edge archiving.

on the problem of utopia and edge-site (excerpts)
December 23, 2010, 2:55 am
Filed under: edge discourse

The following is part of a longer, still building work about the problem of utopian thought in our current notions of crisis.  The premise, ultimately, is to construct an alternative to utopia in the edge — which, as I will elaborate, cannot be absorbed into the by now redundant leftist self-critique of anti-utopianism.  Rather than pursue a notion of anti-utopianism, the gestures of this narrative direct toward the ahistoricism of these self-critiques.



The world as sphere

The first edge I would like to consider – which should not be mistaken for an origin – ends in the early sixteenth century, which is the topography of the ‘edge of the world’ lost in the production of a spherical world image. During this period, a radical shift takes place in what we might call the “world view”1: by means of its expansion, the scope of the world shrank with the image of the globe. Here, it should be emphasized that through maps and stories of the Age of Discovery – culminated in Magellan’s circumnavigation of the world, from 1519-1522 – the spherical earth became thinkable beyond theory, as a totalizing image.2 As a globe or a sphere, the world image was compassable, and denied the mythology of its ‘edge.’ The ‘edge of the world’ no longer poses, in this image, a limit to the world – rather, the ‘horizon’ becomes a figure of circulation, an edge of repetition without an ultimate site of crossing.

While this global image poses an end of a certain edge imaginary, it is nevertheless the locus of transformation for a ‘New World’ imaginary of boundaries, borders, frontiers, and edge-sites. Of this transformation, Carl Schmitt writes,

No sooner had the contours of the earth emerged as a real globe – not just sensed as myth, …but apprehensible as fact and measurable as space – than there arose a wholly new and hitherto unimaginable problem: the spatial ordering of the earth in terms of international law.3

Schmitt describes this moment of the “new global image” by its surface edges – edges which render the globe an orb, flattened and topographical – that were conceived as lines “to establish the dimensions and demarcations of a global spatial order.”4 As a sphere, the earth could no longer be imagined with an edge to cross over – with an edge of extraterrestriality. However, the conditions of possibility brought about by the globe reproduced the mythologies of crossing-over in its spatial order. Boundaries and borders, Schmitt argues, had the purpose of separating “a pacified order from a quarrelsome disorder, a cosmos from a chaos, a house from a non-house, an enclosure from the wilderness.”5 Like the ‘edge of the world,’ these boundaries act as exclusionary forces of a surface, and moreover produce a spatial order which maintains edges of extraterrestriality in the ocean.

Oceanic edges

In imagining the edge spatiality of the ocean, the ocean’s particular status of contradiction should be recognized in the early sixteenth century as a potential source of historical connectedness to the “global sixties.” This status of contradiction develops from the dynamic of land and sea – that which Hegel distinguishes as the “universal relation” of history – and it is with the expansion of mercantilist economies and military sea power that the sea becomes subject to land-based systems of power. In Schmitt’s account, international law – the premise of the “global image of the world”6 – applies a system of edges to the ocean as a means of imagining its terrestrial logic.7 The imperatives of sea power, in this articulation, are territorial imperatives, while the ocean is understood paradoxically through a terrestrial spatial order.

Hegel’s narrative of terrestrial history moves toward the edge of the ocean – beginning with “the waterless uplands,” then “valley formations which are watered by rivers,” and ending with the coast8 – and therein moves toward what is perhaps most crucial to this historical moment of the early sixteenth century. With the emergence of a global image, the ocean becomes imagined as a part of a whole – yet this whole cannot be understood as either land or sea, but through a dialectics which produces an oceanic edge spatiality.

Yet, as Schmitt writes in Land and Sea, “since we found out that our earth is spherically shaped, we have been speaking quite naturally of the ‘terrestrial sphere’ or of the ‘terrestrial globe.’ To imagine a ‘maritime globe’ would seem strange, indeed.”9 The “terrestrial globe” of the sixteenth century renders a certain world image for which, in narratives of discovery and sea conquest, the oceanic exists as a space of extraterrestrial contradiction.

Edges or lineages

Here, it will be useful to think with the sixties, in engaging the possibilities of an oceanic imaginary which can be sited in the early sixteenth century’s transformed global world image. In the sixties, there is a similar proliferation of a global image, taken from space – an image which was produced by another voyage of circumnavigation, in 1961. With this extension of global conquest into space, we find a projection of the oceanic imaginary onto outer space which coincides.10 Ultimately, I would like to return to this observation, but after attending to a more specific resonance from the early sixteenth century. This resonance comes from the term “utopia,” etymologically attributed to Thomas More’s 1516 text, which describes Utopia as an island discovered at sea. “Utopia” offers an ostensible lineage to the sixties – and perhaps, to our current “crisis” – through a particular oceanic imaginary.

However, in thinking with the sixties – and from the vantage of a historiographical crisis – we encounter a conflict with the directionality of the ‘lineage’ as a mode of understanding and situating utopian politics in our own historical moment. Rather, this is a pursuit of an edge topology of our historical imagination – not of lineages from which we might historiographically recover a narrative of causation, and from there, resurrection. The pursuit of a utopian lineage from Thomas More would perhaps only result in a narrative symptomatic of our current desire for historicity. Instead of entirely disengaging from this notion of ‘lineages,’ however, it will be productive to engage “utopia” as a site in which lineage is sought.11

Certainly there is a narrative of lineage which can be traced between More’s Utopia and utopian texts which came after, and which produces a lineage of islands for a long duree of the utopic ocean.12 Yet what gets lost in these attempts to create lineage is the historical situation from which More’s “Utopia” emerges in the early sixteenth century – a different set of conditions of possibility than those attributed to “utopia” in current discourse. In the early sixteenth century, more precisely, the island was a different figure of possibility, which had not become subject to a discourse on utopia as a “genre of impossibility.13

In the island, we can read against the genre of impossibility attributed to More’s text, through engaging the particular status of the island in the early sixteenth century, rather than its status in literary genres. Nevertheless, as Frederic Jameson recently wrote, there are ways to generically conceive of More’s text as a travel narrative.14 It is through genre that Jameson places More’s text on a different plane of possibility as a travel narrative. Rather than think through the utopian genre – and what is currently at stake in that discourse – there are ways to historicize More’s use of the island as a potential edge-site of genres: as Bloch writes,

At the very beginning More designated utopia as a place, an island in the distant South Seas. This designation underwent changes later so that it left space and entered time… With Thomas More the wishland was still ready, on a distant island, but I am not there. On the other hand, when it is transposed into the future, not only am I not there, but utopia itself is also not with itself. This island does not even exist. But it is not something like nonsense or absolute fancy; rather it is not yet in the sense of a possibility; that it could be there if we could only do something for it. Not only if we travel there, but in that we travel there the island utopia arises out of the sea of the possible – utopia, but with new contents.15

While Bloch identifies More as a point of generic lineage – as “the very beginning” of utopia – his distinction of More’s “still ready” island can elaborate beyond a generic criterion. As a “still ready” island, Utopia may be mapped onto a genre of impossibility, but far more importantly to its historical moment, the island should be conceived as a figure of discovery. More’s Utopia can be differentiated from temporal utopias, which proliferated especially throughout industrialism, through its position in the “now” – or, spatially, its “still ready” position. As Bloch argues, this positionality makes “utopia” not only a discovery, but the situated “sense of a possibility.”

Rather than pay further tribute to distinctions of possibility and impossibility, what is perhaps more pertinent to a reading of More’s text is contingency. In this sense, contingency is to be distinguished from possibility in terms of calculability. While much of the discourse on utopia – including Jameson’s terming of a “genre of impossibility” – revolves endlessly around whether or not utopia can be understood as “possible,” it is far more useful to us to assess utopia as a figure of contingency: that is, as a figure for which potentiality is not calculable. The point, precisely, is that in 1516, there was no means of anticipating, by probability or likelihood, an encounter with utopia in western sea conquest.

* * *

Setting aside its potential lineages to temporal utopias, More’s Utopia is perhaps more productively read through its oceanic imaginary. What establish the conditions of possibility for such a reading are the delineations and demarcations of international law – the spatiality of territory and commerce which Schmitt describes of the early sixteenth century. In More’s description of Utopia, the shape of the island reflects a status of exception to the oceanic terrain of Schmitt’s “global image.” As More describes,

The island of Utopia is in the middle two hundred miles broad, and holds almost at the same breadth over a great part of it, but it grows narrower towards both ends. Its figure is not unlike a crescent. Between its horns the sea comes in eleven miles broad, and spreads itself into a great bay, which is environed with land to the compass of about five hundred miles, and is well secured from winds. In this bay there is no great current; the whole coast is, as it were, one continued harbour, which gives all that live in the island great convenience for mutual commerce. But the entry into the bay, occasioned by rocks on the one hand and shallows on the other, is very dangerous… [with a channel] known only to the natives.16

In the island’s crescent shape, Utopia contains its sea – allowing a certain interiority which envelops the sea’s extraterrestriality, or its edge-spatiality. Once the ‘edge’ of Utopia is crossed, the sea becomes settled – without “a great current” – and territorialized. The movement which Hegel describes as the three phases of history – movement toward the edge of the sea – takes on a different direction toward a harbor of “mutual commerce” from within. From the outside, however, the island’s geography makes the insularity of Utopia possible: only a Utopian can cross the sea to the interior bay; without a Utopian orientation, the island’s only point of entry is an uncrossable edge of international law.

Utopia is imagined in More’s text as an enclosure which exists outside the ocean of Schmitt’s “global image of the world.” And it is despite our vantage of post-sixties utopianism – our understanding of “utopia” by means of impossibility – that More’s Utopia should be understood in terms of its place, rather than its genre. As “travel narrative,” per Jameson’s suggestion, the second book of Utopia therein invokes a lineage, or genre, through a colonial system of edges, limits, boundaries and frontiers. It is in this sense that Jameson’s reading of Utopia historicizes the conditions of possibility of the text, while his suggestion of the “travel narrative” should not only work toward different generic distinctions which supply historical narratives with a premise of lineage. Rather, what is historically comparable between the “travel narrative” and More’s Utopia is precisely the situation of the island within the topologies of a colonized world image. To pursue the island as a generic figure would presume a plane of consistency – collapsing utopian possibility into an ahistorical notion.

What seems constructive, however, in reading More’s text as a travel narrative – or perhaps as a generic hybrid, or as a text which moves toward the edge of a genre – is the way in which the travel narrative renders the island as a site of possibility. In Antonio Pigafetta’s travel journals, which describe the voyage of Magellan’s circumnavigation, islands are crucial figures of heterogeneity to a narrative which ostensibly forecloses the utopian possibility in its production of a global image. The narrative is episodically organized by the island encounters of the voyage – each of which follows a similar trajectory. Take this passage, for example, in which Magellan, always called “the captain,” holds a meeting with the king of Mazzaua, followed by a meeting with the Mazzauans:

Each of us wept for the joy that we had at the goodwill of those people. And the captain told them that they should not become Christians for fear of us, or in order to please us, but that if they wished to become Christians, it should be with a good heart and for the love of God… But that those who became Christians would be more regarded and better treated than the others. Then all cried out together with one voice that they wished to become Christians not for fear, nor to please us, but of their own free will. Then the captain said that if they became Christians he would leave them weapons which Christians use, and that his king had ordered him to do this.17

Certainly, it can be presumed that this account of the Mazzauans is vastly fictional, at least in its representation of the “goodwill” of a people under threat of weapons, and from whom the captain and his crew have a significant language barrier. Yet the point of comparing this instance of Pigafetta’s narrative to More’s Utopia is not limited to these distinctions of fact and fiction – which produce generic distinctions of possibility and impossibility – but rather, the point is to understand More’s island in terms of its historical situation. As in Pigafetta’s narrative, the island is always a site to be subsumed by the European imaginary, Christianized and colonized at once. Pigafetta’s island imaginary develops out of an expansionary orientation which, more than genre, distinguishes More’s Utopia as an island of enclosure, and as resistance to the homogenization of the world image through western territorialization.

In each of these stories, however, the ocean is markedly absent. Through the course of Pigafetta’s account, the ocean is subtextual – the space of the imagined setting, occasionally described by cartographical reference points, which is otherwise peripheral to the island encounters that organize the narrative. While More’s text might be generically conceived as a travel narrative, the story predominantly takes place in England and Utopia – rather than in the liminal space of traveling between. It is precisely the liminal space of the ocean, nevertheless, which produces the island of utopia, or utopian possibility, as an insular territory, resistant to the re-territorialization of European sea power. The island’s geography hides Utopia from the sea, and precludes its possibility as a site of conquest.

It is because of Utopia’s isolation from the ocean, as a medium of international law and colonial expansion, that the vantage of More’s narrative is especially important to the text’s situation in the “global image.” While much of the narrative consists of Raphael Hythloday’s recollections of Utopia, the narrative takes place in England, during an encounter between Hythloday and More. Their dialogue invokes The Republic, while it is premised as a site of discovery – rather than a site of discourse.18 In this sense, Hythloday has been absorbed as a satirization of contemporary figures of the Age of Discovery. Hythloday was brought to Utopia, uninterested in the island as a colony, but rather as a model from which to re-imagine the future of Europe. While he is frequently positioned as a potential colonist, Hythloday should be read through his contrast with Magellan, for instance, in his opportunities to take on a position of power. Rather, like the utopian sea, Hythloday’s discourse with the Utopians is a space of mutual exchange: Hythloday shares stories from Europe, and learns of stories from Utopia, without the purpose of establishing a colony. Yet the narrative of Utopia itself is produced out of Hythloday’s representations, constructing what Jameson identifies as the text’s “mirror for England.”19 In this mirror, the space between Utopia and England is folded in, and creates an edge which presents itself to be crossed. The vantage of More’s narrative, therein, should be understood as a vantage of mirroring – a vantage which invites the impossibility of crossing. In this mirroring, what is folded – or traversed – is the oceanic, as a terrain of possibility moreover conceived through the edges of demarcations and delineations, an edge topology of law, territory and commerce. Nevertheless, the edge of the mirror reproduces the topology of Schmitt’s “global image,” and disrupts this global image in an image of expansion.

World picture and world image

Between these narratives and accounts of the early sixteenth century, the notion of image reveals a malleability, or a movement which is crucial to this premise of a topology of edges. In particular, we are discussing the world image, perhaps inciting Heidegger’s “world picture” – which, he explains, “when understood essentially, does not mean a picture of the world, but the world conceived and grasped as a picture.”20 As picture, the world is ostensibly understood in its entirety. Yet for Heidegger, the “world picture” is limited to its representedness: “picture,” in this sense, refers to an other – whereas in the image, there is a different set of conditions. “Picture” is a representation – that which has a corresponding object which is outside itself – while “every image,” as Bergson writes, “is within certain images and without others; but of the aggregate of images we cannot say that it is within us or without us, since interiority and exteriority are only relations among images.”21 “World image,” therein, does not bring with it distinctions of signifier and signification, and rather terms an aggregate of images to which a premise of totality is denied. The image, in Bergson’s articulation, cannot be engaged as that which is inside or outside, but as an edge – or, as that which is “more than that which the idealist calls a representation, but less than that which the realist calls a thing – an existence placed halfway between the ‘thing’ and the ‘representation.’”2223

Heidegger’s “world picture” offers a theory of modernity for which the need for a picture is precisely a need for totality – a need to which the image becomes subject, but nevertheless resistant. While “world picture” has the diagnostic function of specifying totality as its orientation, the term image conjures a different relationship to perception – which, “in so far as it is an image,” Bergson writes,

…you are not called upon to retrace its genesis, since you posited it to begin with, and since, moreover, no other course was open to you… did you not assume the totality of images? What you have to explain, then, is not how perception arises, but how it is limited, since it should be the image of the whole, and it is in fact reduced to the image of that which interests you.24

As discussed previously through Schmitt, the “global image of the world” is produced out of the logic of totality, while rendering an image of the whole which is in fact an image of what we might now term globalization in its primordiality. That is the image which, perhaps, we imagine as origin, or originary to a lineage26 – but that origin must be understood topologically, as an image which at once refers to (and attempts to totalize) the past, while being in itself the product of “now,” of its own historical situation.

If we are to take the “global image of the world” – itself an image which must be situated in the present of Schmitt’s text, and the present of its readership – and to engage it through this undertaking of an edge topology, the problem becomes how to historicize the fold of this image, or its edge, in a sixties imaginary which produces a “world image” of globalization. What is perceived of this fold or edge must moreover be understood, rather than as a totality, as the reduction of a totality. Yet much more crucially, the fold of these images must be conceived as a fold of temporality – under the notion that, as Bergson writes,

…we shall never reach the past unless we frankly place ourselves within it. Essentially virtual, it cannot be known as something past unless we follow and adopt the movement by which it expands into a present image, thus emerging from obscurity into the light of day. In vain do we seek its trace in anything actual and already realized: we might as well look for darkness beneath the light.27

In further pursing the notion of a fold or edge between world images – that of the early sixteenth century, and that of the “global sixties” – it will be important to engage “utopia,” moreover, as that which is currently at stake in this edge which expands into a present image. While much of our understanding of the sixties is premised on a utopianism – a wish to return to a site of possibility – this is how the sixties periodizes utopia. “Utopia” is not a site which yields a temporal line that can trace the edges of history, but a site which is folded onto sites of the present as historicity.

* * *

The notion of ‘edge-site’ today could be quite instrumental to a generation attempting to organize a form of political action which does not, inevitably, reproduce the logic of its object of critique. However, this instrumentality is contingent on a distinction between ‘edge-site’ and ‘utopia’ – and furthermore, a distinction between the set of potentialities we might currently attribute to each. Today, these problematics can be found in the occupation, as a theory of action for which these differentiations of utopianism and the edge might provide a critique of territory, and territorial practice. Before engaging this prescient set of concerns, I would like to return to the island as the originary site of “utopia” – a site to which we imagine both lines of flight and lineage.

Utopia or edge

What happened to the utopian island in the sixties? In 1962, thirty years after publishing Brave New World, Aldous Huxley wrote what has been deemed a literary reassessment of his earlier, anti-utopian text, in his novel Island – firmly utopian, while abiding by a generic tradition. Island, which was Huxley’s last novel, lends itself to the generic criterion of More’s Utopia – featuring a self-contained island, resistant to western expansion, and existing unbeknownst to the “outside” – while the novel should also, when stripped of these generic impositions, be read as a potential edge-site.28 Pala, the novel’s island, is the product of an East-West transculturation project: “utopia,” as such, is a site of hybridity between Buddhism and European science. In beginning to ask this question – of the status of “utopia” as island in the sixties – Huxley’s text presents itself as a source with which the sixties can be thought with More’s Utopia.

Similar to More’s text, Island establishes a particular situation in time and space that Bloch discusses as the “still ready island.” Rather than necessarily articulating a “utopian” orientation, this “still ready” descriptive might more productively formulate the spatiotemporality of an edge-site. Susila, native of Pala, explains the presentness of her island to Will Farnaby, an American who arrived at the island to learn of its oil resources, in a dialogue which can itself be read as an edge of transculturation, in which each character becomes ‘cultured’ by the other. Susila tells Will:

No Billy Grahams or Mao Tse-tungs or Madonnas of Fatima. No hells on earth and no Christian pie in the sky, no Communist pie in the twenty-second century. Just men and women and their children trying to make the best of the here and now, instead of living somewhere else, as you people mostly do, in some other time, some other home-made imaginary universe. And it really isn’t your fault. You’re almost compelled to live that way because the present is so frustrating. And it’s frustrating because you’ve never been taught how to bridge the gap between theory and practice, between your New Year’s resolutions and your actual behaviour.

The “here and now” of Pala is precisely its edge – the edge of the present, from which the west is understood through the logic of anti-utopianism. Rather than rendering utopia “some other home-made imaginary universe,” Susila makes this projection onto the west, and moreover, onto what might now be projected as global capitalism. Yet, like More’s Utopia, Pala is a “still ready island” which is nevertheless situated in a different time and space: it is an island without place. Ultimately, whether imaginary or present in the sense of Susila’s explanation, Pala is a no-place indistinct from the obliteration of ‘place’ in globalization.

In More’s Utopia and Huxley’s Island, what is similarly at stake is each island’s placehood – its dialectical status, as utopia, of “no place” (eu-topos) and “good place” (ou-topos). Within the fictional framework of More’s text, an epitaph is included by the Utopian poet laureate which inscribes this distinction in Utopia between “eu” and “ou”:

UTOPIA priscis dicta ob infrequentiam

Nunc Civitas aemula Platonicae,

Fortasse victrix nam quod illa literis
Deliniavit, hoc ego una praestiti,
Viris et opibus, optimisque legibus)

EUTOPIA merito sum vocanda nomine.

For More’s text, historically situated in the “global image,” the ocean is imagined as a dialectical space – or as a space of contingency – in which “no place” can be re-conceived as “good place,” or, as a possible place. Yet Huxley’s Island belongs to a different historical moment, for which the globe has itself become homogenized into a “no place,” and compressed, as David Harvey writes, “to a ‘global village’ of telecommunications and a ‘spaceship earth’ of economic and ecological interdependencies.”32 Whereas More’s Utopia imagined a site of discovery – a site which, in narratives of colonial sea conquest, represented possibility insomuch as it represented discovery, that is – in Island, the notion of “utopia” as a no place was rendered impossible by the historical moment of globalization, the complete envelopment of the globe as conquered space.

In terms of the conditions of possibility which could be ascribed to each of these islands – the Utopia of 1516, and Pala of 1962 – there is certainly a historical distinction to be made. Between these narratives, the global image transformed with the development of global capitalism, such that the possibility of “utopia” perhaps shrank in coincidence with the ‘global village’ to a point of invisibility. With the proliferation of science fiction utopias, particularly coming out of the sixties, another directionality might be attributed to utopia – in becoming gradually, through the expansion of global capitalism, unearthly, utopia found placehood in the cosmos, rather than the ocean.33 Still, the question remains, what happened to the oceanic island in this narrative? While Huxley uses the island as a site of residual utopianism, it is here that a distinction between “utopia” and what I will continue to develop as an “edge-site” becomes most crucial.

To further elaborate a distinction between “utopia” and “edge-site,” William Burroughs’s narratives of Tangier offer a useful point of departure from Huxley’s generically-determined Pala. In Naked Lunch and the short story collection Interzone – particularly the story “International Zone” – Burroughs describes the island as a site of different potentiality than that found in Huxley’s island narrative. Similar to Pala, Tangier offers a setting of transculturation, and moreover, a setting by which to engage a critique of global capitalism. For Huxley’s narrative, Pala is exceptional to a teleology of western expansion which, by 1962, absorbed a world image of globalization. Pala, in this sense, is a utopia for which the mechanisms of globalization – primarily, sea conquest – produce a different teleology, toward an ideal of cultural hybridity. Crudely, Pala is the best of both worlds: a collision of east and west which establishes a perfect harmony. In addition to being the referent of a ‘real’ place, Tangier has a different hybridity than that represented in Pala: primarily, it is a site of decolonization.

In “International Zone,” Burroughs describes a European Quarter and a Native Quarter, the boundary between which is malleable. The European Quarter is a clear site of the ‘global village,’ with bars “reminiscent of many [on] New York’s Upper East Side,”34 and “a surprising number of first-class French and international restaurants, where excellent food is served at very reasonable prices.”35 As Burroughs explains, the European Quarter is populated by French, Spanish, Danish, American, English, Norwegian, Brazilian ex-patriots, along with

…genuine political exiles from Europe: Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, Republican Spaniards, a selection of Vichy French and other collaborators, fugitive Nazis. The town is full of vaguely disreputable Europeans who do not have adequate documents to go anywhere else.36

The hybridity of Tangier, upon comparison to Huxley’s Island, might be read as a utopian travel narrative. From his description of the insularity of Tangier, Burroughs navigates the island in a way that might, moreover, be compared to Hythloday – More’s narrator – who explains the infrastructure of Utopia by means of its enclosures, boundaries, and perhaps most crucially, its terrestriality. As Burroughs writes, “the beach is not much of an attraction” in Tangier, and, “owing to a current, the water is shock-cold… so even the hardiest swimmers can only stay in a few minutes.”37

Yet, more than a utopia, Tangier must be read at once as a colony and a site of decolonization – utopian precisely because Burroughs can experience the space with all the privileges of a colonist. Through the course of “International Zone,” Burroughs more specifically narrates a utopia of drug experimentation, cataloging various sites as drug resources, and comparing various prices for purchasing Scotch. In Tangier, Burroughs explains, “we have [an] opportunity to observe the effects of constant [drug]-use on a whole population.”38 Nevertheless, Burroughs describes Tangier as something apart from a utopia, particularly in his depictions of the Native Quarter, in which “one feels definite currents of hostility, which, however, are generally confined to muttering in Arabic as you pass.”39 He continues,

Occasionally I have been openly insulted by drunken Arabs, but this is rare. You can walk in the Native Quarter of Tangier with less danger than on Third Avenue of New York City on a Saturday night. Violent crime is rare. I have walked the streets at all hours, and never was any attempt made to rob me. The infrequency of armed robbery is due less, I think, to the pacific nature of the Arabs than to the certainty of detection in a town where everybody knows everybody else, and where the penalties for violent crime, especially if committed by a Moslem, are relatively severe.40

While Tangier, in this sense, might appear utopian, in its lack of crime, its muted hostilities, and its proliferation of drugs, its utopian possibility develops out of a colonial modality. If it Tangier is utopian, in other words, then it must also be colonial. Yet what makes its colonialism utopian is its situation in decolonization as “one of the few places left in the world where, so long as you don’t proceed to robbery, violence, or some form of crude, antisocial behavior, you can do exactly what you want. It is a sanctuary of noninterference.”41

Nevertheless, as Burroughs writes, “Tangier seems to exist on several dimensions.”42 Burroughs’s account of the island certainly invokes utopia, just as Huxley’s narrative echoes the utopian genre per Thomas More, but Tangier is not utopian – nor is it dystopian. Rather, Tangier is an edge-site of decolonization: a site which renders utopia inoperative. The different dimensions of Tangier might require a re-articulation of “utopia” as what Henri Lefebvre calls “an illuminating virtuality already present [which] will absorb and metamorphose the various topoi.”4344 The potentiality of utopia, therein, is the potentiality of place – yet in a different sense than that which is localizable: necessarily, as Lefebvre writes, utopia “is everywhere and nowhere.”45 Lefebvre’s articulation might open a productive reading of More’s text, while this notion of a utopian “virtuality” particularizes the tension of Huxley’s novel – which positions global capital, or a more vaguely ascribed “western world,” as this “virtuality” for which utopia is a site of exception. It is the rest of the world – rather than Pala – which exists in what Susila calls “some other home-made imaginary universe.” Yet if there is a utopianism to be traced in Burroughs’s narrative, to the contrary, it must be through this notion of a virtuality – a virtuality which at once describes the “nowhere and everywhere” attributable to a lineage of utopian literature, and the “nowhere and everywhere” attributable to an image of homogenized global space. The edges of Tangier, in this sense, are edges produced by global capital to be exceptional to global capital – rather than edges produced by a place which can exist outside a global image which has become utterly absorbed by the expansion of capitalism. “Utopia,” therein, belongs to another world image: “utopia” exists “nowhere and everywhere” to the global image of place; whereas to the world image of globalization, which homogenizes the globe into “no place,” “utopia” is outmoded by virtual edge-sites, existing on another plane of consistency than that of “utopia” as a relic of colonialism.

Lefebvre discusses utopia as “the need for presence that is never achieved.”46 More than presence, however, the need of utopia is that of territory – which is precisely its distinction from an “edge-site.” Between Tangier and Pala, there is a periodization of the sixties that is moreover a periodization of utopia; there is an edge of colonialism and decolonization – or, between territorialism and de-territorialization; and there is an edge between two world images of the early stage of the long sixties. Pala can more easily be situated in the world image of globalization, for which “utopia” enduringly connotes a “no place” among homogenized space, or a “no place” transposed onto another oceanic terrain of possibility found in the cosmos.47 While refraining from the generic implications of such a claim, the popularity of science fiction utopias during the sixties only further attests to the terrestrial history posed by globalization from this period forth. Yet, as opposed to Lefebvre’s articulation of a “virtuality” by which to gauge the operativity of “utopia,” the model of a planetary utopia still invests in a notion of territory which, by the point of decolonization, becomes outmoded by an edge topology. Burroughs, who describes the “dimensions” of Tangier as a rather virtual utopia – or, as an edge-site: “You are always finding streets, squares, parks you never saw before. Here fact merges into dream, and dreams erupt into the real world.”48 It is in this sense that there is not a lineage to be traced between utopia and edge-site – rather, the latter is that which displaces the first by its historical situation in the sixties.

1Heidegger discusses “world view” in “The Age of the World Picture” – an essay which will ultimately be quite important to this argument. Of “world view,” Heidegger writes that the phrase “is open to misunderstanding, as though it were merely a matter here of a passive contemplation of the world. For this reason, already in the nineteenth century it was emphasized with justification that ‘world view’ also meant and even meant primarily ‘view of life.’ The fact that, despite this, the phrase ‘world view’ asserts itself as the name for the position of man in the midst of all that is, is proof of how decisively the world became picture as soon as man brought his life as subjectum into precedence over other centers of relationship.” (“The Age of the World Picture,” 134)

2The notion of a totalizing image will be returned to, as a notion for which, Bergson writes, “you have to explain [not how] perception arises, but how it is limited, since it should be the image of the whole, and is in fact reduced to the image of that which interests you.” (Matter and Memory, 40)

3Nomos of the Earth, 86


5Nomos of the Earth, 52


7In terms of Schmitt’s thesis, amity lines are the edges mapped onto this schema of international law on the ocean. He writes, “The characteristic feature of amity lines consisted in that… they defined a sphere of conflict between contractual parties seeking to appropriate land, precisely because they lacked any common presupposition and authority. In part, however, these parties still shared the memory of a common unity in Christian Europe. But the only matter they could agree on was the freedom of the open spaces that began ‘beyond the line.’” (Nomos of the Earth, 94) Cartographically, these lines were difficult to demarcate, while it should be emphasized that the purpose of these lines was to establish a terrestrial logic to the sea – and moreover, to use international law as a means of such terrestrial expansion.

8Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, 156

9Land and Sea, 1

10In popular culture, a rather clarifying example is in the Star Trek cosmography, which imagines space as a horizontal, oceanic plane on which a ship with a captain and crew discover islandic planets of racialized alien species. The narrative of most Star Trek episodes reads comparably to a sea conquest narrative, premised on a historical context of American democracy during civil rights and Third-World movements. What one might do with such a comparison, however, is subject to this critique of sixties historiography – in the same sense that points of comparability are sought for historicity today.

11This historiographical method attempts to work with the model of a topology in the sense that Deleuze and Guattari describe as “a coded system of stratification whenever, horizontally, there are linear causalities between elements; and, vertically, hierarchies of order between groupings; and, holding it all together in depth, a succession of framing forms, each of which informs a substance and in turn serves as a substance for another form. These causalities, hierarchies, and framings constitute a stratum, as well as a passage from one stratum to another.” (A Thousand Plateaus, 335) The topological premise of this attempt to examine historical connection and resonance will be further discussed in my conclusion.

12Such a chronology would incorporate Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia, Joseph Hall’s The Discovery of a New World, The Tempest, Samuel Purchas’s Pilgrimage, JV Andreae’s Christianopolis, Sir Francis Bacon’s The New Atlantis, James Harrington’s The Commonwealth of Oceana, Henry Neville’s The Isle of Pines, Edward Howard’s The Six Days Adventures, Candide, Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre’s Paul et Virginie, and so forth. In this trajectory, generic subsets are lost, including temporal utopias, and superimposed utopias. Aside from the loss of these subsets, however, what is lost is a historiography in which history is not merely a genre.

13Here, a more direct discussion of Jameson’s conclusions in Archaeologies of the Future might be in order – particularly over his re-articulation of the problem of genre: “Genre presumably governs the interpretation of the narrative or representational details within its frame; and in More’s text it again offers a relatively stark and global alternative between two possibilities. But they are not, I think, those proposed [between] Utopia taken seriously as a social and political project and Utopian thought ridiculed as a pipe dream” (Archaeologies of the Future, 23) This distinction of genre is a distinction I would like to discuss, to the contrary, in terms of possibility in More’s text – which is a distinction, moreover, from “utopia” as a genre of impossibility. Ultimately, this problem of genre leads Jameson to the conclusion that the proper political stance is, rather than utopian, anti-anti-utopian – a rhetorical shift in his larger project on utopia, which seems to develop narrowly out of a set of generic claims which are posed as a critique of genre.

14Archaeologies of the Future, 218

15The Utopian Function of Art and Literature, 3

16Utopia, 35

17Magellan’s Voyage: A Narrative Account of the First Circumnavigation, 77

18Still, as Hythloday emphasizes, “if I should either propose such things as Plato has contrived in his ‘Commonwealth,’ or as the Utopians practise in theirs, though they might seem better, as certainly they are, yet they are so different from our establishment, which is founded on property (there being no such thing among them), that I could not expect that it would have any effect.” (Utopia, 28) The critique of private property is crucial to our attempt to engage the prescience of this text – and to seek its current resonances – while a distinction which I would like to emphasize instead is that over territory, rather than property. The island of utopia is conceived as a space to seal away the systems of private property, yet this is achieved through the limits of territory which the island moreover facilitates in its geography.

19Archaeologies of the Future, 28

20“The Age of the World Picture,” 129

21Matter and Memory, 13

22Matter and Memory, 9

23Here, it should be clarified that the Bergsonian image is radically distinct from discourse over the image as representation. Bergson’s project, to the contrary, works only to critique the image as subject to the conflation of theories of representation – rather, Bergson offers a theory of the image by which to think apart from representational discourse.

24Matter and Memory, 40

25Bergson continues, “But it differs from the mere image, precisely in that its parts range themselves with reference to a variable center, its limitation is easy to understand: unlimited de jure, it confines itself de facto to indicating the degree of indetermination allowed to the acts of the special image which you call your body. And, inversely, it follows that the indetermination of the movements of your body, such as it results from the structure of the grey matter of the brain, gives the exact measure of the extent of your perception. It is no wonder, then, that everything happens as though your perception were a result of the internal motions of the brain and issued in some sort from the cortical centers. It could not actually come from them, since the brain is an image like others, enveloped in the mass of other images, and it would be absurd that the container should issue from the content.” (Matter and Memory, 40-41) The relationship of image to perception takes on a different spatiality than that which is oriented according to an inside or outside, as a spatiality without a center or distinctions of containment. The more crucial sources of orientation which Bergson lends to the premise of an edge topology come from this notion of the movements from which an image is generated, but which moreover deny the image a localizability.

26Deleuze and Guattari articulate the problematics of lineage and earth between three types of human organization: lineal, territorial, and numerical: “The earth is before all else the mater upon which the dynamic of lineages is inscribed, and the number, a means of inscription: the lineages write upon the earth and with the number, constituting a kind of ‘geodesy.’ Everything changes with State societies; it is often said that the territorial principle becomes dominant. One could also speak of deterritorialization, since the earth becomes an object, instead of being an active material element in combination with lineage. Property is precisely the deterritorialized relation between the human being and the earth; this is so whether property constitutes a good belonging to the State, superimposed upon continuing possession by a lineal community, or whether it itself becomes a good belonging to private individuals constituting a new community. In both cases (and according to the two poles of the State) something like an overcoding of the earth replaces geodesy.” (A Thousand Plateaus, 388) The transition of State societies, here, should be considered in terms of “utopia” as territory – which will be discussed, later, in relation to occupations as current projects which are understood through their utopian potentialities.

27Matter and Memory, 135

28Nevertheless, the novel is framed by its “genre of impossibility,” with its epitaph from Aristotle, “In framing an ideal we may assume what we wish, but should avoid impossibilities.” The reading of Island as a utopian corrective to Brave New World may very well be an indulgence of sixties utopianism – in itself subject to later critique – while moreover, symptomatic of a reading premised on authorial intent. Huxley’s 1958 Brave New World Revisited has been used to expand this critique of Island as not only the earlier novel’s counterpart, but its political corrective.

29Eventually, I would like to develop a more refined distinction between this notion of an edge-site and what David Harvey discusses as the spatiotemporal dialectics of utopianism. In 2000, Harvey wrote that “The task is to pull together a spatiotemporal utopianism – a dialectical utopianism – that is rooted in our present possibilities at the same time as it points towards different trajectories for human uneven geographical developments.” (Spaces of Hope, 196) This imperative comes out of the left’s abandonment of a utopianism – or, perhaps, an explicitly utopian project – which “[leaves] the question of valid and legitimate authority in abeyance (or, more exactly, [leaves] it to the moralisms of the conservatives – both of the neoliberal and religious variety).” (Spaces of Hope, 188) While perhaps Harvey’s project to re-instantiate a “spatiotemporal utopianism” – or a “dialectical utopianism” – shares some of the imperatives of an edge topology, the more primary project of an edge topology develops from the following assertion: that “utopia” is a plane of consistency which, by the global sixties, became inoperative and moreover displaced by the notion of an edge-site. As I will continue to elaborate, this displacement comes out of a transformed world image from this period, which itself periodizes utopia, despite our current inclinations to return to or yearn for a utopian sixties. Rather, what makes the sixties utopian is precisely the impossibility of its resurrection, or, the impossibility of a lineage by which to radicalize our current “crisis.”

30Island, 105

31Translated by Paul Turner: “NOPLACIA was once my name, / That is, a place where no one goes. / Plato’s Republic now I claim / To match, or beat at its own game; / For that was just a myth in prose, / But what he wrote of, I became, / Of men, wealth, laws a solid frame, / GOPLACIA is now my name.” (London: Penguin Classics, 1965, p. 28)

32The Condition of Postmodernity, 240

33This development, moreover, can be understood more incrementally through the variations of the utopian island throughout industrialism, including the figure of a sky island, or an island in the clouds – as in J.M. Barrie’s Neverland, for instance. In other words, this was not a sudden projection into outer space, but a gradual projection which coincided with the shrinking possibility of a discovered island in the ocean of a global image posed by global capitalism.

34Interzone, 48


36Interzone, 58

37Interzone, 55

38Interzone, 57

39Interzone, 56


41Interzone, 59

42Interzone, 58

43The Urban Revolution, 131

44David Harvey develops from this a point of critique for Lefebvre, who, he writes, “is resolutely antagonistic to the traditional utopianisms of spatial form precisely because of their closed authoritarianism. He fashions a devastating critique of Cartesian conceptions, of the political absolutism that flows from absolute conceptions of space, of the oppressions visited upon the world by a rationalized, bureaucratized, technocratically, and capitalistically-defined spatiality. For him, the production of space always remain[s] as an endlessly open possibility. The effect, unfortunately, is to leave the actual spaces of any alternative frustratingly undefined. Lefebvre refuses specific recommendations (though there are some nostalgic hints that they got it right in Renaissance Tuscany). He refuses to confront the underlying problem: that to materialize a space is to engage with closure (however temporary) which is an authoritarian act.” (Spaces of Hope, 183) Here, Harvey’s critique seems itself limited to the application of traditional utopias – and seems uncertainly grounded in Lefebvre’s particular assertions of a “virtuality,” which demand a different set of spatial practices than that which Harvey discusses as modes of spatial materialization. Yet, as I will suggest, perhaps “utopia” is the wrong term for Lefebvre’s articulation, which seems more applicable to what I am terming the “edge site” than what Harvey is relying upon as “dialectical utopianism.”


46The Urban Revolution, 129

47This transposition, once again, refers to the projection of oceanic spatiality onto outer space which coincides with the world image produced by space exploration in the sixties.

48Interzone, 58


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