This is the reading for our March 18th meeting. Visit us at meetup.com for the location and details.
There have been very few utopian ideas over the last few decades; most of our cultural production goes toward imagining dystopias. Some of the reasons for this are internal to leftist thought. In the 1950s, when leftists thought about power, they imagined pre-agricultural societies without power. This eventually morphed into a thinking of power’s origin. Factors such as the work of Foucault and the “revelations” of the gulags, turned thought about power into a near paranoia concerning collective action and practical politics. This is the context that Jameson is writing An American Utopia in, and it straddles the line between a political program and a utopian vision; this summary leans heavily on the utopian side.
Jameson thinks that utopian visions contribute to discursive struggle, “the process whereby slogans, concepts, stereotypes, and accepted wisdoms did battle among each other for. . . hegemony.” It is the attempt to delegitimate the slogans of the other side, as Thatcher and Reagan managed to do with nationalization. The strongest evidence that Thatcher and Reagan won is that so few people today can imagine an alternative to the market. Liberal parties are good for keeping repressed ideas in circulation, by “talking socialism.” Words that we need to discursively struggle over are words like austerity, which has a whole neoliberal framework behind it, or debt, which functioned as an empty signified for Occupy Wall Street. We need to rehabilitate ideas of collectivity and even bureaucracy against “big government”.