Exploring the Utopian Impulse

Essays on Utopian Thought and Practice

by Michael J. Griffin (Volume editor) Tom Moylan (Volume editor)
©2008 Monographs 434 Pages
Series: Ralahine Utopian Studies, Volume 2


Exploring the Utopian Impulse presents a series of essays by an international and trans-disciplinary group of contributors that explores the nature and extent of the utopian impulse. Working across a range of historical periods and cultures, the essays investigate key aspects of utopian theory, texts, and socio-political practices. Even as some critique Utopia, others extend its reach beyond the limits of the modern western tradition within which utopianism has usually been understood. The explorations offered herein will take readers over familiar ground in new ways as well as carry them into new territories of hope and engagement.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editor
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Exploring Utopia
  • The Archive of the Feet: Memory, Place, and Utopia
  • Utopia and Memory
  • Memory, Embodiment, and Place
  • Remembering Hammersmith, Tracing Utopia
  • Works Cited
  • “Towards Justice to Come”: Derrida and Utopian Justice
  • Works Cited
  • Truth, Temporality, and Theorizing Resistance
  • Truth
  • Time
  • Modern Time
  • That “Other” Time
  • The Untimely
  • Works Cited
  • Three Archetypes for the Clarification of Utopian Theorizing
  • Clarifications
  • The Universal Voice in Utopian Theory
  • Decoding Universals into Temporal Particulars
  • Temporal Particulars: Three Archetypes for the Clarification of Utopian Theorizing
  • Distinctions
  • Works Cited
  • Utopia and the Memory of Religion
  • Works Cited
  • The Fractured Image: Plato, the Greeks, and the Figure of the Ideal City
  • The Duplicities of Oneness
  • From Philosophy without a City to the City without Philosophy
  • A Tale of Two Cities
  • Works Cited
  • Technological Utopia/Dystopia in the Plates of the Encyclopédie
  • Works Cited
  • The Party of Utopia: Utopian Fiction and the Politics of Readership 1880–1900
  • Works Cited
  • H.G. Wells’s First Utopia: Materiality and Portent
  • Works Cited
  • Immanence and the Utopian Impulse. On Philippe Jaccottet’s Readings of Æ and Robert Musil
  • Works Cited
  • Who’s Afraid of Dystopia? William Gibson’s Neuromancer and Fredric Jameson’s Writing on Utopia and Science Fiction
  • Works Cited
  • Paradise Lost: The Destruction of Utopia in The Beach
  • Works Cited
  • Across Time and Space: The Utopian Impulses of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker
  • Music
  • Noir
  • Conclusion
  • Works Cited
  • “One loves the girl for what she is, and the boy for what he promises to be”: Gender Discourse in Ernst Bloch’s Das Prinzip Hoffnung
  • Works Cited
  • Rhyming Hope and History in the “Fifth Province”
  • The Crane Bag and the Dis-Positions of the “Fifth Province”
  • The Cure at Troy and the Temporal and Ethical Dimensions of the “Fifth Province”
  • Translating a Utopian Idea
  • Works Cited
  • The Chartist Land Plan: An English Dream, an Irish Nightmare
  • Works Cited
  • The League of Nations as a Utopian Project: The Labour Party Advisory Committee on International Questions and the Search for a New World Order
  • The Question of Global Utopia
  • Disarmament, Arbitration, and Sanctions
  • The Rise of the Dictators and the Weaknesses of League Security
  • Works Cited
  • Beyond Utopia? The Knowledge Society and the Third Way
  • Politics beyond Utopia
  • Making Ideology History: Modernization without Telos
  • Infinite Knowledge, Infinite Justice
  • Modernization as Harmony: Politics of Reconciliation
  • Creating the Knowledge Subject
  • Works Cited
  • Witchcrafting Selves: Remaking Person and Community in a Neo-Pagan Utopian Scene
  • A Utopian Experiment
  • Neo-Paganism, A History of Adaptation
  • A Pagan Scene
  • Structural Functionalism, and a New Reading
  • Culture, Politics, and Utopia
  • Works Cited
  • From Shukri Mustafa to the Ashwaiyat: Utopianism in Egyptian Islamism
  • Works Cited
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index
  • Ralahine Utopian Studies

← viii | ix →Acknowledgments

Above all, we want to thank our contributors, not only for their essays but also for their initial presentations at the first international conference of the Ralahine Centre for Utopian Studies, “Exploring the Utopian Impulse,” held 10 to 12 March 2005 at the University of Limerick.

We also thank all those who helped to organize and produce the conference, especially Carmen Kuhling, David Lilburn, Marie Kirwan, Claire Ryan. And we are grateful to our funding sources: the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences; the Research Office, College of Humanities (COH), and Departments of Languages and Cultural Studies and of Sociology at the University of Limerick (UL); the Queens University Belfast, Institute for Irish Studies; and Loretta Brennan Glucksman and the late Lewis Glucksman.

For their ongoing support, we thank our colleagues at UL: especially, Vice President for Research, Vincent Cunnane; College of Humanities Dean, Pat O’Connor; former COH Dean of Research, Eugene O’Brien; former Department of Languages and Cultural Studies Head, Martin Chappell, and his successor, Jean Conacher; our Ralahine Centre fellow travelers (Joachim Fischer, Associate Director; Luke Ashworth; Liam Bannon; Bríona Nic Dhiarmada; Michael G. Kelly; Carmen Kuhling; Patricia Lynch; Serge Rivière; Tina O’Toole; Geraldine Sheridan; Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin); and our co-workers in the Department of Languages and Cultural Studies.

We are particularly grateful to the people who worked with us in producing this volume – the second in the Ralahine Utopian Studies book series: our Peter Lang editor, Alexis Kirschbaum; our cover designer, David Lilburn; our copy-editors, Maureen O’Connor and Kathleen Eull; our production editor, Letizia Cirillo, and our managing editor, Raffaella Baccolini. We thank Barrie Wharton for allowing us to use his photograph on the front cover.

← ix | x →Michael particularly thanks Luke Gibbons who initiated him in the history of Ralahine and in the utopian possibilities in Irish Studies while working at the University of Notre Dame, and his colleagues in the Department of Languages and Cultural Studies at the University of Limerick. He also thanks his family for their ongoing support and indulgence.

Tom thanks Lyman Tower Sargent, Vince Geoghegan, Ruth Levitas, and Tadhg Foley for their continuing support. Finally, and again, he is deeply grateful for the ongoing inspiration given to him by his daughters, Katie Moylan and Sarah Moylan.


Every effort was made to reach the copyright holders of the documents included herein. Any additional arrangements or oversights will be corrected in subsequent editions.


Introduction: Exploring Utopia

In the current global political and cultural climate, it has been argued that utopian alternatives or anticipations of any sort are to be rejected as either useless dreaming or as blueprints for societies susceptible to authoritarian control. However, given the understanding of Utopia put forth by Ernst Bloch, Fredric Jameson, and others, these dark times of closure, exploitation, privilege, and violence call out more than ever for Utopia’s transformative energy as a necessary stimulus to sociopolitical transformation.

The Ralahine Centre for Utopian Studies was established at the University of Limerick in 2003 to pursue research on utopianism. The Centre’s research agenda is based on the premise that sociopolitical values, policies, and practices can be creatively and productively understood through the intervention of a utopian problematic – or set of analytical categories – that can trace those critical yet hopeful impulses that seek to bring about a better world (however diverse, debated, conflicted, or contested such tendencies may be in the cultures out of which they arise). These utopian impulses can be identified and studied in their dual move of a negation of the present moment and a figuration of a better reality that can be articulated through a variety of texts and social practices. Such anticipatory expressions and experiences can be most usefully read as modes of future-bearing production that generate a pedagogical and political sense of possibilities. Utopianism, consequently, is best understood as a process of social dreaming that unleashes and informs efforts to make the world a better place, not to the letter of a plan but to the spirit of an open-ended process. The research of the Centre therefore aims to identify and study utopian tendencies as and when they are articulated through theories, texts (literary, both eutopian and dystopian; legal; political; theological; filmic; visual; musical; architectural; and others), and social practices (such as ← 1 | 2 → religious and secular intentional communities, political movements, and cultural practices). While the Centre encourages research in all aspects of utopianism, it has a particular commitment to examining and extending the scope of utopian theory itself; and, given its location and social base, it has an additional commitment to the study of utopianism in Irish culture.

In March of 2005, the Ralahine Centre held its first international conference. Along with keynote presentations by Fredric Jameson and Luke Gibbons, forty-five presentations by scholars from ten countries were given over three days. The papers addressed many areas of utopian studies: literary, cultural, historical, sociological, political, theoretical, and philosophical; and papers on Irish dimensions in utopian studies constituted one stream of the conference. In this volume, we are publishing essays derived from this conference. Rather than a conference proceedings, Exploring the Utopian Impulse represents our refereed selection of works that uniquely address the question of the nature and expression of Utopia, and do so by way of their investigations of utopian theory and textual and sociopolitical practice. Some of the essays are written by scholars who have long worked within the paradigm and debates of the now international field of utopian studies; others are pieces by scholars who have taken up the utopian problematic in order to cast new light on their own objects of study. All the contributors take seriously the reality and potential of the utopian vocation. Even as some insightfully critique Utopia, others extend its reach beyond the limits of the modern western tradition within which utopianism has traditionally or most recognizably been received. The explorations offered herein will take readers back over familiar ground in new ways as well as carry them into new territories of hope and engagement.

Exploring the Utopian Impulse is divided into three sections: Utopian Thought, Utopian Texts, and Utopian Polities. In Part One, Utopian Thought, theoretical and philosophical perspectives are brought to bear on the nature and problematic of utopianism. “Art desires what has not yet been,” wrote Theodor Adorno in Aesthetic Theory, “though everything that art is has already been. It cannot escape the shadow of the past.” Literary and philosophical utopian design, although future-oriented (“what has not yet been”), originates in a temporal scene. The past imbues the present ← 2 | 3 → and the present the future. Syllogistically, the past imbues the future; and Ruth Levitas begins this collection by opening up the utopian possibilities of memory, too readily conceived in its retrospective impetus as antithetical to Utopia. In a meditation on the utopian resonance of collective and individual memory, she stresses the importance of place, and memory of place, in utopian writing. Even though utopias describe places that are not, they are articulated in real time and real space by social actors who are ineluctably influenced by the spatial environments which produced them. Levitas’s essay is a historical, geographical, textual, theoretical, and ultimately personal exploration of Utopia. As such, it is a salutary overture to the essays which follow.

Eugene O’Brien provides an introductory guide to the history of utopian thought as a precursor to his investigation of the future-bearing, utopian implications of Jacques Derrida’s concept of justice. A more open-ended conception of justice, as offered by Derrida’s deconstructive processes, counters the ossifying dangers that have befallen utopias in the past and thus makes Utopia, and its theorization, more dynamic and radical in its promises and its risks. Next, Susan McManus explores the utopian possibilities that inhere in temporality. Temporality can, she suggests, be theorized as an affective-epistemological form, with implications for the critical understanding of political agency: theorizing temporality’s affectivity consequently opens up political possibilities of utopian desire and freedom. Christopher Yorke also engages with the issue of utopian temporality, offering three archetypes with which he proposes to clarify some of the vaguer claims made for Utopia as an identifiable genre. He argues that the archetypes of utopian historicism, utopian presentism, and utopian futurism can allow for greater discretion, less essentialism, and a more categorical temporalizing mode in utopian discourse. In the last of the theoretical essays, Vincent Geoghegan augments Levitas’s study of memory as he connects Utopia to religion and to memory. He explores the problematic relationship between and among the three phenomena and theorizes towards a “post-secular” dimension in utopian philosophy. Thus, a refunctioned sense of religion returns as a resource and a space for the generation of utopian hope, while memory can consolidate the progressive potential of religious traditions and their sense of community.

← 3 | 4 → In Part Two, Utopian Texts, the possibilities that inhere in utopias, as represented in print and visual culture, are investigated, as are the incongruities and faults which fissure them. Antonis Balasopoulos complicates the too-singular identification of the classical Greek utopian polis. Reading “against the grain of an inert Platonism” allows him to appreciate the aporetic tension which sustains the utopian impulse throughout the Greek tradition. Moving from the classical ground of Utopia to the French Enlightenment, Geraldine Sheridan demonstrates that a free market utopia is depicted in the Encyclopédie’s technological plates. However, she also analyzes the dystopic elements of alienation and exploitation that corrupt the images of work and progress presented. In so doing, she suggestively identifies a dialectic of Utopia within the dialectic of Enlightenment.

Matthew Beaumont takes the study of utopian texts into late nineteenth-century England and identifies a “Party of Utopia” in the utopian readerships of “the last epoch to have been defined by a utopian rather than dystopian impulse.” As Beaumont has it, utopian fiction – particularly in Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward and William Morris’s News from Nowhere – implicitly addresses itself to “a community of readers that it hopes is capable of implementing its ideals in practice.” Dan Smith then reassesses the utopian vision of H.G. Wells, seeking to rescue it from the negative ramifications of the author’s more unsavory adventures in eugenicism. He reads Wells’s utopian thought as complex and contradictory; however, the contradictory nature of that expression is seen as self-reflexively “characteristic of the contested and unstable nature of utopian thought itself.” Accordingly, Smith identifies a “critical utopian” quality in Wells, especially evident in his first novel, The Time Machine.

Michael G. Kelly proposes an “intertextual, intercultural, and transgeneric” study of the lived and the possible, as he argues for a more nuanced understanding of the relationship of personal poetic practice to utopianism. His subjects are two early essays by French-language poet Philippe Jaccottet: one on the Irish literary revivalist Æ; the other on Robert Musil, of whose writings Jaccottet is the principal French translator. These essays “support and counterbalance” one another in theorizing the extent of utopian possibility in poetry. Shifting genres, Philipp Schweighauser conjoins William Gibson’s Neuromancer with Fredric Jameson’s writing on Utopia and ← 4 | 5 → science fiction. Contra celebrants of the critical potential of postmodernism who have co-opted the work of Jameson, Schweighauser re-invigorates Jameson as a detractor of political postmodernism. Schweighauser’s reading of Gibson’s cyberpunk, accordingly, draws on Jameson and relates his adversarial stance to the cultural and political critique which, he proposes, infuses Neuromancer.

Utopia, viewed through a Lacanian filter, is about desire for the unattainable; and Paula Murphy relates this desire to the prevalence of utopian ideals in popular culture. In particular, she reads the film version of Alex Garland’s novel The Beach as symptomatic of a materialistic western world bereft of the sort of moral prohibition that might intensify a more authentic form of desire. In a similar thematic, Michael J. Griffin and Dara Waldron’s essay argues that Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker is a meditation on the problem of utopian attainment. In Stalker, Utopia is linked to the extra-linguistic realms of music and a mysterious room. The attainment of the elusive utopia for which music and the room are metaphors is seen as potentially corrupting; as such it is the communal impulse towards Utopia, rather than its arrival, that is compellingly allegorized.

John Donne’s “Elegy 19: To his Mistress Going to Bed” (in)famously genders new world utopias as spaces of heterosexual conquest, and in this trope Caitríona Ní Dhúill traces a link between early modern discourses and twentieth-century utopian thought. Ní Dhúill takes as her subject Bloch’s Das Prinzip Hoffnung and problematizes its utopian discourse. The tenor of Bloch’s text is heteronormative, she argues, and in it utopian space is feminized in a gendered language of exploration and conquest. Ní Dhúill analyses “the extent to which the polarities of gender discourse can be inscribed in utopian thinking,” drawing on the poetry of Seamus Heaney to demonstrate the persistence of masculinist political geographies. The same poet is then linked to a principle of hope in an Irish context. Heaney’s The Cure at Troy, an adaptation of Sophocles Philoctetes, voices through its chorus the utopian anticipation that “hope and history” might rhyme. Aidan O’Malley reads this possibility into the utopian motif of the “Fifth Province” in Irish political and cultural criticism. He theorizes the ongoing, necessarily incomplete, process of trying to construct this space. All versions of the Fifth Province, he argues, generate possibilities for an ← 5 | 6 → Ireland whose four provinces have experienced a hitherto dissonant relationship with hope.

Finally, in Part Three, Utopian Polities – broadly understood as intentional communities or political initiatives – are documented and assessed. Timothy Keane studies the utopian credentials of the Chartist movement, focusing on the Irish associations of its leadership. This Irish dimension within Chartism provides him with a productive context within which to view the Ralahine Owenite experiment in County Clare in 1830; equally, he contextualizes the failure of the Irish body politic in the following decades of famine and ruin as a nightmarish and cautionary tale that informed the development of the Chartist land plan in England. While this example of Irish concerns uncovers an urgency in English political utopianism, a similar urgency imbued the global utopianism of the League of Nations over half a century later. Lucian Ashworth documents the work of a group of international experts associated with the British Labour Party who contributed, in many and various ways, to the development of the League as a global utopia. “The League,” writes Ashworth, “was always a work in progress, and was never held up, even by its most enthusiastic supporters, as a complete and finished work.” Relatedly, Jenny Andersson interrogates the sustainability of utopian constructs in our era of accelerated knowledge technologies. She thus assesses the tension in the partially utopian discourse of Third Way social democracy as one running between the desire for a better future and the pragmatic requirements of modernization and adaptability.

The last two essays in this volume examine utopian polities that are resistant to concepts of secular modernization, although resistant in markedly different modes. Andrew Brown describes a spatially dispersed but energetic utopian initiative in the city of Eugene, Oregon: one characterized by “witchcraft, politicized neo-paganism, goddess worship, and ecofeminism.” Participants in this enclave seek to transcend the administered identities of mainstream American culture, but not in the strict confines of an intentional community or strictly delineated or separated urban space; rather, they operate in what Brown terms a utopian “scene,” a “set of social networks that is not well defined or well boundaried.” Neither well-defined nor well-boundaried, the phenomenon of political Islam is ← 6 | 7 → arguably the most important locus of political discourse in today’s international context. Appropriately closing the volume, Barrie Wharton’s essay offers a timely study of the relationship of utopianism to Islamism. He complicates what could be perceived as an occidental hegemony in the field of utopian studies and suggests that a distinct utopianism underpins alternative Islamic societies. He examines this confluence in the specific context of contemporary Egyptian society and focuses in particular on the utopian resonances in figures and phenomena such as Shukri Mustafa and the ashwaiyat, or urban slums of Cairo and Alexandria.

Across its three sections, the collection engages critically and creatively with Utopia in theory and practice. As collected, they constitute the second forum for some of the many and varied voices being encouraged by the Ralahine Centre for Utopian Studies. The first such forum was Volume One in the Ralahine book series, Utopia-Method-Vision: On the Use Value of Social Dreaming. This second volume signals the ongoing, engaged commitment of the Ralahine Centre to exploring the utopian problematic in all its dimensions and manifestations.

Michael J. Griffin and Tom Moylan
Limerick and Belfast, December 2006 ← 7 | 8 →


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2015 (February)
Utopie Politic Culture Utopian Study New order Religion Aufsatzsammlung
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2007. 398 pp., 23 ill.

Biographical notes

Michael J. Griffin (Volume editor) Tom Moylan (Volume editor)

The Editors: Michael J. Griffin (Lecturer in English Studies, University of Limerick) has published several articles on eighteenth-century, utopian, and Irish studies, in journals such as the Review of English Studies, Eighteenth-Century Ireland, the Field Day Review, and Utopian Studies. Tom Moylan (Glucksman Professor and Director, Ralahine Centre for Utopian Studies, University of Limerick) has published Demand the Impossible: Science Fiction and the Utopian Imagination; Scraps of the Untainted Sky: Science Fiction, Utopia, Dystopia; Dark Horizons: Science Fiction and the Dystopian Imagination; and Utopia Method Vision: The Use Value of Social Dreaming (with Raffaella Baccolini).


Title: Exploring the Utopian Impulse
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