Utopian Inspiration

This is a document of writings, poetry and art found by our editorial team that centres on the themes of this issue. We hope you can use some of them to inspire your submissions for issue 3, or just to enjoy some new art!


Woman On The Edge Of Time (Marge Piercy)

“Only in us do the dead live. Water flows downhill through us. The sun cools in our bones. We are joined with all living in one singing web of energy. In us live the dead who made us. In us live the children unborn. Breathing each other’s air, drinking each other’s water, eating each other’s flesh, we grow like a tree from the earth.”

“Whoever owned this place, these cities, whoever owned those glittering glassy office buildings in midtown filled with the purr of money turning over, those refineries over the river in Jersey with their flames licking the air, they gave nothing back. They took and took and left their garbage choking the air, the river, the sea itself. Choking her. A life of garbage. Human garbage. She had had too little of what her body needed and too little of what her soul could imagine. She had been able to do little in the years of her life, and that little had been ill paid or punished. The rest was garbage.”

“The powerful don’t make revolutions.”

Read also: Woman on the Edge of Time, 40 years on: 'Hope is the engine for imagining utopia'

“During the heyday of the second wave of the women’s movement, a number of utopias were created (Joanna Russ’s The Female Man, James Tiptree’s Houston, Houston Do You Read?, Ursula K Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, Elisabeth Mann Borgese’s My Own Utopia from The Ascent of Woman, and Sally Miller Gearhart’s The Wanderground among them) and now they aren’t. Why? Feminist utopias were created out of a hunger for what we didn’t have, at a time when change felt not only possible but probable. Utopias came from the desire to imagine a better society when we dared to do so. When our political energy goes into defending rights, and projects we won and created are now under attack, there is far less energy for imagining fully drawn future societies we might wish to live in.”

Bubblegum (Ina Jang)

“Born in South Korea and based in New York, Jang is known for collages that playfully distort the idiom of fashion photography, often obscuring women’s faces. In the images in “Utopia,” her subjects have no bodily features at all. Using pictures of the “glamour” models as her starting point, Jang cut out their bodies and photographed just their outer contours, empty from edge to edge, flatly colored in pale peaches, yellows, and pinks, on pastel and neon backgrounds."

The only remaining photographic texture is found in sheeny locks of hair, recalling those of paper dolls in their blunt-cut edges. There are not women here but woman-shaped absences, and, in the space they leave behind, the physical postures, gestures, and compositions of sexual offering become as loud as the thick black shadows laid behind each figure.”

Hope in the Dark (Rebecca Solnit)

“Utopia is on the horizon,” declares Eduardo Galeano. 'When I walk two steps, it takes two steps back. I walk ten steps and it is ten steps further away. What is utopia for? It is for this, for walking.'

Judeo-Christian culture’s central story is of Paradise and the Fall. It is a story of perfection and of loss, and perhaps a deep sense of loss is contingent upon the belief in perfection. Conservatives rear-project narratives about how everyone used to be straight, god-fearing, decently clad and content with the nuclear family, narratives that any good reading of history undoes. Activists, even those who decry Judeo-Christian heritage as our own fall from grace, are as prone to tell the story of paradise, though their paradise might be matriarchal or vegan or the flip side of the technological utopia of classical socialism. And they compare the possible to perfection, again and again, finding fault with the former because of the latter. Paradise is imagined as a static place, as a place before or after history, after strife and eventfulness and change: the premise is that once perfection has arrived change is no longer necessary. This idea of perfection is also why people believe in saving, in going home, and in activism as crisis response rather than everyday practice.

Moths and other nocturnal insects navigate by the moon and stars. Those heavenly bodies are useful for them to find their way, even though they never get far from the surface of the earth. But lightbulbs and candles send them astray; they fly into the heat or the flame and die. For these creatures, to arrive is a calamity. When activists mistake heaven for some goal at which they must arrive, rather than an idea to navigate Earth by, they burn themselves out, or they set up a totalitarian utopia in which others are burned in the flames. Don’t mistake a lightbulb for the moon, and don’t believe that the moon is useless unless we land on it. After all those millennia of poetry about the moon, nothing was more prosaic than the guys in space suits stomping around on the moon with their flags and golf clubs thirty-something years ago. The moon is profound except when we land on it.

Paradise is not the place in which you arrive but the journey toward it. Sometimes I think victories must be temporary or incomplete; what kind of humanity would survive paradise? The industrialised world has tried to approximate paradise in its suburbs, with luxe, calme, volupté, cul-de-sacs, cable television and two-car garages, and it has produced a soft ennui that shades over into despair and a decay of the soul suggesting that Paradise is already a gulag. Countless desperate teenagers will tell you so. For paradise does not require of us courage, selflessness, creativity, passion: paradise in all accounts is passive, is sedative, and if you read carefully, soulless.”

‘68 or Something (Lauren Berlant)

"This essay is written in favor of refusing to learn the lessons of history, of refusing to relinquish utopian practice, of refusing the apparently inevitable move- ment from tragedy to farce that has marked so much of the analysis of social movements generated post ’68."

An Ongoing Search for Myself (Marvel Harris)

“Ever since I can remember, I felt joyful after it had been raining. But for too long, I hadn’t been able to experience this warm feeling. Only after I stopped pursuing traditional femininity, and the effect a downpour had on my appearance, did this inner childhood joy I experienced after a rainstorm return. It was not until then that I realised how much I cared about other people’s opinions on my appearance. I felt sad, but all the same, it opened my eyes.”

Cruising Utopia (José Esteban Muñoz)

"Some will say that all we have are the pleasures of this moment, but we must never settle for that minimal transport; we must dream and enact new and better pleasures, other ways of being in the world, and ultimately new worlds. Queerness is a longing that propels us onward, beyond romances of the negative and toiling in the present. Queerness is that thing that lets us feel that this world is not enough, that indeed something is missing."

"What we need to know is that queerness is not yet here but it approaches like a crashing wave of potentiality. And we must give in to its propulsion, its status as a destination. Willingly we let ourselves feel queerness’s pull, knowing it as something else that we can feel, that we must feel. We must take ecstasy."

What Is to Be Done? (Nikolai Chernyshevsky)

"What you have been shown here will not soon reach its full development as you have just seen it. A good many generations will pass before your presentiment of it will be realized. No, not many generations. My work is now advancing rapidly, more rapidly with every year; but still you will never see the full sway of my sister, at least you have seen it; you know the future. It is bright, it is beautiful. Tell everybody. Here is what is to be! The future is bright and beautiful. Love it! seek to reach it! work for it! bring it nearer to men! transfer from it into the present whatever you may be able to transfer. Your life will be bright, beautiful, rich with happiness and enjoyment, in proportion as you are able to transfer into it the things of the future. Strive to reach it! work for it! bring it nearer to man. Transfer from it into the present all that you are able to transfer."

“In work we act under the predominant motive of external, rational necessities; in pleasure, under the predominant motive of other, equally general necessities of human nature. Rest or recreation is the element in which the personality seeks to renew its strength from these stimuli that exhaust the reserve of human resources. It’s an element introduced into life by the person himself.”

Charles Fourier’s phalanstère

The phalanstère was a type of building designed by Charles Fourier which aimed to support utopian communities of up to 2000 people working as an archetype for utopian cooperation. Seeing the conventional home as a site for misogyny and oppression of women, this building was intended to subvert patriarchal domestic expectations and foster communities predicated on equality and mutuality.

Le Corbusier

Le Corbusier was a champion of urban planning as a method of reflecting and constituting utopia. He designed the ‘Radiant City’ in the 1920s, which was intended to provide an urban platform and backdrop for radical social change. The city was inspired by the complex workings of the human body, intended to function as a thriving, breathing organism capable of generating and sustaining life. It was envisaged as a space where work and life were separated into distinct districts mediated by first class transportation, leisure spaces, and stretches of peaceful green.

Like many of the Modernists, Le Corbusier was concerned with creating a quantifiably higher or even ideal standard of living through theory. However, just as his peers, his vision has more recently been criticised for its clinical, impersonal thematicisation of urban life, its lack of interest in creating public space and relegation of its residents to slim, colourless, stacked apartment buildings with

little room for individuality or self-expression. Utopia is a concept which shifts and evolves over time, attesting to its transience and unattainability.

What black utopian thinking can offer us (Keno Evol)

“To live in black utopia in my small community is to live on the border of the possible. To participate in an infinite activity that will never be finalised. Russian author Yevgeny Zamyatin says in his book, We, 'How can there be a final revolution? There is no final one; revolutions are infinite.' We will fail soon and emerge sooner. And friends will arrive to occupy these spaces for them to be sustainable—temporarily.

I believe mathematician Eugenia Cheng got it right when speaking about the quantity 0.9. She writes about why mathematicians just don’t know what to do with this quantity that will never be one—and you can imagine her speaking about a black utopia. She says in her book, Beyond Infinity, 'After a series of finite steps we still don’t arrive at the answer. We keep getting closer forever.'

And there’s that word again: we. These finite steps are pursuits of a collective project. We keep getting closer forever. Closer to a non-arrival. And even closer to our relations. So why do black utopias matter? Because within them we learn how to pursue collective projects. Because we are black people who want to take care of other black people. Utopia is the point of departure that ends in a non-arrival. Utopia is an infinite activity of relation."

Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum

“The figures in Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum’s drawings and paintings are timeless and often faceless. They populate undefined landscapes that appear to be between worlds. Pamela is fascinated with ancient mythologies, technology and scientific theories, which permeate her visual language and orientates her work outside of time and place. In an essay for African Futures, she writes: 'I am interested in this idea of locating landscapes of alternative and yet-to-be known possibilities within the space of imagination, rather than in a physical place. The space of imagination opens radically vast territories of possibility. The space of imagination allows for multiple, simultaneous ‘utopianisms.’' The figures in her art have unfixed identities, and their multiple overlapping gestures and iterations suggest compound time. Pamela is deeply interested in what she calls the “re-seeing of Afro-mythologies” through the lens of science fiction, and argues in an essay for Paradox Journal, how this can be viewed as a “political tactic for restructuring experiences of the African present through the imagining of new African futures.”

Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (Friedrich Engels)

“The Utopians’ mode of thought has for a long time governed the Socialist ideas of the 19th century, and still governs some of them. Until very recently, all French and English Socialists did homage to it. The earlier German Communism, including that of Weitling, was of the same school. To all these, Socialism is the expression of absolute truth, reason and justice, and has only to be discovered to conquer all the world by virtue of its own power. And as an absolute truth is independent of time, space, and of the historical development of man, it is a mere accident when and where it is discovered. With all this, absolute truth, reason, and justice are different with the founder of each different school. And as each one’s special kind of absolute truth, reason, and justice is again conditioned by his subjective understanding, his conditions of existence, the measure of his knowledge and his intellectual training, there is no other ending possible in this conflict of absolute truths than that they shall be mutually exclusive of one another. Hence, from this nothing could come but a kind of eclectic, average Socialism, which, as a matter of fact, has up to the present time dominated the minds of most of the socialist workers in France and England. Hence, a mish-mash allowing of the most manifold shades of opinion: a mish-mash of such critical statements, economic theories, pictures of future society by the founders of different sects, as excite a minimum of opposition; a mish-mash which is the more easily brewed the more definite sharp edges of the individual constituents are rubbed down in the stream of debate, like rounded pebbles in a brook.”

Excerpt from A Martian Stranded on Earth (Aleksandr Bogdanov)

​Our ship plunged and crashed against Earth's solid face. My comrades are all dead and gone. There is no return from this damnable place, This cruel planet is my home from now on. In the bottomless night, glowing brightly out there Is Mars, my native red star. But the pull of Earth is heavy to bear And its atmosphere weighs on my heart. The choice is a grave one-from this life depart Where all but outrages my view, Taking with me a dream of my own native Mars Where reason and brotherhood rule? Or bear this deep anguish and tormenting pain For a life that is alien to me, For a life that wretchedly gropes on in vain Toward happiness, seeking to be free? Yes, people-it may seem that the difference is small Between them and my own Martian race, But their hearts and their souls are not ours at all, And I am no friend of their ways.

[...] I yearn for a union with life proud and free, For fraternity sacred and pure, But this shadowy world chills my heart as I see The tragedy I'm doomed to endure. [...] For the bright day when man will grope blindly no more But will see how his task must be done; If he chooses the path that leads straight to the core He and life can then fuse into one. When space, yes, and time have been conquered by man And the elements and death are but words, Our two races will merge into one mighty clan Of builders of brilliant new worlds. So this is the mission for which I've been spared; I must banish despair from my breast And serenely press on to life's border, and there Leave behind me this one last behest: Take a word of farewell when the victory is won To my loved ones on the star of my birth Ten them their brother is glad to have come To this wondrous young planet called Earth!

Black Utopia - The History of an Idea from Black Nationalism to Afrofuturism (Alex Zamalin)

“In Black Utopia, Alex Zamalin offers a groundbreaking examination of African American visions of social transformation and their counterutopian counterparts. Considering figures associated with racial separatism, postracialism, anticolonialism, Pan-Africanism, and Afrofuturism, he argues that the black utopian tradition continues to challenge American political thought and culture. Black Utopia spans black nationalist visions of an ideal Africa, the fiction of W. E. B. Du Bois, and Sun Ra’s cosmic mythology of alien abduction. Zamalin casts Samuel R. Delany and Octavia E. Butler as political theorists and reflects on the antiutopian challenges of George S. Schuyler and Richard Wright. Their thought proves that utopianism, rather than being politically immature or dangerous, can invigorate political imagination. Both an inspiring intellectual history and a critique of present power relations, this book suggests that, with democracy under siege across the globe, the black utopian tradition may be our best hope for combating injustice.”

Hirofumi Fujiwara

Utopia and the Anthropocene (J. Samuel Barkin)

“Garforth presents the “green” in Green Utopias as a fraught concept. Nature is contested, claimed in different utopias for different political purposes. But until quite recently, nature was seen in most utopias (whether green or otherwise) as a fixed, static thing. It might be seen as something to which we wish to return, or something to be overcome with technology, but either way, it is a thing apart from, and ontologically prior to, us. What, then, happens to green utopias in the Anthropocene, when we come to realize that there is no longer a nature that is ontologically prior to our relationship with it? How does a green utopia cope with “green” as a moving target? Phrased differently, what happens when environmental crisis is no longer avoidable, meaning that utopia becomes a vision of the post-crisis world rather than of a world in which environmental crisis has been avoided? This question is at the core of Green Utopias, which is divided into pre- and post-Anthropocene chapters (the Anthropocene understood here as a way of understanding our relationship with nature rather than as a claim about the natural world).

The difference between the two eras is stark. Garforth identifies a range of utopian types in the environmentalist phase from the 1970s to the 1990s. She looks at the transition from a discourse of limits to a discourse of growth in the 1970s, with its implication of a steady state economy, to that of sustainable development in the 1990s, with its implications of a more environmentally sensitive economic growth. She also looks at more radical visions, such as the literature on deep ecology, both in works of political philosophy and in the fiction of authors such as Ursula K. Le Guin, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Marge Piercy. All of these works, fiction and nonfiction, are utopian in the sense that they envision an ideal form of a political and economic relationship with nature. Not all are necessarily optimistic about the chances of a human future approximating the utopian vision (although some are), but all at least have a vision of what a stable relationship with nature might look like.”

The Land of Cockaigne (Pieter Bruegel the Elder)

On Comic Utopianism (Frank Ruda)

“Either producing utopias becomes a naive, empty, non-enlightened, and futile exercise, and this is even the best-case scenario, or worse, it proves to be dangerous, since today "it has become fashionable to detect the seeds of the totalitarian within the utopian itself and to transform the hoary folk wisdom of the adage "the perfect is the enemy of the good" into an anti-utopian political position for which the politics of radical change ... must inevitably lead to violence, as 'human nature ' is brutally pressed into an unnatural mold and forced to take on utopian and superhuman dimensions." Why should producing utopias be dangerous? Simply because if one sees through the dynamics of capitalism one also sees that the unchangeable nature of human beings makes them into self-seeking egotists, always only out for their own interest, in short: one sees that great egalitarian ideas sound nice at first but are ultimately proto-totalitarian because the human is a capitalist animal. 26 This is one of the reasons why today there is a "diminution in the production of new utopias" and produces the widespread doxa that "not only ... the new is impossible, but also ... utopia is just as unimaginable, its images always reflecting a kind of anthropomorphic projection which we may now limit by recognising them as projections of our own society and its parochial obsessions.

Utopia production becomes as impossible as any emancipatory political program is today. Cynicism is anti-utopianism. This is because utopias are either futile or dangerous, or, and this is the worst-case scenario, because they are nothing but reflections of the very situation-be it historical or more generally the human capitalist condition-they pretend to escape. Late capitalism thereby determines how we dream of a world beyond and after capitalism: in short, how we relate to the future in a strong sense of the term. From such a perspective, communism is the ultimate (potentially totalitarian, inhuman, and violent) capitalist fantasy that we need to abandon. Here we can see the first-negative-reason for why it is fundamentally unclear if we are reading a political program or a utopia: both are equally impossible and unimaginable. Reading Jameson's text therefore means to read what cannot but take the form of an impossible political program and an impossible utopia."

Epilogue: An American Utopia (Frederic Jameson)

Old clothes in the morning. Or work clothes, if you prefer, remembering that blue jeans-their pastiche-is one of America's greatest cultural exports. Perhaps the vision of everyone trudging to work in the morning is something of a nostalgia film, but after all the nostalgic or postmodern aesthetic is a new way of handling and aestheticizing necessity-nothing wrong with it. The consensus is that no one likes work; the political question, then, seems to be pleasure and how work can be made pleasurable (in all the psychoanalytic senses). Fourier reflected deeply on it; Hegel preferred to call it Befriedigung, or satisfaction, a concept that had something to do, surely, with whether the work was yours or not: identification, choice, compulsion, working for yourself or working for the Spaniards and the Greeks (as the Germans like to put it), or better still (from a left standpoint) for those who don't work because they don't have to. The psychology runs like this: if everyone has to work, then you don't feel quite so resentful. In his great East German Utopia, Rudolf Bahro insisted that Politburo members themselves do some manual labor every week, garbage collection for example, and perhaps do a little more than just to be seen at it (he also thought that everyone, at whatever level, should be paid the same salary, which in a situation of universal labor is tantamount to a guaranteed minimum annual wage). This is the window dressing of necessity, whose true limits are to be found in the three or four hours a day we are told will be required of the planetary species. [...]

In Almanac of the Dead, Leslie Marmon Silko has one of her characters observe that the real crime, the only true crime, is starvation. This is what utopia, and everything else, is all about. It is what socialism is all about, and I feel it may not have been clear enough in the original proposal that work, production, the base, is what the universal army is also all about-your three or four hours in the morning. After that, change your clothes and, as they used to say in Rabelais's old monastic Utopia, do what you like.”