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Imaginary Communities

Imaginary Communities: Utopia, the Nation, and the Spatial Histories of Modernity

Phillip E. Wegner
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 323
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  • Book Info
    Imaginary Communities
    Book Description:

    Drawing from literary history, social theory, and political critique, this far-reaching study explores the utopian narrative as a medium for understanding the social space of the modern nation-state. Considering the narrative utopia from its earliest manifestation in Thomas More's sixteenth-century workUtopiato some of the most influential utopias of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, this book is an astute study of a literary genre as well as a nuanced dialectical meditation on the history of utopian thinking as a quintessential history of modernity. As he unravels the dialectics at work in the utopian narrative, Wegner gives an ambitious synthetic discussion of theories of modernity, considering and evaluating the ideas of writers such as Ernst Bloch, Louis Marin, Gilles Deleuze, Walter Benjamin, Martin Heidegger, Henri Lefebvre, Paul de Man, Karl Mannheim, Mikhail Bakhtin, Jürgen Habermas, Slavoj Zizek, and Homi Bhabha.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92676-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction: The Reality of Imaginary Communities
    (pp. xv-xxvi)

    Taking up the critical project Raymond Williams announced in the early 1960s of reinterpreting and extending the ideas and values of the past “in terms of a still changing society and my own experience of it,” this book examines some important dimensions of the changing relationship between space and community during the “long revolution” of Western modernity.¹ In addition to contributing to a reconsideration of modernity in terms of its “spatial histories,” this book also does a number of other things: most important, it looks at the origins and subsequent adventures of the singularly modern construct of the nation-state; it...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Genre and the Spatial Histories of Modernity
    (pp. 1-26)

    Terry Eagleton asks, “What traumatic upheaval of perception is involved in thinking of the political no longer as a question of local sovereignty, of something interwoven with the labor and kinship relations of a specific place, but as an abstractnationalformation?”¹ The debate onto which Eagleton’s question opens up—over the origins of the nation-state as both a uniquely modern conceptualization and practice of cultural and social space—has taken on a special urgency in our present, as concerns grow that the nation-state, at once beset by the forces of globalization and of ethnic fragmentation, may already be in...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Utopia and the Birth of Nations
    (pp. 27-61)

    In this chapter, I will be concerned with the births of a number of institutional beings-in-the-world, each of which is bound inseparably to the others: the birth of the genre of the narrative utopia, the birth of the spatial histories of modernity, and the birth of the “conceived space” that takes the form of the modern nation-state. And yet what do we mean when we say we are going to talk about the “birth” of an institution?

    The danger involved when endeavoring to answer such a question has been analyzed quite effectively by Nancy Armstrong and Leonard Tennenhouse: in attempting...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Writing the New American (Re)Public: Remembering and Forgetting in Looking Backward
    (pp. 62-98)

    This chapter focuses on the indispensable role that, as Homi K. Bhabha suggests, “forgetting” plays in the construction of national subjectivity: “Being obliged to forget becomes the basis for remembering the nation, peopling it anew, imagining the possibility of other contending and liberating forms of cultural identification.”¹ Most of the classical ideologues of nationalism assert that the nation is a form of collective identity grounded in a shared sense of the past. Ernest Renan, for example, maintains in his influential 1882 lecture, “Qu’est-ce qu’une nation?” (the subject of Bhabha’s comments as well), that two things constitute the “soul or spirit”...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR The Occluded Future: Red Star and The Iron Heel as “Critical Utopias”
    (pp. 99-146)

    In one of the first significant discussions of the efflorescence of utopian writings in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Tom Moylan coins the term “critical utopia” to describe these new works. Drawing inspiration from the radical political culture and new left movements of the moment, these narrative utopias challenge not only the dominant cultural and social realties from which they emerge, but also the very assumptions and expectations of the generic institution of which they form an integral part:

    A central concern in the critical utopia is the awareness of the limitations of the utopian tradition, so that these...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE A Map of Utopia’s “Possible Worlds”: Zamyatin’s We and Le Guin’s The Dispossessed
    (pp. 147-182)

    One of the most significant lessons of the literary criticism of the last few decades has been that the currently accepted meaning of any text is a product of the interpretive institutions and communities acting upon it. Fredric Jameson suggests that we never really encounter textual meaning “as a thing-in-itself. Rather, texts come before us as the alwaysalready-read; we apprehend them through sedimented layers of previous interpretations, or—if the text is brand-new—through the sedimented reading habits and categories developed by those inherited interpretive traditions.”¹ Stanley Fish further observes that some interpretations, for a variety of reasons, succeed so...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Modernity, Nostalgia, and the Ends of Nations in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four
    (pp. 183-228)

    It has become something of a commonplace to point out that ourfinde-millenniumculture has given birth to a diversity of narratives of endings: the ending, among other things, of modernity, master narratives, and ideology; of philosophy and critique; of modernism, the avant garde, and the aesthetic; of feminism, gender, and sexuality; of liberalism, humanism, and the bourgeois subject; of industrialism, Fordism, and the welfare state; of Marxism, socialism, and communism; of the Cold War; and even of history itself. As the work of two of the more well-known proponents of this last narrative, Jean Baudrillard and Francis Fukuyama, bears...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 229-286)
  12. Index
    (pp. 287-297)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 298-298)