More designated utopia as a place, an island in the distant South Seas. This designation underwent changes later so that it left space and entered time. Indeed, the utopians, especially those of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, transposed the wishland more into the future. In other words, there is a transformation of the topos from space into time. 12

In fact, when I think of the fair and sensible arrangements in Utopia, where things are run so efficiently with so few laws, and recognition for individual merit is combined with equal prosperity for all—when I compare Utopia with a great many capitalist countries which are always making new regulations, but could never be called well-regulated, where dozens of laws are passed every day, and yet there are still not enough to ensure that one can either earn, or keep, or safely identify one’s so-called private property—or why such an endless succession of never-ending lawsuits?—when I consider all this, I feel much more sympathy with Plato, and much less surprise at his refusal to legislate for a city that rejected egalitarian principles.13

Republics are very easy to found, and very difficult to maintain, while with monarchies it is exactly the reverse. If it is Utopian schemes that are wanted, I say this: the only solution of the problem would be a despotism of the wise and the noble, of the true aristocracy and the genuine nobility, brought about by the method of generation—that is, by the marriage of the noblest men with the cleverest and most intellectual women. This is my Utopia, my Republic of Plato. 14

The entire life of a nation—beyond the formal sum of individuals standing for themselves, that is to say, living and struggling for their land, their place, their Da-sein—carries within itself (concealed, revealed, or at least occasionally caught sight of) men who, before all loans, have debts, owe something to the neighbour, are responsible—chosen and unique—and in this responsibility want peace, justice, reason. Utopia!15

A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias.16

One of the “proofs” of my practice of fetishist disavowal is the alleged “perverse paradox” of me rejecting utopias and then nonetheless claiming that today “it is more important than ever to hold this utopian place of the global alternative open” – as if I did not repeatedly elaborate different meanings of utopia: utopia as simple imaginary impossibility (the utopia of a perfected harmonious social order without antagonisms, the consumerist utopia of today’s capitalism), and utopia in the more radical sense of enacting what, within the framework of the existing social relations, appears as “impossible” – this second utopia is “a-topic” only with regard to these relations. Utopia as simple imaginary impossibility (the utopia of a perfected harmonious social order without antagonisms, the consumerist utopia of today’s capitalism), is not utopia in the more radical sense of enacting what, within the framework of the existing social relations, appears as “impossible” – this second utopia is “a-topic” only with regard to these relations.17

We must therefore admit that the refusal to legitimize murder forces us to reconsider our notion of utopia. In that regard, it seems possible to say the following: utopia is that which is in contradiction with reality. From this point of view, it would be completely utopian to want people to stop killing people. This would be absolute utopia. It is a much lesser degree of utopia, however, to ask that murder no longer be legitimized. What is more, the Marxist and capitalist ideologies, both of which are based on the idea of progress and both of which are convinced that application of their principles must inevitably lead to social equilibrium, are utopias of a much greater degree. Beyond that, they are even now exacting a heavy price from us. 18

“Now,” he said to me, “you are going to see something you have never seen before.”
He carefully handed me a copy of More’s Utopia, the volume printed in Basel in 1518; some pages and illustrations were missing.
It was not without some smugness that I replied: “It is a printed book. I have more than two thousand at home, though they are not as old or as valuable.”

I read the title aloud.

The man laughed.

“No one can read two thousand books. In the four hundred years I have lived, I’ve not read more than half a dozen. And in any case, it is not the reading that matters, but the re-reading.
Printing, which is now forbidden, was one of the worst evils of mankind, for it tended to multiply unnecessary texts to a dizzying degree.”19

The language of the Image-repertoire would be precisely the utopia of language: an entirely original, paradisiac language, the language of Adam — “natural, free of distortion or illusion, limpid mirror of our sense, a sensual language (die sensualische Sprache)”: “In the sensual language, all minds converse together, they need no other language, for this is the language of nature.20

The poverty of a civilization which, avowedly destroying every kind of constrained to the most practical the basest necessities, those of the mechanical and industrial type! The poverty of a period that replaces divine luxury of architecture, the highest crystallization of the material liberty of intelligence, by “engineering”, the most degrading product of necessity! The poverty of a period which has replaced the unique liberty of faith by the tyranny of monetary utopias!… 21

All efforts to describe permanent happiness, on the other hand, have been failures. Utopias (incidentally the coined word Utopia doesn’t mean ‘a good place’, it means merely a ‘non-existent place’) have been common in literature of the past three or four hundred years but the ‘favourable’ ones are invariably unappetising, and usually lacking in vitality as well. (…)

Nearly all creators of Utopia have resembled the man who has toothache, and therefore thinks happiness consists in not having toothache.22

“That’s it, Fukada was supposedly looking for a utopia in the Takashima system,” the professor said with a frown. “But utopias don’t exist, of course, anywhere in the world. Like alchemy or perpetual motion. What Takashima is doing, if you ask me, is making mindless robots. 23

The search for Nirvana, like the search for Utopia or the end of history or the classless society, is ultimately a futile and dangerous one. It involves, if it does not necessitate, the sleep of reason. There is no escape from anxiety and struggle.24

All utopias are depressing because they leave no room for chance, for difference, for the ‘miscellaneous’. Everything has been set in order and order reigns. Behind every utopia there is always some great taxonomic design: a place for each thing and each thing in its place.25

Life in More’s Utopia, as well as in most others, would be intolerably dull. Diversity is essential to happiness, and in Utopia there is hardly any. This is a defect in all planned social Systems, actual as well as imaginary. 26

If Communism is Utopia it is indescribable because Utopia, being no-place, cannot have any definite form. Every attempt to describe Communism necessarily functions as a projection of the personal prejudices, phobias and obsessions of the writer or artist who tries to undertake such description.27

I would like to say (perhaps as a final thought), what conclusion can be drawn from this exhibition or even from this conversation. You could say this. While mankind still lives, each of us produces a utopia. Creating projects is as natural to man as the discharge of secretions. People always fantasise. We make plans, programmes, compose something or other. But when the plans are implemented in reality, especially by those in power, who have climbed quite high up the ladder of power, all these projects end in catastrophe, blood, destruction or chaos. This produces a terrifying arc: projects are inevitably devised, but inevitably end in failure and death. The question arises: what to do with these projective and productive components? The answer is: divert them, channel them into special ‘utopia-receivers’. Maybe build a ‘Museum of utopias’, or many such museums.28


1
Rem Koolhaas
Utopia Station

2
Michel Foucault
Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias

3
Frederic Jameson
Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions

4
Walter Benjamin
Paris: Nineteenth Century Capital

5
Karl Marx
Capital: A Critique of
Political Economy

6
Michel Houellebecq
The Map and The Territory

7
Quevedo

8
Max Horkheimer

9
Emilia Kabakov

10
Jean Baudrillard
Dialectical Utopia

11
Theodor W. Adorno

12
Ernst Bloch

13
Thomas More, Utopia

14
Arthur Schopenhauer

15
Emmanuel Levinas
The Other, Utopia, and Justice

16
Oscar Wilde
The Soul of Man under Socialism

17
Slavoj Zizek
The Liberal Utopia: The Market Mechanisms for the Race of Devils

18
Albert Camus
Neither Victims nor
Executioners

19
Jose Luis Borges
A Weary Man’s Utopia

20
Roland Barthes
A Lover’s Discourse:
Fragments

21
Salvador Dali
The Sectret Life of
Salvador Dali

22
George Orwell
Why Socialists Don’t Believe In Fun

23
Haruki Murakami
1Q84

24
Christopher Hitchens
Love, Poverty, and War: Journeys and Essays

25
Georges Perec
Species of spaces and other pieces

26
Bertrand Russell

27
Boris Groys
Installing Communism

28
Ilya Kabakov

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