Jameson: Theoretical Utopianism. (2/3/99)
Ah! The wonderful world of utopian fantasy. At last, we arrive at the heart of all matter, at the heart of the material reality of every genocidic impulse that has ever disgraced the dreamworld of Eurocentric dysfunction. I have such a negative view of this topic that I sometimes wonder why I have chosen to spend my time contemplating a consciousness that harbors such horrific concepts, if not actual plans, against anyone who does not fit in. It's like building a theme park, or finding one, that is based on the notion of excluding the undesirable elements that make your current reality so unbearable that you have to fabricate a dream-vision of the world as it would be like if there were no alien, unclean, disgusting, evil-doers in it. The Utopian is after all the perfect world, the perfect state, that place in the mind where everything and everyone serves and fulfills your every desire. Jameson says, in his analysis of Nietzsche's revitalization of moral perception, that "what is really meant by 'the good' is simply my own position as an unassailable power center, in terms of which the position of the Other, or of the weak, is repudiated and marginalized in practices which are then ultimately themselves formalized in the concept of evil" (117). Imagine, if you will, the likelihood of the manager of the Utopian DreamPark sending out invitations to everyone who fits into this category of "formalized" evil, reaching out as it were, bringing them into his circle because his theme park would not be a complete, perfectly round, world without their presence.
I am tempted to guess that the manager would probably defer sending those invitations out until he had managed to construct suitable pens and holding cells in which to house his flocks and herds of sheep and goats. He would have to do it eventually, of course, because the park really would fail to reach completion until a population of Others could be assembled. Under what other circumstances could the powerful know and recognize themselves if they were deprived of convenient recourse to comparisons with the weak and disadvantaged Others who differentially define their power? The rich (wo)man only knows the true value of her/his wealth when she/he counts it against the value of the poor. The powerful only comprehend their strength when it can be differentially tested against the weak. In Eurocentric discourse there is no other way to evaluate anything.
This circumstance or habit of thought has its origin in logocentrism. When the Logos, the all-powerful Word of God, brought a handful of dirt up to its mouth and breathed (that is, spoke) the breath of life into it, and created man (Adam) as a living soul (this language, of course, is basically sacred Biblical text), considerably more than just humanity came into existence. Also present in the act of creation, and being there in all its infinite glory, simultaneously and inseparably made manifest forever and ever, was the concept of hierarchy. This is true and inescapable because the Creator is by definition more powerful, more richly potent, than His creature. The first thing God did after He created (wo)man was to forbid. And when (wo)man did not obey, God kicked her/him out of paradise (utopia) into (shudder) nature. What reason does God give for this extreme action? "And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil" (Genesis 3:22). Is it reasonable here to assume that God banished (wo)man from paradise because she/he sought to "become as one of us" and thereby destroy, tear down, break apart, the essential hierarchy that God's voice so carefully fashioned out of the dust and dirt of the paltry earth? That is precisely what this passage says. (Wo)man's original sin in Eurocentric discourse, therefore, is nothing no more and no less than attempting to escape from hierarchy, class consciousness, binary opposition, dialectical thinking, differential reasoning, and all the rest of the nonsense that cannot stand against anyone who is willing or able to conceive of the world in terms other than those dictated by the all-powerful, hegemony seeking, false consciousness of logocentric, religious ideology.
A few examples might be fun. Look at this as part of the theme park, a ride, as it were, along the rails to Utopian bliss. Walter Benjamin, in Thesis on the Philosophy of History, says that "[t]here has never been a document of culture which was not at one and the same time a document of barbarism" (VII). How does this seemingly innocuous statement rise to the level of preserving the hierarchy implicit in Eurocentric discourse? It is all too obvious, of course, that the barbarians who possessed the document originally, or in the first place, were less well thought of than the cultured individuals who came to possess it afterwards, or in the second place. Benjamin does not tell us whether the document was freely given by the barbarians to their cultural betters, or whether their cultural betters stole it from the unworthy barbarians. That probably goes without saying, since the museums of Europe are overflowing with cultural artifacts stolen from the Other, artifacts which do not exclude the corpses and bones of the dead barbarians that Benjamin seems to honor here by admitting that some elements of what they possessed were, in fact, worthy of becoming included in Europe's cultural heritage. While we're on the subject, archeology, as a science, is nothing more nor less than an opportunity for European's to justify their passion for the corpses of the Other, a methodology meant to dignify the impulse to the (dis)respect inherent in grave-robbing, bone-stealing desecration. I have a secret passion of my own, one I have managed to control so far, of going to Arlington National Cemetery in the dead of the night and digging up the bones of American war heroes: at trial, afterwards, I can make a defense based on my right to pursue archeological research. That's a sure winner.
To get back to more reasonable ground, Jameson makes use of Benjamin's comment by asserting, or claiming, that it
"comes, finally, as an appropriate corrective to the doctrine of the political unconscious . . . reasserting the undiminished power of ideological distortion that persists even within the restored Utopian meaning of cultural artifacts, and reminding us that within the symbolic power of art and culture the will to domination perseveres intact." (299)
This is the next to the last sentence in Jameson's The Political Unconscious and one cannot help but be relieved, even overjoyed, ecstatic, to know that the hierarchy remains perfectly intact. Imagine what the world would be like if the "will to domination" were somehow abrogated, put aside, cast off, ignored, denied, or defied. Thank God that the power of the Marxian utopian dream is still standing guard at the gates of the sacred temple, at the gates indeed of the very Eden itself, still there, still vigilant in its complicity with God and the Logos to preserve the great chain of being that puts everything and everyone in its place and keeps the world a calm and regularly ordered place where we all have the time we need to contemplate the reassuring perseverance of "the undiminished power of ideological distortion that persists even within the restored Utopian meaning of cultural artifacts." Whose artifacts they are, or were, is not a problem Jameson can perceive because questions of prior ownership, especially among barbarians who do not acknowledge concepts associated with owning property, cannot be allowed to stand in the way of achieving the Utopian dream. The fact that Utopia is paved with the bones of the undesirable Others from whom Jameson's artifacts were stolen only makes the ultimate victory over the chaos of nature that much sweeter. Indeed, if the world itself must be totally destroyed, which, of course, it must be, in order to realize the dream of the perfect state, then so be it. Any sacrifice is justified in the light and hope of what Eurocentric discourse dreams.
While all Utopian ideology is anathema to anyone who has fallen victim to its enactment, as native Americans have done to European expansionism, and where Jameson seems to slide off into that sociopathic abyss in the end, it would nevertheless be regrettable to throw every idea he articulates out on the slag-heap of logocentrism. One idea in particular that stands out as valuable for its own sake is the insistence he expresses for equating Otherness with Evil. That characterization is useful in the current climate (14 days after the terrorist attack against the World Trade Center in New York which may have taken the lives of 6,400 people), which sports an unrelenting effort on the part of George W. Bush and his administration, and most other Western world leaders, to paint the supposed mastermind of the attack, Osama bin Laden, as the most recent incarnation of Satanic force and consummate Evil the world has ever seen. Since native Americans once occupied the place where radical Islam must now take its stand, a circumstance that resulted in our near total annihilation at the hands of their self-styled Goodness in the face of an absolute tribal Evil, if only because we were so obviously Other to their Christian purity, but the same can be said of Muslims too, we possess a kind of insider knowledge of the process of demonization that takes the Good upward to unimaginable heights of self-idealization and drags Evil down to the lowest depths of depravity anyone can envision or comprehend. The point, or question, this raises is this: if radical Islam, even as embodied literally by Osama bin Laden, were being depicted as Otherness, would Bush have been able to marshal 80% agreement among the American people to pursue war against Afghanistan even in the likelihood that thousands of innocent people will be slaughtered as a result? He has that level of support for his "war against terrorism" in exactly those terms. Anyone who has listened to Bush characterize the Other, even as recently as this morning (09/25/2001), has heard him say over and over again that terrorists are Evil, that there is no justification short of that realization for what they have done, and that they must be hunted down like animals ("smoked out of their holes, put on the run, so we can take them down"). One of New England's most esteemed religious leaders, the Reverend Solomon Stoddard, appealed to the Governor of Massachusetts in 1703 for money to purchase and train large packs of dogs to "hunt Indians as they do bears," arguing, furthermore, that the dogs would be "an extreme terror to the Indians" (Stoddard quoted by David E. Stannard, American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World, Oxford UP, 1992, p241). Bush seems to have taken a page from Stoddard. Those of us who have been there know exactly where any of this is likely to go. When George W. Bush wraps himself in the garments of the righteous avenger of the Christian God, we see him in his past as another Solomon Stoddard, thankful only for the fact that he has a different target for his wrath this time and isn't looking yet to hunt any Indians.
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