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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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Chapter 1 Bakhtin’s Carnival: Utopia as Critique


1 The only philosophy which can be responsibly practised in the face of despair is the attempt to contemplate all things as they would present themselves from the standpoint of redemption. Knowledge has no light but that shed on the world of redemption: all else is reconstruction, mere technique. Perspectives must be fashioned that displace and estrange the world, reveal it to be, with its rifts and crevices, as indigent and distorted as it will appear one day in the messianic light. — Theodor W. Adorno (Adorno 1974: 247) Introduction Utopias have always had their critics, but recent decades have wit- nessed a widespread questioning of the legitimacy of utopian discourse. Postmodernists and poststructuralists (even those of a ‘leftist’ persuasion) typically view utopia as an archetypal form of terroristic metanarrative. Similarly, it is pilloried by apologists of the right as a failed example of a totalitarian collectivism, a claim that is often coupled with the assertion that the terminus of history lies in some form of liberal capitalism.2 The latter represents the usual conservative response to the perceived threat of radical or socialistic utopias, although other elements of the right have arguably usurped utopia from the socialists – examples being the British Thatcherite-libertarian new right or the U.S. architects of the so-called ‘New World Order’.3 Given this negative social and intellectual climate,4 it is not surprising that the utopian elements found in the writings of the Russian cultural theorist Mikhail Bakhtin have come under critical scrutiny 52 Chapter 1 and even...

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