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Transgressive Utopianism

Essays in Honor of Lucy Sargisson

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Edited By Raffaella Baccolini and Lyman Tower Sargent

In 2014, when Lucy Sargisson was promoted to professor in the School of Politics and International Relations, at the University of Nottingham, she became the first and, so far, only, professor of utopian studies. This choice symbolized the centrality of utopianism to her life, thought, and educational practice. In three books, each in their own way groundbreaking, a fourth book co-authored by one of us, and in important articles, her work falls into four primary areas: political theory, feminism, environmentalism, and intentional communities, with much of her work intersecting two, three, or even all four. And in all her work, she brings the lens of utopianism to bear on the subject and, in doing so, illuminates both utopianism and the subject at hand. The volume honors Sargisson’s contributions to the field of utopian studies, with contributions by Ibtisam Ahmed, Raffaella Baccolini, David M. Bell, Suryamayi Clarence-Smith, Chris Coates, Elena Colombo, Davina Cooper, Rhiannon Firth, Ruth Levitas, Sarah Lohmann, Almudena Machado-Jiménez, Dunja M. Mohr, Tom Moylan, Robyn Muir, José Reis, Lyman Tower Sargent, Lucy Sargisson, Simon Spiegel, Maria Varsam, and Laura Winter.

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The Utopia of the Holy Land. The Zionist Propaganda Film Land of Promise as Utopian Text

SIMON SPIEGEL

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When it comes to the relationship between utopias and film, most researchers focus solely on fiction films. The conclusion they reach in the process is always more or less the same: as a form that needs conflict, clearly defined characters, and a dramatic arc, fiction films are highly unsuitable for positive utopias. With very few exceptions, research has therefore only looked at dystopian films that contain all the elements of a proper movie. But, when it comes to positive utopias, film seems to be barren ground.

As I have argued elsewhere (Spiegel, “Some Thoughts”; Bilder), this line of reasoning is problematic because it completely ignores the vast field of nonfiction film. This is quite unfortunate since documentary, and especially propaganda films, are in many ways closer to positive utopias than any fiction film. In this chapter, I am analyzing the Zionist propaganda film Land of Promise/L’Chayim Hadashim by Juda Leman (PS 1935), a film that, as I will show, can be read as a utopia in the Morean tradition, fitting this model much closer than any fiction film. Before tackling Land of Promise, however, I will first discuss the relationship between Zionism and utopianism in general.

Can Zionism be called a utopia or a utopian project? At least for Theodor Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, the answer seems clear. In Der Judenstaat [The Jewish State], the founding document of modern Zionism published in 1896, he counters, on the very first page, the possible accusation that...

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