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Exploring the Utopian Impulse

Essays on Utopian Thought and Practice

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Edited By Michael J. Griffin and Tom Moylan

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.
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The Archive of the Feet: Memory, Place, and Utopia

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← 8 | 9 → RUTH LEVITAS

The relationship between memory and Utopia is a complex one. At first glance they are antithetical: memory refers to the past, Utopia to the future; memory is what has been, Utopia is what is to come, the novum, the Not Yet. Yet reflection reveals this apparent antithesis as illusory.1

First, Utopia is not always located in the future. Images of lost paradises and golden ages are placed in the past, accompanied by versions of the Fall. Usually these are beyond the memory of any living individual, inscribed in the collective memory as myth or history, as something that must not be forgotten. The more recent past may be the repository of utopian longing as well, perhaps especially following cataclysmic disasters such as wars and ← 9 | 10 → tsunamis: expect the phrases “before the war” or “before the tsunami” to be recurrent in individual life histories and social scripts, as versions of “before the Fall.” At a more banal level, successive generations persistently locate a golden age when crime was minimal and “you didn’t have to lock your door” approximately thirty years earlier.

Second, a remembered utopia is always a reconstruction of the past. But if the Not Yet has the otherness of the novum, representations of future utopias are always simultaneously dependent on existing cultural resources. Indeed, the intelligibility of all cultural production rests on shared memory, since languages and systems of signs are learned. This endorses Fredric Jameson’s long-standing insistence...

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