“Can I not give protection
to the dream?
Can I not feel the tenderness
and the pain?
Why is the sound so harsh?
It is my laughter.
Forgive! Forgive! I am cruel”
— Bessie Head, “Mr Nobody”
“The whole of European thought developed in places that were increasingly arid and increasingly inaccessible… A permanent dialogue with itself, an increasingly obnoxious narcissism inevitably paved the way for a virtual delirium where intellectual thought turns into agony since the reality of man as a living, working, self-made being is replaced by words, an assemblage of words and the tensions generated by their meanings.”
— Frantz Fanon, Wretched of the Earth
“Dialectics has let us down.”
— Monique Wittig, The Straight Mind
In a dire world like this one, utopianism is necessary but utopias often seem impossible. Are all utopias destined for disappointment? And if so, then what? Disappointment is not the end of history. Can there be a utopianism that absorbs disappointment and endures without hope? If your dreams and thoughts take on a life of their own, does that leave you empty? Do we find ourselves broken into different parts?
This is a book about how people can keep in touch with utopianism without having to live there all the time. It explores the ways that people can live through their immense disappointments and losses without collapsing into permanent cynicism or despair. And it argues that this can only be a collective and institutional process. There are no strictly subjective, intellectual, or individual solutions to sustaining utopian hope. Nor can optimism be unmitigated at this point in history. Instead we can find ourselves invested in a fundamentally disappointed utopianism: a utopianism attuned to its own failures, its own despair, its own implausibility. The book argues that we can sustain a disappointed utopianism by keeping our utopian desires at a certain distance from ourselves, embedding them in our cultures of struggle and in our ambivalent, compromised institutions.
Our historical unconscious is an archive of violence and political failure. It is also a hiding place for utopian desires. Thus, this book is divided into two parts.