Click to search the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library Skip Navigation

The Question of Science Fiction: Utopias


"All profound life is heavy with the impossible."
                                                  —Georges Bataille

If you're anything like me, you'll be walking down the street thinking about science fiction and think to yourself, "Say, what is the Ur-phenomenon of humanity's Utopian drive(s)?" Let's explore this in the best para-academic fashion possible.

The real question is the question of science fiction: on the one hand, there is science, something we must fiercely adhere to as what is 'real,' insomuch that anything at all is real, and on the other hand, there is fiction, that what is not 'not real,' but that textual meditation on what is really real, despite
all that is not real. Thus, fiction is the 'surreal,' what the surrealists foresaw as a superior, transcendent sphere of reality, both concomitant with and elevated from this plane. This two terms offer something of a split, a gap, a relation of no relation. It is within that space, that space between material, empirical, even positivist 'reality' that supposedly we know so well, and that between fantasy, dreams, madness, hallucinations, subjectivity, errors and lies, that we find not the answer to this question, but deferment from its deadlock, the Utopian.    

The paradox of the Utopian drive is that while it strives toward manifestation under
the idea of progress without recourse to the wider historical conjuncture it appears, any countermovement against it or attempt to eradicate is itself Utopian by the very same logic. Thus, we might say that the Utopian dynamic is not a 'dialectic' but rather what Franco 'Bifo' Berardi calls a "double bind": there is only escape or insurrection for and against Utopia. It is an "erotomachy," a struggle for, with and against desire.

Nietzsche proposed that we as humans are "in metaphor," and that, at its basis, the first metaphor was a passionate, angry irruption against being. If things are as they are, unrest and discontent with this state must predicate metaphor, in order to imagine things as they are not. The spark of creation comes from a Promethean pronouncement against matters as they exist—this is essentially what we call the Utopian trope throughout world literature and in history. 

Now, moving right along, and not without controversy, we invoke the "deep poetic structure" of Utopia as a trope from Hayden White, who explains "historical explanation can be judged solely in
terms of the richness of the metaphors which govern its sequence of articulation," but we posit the "Ur-tropic," the originary metaphor arises from some material base, a base of "lack." As Lacan explains, "lack" is not hunger, but is what causes hunger. In order to demand the new, the Utopian, the opposite of existence must be called for, and this is to invoke Nothingness. We can textually explore Being's subsequent impasse with Nothingness, the Impossible, through the signatures and tropes of the Utopian. Subsequently, the Utopian is identified with the Impossible.

The signatures of the Impossible are marked throughout the body of History like scar tissue. To negate things as they are, to "immanetize the eschaton," raises the question, does History arrive by its bad side? The thanatropic drive is not the opposite of the Urtropic, but rather its founder, its arbiter and sororal formulation. More brought this in relief, this Nowhere aspect. So then, we might say instead the insistence is to "eschatonize the Immanence". We do this through the textual mediation of scientific 'realism' within the corpus of what is normatively deemed "fiction."

Thought places us at the forefront of the Impossible, and thus allows for the reciprocity between the real and itself, but it is not for itself. At the dusk of writing, after deconstruction and dialectics, there is plasticity to accomodate or express the ghostly 'trace' of our drive, the wake of the ruin between reality meeting non-reality. This mutability provides the motor for orientations toward scientific reality, but does not outright eschew phenomenology (much to some's chagrin); rather it provides purchase to schematize textual material from the concept (here, the Urtropic) to existence (here, History) by bringing a transformed concept into existence.

The Urtropic gnosis says not to give way to our noble pessimisms, but to let loose and to trust in our Most Wicked Optimisms. Negativity unleashed does not promise new 'constructions' of the Utopian, but without a Miltonic-Satanic urge for irruption ex-nihilo, the indexed 'possibilities of possibilities' are just Glass Bead Games. The necessary generative  bifurcation of unbinding taxonomies apart from one another to approach the 'Real' (in a degenerate, mimetic, secondary or tertiary textual sense only)  gives forth to twin disciplines we'll discuss next: Scientific Realism and Speculative Fiction. This returns us to our initial interrogation, the question of science fiction, which we will pursue in our next conversation.


Patron-generated content represents the views and interpretations of the patron, not necessarily those of The New York Public Library. For more information see NYPL's Website Terms and Conditions.

Post new comment