Utopia: The barely visible and the practical market
[Contribution to the Reimagining Society Project hosted by ZCommunications]
I won't be seeing that Bay of Pigs again.
-William S. Burroughs
The sentence above is from William Burroughs' novel The Wild Boys: A Book of the Dead (1969: 142). The whole book is highly political, though of course not in the mainstream sense of politics. Instead, Burroughs' novel is political in the subversive sense of presenting a world that doesn't really exist, perhaps a world between utopia and dystopia, certainly not the empirically given, although at the same time not the non-empirical. It is a world which doesn't really exist, yet exists in an eminent way. Thus it is political in the sense that it recreates culture as a whole: from the fact of production (self-production) to that of desire (which always, as Hegel shows, implies destruction) and pleasure; in any case, a recreation of the culture of everyday life. The whole book is political, but the sentence in question appears in the most politically charged section of the novel, "Mother and I Would Like to Know." It begins with the words: "The uneasy spring of 1988" (p.138). Then, it states: "Our aim is total chaos" (p. 139).
It is in the construction, in the invention of an alternative, that Burroughs' radical imagination works, penetrating into the ontological dimension of utopia. It is here that the question of the empirical must first be addressed. In Burroughs, all is experience, and of the most sublime form. Yet, this experience is always defiant of the empirically given. It always goes beyond, behind, under or above the narrowness of the empirically given; it is, as we shall see at the end of this essay when speaking of Ernst Bloch, transcendent within the order of immanence. For who cares for what is so dully present, really all too present? In fact, it is that which is present and absent at the same time, like Pascal's hidden god, which constantly defies, in Burroughs, the control machine. But what is present and absent, what is and is not, what can be but can also not be, constitutes a form of experience inclusive of the potential, all possibilities, what-could-be in our otherwise miserable world. But what could be?
In Mexico, South and Central America guerrilla units are forming an army of liberation to free the United States. In North Africa from Tangier to Timbuctu corresponding units prepare to liberate Western Europe and the United Kingdom. Despite disparate aims and personnel of its constituent members the underground is agreed on basic objectives. We intend to march on the police machine everywhere. We intend to destroy the police machine and all its records. We intend to destroy all dogmatic verbal systems. The family unit and its cancerous expansion into tribes, countries, nations we will eradicate at its vegetable roots. We don't want to hear any more family talk, mother talk, father talk, cop talk, priest talk, country talk or party talk. To put it country simple we have heard enough bullshit (pp.139-140).
Real liberation then is what's possible, liberation from what keeps the potential, not merely from actualizing itself, but from showing itself as potential; liberation from the empirical shackles which keep concealed the ontological roots of a higher form of experience – experience of the ‘yes' and ‘no' of presence, of action (inclusive of passion), of this action, inclusive of the universality and commonality which bestow upon ‘this' the whole significance of being (‘this' being a contraction of being), of the body's transformation into the forest's body (see, for instance, the story "The Dead Child," pp.102-120), from which the city arises and to which it must still listen, the spirit of the forest to which it must return, the poetic experience without which all praxis is nothing but a mechanical, bureaucratic routine, a deadly business, constrained within what is given, without the fundamental support (the wor