Contents Disappointed Utopia 6. Whose Utopia Is This?

The logics of disappointment

Perhaps you have begun to feel that everything here is disappointed, that nothing is utopian about this Declaration of Independence. That is because I have told you too much about its processes of production. If all you knew was the surface of the text, you might well think that it had certain political limits, but you would not know the particular antagonisms and erasures lying beneath its surface.

Nevertheless, it is a utopian gesture to call for a university free of debt and precarity, a university supported by the state but beyond nationalism, a university based on international solidarity and an emancipatory image of public spaces. This whole image is radically unrealistic. Again, utopianism is a radically unrealistic politics longing for something unambivalent, for something radically positive to attach to.

I still insist that this was a utopianism that floated outside of individual subjectivity. This utopianism was not the romantic brainchild of a lone utopian thinker. Nor did it express a straightforward collective stance, a determinate perspective, whether political, institutional or sociological. It was a utopianism without an author, in Foucault’s sense (1977 [1970]): it was produced by collective logics of encounter and reaction. I do not think this lack of subjectivity was merely a textual effect: it was not merely the Declaration’s impersonal voicing that made it a utopian text without a subject. No, it was its very process of production: the text was produced not quite through an act of authorship but through a conflictual encounter between diverse social subjects. The text emerged from a series of reactions that produced in one document an accretion of disparate thoughts. And farther back still, behind the printed Declaration lay Eric-Olivier’s blank page. That blankness could be a metaphor for the lack of subjectivity in this text.

There is something brutally dialectical here. One of the uncanny moments in dialectical social theory is that it remains unclear whether the dialectical logic is really “in us” or whether we are caught up in the grip of a process that is outside us. Of course, if one believes that all life is a collective process, the very distinction between inside and outside breaks down. Still, these actors were often invested in distinguishing themselves from local structures and institutions, and I found repeatedly that these actors actively sought to dissociate themselves from their own utopian ventures. Perhaps one should call it a self-alienating utopianism, and not merely an alienated utopianism. In a contradictory world, such self-alienation, such agentive disappointment, almost starts to seem like self-care.

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