Science Fiction Studies

#27 = Volume 9, Part 2 = July 1982


Eugene D. Hill

The Place of the Future: Louis Marin and his Utopiques

Louis Marin's book Utopiques: Jeux d'espaces (1973)1 is not, I think, well known to North American students of futurist thought. The work is untranslated, but it would be difficult even in translation, since an English version would still speak a language alien to most American social theory—mandarin semiotic. Few readers who feel at home in this language are able and willing to report to the rest of us what the semioticians are doing. In this case, however, the effort is worth making, for Marin's book offers a powerful new understanding of the nature and functioning of the utopian imagination. Taking More's Utopia as his principal object of study, Marin develops an analytic method applicable to any utopian text. Marin defines the procedures by which the utopian text opens the way to—by marking the place of—an alternative future. The details of his analysis are often both surprising and convincing.                

The best way to introduce the Utopiques to North American readers is to proceed indirectly at first—to situate Marin's work in the context of contemporary French literary and philosophical theory, to sketch the characteristics of Marin's methodology in various fields of inquiry, and to consider some of the authors whose thought most strongly influenced Marin in writing the Utopiques. Marin is a playful author, and he writes for readers who share a body of modern Continental texts: he can mention an indispensable source of his thought only in passing or in a footnote. We must track down these sources if we are to grasp what Marin is up to in the Utopiques.

Marin belongs to that group of French post-structuralist thinkers whose project it is to bring into question the referential function of texts. Like Jean-Francois Lyotard or the late Roland Barthes, Marin unhinges the mimetic or representative status of language: a text does not simply designate objects and states of events out there in the world. Rather, the text involves the reader in a polysemic generation of meaning—a process that enfolds the reader within the fields of force of the text itself. This process of deconstructing mimetic representation amounts in its broadest statements, especially in the work of Derrida, to an attack on what are viewed as central notions of Western metaphysics from the dawn of Greek philosophy. For our purposes, what must be stressed is the singular relevance of deconstructionism to the study of utopian texts. The interlocutors of More's Utopia are puzzled precisely by the referential status of Hythlodaeus' description of the extraordinary isle of Utopia. "Where is Utopia'?" they ask, and More's work refuses to answer their question; someone coughed, Peter Giles reports, so he could not hear Hythlodaeus' response.2 Thus More's book wittily raises and evades the question that must occupy and theorist of this literary mode: what is the place of Utopia?                

In deconstructing Utopia, Marin brings into play methods of analysis that he has applied to a wide range of cultural objects. For this thesis Marin worked on Pascal, whose implicit presence (there are a mere handful of citations) in the Port-Royal Logic served Marin in his important book La Critique du discours3 as a wedge with which to open up the ideology of representation of the Messieurs de Port-Royal. Marin has written often on the Pensées of Pascal—a privileged text for Marin, since it is a placeless (or: "utopic") text. What Pascal left at his death was a collection of separate notes; his editors pasted these together as they saw fit on large white sheets and published the results in 1670. For Marin, the Pensées do not represent a doctrine; they are aphorisms, moments of force whose meaning arises from their play one against the other. To paste them together—as editors have continued to do, each in a different way—is to freeze the meaning of these fragments. Marin would argue that the purport of the text is that it provokes such efforts at rearticulation but denies the accomplishment of that task. The play of sense is interminable.                

Much of Marin's other published work has dealt with the visual arts. In particular, as Fredric Jameson notes, he has studied visual objects which exhibit a "duality of registers," an internal "structural discontinuity (écart)." Marin favors "images already in some way structurally associated with a verbal text, a text either visible within the image itself as motto, script, or emblem, or else implied by it as its historical or mythological source." As Jameson says, "the peculiar duality of registers observable in such visual objects guarantees them against any temptation to collapse one of them back into the other, to see the text as a mere pretext, or on the other hand to reduce the visual register to the merely fictional or illustrative."4              
                Here, for example, is Marin in the course of specifying some of the techniques used by Paul Klee to "call into question" the notion of representation (understood as "the unique and privileged place of any pictorial figure"):

....Klee will inscribe the representation in another space, a space marked by two horizontal lines and by the delicate script of Klee giving the name of the representation in this second place, which is itself framed by the limits of what one calls a painting and which our habituated perception has for centuries not noticed: a redundance of the pictorial representation upon itself, by which it names itself for what it is: not an illusion, but a simulacrum. (Most of Klee's paintings are made of a first plastic surface pasted on a second surface which most often includes strokes, bands of color, text in Klee's handwriting, etc....)....But Klee the magician knows many other means of metamorphosing his pictures into simulacra; by breaks and incisions which traverse the space of representation, he disjoins from the exterior that which gave the illusion of continuity and articulates it arbitrarily in the second surface which is no longer entirely that of the picture, but not yet our own....5

The different spaces created by Klee interfere with one another in something like the way that different passings of Pascal's Pensées interact with one another to block any final "placing" of Pascal's discourse. And it is this notion of the interplay of spaces that Marin will draw upon in developing his account of the Jeux d'espaces (plays of spaces) that are for him definitive of utopian cultural forms (Utopiques).

The New Testament is a third field of research to which Marin has applied his method of analysis. Here too Marin talks of spaces, often quite literally of the arenas in which Jesus speaks—the Temple, for example. But, as Marin shows, the Gospel texts effect a "neutralization" of these spaces. A new code of meaning is seen emerging in the Gospels:

Our entire analysis rests on the hypothesis of the neutralizing mediation which is the `moment' of the changing of the code. At this moment the Temple is no longer the Jewish Temple, but not yet the Temple of the Christian community: it is the common place out of which emerges the hero who constitutes himself as Temple by his discourse. `He spake of the temple of his body' [John 2:21].

In Jesus's prophecy of the destruction of the Temple, Marin finds an intricate textual operation at work, that of "a subject of discourse whose sole possibility of acceding to being in the narrative text is to assign himself a point of space which he can occupy only by pronouncing its effacement."6               

I have been quoting from Marin's book on the Gospels, Sémiotique de la Passion. Marin's claim is that Jesus assumes a position—in the Temple, as the Temple—which he then destroys, leaving himself placeless (Marie quotes: "the Son of man hath not where to lay his head" [Matthew 8:20]). But this empty space signals the presence of the Kingdom: "there, but without place.... In brief it is a utopia, at once present and absent, a present which is the 'other' of space." It is an emptiness, Marin argues, that figures transcendence.7               

So Marin finds that the Pensées of Pascal, works of visual art, and the Jesus of the Gospels are all—in different but connected ways—"utopic." Each is without a stable ground, and each generates meaning by the interplay of its various "spaces." These can be literal spaces, as with the Klee paintings; they can be literal spaces (the pages on which Pascal's notes are pasted) to which Marin attributes figurative significance; or they can be spaces in the ancient rhetorical sense of topoi (or: topics, positions, loci) of argument. In this last case, the topoi are positions in a space or field of discourse (which Marin calls the "space of the text"). In this last, figurative sense, a text can generate meaning by the non-congruence of its loci: the space of the text—its field of discourse—is warped by the different positions of argument assumed in the text.                

Clearly, Marin applies the term "utopia" and its derivatives to a class of cultural forms much more extensive than normal usage would sanction. Marin's broad application of the term derives, almost certainly, from the German philosopher Ernst Bloch (1885-1977). Bloch is a messianic atheist: he seeks to restore within socialist thought the dimension of religious hope for a renewal of life, as opposed to a technical or scientistic change that remains within the given social world, the given universe of discourse. Bloch writes at enormous length—especially in his acknowledged masterwork, Hope, the Principle (Das Prinzip Hoffnung)8 —of the coming-to-be of a transfigured world. The links to Hegel's Phenomenology are unmistakable; but where Hegel writes, as it were, from the point of view of Absolute Spirit, Bloch writes, as Gerard Raulet notes, from within the world that is obscurely moving towards transfiguration.9               

Reactivating the Hegelian dialectic from within a world that has not (in Bloch's language) yet come into full existence, Bloch locates the forces at work undermining the stasis and complacency of the present. These forces represent the power of the negative, the covert working of internal scissions that betokens the movement of history. And these propelling negations Bloch designates "utopian." For Bloch, the utopian is the power of negation; an anticipatory dialectic, it specifies those nodes of the present which, in their very self-division, mark the spot of an as yet unspecifiable transformation of the social world. Bloch finds Utopian elements just where Marin finds them— in religion, in philosophy, in utopian proposals, and (especially) in works of art.                

The work of art partakes of what Bloch calls the symbolic, and here Bloch enriches the traditional Romantic distinction between allegory (understood as a one-to-one linking of items in the field of discourse) and symbol (understood as a more complex figurative statement not readily amenable to paraphase). For Bloch, the symbol is covert not only in its mode of expression, but also in its content: it is a "cipher" of an as yet unspecified human possibility. In this connection Bloch distinguishes symbols from ideals: ideals have as their content "a more or less realized possibility," whereas symbols "have for content precisely a possibility realized only in themselves by way of intimation (andeutungsweise)." The symbol is, then, much deeper than the ideal: it is a "cipher" for something not yet manifestable. "Veiled" in its very nature, Bloch says, the symbol "conveys its meaning with an especially strong pathos of 'significance"10               

Bloch uses these terms to classify the ways in which men envision possible futures. Bloch identifies three levels on which (as he puts it) the present is illumined by the light of the future: the psychic level, with its wish-images projected forward; the moral level, with its ideals; and the aesthetic level, with its symbols—the last of these being, for Bloch, the richest of the three.11 Here I would point out that utopian projects are normally dealt with either as wish-projections or as moral ideals. But what if one approaches these projects as symbols in the Blochian sense? Marin's book will assay just that reading of Utopia.                

While Bloch's view of the utopian is very close to Marin's, the two authors differ greatly in their styles, in the textures of their prose. The weighty, sometimes ponderous, sometimes breathlessly mystagogic language of Bloch is far from the cool, sometimes witty but always technical language of Marin. Marin's is an up-to-date style of dialectic, its rhetoric structuralist and Derridean rather that romantic and Hegelian. Indeed, what we find in Marin is an attempt to specify by semiotic means the textual functioning of the Blochian Utopic. In place of Bloch's Mahlerian strains we have the cold binary wisdom of academic post-structuralism.                

It was, indeed, from within the academy that Marin received the prompting to write on utopia properly so called. The French University movement in the spring of 1968 replaced accustomed protocols with new practices that insistently proclaimed their status as utopian. Marin's sympathy with these efforts on the part of the students to bring the old University into question led him to offer a seminar on utopia: he wanted to develop a theory to support the emerging practice. When the seminar proved a "failure," Marin was led to consider the dilemmas involved "in giving utopia for the object of an 'instruction' wholly dominated by institutional authority" (Utopiques, pp. 16-17).                

The University was supposedly neutral, an island of independent culture, self-governing and self-perpetuating (pp. 17-18).12 But in practice, Marin argues, University teaching is characterized by its "repression" of theoretical "awareness of its dependence upon the values and interests of the dominant class" (p. 20). The utopian critique mounted by the students aimed at arousing such an awareness. But how, and where? If University practice by its very institutional nature represses such awareness, Marin asks,

...are we not then obliged to place ourselves outside of that practice, outside the institution, in order to perform the theoretical-critical work... ? But what is this "place out of place" (lieu hors lieu) where another discourse.. . will have to be held, a discourse which—to avoid relapsing into the very object of its criticism—will have to theorize its own contradictoriness, to think through the circle in which it is caught, to constitute a theory of the neutral or a theory of utopic practice as the critique of the ideological scam (leurre) of institutional neutrality or of utopia as something accomplished in a closed and coherent discourse? (p. 20)

An answer of sorts emerged from Marin's "fascination" with the word "utopia," or "no-place."

Within the noun signifier, does not the negation [the "u" of utopia] establish, not at all beyond or on this side of affirmation and negation, but between them, a space, a distance which prevents them exhausting the possibilities of truths Not yes or no, not true or false, neither the one nor the other: the neutral (le neutre). Not at all the neutral as neutrality, as ideological dissimulation of institutional power and, behind that, of class domination; not at all the neutral as the utopian figure seemingly unfettered from the historically and geographically determined society to which the framer of the perfect representation belongs; but the neutral as the deviation (l'écart) of contradictories, as contradiction itself maintained between the true and the false, opening up within discourse a space which discourse is unable to receive; it is a third term, but supplementary, not synthetic, having some kinship with the fictional and the interrogative, but not with the imaginary, the doubtful or the possible. With the theory of the neutral there could perhaps be constituted the theory of the pure critique, the infinite polemic, since it would tend to make manifest the unlimited power of placeless contradiction within discourse, but underlying it as a productive power never fixed, never immobilized in one of its forms or one of its figures: a utopic practice which introduces, in the report of history and the exposition of geography, the sudden distance by which the contiguities of space and time are broken and through which is discerned, in a flash, before immobilizing itself in the utopic figure and fixing itself in the "ideal" representation, the other, unlimited contradiction. (pp. 20-21)

Taking seriously the components of the word "utopia" but reading the included negation as creating a neutral space—a neither/nor (ne uter = neuter) that neither asserts nor denies—Marin draws upon the work of the French literary essayist Maurice Blanchot (1907-). In his book L'Entretien infini (The Infinite Conversation), which had just appeared in 1969, Blanchot offers a sustained meditation on le neutre in literature. Even less familiar to North American readers than Bloch's, Blanchot's thought is no less vital to Marin's Utopiques, so we must pause here to consider what Blanchot understands by the neuter or neutral.

Blanchot is a singularly elusive critic. For our purposes, we can say that—like Bloch, though without Bloch's explicit political concerns13—Blanchot deals with the power of the negative in literary texts. Again like Bloch, Blanchot uses spatial imagery to explore how texts open up blanks that can indicate, though not state, the inexpressible. Such blanks manifest the force of le neutre.

In what is for him a rather straightforward statement, Blanchot writes that

to speak au neutre is to speak at a distance, maintaining that distance without mediation or commonality, and even experiencing the infinite distantiation of distance, its irreprocity...its asymmetry; for the greatest distance in which asymmetry prevails, precisely that is the neutral.... Neutral speech neither reveals nor hides....[Rather,] the demand of the neutral tends to suspend the attributive structure of language, its connection (implicit or explicit) with being....14

At the risk of simplifying, I would say that for Blanchot the neutral is that uniquely suggestive mode of discourse that puts the greatest distance between itself and all questions of reference, of truth or falsity. Or, to say the same thing in language closer to Blanchot's, the neutral opens up and occupies the infinite distance between truth and falsehood.                

This is not the place to attempt to do justice to Blanchot, whose essays, at once murky and luminous, may prove to rank among the most valuable literary theory of our time. But one affiliation of this thought must be mentioned, since it will help us to grasp the spirit in which Blanchot and Marin speak of le neutre. If every theory of literature serves as the justification after the fact of a given literary movement, Blanchot can be said to present a theory of literature as surrealism. For Blanchot, the neutral evades categorization by its very surrealist playfulness, play (le jeu) being "the only seriousness worth mentioning." As Blanchot writes, "the surrealist experience aims at...the point of divergence from which all understanding...escapes from itself to expose itself to the neutral power of disarrangement." What surrealism affirms is a "multiple space which does not allow itself to be unified and which never coincides with the understanding that individuals— grouped around a faith, an ideal, a task—can maintain in common."15               

Surrealist playfulness ruptures the given world to admit the unknown. And to speak of surrealist play is—here once again I let Blanchot speak in his own voice—

to designate, without defining, the new space—a space which is the vertigo of spacing (le vertigo de l'espacement): distance, dislocation, discourse— from which...the unknown manifests itself and enters, out of play, in the game (hors jeu, dans le jeu). A space which is always only the approach to another space...but without transcendence as it is without immanence...a place of tension and of difference..., a multiple space which could be affirmed, quite apart from all affirmation, only by a plural mode of utterance (une parole plurielle)....15

\So Marin's meditation on a failed seminar in a bungled season of academic utopianism has led him to Bloch on the "utopian" and to Blanchot on the "neutral." With the addition of some of the binary formulas on contradiction and mediation—formulas familiar to American readers from Lévi-Strauss and his followers—Marin had the elements for his account of the place of utopia.                

Lévi-Strauss has shown how myths can be read as mediations of basic contradictions within a culture, each myth being analyzed in terms of the semantic opposites (life/death, moist/dry...) which it reduces to a state of non-contradiction.17 But if a myth dissembles contradiction, a utopian text (Marie argues) performs the inverse function: it opens up a space of neutrality in which the contradictions are allowed to play against one another rather than being effaced in a mythic synthesis. If myth helps preserve what Lévi-Strauss has called the "cool" stasis of pre-modern cultures, utopia participates in the "hot" change-ridden processes of modern history. Accordingly, where the student of myth begins with a narrative and attempts to tease out the underlying semantic structure, the student of utopia begins with what looks like a static description of a perfect society and seeks the movements of dislocation within the apparent stasis. Thus the student of utopia uses structural analysis to demonstrate the structural non-coherence of the utopian text.               

The inverse analogy with myth is vital for Marin, and not only because it provides him with a model for semantic analysis by way of binary opposition. A myth is an anonymous text, for which the question of authorial intention does not arise. The student of myth applies a theory of myth to explore the working of the narrative. In analyzing More's Utopia, Marin adopts a similar stance. He need not trouble himself with the set of questions that has long bedeviled critics of More's book, questions like: "How could a conservative Christian in the early 16th century have sketched a pluralist communist society?" As Marin explains: "at a determined moment of history, utopian practice sketches or schematizes unconsciously, by the spatial plays of its internal differences (non-congruences), the empty places (topics) which will be filled by the concepts of social theory at a later phase" of history (p. 10).                

Within the universe of discourse of a given society at a given moment, the utopian text constructs a schematic or imaginary synthesis of the historical contradictions which beset that society. Not a real, actualizable synthesis, "utopian the `zero degree' of the dialectical synthesis of contraries" (p. 9). Not a political or social program, utopia serves as a marker of an as yet non-existent social theory. To write a utopia is to indicate what cannot yet be said within the available conceptual language.                

Consider Thomas More's Utopia. The work comprises two books, in the first of which More recounts a dialogue that he claims took place in Antwerp, one of the speakers being Raphael Hythlodaeus, a returned world-traveller. The main topics of discussion here are the political problems of Europe and, specifically, of England: war, the enclosure movement, poverty, crime. While the other characters consider reformist measures to deal with these problems, Hythlodaeus offers brief examples of how unheard-of peoples with silly names (like the Polylerites, the People of Much Nonsense) have dealt with them. In the second book, dialogue gives way to description as Hythlodaeus holds forth on the society and culture of the people of Utopia.                

For Marin, the utopian imagination can be defined by the dislocation effected by Book Two in respect to Book One.18 The opening book offers political suggestions, well-intentioned though not persuasive, stress falling on the difficulties and the danger of even seeking to advise monarchs; Book Two abandons the discussion of English problems to present a verbal picture of a fictional island. In that island's civilization we observe the neutralization, the fictive resolution of all the social conflicts discussed in Book One. But, in every instance, something is askew: the correspondences between Utopia and England never work point for point, and even in itself Utopia proves to be variously indeterminate and incoherent in its structure and function. Utopia is not a perfected version of More's society, but a dislocated version—a fictional space in which the normal presuppositions of discourse have been suspended.                

If we try to enter this fictive space of Utopia, we find our way blocked by its multiple dislocations. The island has the shape of a new moon, symbol of the future, but here a temporal symbol made spatial, cartographic. And where is that island? The island is, precisely, no place: not elsewhere, Marin insists, but no place (except in the space of the text). Neither the Old World nor the New, both our world and another world—More's Utopia offers, as Marin says, "I'expérience du monde neutralisé" (p. 72).                

The very names in Utopia bespeak its neutralization of the world: a river called No-water (Anydrus), a prince called No-people (Ademus). As Marin explains in his chapter on proper names in Utopia,

Utopia is this no-place where the names do not designate properly, where there is nothing proper to the name, where they designate l'autre du propre; disappropriation in appellation, absence in the indication of presence, metaphor in the literal (le propre)—such is the powerful deconstruction effected by utopian proper names. (p. 121)

Even the name Utopia cuts against itself, being in Greek both ou-topos (no-place) and eu-topos (the place of happiness). And we must, Marin insists, read the word both ways, the double reading indicating that "happiness in indeterminacy" (p. 123), in neutralization, which is the nature of Utopia.                

From the nearly 200 intricately argued pages in which Marin pursues his theme of the neutralized world in Utopia I can give only one extended example. It will make evident the ways in which Marin reads Book Two as a dislocation of Book One.               

In the sixth chapter of the Utopiques Marin studies the political and economic articulation of More's Utopian city. The city is divided into three superposable but non-congruent networks: blocks, streets and districts. The block has as its center a common garden. The street is a political unity, its 30 families electing a magistrate (syphogrant); the residents of a street also dine together in a common hall. The district, finally, is an economic unity, with a market at its center.                

The upshot of this system of interlocking networks is that food grown in one block's garden is taken to the district market and then consumed on the various streets. Thus the non-congruence of the networks effects "the transformation of the product into merchandise," assuring that "the producer does not consume the product of his labor" (p 174). The network of productive units (blocks) is linked with the network of consuming units (streets) by the districts, each of which has a market at its center. But the districts are political units as well, selecting candidates for the principate of the city.                

Now there is something curious about the districts' two functions: each involves a blank space. As we have seen, More has Hythlodaeus go to great pains to lay out the plan of his Utopian city; but to the city's prince he assigns no specific position on his verbal map. True to his name, the prince of Utopia is without a place. And the market at the center of each district is also characterized by an absence: the absence of money; the market is an empty space where products are deposited and picked up. Money has been expelled outside the city to pay for mercenaries; within the city, gold and silver are degraded but ever present—in chamber pots, for example, and in shackles for slaves.                

What are we to make of this set-up? To be sure, the problem of distribution has been solved: there are no hungry Utopians to correspond to the hungry Englishmen of Book One. But the blank spaces revealed in our remarks on the district are puzzling, as is the entire complex of interlocking networks. Yet none of the critics of Utopia seems to have addressed this issue. The editors of the Yale edition, indeed, evade it, identifying (though the text would seem to forbid their doing so) the block (vices) with the syphogranty (street)19—an identification that simplifies the text by eliminating its play of spaces.               

Marin takes More's text seriously. In the system of interfering spaces he sees an imaginative schema by which "utopian signifying practice" prepares the way for a "scientific theory of society" (p. 182)—by which Marin means, of course, Marxism. All the elements needed for an understanding of the role of money and the state (the prince) in an emerging capitalist society are present in Utopia, but without the theory that could explain the real relations obtaining among these elements beneath the confusing surface of institutions and practices. In that theory, but only in that theory, anecdotic or moralistic details in More's text—the golden shackles, for example—will reveal their true significance. The playful no-place described by Hythlodaeus—precisely in its non-congruent features, its blanks, its cries-crossing of economic and political spaces and functions—sets the stage for a demystifying analysis of the place of money and power in capitalist society.               

But that lay in the future. The point of More's oddly incoherent account of the Utopian political economy is precisely its puzzling combination of precision-and indeterminacy, of pedantry and silence. The work of the utopic text is to unmoor the elements of social reality from their commonplace associations, to dislocate them in preparation for a "scientific" rearticulation to which the utopian text and its author must remain blinded. For, in Marin's view, in the beginning of theory lies the end of utopia.                

After his lengthy analysis of More's book, Marin summarizes his position in a brief chapter called "Theses on Ideology and Utopia." A utopia, he writes, is "an ideological critique of ideology": "for the impacted system of ideological representation, utopia substitutes the mobility of a figure constructed on the dialogic scene by the complex discourse of tabulation." "The utopian critique is ideological" in that "the two operations that produce the utopian figure—metaphoric projection into a non-place and a non-moment and metonymic displacement by the rearticulation of the analogic continuum of reality" are not raised to a "meta-language" of critical theory (pp. 249-50). In utopia, critical negativity remains fictive: utopia plays with, but abides within, the given world of discourse.                

Marin can now explain how utopia is both inside and outside the ideological system of representation—the puzzle which, we recall, started him on the project of writing the Utopiques. A utopian text is in essence self-deconstructive: it is "not without a referent, but has an absent referent." Marin explains:

This referential indication of a real term absent from the discourse as its signification signals the utopian practice whose product is the utopian figure: a practice which is the force of production which the product as a completed figure occults and which the ideology of representation will absorb as a social ideality, an imaginary revery, or as a political project—in short, as a model whose criterion will be its possibility or impossibility of realization. Utopian practice establishes itself in the distance between reality and its other; it traverses this discontinuity which is that of transgression itself by producing the term which neither reduces nor annuls the discontinuity as do a social ideal or a political project, but which dissimulates and reveals the discontinuity: the utopian figure. (pp. 251-52)

Within this figure, Marin has taught us how to read the "symptoms," the "indices" of "historical possibility" (p. 253), the traces of an alternative future in the making.

But the question arises: what of utopia today, given the emergence a century ago of what Marin takes to be a scientific theory of society? The final chapters of Marin's book take up this question, not without major ambivalence.                

On the one hand, Marin is inclined to say that real utopias are things of the past: such texts "may continue to be produced" but are without the "anticipatory critical value" of a work like More's. Present-day utopian discourse "preserves only a symptomatic value" which "critical theory can exploit to...denounce the ideology of which that discourse is simply a product" (p. 256).                

Marin's prime example of such a "degenerate utopia" is not a book. It is Disneyland, to which he devotes a strong chapter, an English version of which can be read in the inaugural volume of the journal Glyph. Marin plays the role of Malice in Disneyland, treating Disneyland as a utopia in which fiction has given way to representation, immobilizing itself in ideology. A counter-utopia, Disneyland functions more like a myth: it papers over contradictions instead of allowing them to "play." Tomorrowland, Disneyland's version of the space of the future, is a mechanistic horror in which men are mere playthings of technology. Marin's structural analysis of a trip through Disneyland is not to be missed, but it is unfortunate, I think, that this chapter is probably the most widely read section of the Utopiques. In many ways it is a rather rigid exercise in Vietnam-era anti-Americanism. Indeed, Marin has more recently distanced himself from some of the findings of this chapter.20              

But if Disneyland is a dead utopia, Iannis Xenakis's project for a Vertical Cosmic City is very much a live one, and in his commentary on Xenakis Marin writes at the top of his form. For the student of futurist thought, this should prove one of the richest chapters of the Utopiques.

Xenakis begins his essay "La Ville Cosmique" (1965)21 by establishing a dilemma of urbanist thought: (1) everyone recognizes the choking congestion of our major cities, hence the cry for decentralization; but (2) large cities provide the critical mass of population needed for progress in every field. So what urbanists do is design suburbs and satellite cities, which simply reproduce the original dilemma. In this inane repetition of outmoded forms is evident the sterility that Marin sees as characteristic of ideology and of myth, these two in our time being one.                

Xenakis breaks out of this impasse, proposing a Vertical Cosmic City in the form of a massive parabolic hyperboloid, very thin—so that light can penetrate throughout—but immensely tall, rising over the clouds and requiring pressurizing and oxygenation for many of its units. Breaking with the tradition of what Xenakis calls "orthogonism," the Cosmic City eschews the upright and the square: with its skewed curves the city resembles (as Marin says) a shell of light. One of the axioms that Xenakis lays down for his city is that it be maximally independent of the surface of the earth and of the landscape, "freed" (as Marin puts it) "from its referential servitude to geography" (p. 335). And the component spaces of the city have been organized randomly, so that the city is in one sense decentralized: it lacks a center. (The bureaucratic power that effects this random mix has no place assigned to it in the city; like the Prince of More's Utopia, it too is placeless.)                

In every way the Cosmic City meets Marin's criteria for a Utopia: it neutralizes the conflict between concentration and decentralization, not by erasing the two poles but by taking both to extremes within a fictional configuration. Of course, anyone who set out to construct the Cosmic city would have missed Xenakis' point. As Marin explains, in the Cosmic City we have

.... the draft of sciences to come, the figurative anticipation, not of the city—Xenakis is neither a clairvoyant nor a prophet—but of the theory of the city. In the sketch (dessin) of the city's appearance is indicated the prospect (dessein) of scientific urbanism. The utopic city is not an idea to be realized,... a project...It is, in the realm of the imaginary, the fiction of the conditions of possibility for urban architecture...[conditions which will be found only] in the analytic rewriting...that another discourse will execute upon this model...(p. 330)

Readers may well want to follow Marin in his effort to formulate the ruptures with normative urbanist practice effected by Xenakis's scheme. These ruptures mark the space for the as yet unspecificable city of the future and for the urbanism that will be that city's theory.                

In his concluding chapter Marin juxtaposes two understandings of the utopian enterprise. The first is that of Etienne Cabet, who, "inspired by a reading of More's Utopia, "published his own Voyage to Icaria in 1840. But the Frenchman did more than publish: "Cabet decided to put his Icarian scheme into practice. Encouraged by [Robert] Owen, he purchased land on the Red River in Texas, drew up a plan for a colony based on community of property, and sent out sixty-nine of his disciples to found utopia there in 1848."22 With Cabet's call to the workers of France to join him in building Icaria Marin juxtaposes Karl Marx's critical response to Cabet, in which Marx urges the workers to stay put and continue their struggle at home. Marin draws the moral of Marx's critique in the language of the Utopiques:

Not only is utopia not `realizable,' but it could not be realized without destroying itself. The very function of utopia requires that it not indicate the ways and means of its effectuation, nor signify the goal to be attained and propose for construction the perfect City. Utopia is not tomorrow, in time. It is nowhere, not tomorrow nor once upon a time...Utopia rests upon hopefulness (espérance), that is to say, surprise at the future which manifests itself in the present. Utopia is the effort to read and to constitute into a text the traces or signs of the future in the things we meet...[Utopia is] the form taken by espérance, the figure in narrative and pictorial form taken by history in the course of making itself. (p. 344)

Utopia is not a project: it is a form taken by Blochian Hoffnung, or espérance. So, in his own way, Marin has explored, explained, made up for the failure of his seminar; he has done so with the Utopiques. After all, as he says, "utopias have never been anything else but books" (p. 17).                

Scholars of the history of utopian thought will, of course, have bones to pick with Marin. As a student of the Renaissance, I for one am troubled by his complete neglect of authorial intention. On Marin's view, More could not have understood the historical purport of his Utopia. Nonetheless, he will have had some formulable intention in writing that work. If a utopia is (as Marin's definition states) an ideological critique of ideology, then it is necessary to consider the author's relation as he understood it to the ideological strands of his own culture.                

These strands may well have helped generate the Utopian critique. Consider a matter that Marin does not discuss: the link between Erasmus and More. The Praise of Folly (1511) was dedicated to More, as the original title (Moriae encomium) perhaps punningly suggests. And there can be few books in Western literature which lend themselves so readily to interpretation in Marin's terms: speaking from an unlocatable and ever-shifting position, Folly neutralizes the given world in a hundred ways. (And even in his mode of life the cosmopolitan Erasmus was—like Marin himself23 —a figure of displacement.) Marin has illuminating things to say about the displacement of More's voice in the Utopia, but he fails to treat the vital precedent of the Folly, a work intimately familiar to More and his readers.                

Indeed, Marin could very fruitfully have looked at Renaissance habits of reading. How, in fact, did 16th-century readers interpret fictional utopias? Recent scholarship shows that Platos Republic was most often taken to be a fabulous description, not a realizable program.24 More's audience may have been prepared by their understanding of earlier texts to accept the meaningful playfulness of his Utopia. We cannot, I want to argue, entirely ignore the readers for whom More wrote, nor the intention with which he wrote. We ought not to underestimate the sophistication of More's age: readers of The Praise of Folly were already adepts of deconstructionist analysis.                

In spite of these and many other reservations, I would urge that Marin's book be widely read. The Utopiques has the quality of a major study: it presents a unified thesis, surprising if not shocking at first, which turns out to be rewardingly apt. To treat the seemingly stodgy details of utopian texts as elements of a near-surreal playfulness is, for me, both shocking and rewarding. To take seriously the spatiality of Utopia—in all the senses I have noted—is similarly provoking. If Bergson long ago showed the dangers of treating time spatially, Marin in his Utopiques has shown the benefits of doing so. Marin has helped us in our collective efforts to understand—to read—the ways in which the place of the future is the present.


                1. References to the Utopiques (Paris: Minuit, 1973) will be given parenthetically in the body of my text. Translations from this book—and all other unattributed translations—are my own.
                2. Utopia, in The Complete Works of St Thomas More, ed. Edward Surtz and J.H. Hexter (New Haven: Yale, 1965), pp. 22-23; cf. Utopiques, 4:116.
                3. La Critique du discours: sur la "Logique de Port-Royal" et les "Pensées " de Pascal (Paris: Minuit, 1975). In English one can read two of Marin's essays on Pascal: "`Pascal': text, author, discourse....," Yale French Studies, No. 52 (1975):129-51; and "On the Interpretation of Ordinary Language: A Parable of Pascal," in Textual Strategies: Perspectives in Post-Structuralist Criticism, ed. Josué V. Harari (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1979), pp. 239-59.
                4. Fredric Jameson, "Of Islands and Trenches: Neutralization and the Production of Utopian Discourse," Diacritics, 7, No. 2 (1977):2-21; the passage quoted is from p. 16.
                5. Louis Marin, Etudes sémiologiques: écritures, peintures (Paris: Klincksieck, 1971), p. 103; the passage is from "Klee ou le retour à l'origine," pp. 101-08.
                6. Louis Marin, Sémiotique de la passion: topiques et figures (Paris: Desclée de Bronwer, 1971), pp. 18, 79. An English version of this work has just appeared: The Semiotics of the Passion Narrative: Topics and Figures, trans. Alfred M. Johnson, Jr. (Pittsburgh: Pickwick Press, 1980).
                7. Marin, Sémiotique de la passion, p. 75. On utopia and transcendence see also Marin's "Essai d'analyse structurale d'un récit-parabole: Matthieu 13/1-23," Etudes Théologiques et Religieuses [Montpellier], 46 (1971):35-74, esp. 65-72.
                8. Ernst Bloch, Das Prinzip Hoffnung, 3 vols. (1959; Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1979). Portions of this work can be read in English versions: Ernst Bloch, Man on His Own: Essays in the Philosophy of Religion, trans. E.B. Ashton (NY: Herder and Herder, 1971); and On Karl Marx, trans. John Maxwell (NY: Herder and Herder, 1971).
                9. Gérard Raulet, "Utopie—Discours, pratique," in Utopie—Marxisme selon Ernst Bloch, ed. Gérard Raulet (Paris: Payot, 1976), p. 22.
                10. Bloch, Das Prinzip Hoffnung, I, 275-77. (Marie comments on this passage in his essay "La pratique-fiction Utopie: A Propos de la cinquième promenade des Reveries du Promeneur solitaire de J.J. Rousseau" in Raulet, pp. 241-64.) The important chapter of the Prinzip Hoffnung in which this passage appears has been translated into French by Rose-Marie Ferenczi: see "Sur la catégorie de possibilité," Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale, 63 (1958):56-82.
                11. Bloch, Das Prinzip Hoffnung, I, 275.
                12. See Louis Marin, "`Le neutre' and philosophical discourse," in Neutrality and Impartiality: The University and Political Commitment, ed. Alan Montefiore (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), pp. 86-127.
                13. In the mid 1930s Blanchot had been a political essayist of the extreme right. Jeffrey Mehlman assesses the relation between the early Blanchot and the mature literary theorist in "Blanchot at Combat: Of Literature and Terror," MLN, 95 (1980):808-29. (I am indebted for this reference to Jonathan Arac.)
                14. Maurice Blanchot, L'Entretien infini (Paris: Gallimard, 1969), pp. 566-67.
                15. Blanchot, pp. 605, 618, 600.
                16. Blanchot, pp. 618-19.
                17. See Claude Lévi-Strauss, "The Structural Study of Myth," Structural Anthropology, trans. C. Jacobson and B.G. Schoepf (Garden City: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1967), pp. 202-28. And see Marin's discussion of Lévi-Strauss and Radcliffe-Brown in A.R. Radcliffe-Brown, Structure et fonction dans la société primitive, trans. Françoise and Louis Marin (Paris: Minuit, 1968), pp. 5-54.
                18. In English one can read Louis Marin, "Toward a Semiotic of Utopia: Political and Fictional Discourse in Thomas More's Utopia, "in Structure, Consciousness, and History, eds. Richard Harvey Brown and Stanford M. Lyman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978), pp. 261-82.
                19. See Utopia, ed. Surtz and Hexter, p. 394.
                20. Louis Marin, "Disneyland: A Degenerate Utopia," Glyph: Johns Hopkins Textual Studies, 1 (1977):50-66. On the last page of this essay Marin acknowledges the "degenerate utopias, critical myths, theoretical fantasies" that may be present in his own discourse on Disneyland.
                21. Iannis Xenakis, "La Ville Cosmique," in his Musique, architecture, 2nd ed. (Paris: Casterman, 1976), pp. 153-62.
                22. The Quest for Utopia: An Anthology of Imaginary Societies, ed. Glenn Negley and J. Max Patrick (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1962), pp. 543-44.
                23. Marin comments on his "nomadic course between the East and the West, between Europe and America" in an interview in Diacritics, 7, No. 2 (1977):52. This interview (the inclusive pagination is 44-53) provides the best starting point in English for a study of Marin's thought.
                24. See Jean Céard, "Le module de la 'République' de Platon et la pensée politique au XVIe siècle," in Platon et Aristote à la Renaissance (XVIe Collogue International de Tours) (Paris: Vrin, 1976), pp. 175-90.

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