"The choice we have is not between reasonable proposals and an unreasonable utopianism. Utopian thinking does not undermine or discount real reforms. Indeed, it is almost the opposite: practical reforms depend on utopian dreaming."Russell Jacoby, Picture Imperfect
Utopianism suffers from an image problem: A recent exhibition on utopias in Paris and New York included photographs of Hitler's Mein Kampf and a Nazi concentration camp. Many observers judge utopians and their sympathizers as foolhardy dreamers at best and murderous totalitarians at worst. However, as noted social critic and historian Russell Jacoby argues in this salient, polemical, and innovative work, not only has utopianism been unfairly characterized, a return to an iconoclastic utopian spirit is vital for today's society. Shaped by the works of Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Ernst Bloch, Gustav Landauer, and other predominantly Jewish thinkers, iconoclastic utopianism revives society's dormant political imagination and offers hope for a better future. Writing against the grain of history, Jacoby reexamines the anti-utopian mindset and identifies how utopian thought came to be regarded with such suspicion. He challenges standard readings of such anti-utopian classics as 1984 and Brave New World and offers stinging critiques of the influential liberal and anti-utopian theorists Hannah Arendt, Isaiah Berlin, and Karl Popper. He argues that these thinkers mistakenly equate utopianism with totalitarianism.
The reputation of utopian thought has also suffered from the failures of, what Jacoby terms, the blueprint utopian tradition and its oppressive emphasis on detailing all aspects of society and providing fantastic images of the future. In contrast, the iconoclastic utopians, like those who follow God's prohibition against graven images, resist both the blueprinters' obsession with detail and the modern seduction of images. Jacoby suggests that by learning from the hopeful spirit of iconoclastic utopians and their willingness to accept new possibilities for society, we open ourselves to new and more imaginative ideas of the future.
|Publisher:||Columbia University Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.06(w) x 7.76(h) x 0.90(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Russell Jacoby is a professor of history and education at UCLA and the author of several books of history, politics, and cultural criticism, including The End of Utopia: Politics and Culture in the Age of Apathy, Dogmatic Wisdom: How the Culture Wars Divert Education and Distract America, and The Last Intellectuals: American Culture in the Age of Academe. He also reviews books for The Nation, the Los Angeles Times Book Review, and other publications.
Read an Excerpt
Utopian thinking consists of more than daydreams and doodles. It emerges out of and returns to contemporary political realities. As I see it, this contradiction defines the utopian project: it partakes at once of the limited choices of the day and the unlimited possibilities of the morrow. It straddles two time zones: the one we inhabit now and the one that might exist in the future. Nor is this unusual in the history of utopianism. At least since More's Utopia, contemporary crises motivate the utopian author who dreams of another world.
Table of Contents
1. An Anarchic Breeze
2. On Anti-Utopianism: More or Less
3. To Shake the World off Its Hinges
4. A Longing That Cannot Be Uttered
What People are Saying About This
Like most of Jacoby's work, Picture Imperfect is sui generis. It is an erudite polemic, spirited and consistently engaging. The writing is epigrammatic and the scholarship broad-ranging.
Russell Jacoby challenges the all too common wisdom that utopian dreams breed dystopian political nightmares. His passionate brief for a distinctively non-totalitarian strand of utopian thought indicts a contemporary failure of imagination. Writing on the sharp edge of the divide between utopians and anti-utopian liberals, he cuts through much of the pretense of a generation of political philosophers who famously regarded passionate hope and totalitarian genocide as issuing from the same source. His spirited, indeed utopian essay, restores the "anarchic breeze" that informed those iconoclastic thinkers for whom neglected, spurned, and new ideas were not anathema.