I got a few thought-provoking comments to my Post-Apocalyptic Dreams post from a fews days ago. Some thoughts got provoked, hence this follow-up.
All of the comments mentioned Cormac MacCarthy’s The Road. The comments inspired me to read it. But, since I haven’t finished it, I don’t have much to say. I’m about half way through, though I’m not sure if I reached, what Chris called, the self-parodic moment yet. Hopefully I’ll have something more informed to say about it soon. Stay tuned.
Speaking of hope, I wanted to expand a little on Obama and, for lack of a better name, the Utopian Moment. I hope a general outline of what the Utopian Moment might be, will become clear below. I’m working on the final part of my Trans- series of mini-comics (alas, currently out of print, sigh…) and it deals with Utopias (as did parts 1, 2 & 3 in one way or another). These posts are a way to clarify some of the ideas I’m working with.
In his comment Chris Nakashima-Brown said:
”I’m afraid when it comes to optimism about imminent real change in Washington, despite my relatively high opinion of Obama as a rare politician with some bona fide intellectual integrity, I’m afraid I’m with Zizek (in the New Yorker profile you link) in comparing the choice between Democrat and Republican to the choice “between Equal and Sweet’n Low, or between Letterman and Leno.”
I’m on board with the Republicrat bit. I’m also pretty cynical about the amount of change that Obama will actually be able to pull off. I’m less interested in Obama’s practical abilities, than in the psychological effect he’s had on the collective unconscious of the planet. I’m interested in what he represents. In that sense, some of the ’empty rhetoric’ criticisms leveled at Obama during the campaign by McCain and Clinton are true, but at the same time that rhetoric matters a great deal. Zizek:
”[…]Obama has already demonstrated an extraordinary ability to change the limits of what one can publicly say. His greatest achievement to date is that he has, in his refined and non-provocative way, introduced into the public speech topics that were once unsayable: the continuing importance of race in politics, the positive role of atheists in public life, the necessity to talk with “enemies” like Iran.”
He may or may not be able to achieve practical changes in the Washington, but the effects of his victory reach further into less tangible mental realms. His victory is an optimism tsunami reconfiguring whole archipelagos of calcified ideologies – not in any specific way, but in a kind of general ‘things are possible’ way.
It’s important to note, that Obama is just a part of the Utopian Moment equation. If the financial crisis hadn’t materialized, if the US hadn’t over-stretched militarily in Iraq and Afghanistan, he probably wouldn’t have been elected. Or, if he had been elected, there wouldn’t have been this kind of urgent impetus for change. The message of hope is meaningless when everything is going well. Obama needed this crisis as much as the crisis now needs him. In other words, he’s the right man for the right time. I don’t want to perpetuate too much the meme of Obama as ‘The One’ but there is some truth to that. The idea of ‘Jesus the Son of God’ was revolutionary for it’s time regardless of who ‘Jesus the man’ actually was. In that sense, the idea of an Obama is more important then Obama the politician.
The current crisis is probably a more important component of the Utopian Moment. The financial meltdown exposed the fictional nature of Capital. Basically, everybody stopped believing that things were worth what the banks said they’re worth. Mental recession indeed! We’re in a rare moment when we’re allowed to realize that all these economic structures and systems surrounding us are invented and made up by people just like us. They’re made of theories, habits, laws and conventional wisdom. In other words, they’re fictional. They’re no longer natural or inevitable. We can make up new ones that might work better. Or at least we can try.
Hope & crisis (utopia & apocalypse… maybe that’s a little too neat…) form a kind of space-time-mind zone – the Utopian Moment – where the horizon of possibilities has expanded exponentially… at least until the currently semi-fluid economic-political relations congeal into another consensus reality. It’s conditions like this that make optimistic Utopian narratives and projects not only possible but realizable.
I don’t want to give the impression that the Utopian Moment will have a positive outcome. I think there are always real dangers of it’s liberating energies being sublimated into negative objectives. This has happened frequently in the past, the French Revolution being one of the most obvious examples. But, even if we can’t seize the moment in the US, the Utopian Moment will have reverberations across the planet.
It’s possible that I’m giving too much credit to Obama and that I’m blowing up another market correction into something bigger than it is. It feels big. Only history will tell… well that depends on who will write it.
2 Replies to “Let a Hundred Utopias Blossom”
I think about this stuff all the time, which is one of the reasons I really like your comics.
I agree with you with a lot of these points concerning Obama, but the post got me thinking that this is probably how Bush supporters felt when he was elected. The return to 80s style conservatism, invoking the idea of the 1950s American utopia while stopping the decay of society caused by liberalism, is probably one of the things that republicans were voting for. Bush is considered pretty Jesus-like by some people (even still).
I think, in the most simple terms, when given the real choice between utopia/dystopia or things getting awesome or not, people will choose awesome. Though it will be their own version of awesome.
I think one of the appealing aspects of dystopia fiction is the complete removal of the arbitrary. I the arbitrary (as a concept) is what screws with most people’s heads. The knowledge that they lack any sort of control over the random. The control of the random leads us to form pacts/religions/government/contracts/patterns. I could see were a “1984” type environment could come about because it’s a powerful combo of forces (media/government/religion) that, individually, remove a certain level of uncertainy that I think people may find appealing.
I like Obama, a lot actually, but never quite got the sense that he could solve everything. Mainly I am just hopeful he gets people going in the right direction. I did read a report that the government of Eygpt may have to become more democratic/open because Obama’s nomination is seen as a powerful symbol. That would be great, but I almost like to wait a see a default reaction.
I defiantly choose my own version of awesome!