Metacommentary on Utopia, or Jameson's dialectic of hope



Publication Details

Buchanan, I. 1998, 'Metacommentary on Utopia, or Jameson's dialectic of hope', Utopian Studies, Spring, pp. 18-25.


Earth is in the grip of the system that defeated socialism, and it is clearly an irrational and destructive hierarchy. So how can we deal with it without being crushed? We have to look everywhere for answers to this, including the systems the current order defeated.

-- Kim Stanley Robinson, Green Mars.

What is most striking about Jameson's writings on Utopia is his marked interest in its failings and failures rather than its strengths and successes. Yet he is not a pessimist. His paradoxical catchcry--Utopian thought succeeds by failure- -is, I want to argue, optimistic, but peculiarly so (Jameson 1982 153; 1975 239; 1973 59). Instead of prophesying a bright future on the basis of a rosy present, Jameson uses the various futures art has so far been able to imagine to diagnose what it is tempting to call the existential health of the present. Postmodernism, for instance, can conjure fantastic digital paradises in which everything a person could want would be available instantly in virtual form (as well as a host of apocalyptic scenarios, to be sure, from total environmental collapse to thermonuclear Armageddon), but appears unable to conceive of a world-system other than capitalism (Jameson 1994 xii). Criticism, then, is a matter of exposing the widespread numbness felt in the face of this poverty of imagination (Jameson 1994 61; 1971 374). Utopia, in this sense, is an essential dialectical tool. And it is precisely as a tool that I intend treating it. So instead of attempting to determine what Utopia means to Jameson, I will (as Jameson has himself already famously done) appropriate Deleuze and Guattari's anti-interpretative cri de coeur and ask how does Utopia work in Jameson (Jameson 1981 22)? In so doing, I will be following Jameson's own method of engagement, the metacommentary: it is not so much the nature of Utopia that we need to know, as the need for it.(

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