utopian urges

I’m lost in surfing this morning, following links and threads on utopia around the web. I entered through the techno-utopia image (pictured in the video below), which started out as a sort of sci-fi/fantasy tour, but has led to fascinating links to conferences and online projects that are emerging from the overlapping worlds of the arts and academia. It is all rather heartening. I have been updating the Miscellany page, but had to jot a few things down here too, because I’ve found a whole set of linked sites with images and lists of related links, but I haven’t yet found its root, or any “about” sections. At the moment it seems a bit mysterious and perfect, and one of these pages even leads to the Huxley site and a critique of Brave New World. So many people are concerned with utopia, and how we might finally create it.

Determining what my research interests were, enough to put into words to write a statement of intent for grad school, was really hard. I had the feeling I was cracking or splitting open, or splitting off from myself. I think I had to pull back to get enough perspective to be able to put the feeling into thinking. I had to somehow remove myself from the feelings of desire and disturbance, and all the emotional ties probably mostly stemming from my childhood, both as it was–or all the ways that it was–and as I experience it through memories; remembering it in new terms all the time according to the new information that I gain or change or add to myself as I go through life. Maybe it’s not so much removing them, or myself from them, as it is stretching them until they are long enough to fold back on themselves, like a knot or a loop. Hmm: “stretching, extending, expansion.” It’s all in the dialogue. Spine/mind/self. The removal of self from self, the internal division, “othering” parts of the self gives perspective, new information, allows me to see and think and word feeling–experience, the experience of self–to question and describe it. So isn’t that what we are doing here?

I wanted to talk about that because, as challenging as it was to finally get something down on paper with that statement, that something, the first burst of intention, is becoming this malleable, changing entity, taking on its own nature and preferences, as a character takes on life, wandering off and becoming involved with things beyond authorial control.

I thought I was–and I am–pursuing the problematics of intentional communities (communes, communal societies): initially, crudely, what is repressed in order to maintain a way of being, or an agreed-upon reality? What is there that is opposing or breaking down the order of things? Why don’t these projects work, why do they fail?

One of my first investigations developed with Lynn Coady’s idea of fetishism, which I applied to Timothy Taylor’s Stanley Park (such a fun read). I wrote about the repression of aboriginal presence in the novel, which spends so much time focussing on the indigenous, natural world represented in the park, including its inhabitants, to the point of fetishising it–and, though I was not thinking in utopian terms yet at the time of writing, presenting the park as a kind of utopia. And yet, there are no indigenous people among the inhabitants. They seem to have disappeared into the elemental make-up of the park: trees, waves, wind. (Here is that paper: A Ramble in Stanley Park) This experiment (aka “essay”) got me thinking about the connection between repression and idealisation (fetishisation), and that notion holds fast.

In a way it makes me think I should drop the whole thing because it is so obvious. The whole utopia/dystopia connection is out there like crazy. But what troubles me is what else it out there: the idea that we can make a perfect society. Miniature representations of this belief, for what I take to be the easiest example, include pursuits like the raw food diet, which, let us say, can at this juncture stand in for any perfect way of eating. Eating! And I do not disagree that a quest for a perfect diet, or let’s say fasting, for another good example, is not that far away from eating nothing at all. Consider: anorexia has been discussed as a condition that is about control, and also one that causes the experiencer (I don’t want to use the word “sufferer,” because there is a lot more to the story than that, and I don’t want to subscribe here to the kind of hierarchy in which some are experts and some are victims) to feel, for simplicity’s sake, close to God. (See Jungian psychologist Marion Woodman on this; I read Addiction to Perfection years ago.) Starvation or near starvation–whether experienced chronically or intermittently–literally removes materiality and opens or heightens the senses to what is or seems like spirituality. Go along that line of thinking for a bit and see where it leads. Maybe it’s not so bad–purity, asceticism, cleanliness, openness, spiritual wakefulness–one becomes less encumbered with this physical existence, and more available to an evolved state of being? But what about the rigidity and conformity involved in living under this regime? Such laws govern a very specific space; in this example, it happens to be a very small specific space that can be occupied (and that introduces a whole new set of implications about who gets to occupy what space and so on). And that which determines exactly what the space is must also determine what it is not: the rest of the world, the other people, other ways, other expressions, experiences, beliefs, inspirations, rights, and wrongs. I am not against raw. I am not against finding purer sustenance, cleaner energy, sustainability, spiritual awakening, peace on earth. I want it all. But to found one way is to cancel other ways. So how do we do it?

As I explore beyond the first burst of stated intention, interest, inspiration, it grows and begins to express its own desires and affiliations, and I find myself more easily and often compelled by the beauty and trouble and humanity of these utopian urges. I have followed some today that are reminding me to see not only the canker, but also the rose.

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