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Anti-Anti-Utopia for Post-Socialist Times: Fredric Jameson’s An American Utopia in Perspective

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Rethinking Democracy for Post-Utopian Worlds

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In his Archaeologies of the Future (2005), Fredric Jameson deploys Robert Elliott’s notion of “anti-anti-utopia” to stake a position “between a flawed utopianism and an even more unacceptable anti-communism” (xvi) prevailing in the so-called post-socialist era. He thus pursues a number of hermeneutic and diagnostic paths, so as to tease out the sources of our own (Western) anxieties toward utopian possibilities and therefore the ideological and historically determined nature of our own “pleasures of misery” in our own post-utopian and post-socialist moment. This chapter will accordingly read Jameson’s subsequent An American Utopia (2016) as a studied provocation of a cluster of anti-utopian anxieties prevailing in the present that is (a) rooted in his negative hermeneutic of the function of the utopian, (b) conscious in its mobilization of the ambiguities and antinomies of the utopian tradition within the staunchly anti-socialist United States, and (c) guided by a dialectical twist inherent in the understanding of the utopian text as a mechanism.

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  1. 1.

    On the Aristotelian square deriving from the presence of two kinds of logical negation and on its reworking by Greimas and subsequently by Marin and Jameson, see Beziau (2016: 158); Cazdyn (2007: 342); Greimas (1987: 48–83); Jameson (1988/2008: 386–414); Marin (1984: xiii, xix–xx, 7–8, 12–13); Parsons (2021); Robinson (2018); Wegner (2013: xx, xxiv); and Wegner (2014: 84, 92–98).

  2. 2.

    See Wegner (2013: xv) for this important clarification of the function of satire in relation to utopia as Elliott understands it.

  3. 3.

    When A Shape of Utopia was written, it was not clear whether “anti-anti-utopia” could become the template of a distinct generic development in its own right; I would argue that in fact, and particularly after Fredric Jameson’s long-term interventions into the question, it has rather become a hermeneutic, a way of reading texts rather than a literary genre on its own.

  4. 4.

    See Jameson (2005: 184, 188, 190, 203); on Elliott’s influence on Jameson, see Wegner (2013: xxii–xxiii).

  5. 5.

    See Žižek (2016: viii).

  6. 6.

    Steven Shaviro candidly notes that he found Jameson’s proposal of a universal Army “seriously weird”, “outrageous”, provocative of a “knee-jerk reaction of horror”, and conscription into such an Army loathsome (2016: 2, 3, 5), but he also underlines the importance of “working-through” such initial reactions. Richard Porteous, on other hand, understands Jameson’s intention “to stimulate a symptomatic and predictable response” dystopically, as an attempt to shame “us into obedience by the essentially antagonistic character of our biopolitical individualism” (Porteous 2020: 7–8). Jodi Dean’s reaction is essentially that of feeling betrayed (Dean 2016: 118–119, 132).

  7. 7.

    One should here recall Jameson’s remark in Archaeologies of the Future (Jameson 2005: 199). See also Jameson (2004: 35, 2016: 544); and Fischer (2009: 1–15, 21–30).

  8. 8.

    Regarding the complications raised in More’s text by tone, genre, and the relations between the “historical” and the “fictional” More and between both of them and the invented Hythlodaeus see: Elliott (1970: 3–24); Greenblatt (2005: 11–73); Leslie (1998: 1, 8, 14, 24, 54, 80); Logan (1983: 4–7, 118–124, 233–234, 241–243); McCutcheon (1971: 107–121); McCutcheon (1992: 107, 111–113); Niklas (2001: 214, 220–223); and Phélippeau (2016: 569–585), to name but a few.

  9. 9.

    See Jameson on “the dream of a work without content” as a utopian idea in (1994: 37); and Morris’s critique of Bellamy’s privileging of industrial-cum-military discipline in Morris (2004: 356).

  10. 10.

    See Debord (1995: 21–22, 30, 110, 111–112, 114).

  11. 11.

    Jameson’s remark in the earlier Seeds of Time is crucial here: “the Utopian mechanism by embodying the necessary—labor, constraint, matter—in absolute and concentrated form, by way of its very existence, allows a whole range of freedoms to flourish outside of itself” (2004: 57). See also Jameson (2016: 96); Žižek (2016: 296, 297–298); and Marx (1894/1998: 807).

  12. 12.

    Jameson is arguably conscious of his debts to Fourier and acknowledges his theoretical significance in (2016: 80–81).

  13. 13.

    See Fourier (1983: 276, 367, 381–395).

  14. 14.

    On Jameson’s anti-political and anti-statist stance in An American Utopia, see Jameson (2016: 22–23, 25–26, 43–44); Dean (2016: 105, 107, 109, 111, 132); Hamza (2016: 157, 161, 163); and Žižek (2016: 281, 297, 299, 306). Suggestive similarities can be observed in Fourier (1808/1996: ix, xvi, 4, 6–7, 18–19); and Fourier (1983: 6, 31, 157, 159). It is a noteworthy though rarely noticed aspect of Jameson’s text that it dwells on questions of sexual freedom and the permissibility of transgression in very much Fourierist fashion, although the concrete point of mediation is here Samuel Delany’s Trouble on Triton: An Ambiguous Heterotopia (1976): utopia, Jameson notes, “must necessarily aim at reducing the inevitable repressions […] that any society interiorizes in order to cohere” (2016: 81; and see 94).

  15. 15.

    See Jameson (1994: 58–60); and Debord (1995: 52–54).

  16. 16.

    See Jameson (2016: 54).

  17. 17.

    Interestingly, Lacan cites Fourier in illustrating this contradiction. Jameson, on the other hand, refers to Lacan repeatedly (2016: 38, 68, 73–77, 79–80, 86, 88, 91–92).


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Balasopoulos, A. (2024). Anti-Anti-Utopia for Post-Socialist Times: Fredric Jameson’s An American Utopia in Perspective. In: León Casero, J., Urabayen, J. (eds) Rethinking Democracy for Post-Utopian Worlds. Palgrave Studies in Utopianism. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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