Yesterday, I came across this post, “What relativism means to me,” by Christopher Powell. It brought to my mind what I have been thinking of as utopian space: the elusive and unfixed space between the perceived and the perceiver.
(I want to avoid relying on the term “the Other” to signify what is perceived, in an effort to establish and rework more language possibilities for thinking about encountering the Other, and the kinds of relationship/s that can exist with it.)
Powell’s description of relativism as “relational” is what caught my attention. Relationality is about the connections between things, and the energy created by relationship, response. The act of responding is fundamentally personal; whether initiated by craving or aversion, or by intention (as much as one can seem to muster), the self is responsible for the act.
Consider the anarchist principle of decentralized governance, which also means personal sovereignty, self-governance, personal responsibility. For me, this is where the idea of utopian space comes in, as the space of relationship between the self and the actualities of the experience of existence–all of that which is perceived/encountered.
Abstracting the idea of space as a relational energy exchange, full of possible responses between things (let’s save for now discussions of the implications of ethics, justice, and irrationality, and all the chaos of the spark) exposes the assumption of space as something that just exists as a very limiting assumption, one that suggests you or I personally have nothing to do with it.
From the relational perspective, the very idea of space IS the good place that is no place: utopia. And the impulse to desire, dream, map, and build utopia is the creative energy of relationship.* To witness the self as, well, always already in relationship with existence, and to execute the anarchist move of personal sovereignty within that relationship, deepens what it means to take responsibility for what is in front of me. It means that what is in front of me is always already creating the condition of the relationship I am having with it, and confronting my ability to respond.
If the choice inherent in response is somewhere between craving, aversion, and intention, and if I am always already responding within the space of relationship, and if my response is an ongoing generative force that sustains and creates the space of relationship, then my utopian impulse can begin to take shape.
Why not fly?
Some of this is influenced by recent reading I have done on Levinas. But the phenomenological encounter and the sword of personal responsibility are ideas that were introduced to me as long ago as I can remember.**
*notwithstanding the problem of totalizing regimes, and the tendency of utopia to canker dystopianly–the point here is the impulse, despite the nagging recurrence of sorry remains