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In the Place of Utopia

Affect and Transformative Ideas

Warwick Tie

Considerable socio-political change has re-configured the discursive space once occupied by ‘ utopia’. Within the cultures of late capitalism and the organisational matrices of bio-political administration, that space is no longer animated by images of idealised states that are yet to come, or by a sense of simple failure in the production of those same states. Rather, it is overdetermined by a condition of differentiation in the representation of reality. The origins of that differentiation of representation appear to lie deep within the modernist project. In the Place of Utopia explores how that condition of representation might be animated anew by the discursive circuits through which modernity has come to operate, so as to enliven the ability of transformative ideas to lever change from within a range of organic crises current to the world system: the financialisation of global capitalism; the subsumption of worker subjectivities to the logic of capital; the broadening of the metabolic rift through industrial-capitalism. Central to this animation of transformative ideas is the relationship between language and the body.
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9 Anxieties of the utopian urge

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9Anxieties of the utopian urge

The discursive space of utopia presents a particular challenge when approached as a vehicle for the construction of alternative futures. That challenge concerns the manner in which it implicates the formation of subjectivity, at the point where ideas develop about those future arrangements. To reiterate a central tenet that has been emerging here, the use of utopia to recover a normativity dimension within knowledge involves the subject obtaining jouissance in relation to an ambiguity in the constitution of language. In Lacanian terms, that ambiguity pivots upon the status of objet a, and can be felt in the manner by which fantasy operates within the production of knowledge claims. History is on our side with this, insofar as the culture of late capitalism now normalises that ambiguity, through the differentiation of representation by which the logic of capital discursively operates.

A challenge specific to this practice, of sustaining strategically significant signifiers under the impress of this ambiguity, is that it requires a suspension of the boundary between the positions of the subject and the object. It is through the suspension of that boundary, at the level of the subject, that the signifier is enabled to remain in that state of slicing anew into the realities of which it speaks. Such a suspension invokes for the individual, in the first instance, not new knowledge but, however, the spectre of anxiety. This is not anxiety as might be associated with the experience of fear,...

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