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Exploring the Utopian Impulse

Essays on Utopian Thought and Practice


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 Fractured Image: Plato, the Greeks, and the Figure of the Ideal City



Since the subject of the ideal city in Greek political and philosophical thought inescapably involves the question of beginnings, we might do well to begin where the Greeks themselves found it proper to begin.1 “It is necessary to begin from archē” – “ἀρκτέον ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς”: Plato’s Timaeus suggests, in a phrase that augurs more than the tautology-generating translation of archē as “beginning” would allow (48b3).2 “It is necessary to begin from archē”: Greek oratory and historical narrative, Nicole Loraux tells us, consistently privilege archē over the technically more appropriate kratos when they wish to speak of the origin of institutional power in the city. In so doing, they tactfully skirt around the connotative suggestion that such power is an effect of the successful domination (kratein) of one individual or party over another (Divided City 69). Evading such associative reference to a temporally prior process of conflict (agon) and strife (neikos), the ← 102 | 103 → discourse of archē evokes the indivisible conceptual unity of foundation and authority. It designates, as Jacques Derrida would put it, both natural/historical “commencement” and legal “commandment” at once (Archive Fever 1). Archē thus also redoubles as the sign of a telos, both in the sense that its referential circularity puts an end to the disaggregating operations of further analytical retrospect and in the sense that such invulnerability to analytical (lūo = unbind, undo) division is the ultimate goal of all authority that would lay a claim to legitimacy in the classical world.

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