Friday, January 11, 2008

Textual Utopianism and More’s Utopia

Textual utopianism (as opposed to political or hermeneutic utopianism) seeks, in the “space” of the text, to produce--in the reader--a differentiated mental space. In Archaeologies of the Future, Jameson locates utopian space as “an imaginary enclave within real social space” (15). The imaginary can, and has, taken many forms. Jameson tallies a historical inventory of such “mental spaces”: the early court which he interprets as a “kind of mental space” (16); the emergent money form in More’s England; secular science in Bacon; the psychic enclave of Freud’s psychology; physical space in the form of the imagined city (20). Cyberspace ultimately deterritorializes the physical space of the city. It is a spatialized non-space: a mental space in its own right, andfor this reason threatens to supplant the literary text. Having arrived at cyberspace (as Jameson does), it would seem that in our time both the utopian impulse and the utopian form exist in cyber-utopias (i.e. Second Life).

If textual utopia is the desire to delimit a mental space, fashioners of these textual enclaves realize this desire through a strategy of estrangement. The “making strange” of utopia allows for distantiation; it is a way to recover critical distance. The desire for textual utopia conflates with a desire for a “space” in which to critique. Whether it is the imaginary geographies of More or the temporal imaginary of the future (for Bukatman, the future is the only way to achieve distance on a postmodern present marked by its inescapable immanence), utopian space, to quote Jameson, is a “kind of eddy or self-contained backwater within the general differentiation process” (15). In Jameson’s analysis, culture once functioned as the removed mental site in which to conduct diagnoses of societal ills, but the onset of late capitalism diffused culture through its myriad channels of mass media rendering impossible its disentegument. The “pocket of stasis” Jameson describes becomes the haunted space of the intellectual, the site of the university before its total subsumption into finance capitalism.

To turn to More’s Utopia, the etymology of the term, Utopia as “no-place,” already points us toward this quest for textual (mental) space. It is interesting to note the numerous points at which, at least in my English translation, the phrase "no place" is evoked. In Book One, the character More tells Hythloday that his ruminations regarding England are “not unpleasant among friends in familiar communication, but in the council of kings, where great matters be debated and reasoned with great authority, these things have no place” (41). Hythloday continues the conversation, remarking that the customs of the Utopians, “though they were (as they be indeed) better, yet they might seem spoken out of place” (42). Hythloday explains that the Utopians do not suffer from covetousness because they have no fear of lack, thus that “kind of vice among the Utopians can have no place” (64). In terms of pleasure, those who have “a false opinion of pleasure” have “no place left for true and natural delectations” (79). “No-place” becomes mental space, the space in which to enact alternatives. When Hythloday concludes that “there is in no place of the world neither a more excellent people, neither a more flourishing commonwealth” (85), we can posit a double meaning, causing the sentence to read: there is in “ ‘no-place’ of the world.” Utopia, as “no-place,” is the ever-changing “pocket of stasis,” the mental space that allows for contrary thought. This is what More provides, whether he actually believed in all of the tenets of Utopia or not (peeing in golden chamberpots) is beside the point. The very act of writing Utopia, despite its intent, opens this mental “no-place.” The question for our era, then, is: will there continue to be ways of generating these sites?