Utopia and the Problem of Race: Accounting for the Remainder in the Imagination of the 1970S Utopian Subject. By Utopian Studies

Utopia and the Problem of Race: Accounting for the Remainder in the Imagination of the 1970S Utopian Subject.

By Utopian Studies

  • Release Date: 2006-06-22
  • Genre: Religion & Spirituality

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Description

Race seems to pose a particular problem for the utopian imagination, especially in the United States. (1) It is easy enough to imagine a mono-racial utopia, a collection of homogeneous "citizens of nowhere" as the basis for a future or alternative social formation free from racial conflict: an Aryan nation, a primordial past before contact with the Other, or even a colorblind society. But what of attempts to envision a utopia that includes racial difference at its very core? As William Nichols and Charles E Henry characterized the situation in 1978, In the general historical view, Nichols and Henry are quite right to point out this peculiar absence, not just in African-American literature but also in the genre of literary utopia itself. Yet, we might make a few qualifications. On their latter point, we might look for the utopian impulse in other cultural forms such as black nationalism; however, for Nichols and Henry, both Marcus Garvey and the Nation of Islam lack "a sense of open space, a land base," which undercuts their utopian projects (43). Or, with Susan Willis, we might read the utopian impulse in Toni Morrison's "eruptions of funk": "Morrison's writing often allows an alternative social world to come into being.... [T]he space of otherness permits a reversal of domination and transforms what was once perceived as 'other' into the explosive image of a utopian mode" (40-41). But there was also a moment in the 1970s when, in addition to gender, American utopian literature tried to grapple with race. These texts address the question of race, especially as it informs the constitution of identity in utopia. They imagine what the subject of utopia might look like. And it is at this moment that the problem of the subject takes its place among, if not superseding, more traditional concerns addressed by utopia: government, economy, sociality, built space, and so forth. The "subject" of utopia in the 1970s becomes who as much as what or bow.