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Weak Messianism

Essays in Everyday Utopianism


Michael Gardiner

This volume explores the connection between two phenomena usually thought to be utterly incongruous, even antithetical: ‘utopia’ and ‘everyday life’. It presents a series of essays, written over the last twenty years, which rethink the nature and prospects of utopianism in a world that has grown increasingly sceptical as to the possibility of systemic socio-political transformation in a positive direction. Through critical interdisciplinary engagements with a wide variety of thinkers ranging from Mikhail Bakhtin to Henri Lefebvre and beyond, many of whom are often read as anti-utopian figures, the essays argue that it is possible to locate utopian promises buried deep within the embodied rituals, practices and symbolic forms associated with everyday existence, in a manner that reveals the essential openness of the present day to momentous future change.


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1 Renunciation of utopia means somehow or other deciding in favour of a thing even though I know perfectly well it is a swindle. That is the root of the trouble. — Theodor Adorno (Adorno and Horkheimer 2011: 54) In the mid-1990s, the Disney Corporation decided to refurbish and update its famous ‘Tomorrowland’, one of the original installations in the Disneyland complex located in Anaheim, California. When it first opened in 1955, Tomorrowland envisaged an impossibly distant ‘1987’ of bright primary colours and polished aluminum surfaces, marked by such heady delights as routine space travel to the moon and beyond, plastic houses complete with microwave ovens, and of course the obligatory monorail. When the exhibition reopened in May of 1998, it unveiled a innovative new vision of the future to 60,000 eager visitors that … looked exactly like the initial conception from 1955, with, admittedly, a fresher coat of paint. Designers for the Disney Corporation concluded they were unable to come up with a substantially dif ferent picture of a forthcoming world that was also plausibly optimistic, insofar as most people now see the future as merely an extrapolation of the present-day – what Terry Eagleton (2011: 73) calls the ‘goldfish theory of history’, so-called because it can only visualize life as something ‘secure but monotonous’ – or, more commonly (and disturb- ingly), as coloured in a distinctly dystopian light. Given the inability to imagine a new-fangled world ‘you’d actually want to visit’, in the words of one Disney of ficial, the only...

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