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2012

Continuum International Publishing Group


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© Patrícia Vieira and Michael Marder 2012

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EISBN: 978-1-4411-0051-1

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data


Existential utopia : new perspectives on utopian thought / edited by Patrícia Vieira and
Michael Marder.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references.
ISBN-13: 978- 0-8264-2072-5 (hbk. : alk. paper)
ISBN-10: 0-8264-2072-9 (hbk. : alk. paper)
ISBN-13: 978-1-4411- 6921-1 (pbk. : alk. paper)
ISBN-10: 1-4411- 6921- 0 (pbk. : alk. paper)
1. Utopias–Philosophy. 2. Existentialism. I. Vieira, Patricia I., 1977- II. Marder, Michael,
1980- III. Title.

HX806.E955 2011
335’.02– dc23
2011034323

Typeset by Newgen Imaging Systems Pvt Ltd, Chennai, India


Printing and bound in the United States of America
CHAPTER 1

In Place of Utopia1

Jean-Luc Nancy

The word utopia has a very peculiar history. It is one of those considerably rare terms
that entered language through an individual invention meant for a very circum-
scribed usage, which was not only literary but also came under the guise of a proper
name. In this respect, it is similar to the name Robinson, to which utopia is, actually,
not unrelated, if only due to its insularity. Utopia , the name of the imaginary island
where Thomas More places his communitarian republic, ended up assuming the real
existence of a common name or a concept, an existence that is as real as that of an
earthly island. It is a very small island with a perfectly contemporary meaning that is
active within language and thought. Moreover, this word imposed itself across many
languages, and its meaning was imprinted at the heart of a thought that was hence-
forth recognizable at the world scale. A thought concerned with the reality of the
world as such, with worldhood as awaiting and anxiety [angoisse ], as the necessity
that one experiences, or as a desirable utopia.2
Let us recall that the word is composed of the Greek τοπος (a place, in the precise
sense of a determined place, a location, a particular region) and the negative prefix
ου, in the same way that ουτις means “nobody, not a someone.” This artificial Greek
term forged by an Englishman in the fifteenth century is used today by everyone to
designate a notion or a question, the absence of which from the world horizon of the
philosophical and political reflection is unimaginable, regardless of the meaning
and the specific values— sometimes opposed to one another—that particular kinds
of reflection associate with it. (One might say that a world where utopia would be
neither a notion nor a question is for our world . . . a utopia.)

***
Utopia , a word that did not originate in ordinary language, that arose out of nothing
in language as though by an act of creation ex nihilo, is given the task of designating
a nothing-of-place [rien-de-lieu], a non-place [non-lieu], as though occupying the
place of a wholly other place, or rather of an other in every place; a word that made
concrete, within language, something that truly has a place in the space of meaning.
It does not fail, at least, to occupy its place in all the dictionaries. From that place, it
4 EXISTENTIAL UTOPIA

does not cease, at the same time, to pierce language, since it is one of those terms
where the given signification (a chimerical dream, foreign to the real) is always sus-
ceptible to being unhinged, or contested both by an interrogation of the very func-
tion of this “dream” or this “chimera,” which precisely wants to be or to signify
something else than a “dream” or a “chimera,” and by a reflection about the ties that
bind “utopia” to existence and to action. For, in the end, one asks oneself: To what
meaning does this kind of extraterritoriality of language lay claim?
Utopia , beyond a certain point of language and of thought, is a non-place of
meaning through which, in fact, something else than a place among others in the
configuration of meaning perhaps arises in thought. It is a place from which meaning
escapes but in such a way that it also constitutes a non-place toward which it escapes
(where it flees and takes refuge). But, in this manner, the totality of language and of
thought, a totality understood according to its openness and its indefinite move-
ment, would be utopia par excellence. Meaning only has a place within language,
even though that which has such a place is always only a cross-reference [renvoi], or
a sending [envoi] to the outside of language and of all places. In a word, meaning
itself is the non-place or the outside-place [hors-lieu ] (so that it can be interrupted by
the taking-place [avoir-lieu] of truth, which announces, precisely, the impossibility
of localizing meaning and of assigning to it a certain abode).
This non-place or this outside-place (is it still a place outside all places, or merely
their negation? is the negation of place a place and does it take place? utopia endlessly
stirs these questions) should be understood here as an outside-there [hors-là], in
keeping with one of the possible interpretations of that other proper name forged by
another writer, the Horla of Maupassant. Horla is eponymous with a text, where it
stands for an anguished creature that visits a familiar site from an unnameable out-
side, which lies beyond the human, beyond our senses and perception. Utopia and
Horla would thus form a couple of names posited within the same presence of
absence: a couple of inverted signs, where Horla is the terrible one, while Utopia
always signals a harmonious presence, a trait to which we will return. (Robinson, to
whom we will also come back, could be the child of this couple and the third charac-
ter of this tragic-comic mythology, the one who restarts humanity while separated
from other men, lost, and left to his own devices, but, therefore, perhaps, reduced to
nothing other than his shipwreck.)
The presence of absence, the taking-place of the non-place, or of the outside-place,
as a condition of meaning itself—such is perhaps the profound and general nature of
utopia, as well as the reason for the exceptional fate of its linguistic invention. A rea-
son that is itself immersed in an originary constitution of history, which we have
hitherto named Western but which is becoming global: the constitution of an unfa-
miliarity of meaning. History, in fact, is nothing other than the movement that com-
mences with the suspension of a given truth (of the world of myth and of a mythic
foundation) and proceeds to a truth to be discovered or produced. History, therefore,
is both meaning and direction [sens]: signification and trajectory—the trajectory of a
truth that is fulfilled or that ceaselessly transforms itself and escapes from itself. In its
IN PLACE OF UTOPIA 5

deepest sense, utopia is contemporary with history, and is, at bottom, its first effect.
No doubt, Antiquity already evinces important features of utopia, even though they
take the shape of dreams or of nostalgia, rather than the Judeo-Christian forms of
awaiting and promise. Modern utopia simultaneously represents the fulfilled signifi-
cation and this fulfillment as an outside of history, which, nevertheless, also presents
itself as the extreme edge and as the subsumption of a historical process. Utopia is
always suspended between a representation of progress and a representation of an
imaginary or symbolic leap, in the course of which no progress would be attained.
Consequently, utopia is the tearing of history and of historical meaning: at once its
glorification, its mobilization, and its paralysis or discredit.
This is why today, at our historical moment, utopia reaches a sort of extremity: we
live in an age that was represented, in various ways, as the possible, or, rather, probable
age of a fulfilled utopia (that of machines and/or that of fraternity, that of knowledge
and/or that of the complete production of the human). As opposed to this representa-
tion, our age appears to itself as that of a derailing, which opens the path to the implo-
sion of the world, or at least as the trigger for a mutation beyond which it would no
longer be plausible to think in terms of history and/or of utopia, just as it would no
longer be possible to return to myth (it is not by chance that the experiment of return-
ing to myth was made in the past century and we all know where it led). If, as one
might think, the mutation of our age is only comparable to that which engendered the
West (the one that gave rise to a post-sacrificial world between the tenth and the sixth
centuries before Christ, along an arch that stretched from the Mediterranean basin to
the shores of the Ganges), then this mutation will make us leave behind history, uto-
pia, and meaning or truth, such as they function in our configuration of thought.
Utopia represents, therefore, something like a limit upon which we are touching
today: as a figuration of a fulfillment, it becomes a thing of the past, but as a designa-
tion of the outside-place or of the non-place, it assumes, perhaps, a new value.

***

To grasp more precisely what may be at stake here, one needs to characterize utopia
more precisely, a task that can be best accomplished by noting the necessary links
that bind it to two other concepts, namely representation and the world.
1) Utopia is always a fiction avowed as such. It fashions itself as representation, at
least from a perspective, according to which it implies the irreality of the represented.
The invention of the word already contains this feature: it is the name of an island that
proclaims that this island does not belong to the earthly geography. It is not insular in
the world, but in relation to the world. For the European world, “the Islands,” as one
used to say in absolute terms and with a capital “I,” or the idea of an island in general,
were for a long time a privileged figure of extra-territoriality, of a place situated at a
distance both of desire and of isolation, a virgin and protected land where one staged
the possibility of a new world. The fiction of an island turns utopia , from the outset,
into a Ur-topia , a term to be pronounced in German: a place of origin, of a new and
6 EXISTENTIAL UTOPIA

pure origin (the prefix ur, so familiar to German metaphysics—Ursprung = primor-


dial outpour, origin; Urteil = judgment, elemental division—means “outside of, com-
ing out of”; it has been compared to the English out, and we could also link it to the
privative Greek ου). Furthermore, this fictional function of an island could be fol-
lowed through the movement of the Western world in its detachment from its
Mediterranean archi-pelagic cradle, where there were, at first, multiple neighboring
islands, still not lost in oceanic distances (even though there was already the idea of a
far-away mythical island that was pre-utopian, such as the island of the Phaeacians in
the Odyssey (with the gardens of Alcinous), the Atlantis of Plato, the islands men-
tioned by Euhemerus, or the Islands of the Sun in Diodorus Siculus). Utopia means
that it exists nowhere, and that it has no other place than its own representation,
which does not refer to a possible referent but, rather, represents an explicit non-reality
using elements copied from the real. And yet, it is a place. This non-place is not simply
a topic: if it is not another place, it is a place that is other, a place otherwise local and
localized, and this outside-place is, in itself, a topos or a figure.
In this sense, Utopia is a literary exercise: it is a fable or an allegory of the same type
as the ones we define, sometimes all too hurriedly, as Platonic myths (among which are
Atlantis and the Cave, which is also, in the end, a kind of island), because in this hasty
definition we keep the Greek word, to which Plato attached, in this case, a very differ-
ent connotation from the one he gave to the µυθοι of the priests and the poets. (The
imitation of Plato is obvious in More’s book.) Thus Utopia is a double fiction and rep-
resentation: first, insofar as it is the explicit invention of that which it presents (the
utopian community) and, second, insofar as its spectacle is transparent (all the names
are made up, following the model of the title: Without-people, for example, is the name
of the king and, most importantly, the name of the traveler-narrator is “Teller of
fables”). The spectacle of utopia unfolds, clearly, in order to translate an idea, which, as
it happens, is the idea of a communitarian state free from tyranny and injustice.
(Needless to say, one can find analogous traits in later utopias.)
Thanks to this double characteristic, the representation of utopia announces that
it does nothing but represent, but that it really represents what is desirable. It, conse-
quently, states that the desirable is undoubtedly only the desirable (unrealizable), but
that it is, still, no less desirable, namely something that would be worth looking for
or inventing in the real and, at the very least, that its representation deserves to be
opposed to an unsatisfactory and contestable reality.
In fact, similarly to many other essays of the time (Rabelais or Campanella), More’s
book aims first of all to criticize concrete politics, and its fictional presentation is also
a means of dissimulation in the eyes of established powers (a method that is successful
up to a certain point). With utopia, a decisive feature of modern political consciousness
is introduced (already present in Plato, in a certain way), one that we could name the
trait/trace [trait] of the impossible. Despite the fact that the ideal city is unrealizable, it
is nonetheless this very city—its idea, its image—that we must resolutely oppose to the
real city. Utopian spirit appears in its radical and revolutionary character: it demands
the overturning of the established order so as to found a new one. But, at the same time,
IN PLACE OF UTOPIA 7

insofar as utopia appears qua utopia (and becomes neither a project nor a program,
since that would change its nature), it demands that the established order be faced with
a representation, the obvious impossibility of which does not diminish but, on the
contrary, sharpens its critical virulence. Utopian representation appears as fictional
but not as unrealistic: one should rather say, cum grano salis, hyperrealistic. It calls
forth a real that would conform to the laws of this representation.
Yet, this call is made, at the same time, in the guise of an injunction (“it is neces-
sary”), in the guise of a wish (“it would be necessary”), and in the guise of a premise
(“let us act as if”): in these three different modes, what we are talking about is a link
between the unaccomplished and the accomplished, a link between a finite and an
absolute being. Utopia is, in and of itself, an evidence of finitude: but not of finitude
understood as simple limitation; on the contrary, of finitude insofar as the finite
being exists precisely at its own limit, where it opens itself to the unlimited, to the
simultaneously active and passive power of an unlimitation [illimitation]. Utopia is
modern, precisely in that it encompasses this structuring of the finite around its
infinity and/or around its finitude [finition].
In a sense, this is how Rousseau sees pure democracy and (despite certain differ-
ences) how Marx sees realized socialism: they view it in light of a demand, the regu-
latory character of which precedes and renders secondary the exigencies of feasibility.
(One could come back here, on a long detour, to the Kantian, and, later, the
Nietzschean motif of the regulatory idea or fiction.) Utopia does not simply set up its
non-place in the imaginary, but, rather, in a polemical negation of the real, a nega-
tion that, in and of itself, represents the reality— or the “hyperreality”— of necessity
(of justice). Utopia is the impossible, not rendered possible, but shown as necessary.
Utopia is, therefore, doubly representative, according to the two meanings of this
term. First, it is a figure or a painting of a possible, verisimilar, and recognizable real-
ity (a place, a State, of laws and of mores): a representation in the sense of a reproduc-
tion with a monstrative or demonstrative function (one should recall, here, certain
models of the utopian architects of the eighteenth century, as well as the scenes and
narratives from Sade and Fourrier). Second, it is a presentation, evidencing that
which is not in itself present (this is the first meaning of the word “representation,”
its theatrical or politico-moral meaning); specifically, it puts on display and makes
present the impossible itself, but the impossible insofar as it constitutes an Idea and,
as such, a law, a principle, and an injunction. With the figure that has been put forth,
it is, then, the unfigurable that takes shape (e.g., the communitarian Idea) and this
shape, rather than outlining a scene, opens up, through that scene, a breach of
thought and of desire in the real, a breach we could also name the absolute, the true,
or the unconditional.
In utopia, reason puts the rational above the reasonable, as the demand of an
outside-place opened in and by reason: the infinite excess in reason of its own truth.
Utopia is the representation—in the two senses of the word— of this infinity.
2) Second trait: utopia is always the representation of a world. The representations
of technical accomplishment, such as those of da Vinci’s machines or others in science
8 EXISTENTIAL UTOPIA

fiction, are not utopias as long as they do not explicitly entail a world, that is to say, a
totality of existence and of meaning. All this, furthermore, does not mean that tech-
nology does not entail such a totality; quite the contrary is the case. But it is necessary
to represent this totality as such (for example, neither Star Wars nor 2001, Space
Odyssey offers a utopia, for these works describe extrapolations from our world).
Utopia is always, above all, social in the broadest sense of the word: it places itself
in the order of a sharing/partitioning of meaning [partage de sens]—that is to say, of
meaning itself, absolutely, given that meaning is nothing other than a sharing/parti-
tioning [partage ]. It is “ur-topia” in a new sense, that of its novel apparition.
It is always a world that is utopian: a regime of sharing/partitioning, of division,
and of connection of those who exchange and convert meaning. If the model of uto-
pia , at least in its broader sense, is political, it is because politics itself has been the
name of a combination—that also began with the history of the West— of relations
of force and of meaning, ever since those categories were set up as two distinct orders
that had to be conjoined, rather than being given as a unity (a sacred power). It is this
that determines the issue of “community” insofar as it is a “city.”
In the world of the sacred, there is no place for utopia because there is no non-
place: the here and the elsewhere are clearly situated, separated, and reconnected.
The sacred rite (the sacrifice) performs an ectopia : it expels to the outside something
that belongs to the here, and that is not a utopia.
But as soon as one attempts to find, to produce and, in the first place, to posit and
to thematize the non-given conjunction of power and meaning (what we shall call
“democracy”), politics at once gets defined as that which still has not taken place but
rather demands its place at the point where the disjunction between power and mean-
ing reigns. It is, therefore, not so much utopia that is first of all political, but, rather, it
is politics that is always utopian. In fact, the Athenian πολις has presented itself, ever
since its first appearance in the course of history, as already lacking its core, either by
having already lost its truth, or by still having to reach it. And, at the same time, it has
engaged in a philosophical inquiry into what the best πολιτεια should be. Perhaps the
heart of every utopia is a fusion of power and of meaning in such a way that legitimacy
is not under suspicion and authority is itself responsible for the well-being of the com-
munity. Utopia is, first of all, the non-place or the outside-place of community as
such—I mean the community presented insofar as the “common” is not given or
founded upon a certain principle, that is, when the community is not or when it is no
longer the body or the conglomeration of a family or an empire.
As the representation of progress— still relatively foreign to the epoch of Thomas
More— became established, utopia went through a slow movement of torsion to
adjust to a different understanding of time. Instead of being that which happens
outside of necessity and according to contingency, time, or the order of the tempo-
ral in the sense this word acquired in Christianity, became the arrival of the neces-
sary. As a result, that which was clearly not to be realized, or that which was to be
realized only in an improbable future, in the uchronia of utopia, becomes that
which, when eventually realized— even if only after a very long time—would define
IN PLACE OF UTOPIA 9

the horizon of a time that could no longer be understood as bygone without being at
the same time realized , that is, accomplished according to the essence of its progres-
sion. (As a consequence, a “revolution” became the very demand to give a place to
the outside-place. The trajectory of Marx best represents that future where utopia is
subsumed under the mission of history.) Effectivity was thus attributed to time as
the effectivity of the subject , in other words, of that which must become what it is,
and therefore always constitutes itself simultaneously as an after-fact of itself and in
advance of itself: ur-topia turns into a production of itself as origin and end. The
utopian world becomes the task of producing itself as a world, and representation
becomes will, that is, a representation that creates its own realization.
The character of being world of utopia foregrounds two of its dimensions that
have been hitherto barely visible: worldhood [mondialité ] and worldliness [mon-
danéité ]. Being world-wide [mondiale ], utopia cannot but represent a state of com-
mon sense, or a meaning, that is shared by all humanity, without any essential
differences. No utopia can be relevant only for a part of humanity. Being worldly
[mondaine ], it does not point toward another world or toward an other-worldly
reality [outre-monde ] but, rather, toward the realization of this world in itself and
by itself. Utopia is not paradise , at least in the sense of a beyond, but it retains from
this notion the representation of an exceptional place within the world, thus open-
ing the world onto its meaning (this is, no doubt, another way for utopia to be
Western: to be the linchpin of a double closure of divine exception, that of the gar-
den of Eden and the island of Hesperides, the garden being another figure for an
island in Homeric culture, as well as in the cultures of Persia and Mesopotamia).

***
Consequently, utopia harbors an antinomy. In fact, it can from now on assume two
forms:

— either its worldly and representational character leads to an intensification of


the hollowing, of the breach that creates an outside-place in the world; not look-
ing onto another world, it opens in the world a non-place that creates a kind of a
scar, marking the absence of pre-given meaning;
— or its character as a totality of meaning, instead of defining this totality as open
and hollowed out, on the contrary, fills the breach and even erases the scar, sug-
gesting nothing less than the regeneration of the world; in this case, the urtopia
subsumes utopia — and this is called totalitarianism (in other words, always more
than politics: the subsumption of politics and of its constitutive gap); this is why,
moreover, an insistent and ambiguous theme circulates across various utopias:
the theme of communitarianism with its eugenic complement.

Consequently, utopia either gets imprisoned in a totalization conceived of as a satu-


ration (and this is the crushing and domineering “vision of the world”), or it is
reduced to the diametrically opposed condition of a lack that perpetually awaits its
10 EXISTENTIAL UTOPIA

remediation (and this is the “regulatory idea” or the “value” in their right-minded
and hopeless formulations). Between a line of flight to infinity and a block, between
flimsiness and thickness, between a pure negation of the u and the fullness of the ur,
utopia seems to have lost today the fragile measure that kept it in balance. A possibil-
ity therefore arises that our “utopia” should be, from now on, an absence of utopia in
the sense of a projection of a total fulfillment or of infinite perfectioning.
The question seems to be, henceforth: What should come in place of utopia? A
question to be understood in two possible ways: What should come in its place, in
other words, as a replacement, a substitution, and what should come in the place that
is its own, in other words, in this non-place or in this outside-place?
What can replace, without displacing it, the non-place of utopia?
Perhaps the answer has already been available for longer than we would have
thought and for longer than utopia itself (or at least for as long as utopia has existed,
if it is, in fact, a contemporary of the West). Perhaps the answer actually lies at the
heart of representation and at the heart of the world. If representation is actually the
presentation of that which is not present as such, and if the world is a totality of
meaning that, as such, does not know how to close itself but that, on the contrary, is
only sure of its infinite openness, then all representation is really representation of a
world and every world is really the configuration of an unlimited expansion of mean-
ing, the truth of which is nothing but the infinity of singular parts where meaning is
interrupted only to be taken up somewhere else: in the birth and the death of every-
body, in love and hate, in knowledge and ignorance, in image and force.
“Utopia” becomes the name of an outside-place that operates at the heart of the
real, not in order to explode and annihilate it, but, on the contrary, in order to clear
the space for its pulsation. It is the play of a hinge that cannot be welded because it
must undertake the sharing/partitioning and revival of meaning—from one singular
existence to another, without assumption or subsumption of their singularities but,
on the contrary, from one to the other, which is precisely the condition of meaning.
If there is something that has not ceased to be of concern to the group of tech-
niques that the West has called “the arts,” is this not, precisely, the care [souci] for
such play? Is it not the care for a hinge that does not weld meaning to meaning (in the
way language would tend to do) but that, in the presentation itself, and as its theme
and its motive, facilitates the opening of an outside-place, a syncope of meaning?
What constitutes a work of art if not the fact that neither its performance nor its
outcome exhausts it and that it gives place, precisely, to that which has no place?
What does a work of art do other than working, in itself, for something altogether
different from the occupation and saturation of its place, and other than tracing its
own contour, with the greatest precision, when its goal is to plot an escape right here,
to give place to the other of place?
Utopia has been the attempt— or the temptation—to put to work a representation
that would locate the non-place. In this, utopia was close to the deeper structure or
dynamics of the work of art (and, without a doubt, we could show that more than one
utopian writer thought of her- or himself as an artist). However, utopia as such is
IN PLACE OF UTOPIA 11

determined by a program of completion. Art, on the other hand, only completes the
work in order to open onto an outside that it harbors but that it cannot contain. One
could say, in a word: the work of art is not an island and the one who inhabits it (the
artist or her or his audience) is not Robinson: she or he does not restart a world of her
or his own but engages with everyone’s world in the spacing that she or he opens. It is
thus that, from now on, utopia, folding onto itself, finally designates, in place of itself,
something that would unhinge all the places in order to create there innumerable
suspensions and interruptions, innumerable releases or escapes: to be here, even when
over there, and thus without an outside, to inscribe in eternity the instability of a
moment, to replay every time a meaning of the world, without an end or without
progress. We situate that “something” or that “somewhere,” approximately, as “art.”
But this word itself is insufficient if it is to be defined according to an aesthetic insu-
larity, that is to say, in fact, according to that which would make art its own utopia. We
need, on the contrary, to think in this context the putting to work—the technique —
entrusted with the task of doing justice to the nontotalizable infinity of that which
puts us in the world and keeps us there, without letting us dream of another world but
not without leaving for us the possibility, sometimes, in certain places, created as the
beyond in the here—a painting, for example, a sentence, or a dance— of touching
upon a reason without ground and without abidance.

Interview with Jean-Luc Nancy


Michael Marder and Patrícia Vieira

A note by Jean-Luc Nancy : I respond to your questions very quickly, between two
trips, and I do not have the time to reread the old text to which you are referring.
Maybe my responses distance themselves more or less from that text; I know, in any
case, that for me today the notion of utopia is even more empty than it was when I
wrote that text. Your questions make me think that this is not the case for you and
that you would want to give “utopia” an actual power and a real chance. But that is
not at all my point of view. I believe, on the contrary, that we need to reject all utopia
and focus instead on the here-and-now! March 10, 2011.
Michael Marder and Patrícia Vieira (Hereafter, MM & PV): As a sign necessarily
lacking an actually existing referent, does utopia shed light on the routine operations
of meaning-making? Does it teach us something about the conditions of possibility
for meaning? Could we interpret utopia as a spacing or an opening, wherein meaning
(in particular a set of new shared meanings of a community) sets itself to work?
Jean-Luc Nancy (Hereafter, JLN): Well, I am not sure that there is no actual refer-
ent to “utopia.” If we think of the mere concept, the reference is the question about
the way of conceiving the prefix “u”: “out,” “to come,” “never to come,” “in no place,”
“in another place,” etc. That is the whole problematic of utopia. How to conceive of
a topos beyond all topoi ? On the other hand, there are the utopias like the one of
12 EXISTENTIAL UTOPIA

More, the one of Fourier, and so forth, that have precise features even if it is not
strictly possible to make them real. Therefore, it seems to me that utopia does not
really help us to think, for thinking never goes out of the real but, on the contrary,
penetrates deeper into the real. Utopia helps us to dream . . .
MM and PV: Thank you for your thought-provoking response. The challenge, it
seems, is to think (not to dream) about the dreaming facilitated by utopia. This is
what we are experimenting with in our collection, Existential Utopia .
Our next question is the following: Utopia co-emerges with political modernity
in the absence of fixed truths. Does this mean that utopia presupposes a certain
political anarchy, a lack of a unified arché ?
JLN: Not an anarchy but the fact that the given “arché ”—that of the monarch or
of God—is no longer experienced as truly certain. Utopia is the idea that another
place should be possible in place of this place (and not as another world, a
“paradise”).
MM and PV: Is there a necessary disconnect between the idea of utopia and the
historical experiments that have attempted to implement, or, at least, to flesh out and
concretely outline, this idea? Would you agree to preserve the paleonym “commu-
nism” for the purposes of describing what you call the utopian “communitarian state
free from tyranny and injustice”?
JLN: Please, note the following. Historical “communism,” such as that of the
USSR or of China, similarly to all the others (in Yugoslavia, for example), was not—
or was to a very small extent— an experience that tried to “incarnate” the commu-
nist idea. There was very little movement in that direction and, instead, many
attempts were made to create a particular type of domination and of efficiency (par-
ticularly a military one). Certainly, one can retain certain social or cultural traits of
communism, but in a very specific sense: these traits would not be related to utopias
but, rather, to the measures of immediate justice.
MM and PV: With reference to utopia, how would you characterize the intercon-
nection of the— at least—two senses of the world: the phenomenological and the
political, the Husserlian lifeworld or the existential spatiality of Heideggerian Dasein,
on the one hand, and the setting or scene of world politics, on the other? What would
it mean, in each case, to define utopia as “a representation of the world”?
JLN: Utopias are the representations of a transformed world, according to an
imaginary projection and have nothing to do either with the lifeworld of Husserl or
with the spaciality of Dasein. On the contrary, it seems to me that utopian worlds are
deprived of life and of space. They are images.
MM and PV: What is the place of utopia within the history of religions? Isn’t “the
place outside all places” the name and function of monotheism, as opposed to the
IN PLACE OF UTOPIA 13

non-monotheistic divinities, embedded in concrete— albeit mythical—locales? Is


utopia a secularized version of monotheism?
JLN: Not at all. In monotheistic religions, in keeping with their deeper truth,
everything happens here, in this world. It is here that God is present/absent. There is
no other representation of the world and the “otherworldly” (the “paradise”) has
nothing to do with a utopia; it is a state of grace and not a world.
MM and PV: How would you articulate the non-place of utopia with the sense of
placelessness or even homelessness marking political and philosophical modernity?
Can invocations of utopia make any significant contributions to ameliorating the
plight of displaced and dislocated populations all over the world? Does utopia still
refer, in the words of Ernst Bloch, to “the principle of hope”?
JLN: No, I don’t think so. I believe that utopia does not play an important role
today. Our questions and our demands are here and for here, in our world and for
our world.
MM and PV: You mention that, from the vantage point of the past, we live in an
age of fulfilled utopia, which we, nonetheless, perceive to be predominantly dysto-
pian. How does this pervasive dystopian dimension of contemporary society,
expressed in cultural productions (literature, film, etc.), fit within the framework of
your reflections on utopia?
JLN: Dystopia is the difficulty of being in our place or in our places. Yes, but that
is what makes the “world” today: it is no longer a cosmos, but a place simultaneously
open and closed; closed to all representation of an “other world” and open in itself to
the questioning of its meaning.
MM and PV: Is utopia another name for the event, given that you describe it as
the introduction of the impossible into politics? Is democracy as the “non-given con-
junction of power and meaning” a utopian political event?
JLN: No, not at all. An event arrives/happens [arrive ] and utopia does not arrive/
happen. An event presupposes, rather, a negation or a forgetting of utopia.
MM and PV: As you state in the end of your contribution, the promise of the
artistic drive, and specifically of the playfulness inherent in art, supplements and
supplants that of utopia. How would it be possible to transfer or to translate such
artistic playfulness into political terms?
JLN: One cannot transpose art into politics—not at all! Art can certainly raise
questions and concerns, as well as effect ruptures, but it does not provide patterns to
be “transferred” or “translated.” Art is untranslatable.