In short: I take the utopian to be a diagram, in pictorial or textual form, of a way of life that has actually been experienced, and which may be a fragment out of which to extrapolate a social form on a larger or deeper scale. This would be to think utopia in terms of what’s present in both the text and the world it figures, rather than what is absent.

In other words: is there a way to think the utopian outside of Platonism? The classic utopias, from Plato’s Republic and The Laws to Thomas More, seem to me to look toward an ideal form. Modern utopias became a sort of via negativa of the Platonist idea, where the utopia is a kind of negative or critical potential, not actually realizable any more, but which sheds a transcendent ray of hope on the present. But this is still a kind of weak Platonism.

But I wonder if there might be a third form, where utopia is a figure of what is actual. One might say an immanent utopia, but even that lends itself too much to a kind of imaginary status. Is there a utopia not of the ideal but of the swerve, a kind of Lucretian utopia whose aim is actually to shed the residues of the ideal, unreal form.

This might appear at first glance to come close to bourgeois liberalism, which insists that utopia leads to terror, and that one had best simply stick to what is. Where we differ from that point of view is in questioning the reality of what liberalism claims to be the actual. In a world falsified by the spectacular extension of the commodity form into an entire totality, the shards and hints of a diagram for actual social forms and relations might then be what constitutes the utopian.

Utopian Realism by McKenzie Wark

Concluding paragraphs of the essay in Public Seminar

Eric Lawler