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No Place for Utopia: Postmodern Theory and The White Hotel

Author(s): GREGORY C. VIEIRA
Source: Utopian Studies, Vol. 4, No. 2 (1993), pp. 117-127
Published by: Penn State University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20719964
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No Place forUtopia:
Postmodern Theory and The WhiteHotel
GREGORY C. VBEIRA

(the measure of our ability to imagine better,more integrated
lives) appears to be conspicuously absent from our discussion of life in a
postmodern world. As postmodern people we are wary of utopia: cultural
critic and theorist, Fredric Jameson, has even claimed that "utopia" is
"always a term that is omitted in contemporary thought" ("Antinomies of
thePostmodern"). In this era of anti-ideology it appears that nothing ismore
offensive than the desire tomake ideology concrete in a Utopian vision. We
can see this fear of utopia emerge in novels such asWilliam Gibson's Neuro
mancer (1984), Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker (1980) and in films such as
Brazil (1985) and Bladerunner
(1982). These futuristic and distinctly
once
take
the
the locus of themodernist utopia, and
visions
up
city,
dystopic
of
it
site
failure.
These
cultural artifacts betray a pro
the
imagine
Utopian
found distrust of utopia and leave us wondering where we might find even a
vestige of Utopian thinking in this postmodern world. Still, itmay be worth
asking: Is postmodernism the antithesis of Utopian thinking,or does Utopian
thinking surface in new ways, betraying, not a fundamental distrust of
utopia, but rather an inability to live without Utopian thoughts?
Fredric Jameson, in Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late
is one who stresses the importance of utopia in analyzing
Capitalism,
the postmodern world: "Utopian representations knew an extraordinary
revival in the 1960s; if postmodernism is the substitute for the sixties and
the compensation for their political failure, the question of Utopia would
seem to be a crucial test of what is left of our capacity to imagine change
at all" (xvi). Jameson's point is that postmodernism lacks the Utopian
impulse essential to modernism and in the central essay from which
his book gets its title Jameson creates a compelling description of post
modernism as the antithesis to the Utopian impulse. Yet like so many others,
Jameson ends in contradiction when he tries to describe post-modernism,
which avoids taking a position on anything, as an antithesis to something.
Despite what at first seems an overwhelmingly negative appraisal of the
postmodern, Jameson concludes that "the dialectic requires us to hold
equally to a positive or 'progressive' evaluation of its emergence" (50). It
seems that the postmodern does not yield a Utopian impulse freely, but
under theMarxist hermeneutic of a careful and skilled analyst itwill once
again become apparent.
Utopia

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118 UTOPIANSTUDIES

In this essay I will take up this "question of Utopia," looking at how
contemporary Utopian formulations imagine themselves to have broken with
themodernist image of utopia and try to discover some of theways utopia
reemerges in the postmodern world. In this process, I will suggest that the
Utopian moments of Jameson's theory shares some of the same anxieties as
the Utopian moments of D.M. Thomas's novel, The White Hotel. Then, I
will conclude by using French theoretician Jean-Fran?ois Lyotard's defini
tion of postmodernism?he
represents itnot as a radical break, but rather as
an inextricable part of modernism?in
order to suggest some useful ways of
thinking about the residual utopianism we find not only in Jameson's theory
but also in such postmodern fiction as The White Hotel.
I
The Utopian impulse of modernism expressed itself in various ways: in
literature?in D.H. Lawrence's
expressed desire to found an alternative
society with his friends; in politics?most dramatically shown inGermany's
National Socialism and Russian communism; and in architecture?particu
larly in the International Style. While literature remains slippery?it's hard
can clearly see the failures of the political
to say what its results are?we
and architectural models of modernist utopia. For example, the architect Le
Corbusier hoped thathis buildings would colonize the still decrepit parts of
cities creating a new, humanly reinforcing living space for the inhabitants of
those cities. Yet despite such lofty intentions, these projects never achieved
their goals as these buildings were either co-opted by the rich or abandoned
by thepoor and eventually demolished (Wolfe). According to Jameson,whose
examples are drawn primarily from architecture, the postmodern arises in
reaction to the failure and repudiation of thesemodernist Utopian impulses:
"to what degree can we still describe the originalities of spatial construction
in the postmodern, when this last has explicitly renounced the greatmodern
istmyth of producing a radically new Utopian space capable of transform

ing theworld itself?" (104).
To illustrate the difference between the Utopian impulse of themodern
and the lack, or suppression, of such an impulse in thepostmodern, Jameson
contrasts the great modernist projects of Le Corbusier with the postmodern
architecture of the Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. Jameson
claims that, in contrast to themodernist building that hoped to redeem the
to be
city, theBonaventure is "content to 'let the fallen city fabric continue
no
no
further
in its being' (to parody Heidegger):
effects,
larger protopoliti
cal Utopian transformation, is either expected or desired" (41). Jameson
goes on to describe theways in which the hotel shuns the city: "Now one
would want rather to stress theway inwhich the glass skin reflects the city
outside, a repulsion for which we have analogies in those reflector sun
to see your own eyes
glasses which make it impossible for your interlocutor
a
and
toward
certain
achieve
and thereby
power over theOther"
aggressivity
is
This
compelling; indeed, even though
analysis throughmetaphor
(42).
"the Bonaventure aspires to being a total space, a complete world, a kind of

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No Place forUtopia

119

city" (40), which one might be tempted to read as a Utopian
conceives of it as introverted and cut off from theworld,
Jameson
impulse,
its
maintaining
integrityonly through its separation. Cut off from the city,
the hotel attempts to satisfy its customers' spiritual needs (indeed, there is a
Catholic church among its tenants), and yet structurally it furtheralienates
the inhabitants within: according to Jameson, the spatial mutations disorient
shoppers and "as a consequence, the commercial tenants are in despair and
all themerchandise ismarked down to bargain prices" (44).
Jameson, curiously, is not the only contemporary theorist to use the
American city as emblematic of an attitude toward utopia (see Davis for
more on Los Angeles as indicative of utopia). While Jameson looks to Los
Angeles, Jean Baudrillard, in America, turns to New York to support his
agnostic view of contemporary society. It is in the chapter "Utopia Achieved"
that Baudrillard describes New York, "where each successive skyscraper
and, after its own fashion, each ethnic group has dominated the city, and
where thewhole none the less still gives the impression not of a h?t?roclite
mish-mash, but of converging energies, not of unity or plurality, but of an
intensityborn of rivalry, of antagonistic power, thus creating a complicity, a
collective attraction, beyond culture or politics, in the very violence or banal
ity of theway of life" (82). Unlike Jameson, Baudrillard does find utopia;
but, of course, he is being ironic.New York is only unified through its vio
lence and banality. Baudrillard's reading of the city as "Utopian" resonates
with Jameson's view of theBonaventure as being, at least passively, aggres
sive towards its neighbors. For Baudrillard "Utopia" is no more than the act
of turning ideas into realities; ithas nothing to do with the creation of a bet
terplace. America is the country inwhich all ideas, base and lofty,are put
into action, hence the claim that it is "Utopia achieved," hence the violence
and banality. Baudrillard's New York is not one inwhich the "melting-pot"
has been achieved, but one inwhich this Utopian idea has been attempted,
resulting in an urban dystopia.
We can distinguish Baudrillard and Jameson by suggesting that the
formermight be called a postmodern thinker, the latter a critic of the post
modern. But what ties their analyses together is that they share Lyotard's
conception of postmodernism as an "incredulity toward metanarratives"
(Lyotard xxiv). Metanarratives are the dominant metaphors or goals that
serve to explain and organize our lives such as Christianity, Marxism, or
"The American dream." Utopia is an attempt to explain and direct our lives
and is, therefore, considered repressive in our contemporary thinking.And
this attitude even reaches beyond the critique of utopia: as Jameson adds,
"the most advanced postmodern thought teaches us not to deploy concepts
of totality or periodization" (402). Even seemingly benign intellectual con
structs such as thinking in terms of historical periods can be perceived as a
sort of intellectual violence which, in the process of creating an understand
able "world," silences minority, ormarginal, voices in order to streamline a
critical interpretation. It is clear that the disregard of such metanarratives
leaves no room for Utopian formulations. How can we formulate a subversive
miniature

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120 UTOPIANSTUDIES

response without the possibility of imagining a radical social transforma
tion,without having Utopian thoughts?
II
Jameson addresses this necessity of thinkingutopia in the conclusion to
The Political Unconscious in which he recognizes the responsibility of the
Marxist critic to balance a "negative hermeneutic," the ideological critique
of cultural textswith a "positive hermeneutic," marking theUtopian impulses
of those same texts (296). Therefore, it is not surprising that he carries the
same intention into his discussion of postmodernism. Jameson writes of the
"Utopian impulses to be detected in various forms of postmodernism today.
One wants to insist very strongly on the necessity of the reinvention of the
Utopian vision in any contemporary politics ..." (159). Defining "post
modernism" as the "cultural dominant," Jameson realizes that any response
has to come out of the system because no alternative system has the power
or capability of affecting change in the dominant system.
Therefore, Jameson attempts to elicit the response out of the system,
out of some of themost characteristically postmodern works, attributing
what he has called one of the defining elements of modernism, its Utopian
impulse, to the postmodern. Jameson argues that this new Utopian vision is
worked out spatially in architecture?the Gehry house in Santa Monica
the
"generates, so to speak, a new Utopian spatial language" (128)?in
of
in
the
fiction
June
Paik
and
art
Nam
of
Grober
and
Robert
conceptual
J.G. Ballard. But more interesting than Jameson's attempt to find the
Utopian impulses within these pieces, is the cryptic, occult nature of these
impulses. Indeed, this contemporary utopianism is hard to pin down: "It
should be noted that one finds everywhere today?not least among artists
an
like an unacknowledged
and writers?something
'party of Utopia':
underground party whose numbers are difficult to determine, whose pro
gram remains unannounced and perhaps even unformulated, whose exis
tence is unknown to the citizenry at large and to the authorities, but whose
members seem to recognize one another by means of secretMasonic
sig
nals" (180). Like Benjamin Franklin and his Masonic brethren, Jameson
recognizes thatwe inhabit a world inwhich one's personal beliefs are better
left unsaid, where true belief gets one into trouble with the authorities
whether they are the government or the leading edge of literary theory.But,
whatever the reason for the occlusion of utopia, we are leftwondering what
this contemporary utopianism is that remains "unknown" and "under
ground." Does this utopianism lie in the cultural artifacts themselves or is it
found in the criticwho cannot stop from having Utopian thoughts?
One of Jameson's best examples of the Utopian impulse of the post
modern occurs in his discussion of theGehry house in Santa Monica, Cali
fornia. From the beginning of his analysis, Jameson is well aware of the
awkward position he is in. In order to ascribe a Utopian impulse to the
Gehry house, he has to give up much of what is important in defining

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from the his
postmodernism: first,Gehry's architecture is much different
toricist moves of Graves, Moore and Venture; second, the single family
dwelling is not representative of the projects of postmodernism; and finally,
the nuclear family is not a "specifically postmodern interest or concern."
Jameson admits that "if we win, we may actually have lost...
themore
original Gehry's building turns out to be, the less generalizable its features
may be for postmodernism in general" (108).
The key to Jameson's analysis turnson the question of whether Gehry's
house is an example of textual or spatial play that seeks no outside refer
ence, or whether it reaches out and achieves a critique of the corporate
world. This is also the question of theBonaventure Hotel: whether it exists
as a Utopian regeneration of the city, part of themaster-narrative of prog
aware of the
ress, or whether it is cut off from its environment?cynically
the
To
Jameson
world.
concedes
of
with,
transforming
begin
impossibility
that theGehry house achieves a different effect from the great moments of
modernism; Jameson has formulated this difference in a proposition: "if the
great negative emotions of themodernist moment were anxiety, terror, the
being-unto-death, and Kurtz's 'horror,'what characterizes the newer 'inten
sities' of the postmodern, which have also been characterized in terms
of the 'bad trip' and of schizophrenic submersion, can just as well be for
mulated in terms of the messiness of a disbursed existence, existential
messiness, the perpetual temporal distraction of post-sixties life" (117). This
of postmodernism as dispersed and messy
proposed characterization
accords with the typical characterization of it as a fragmented subjectivity,
which interrupts any attempt at a totalizing, cohesive vision. This concep
tion of the postmodern fits in with Jameson's description of the way the
Gehry house resists photography, "blocking the choice of photographic
point of view, evading the image imperialism of photography, securing a
situation inwhich no photograph of this house will ever be quite right, for it
is the photograph alone which offers the possibility of an 'intellectual pic
ture' in this sense" (125). We should subsequently expect that the Gehry
house offers no attempt at a Utopian vision, and yet Jameson still seems to
pull such a Utopian impulse from the house. Jameson suggests that theGehry
house does reach toward a conceptualization of the economic system; that it
does "indeed characterize the problem of thinking about contemporary
America. The corrugated aluminum, the chain-linked balcony above, are,
one would think, the junk or Third World side of American life today?the
production of poverty and misery, people not only out of work but without a
place to live, bag people, waste and industrial pollution, squalor, garbage,
and obsolescent machinery" (128). Although such a move should not be
possible while still maintaining his previous concept of postmodernism,
Jameson makes it anyway. And this discussion of the Gehry house seems
typical of Jameson's reaction to postmodernism. First, he analyzes the
object and defines it as postmodern because of its lack of a Utopian impulse;
and then, he attempts to reintegrate utopia back into the object so thatwe
might perceive a contemporary utopianism in thepostmodern.

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122 UTOPIANSTUDIES

In The Political Unconscious,
Jameson suggests just what is to be
gained through this type ofmental gymnastics. Through the conflict between
ideology and utopia, he suggests we create "communicational noise and
conceptual interference" in themidst of which "alternative formulations
may be proposed ... in which a functional method for describing cultural
texts is articulated with an anticipatory one" (296). In other words, we can
interpretcultural productions as expressive of both ideology and as an antic
ipation of progress. Within that same discussion, Jameson usefully describes
the way a hegemonic phenomenon such as nationalism, at the same time,
expresses a desire for utopia (298). But, while this critical activity works
well with the objects of modernism, it becomes quite muddled when Jame
son interprets the postmodern, when he attempts to create "communica
tional noise and conceptual interference" about cultural productions that
make noise and interference theirend.
Jameson's attempt to integrate utopia into the postmodern also comes
under critique in Simon During's article "Postmodernism or Post-colonialism
Today": "The weakest moment of Jameson's essay comes when, despite
everything, he tries to think postmodernity dialectically. He asks himself
how a positive view of its emergence can be taken, and how itpermits the
forwardmarch of history" (34). During also suggests thatJameson loses track
of postmodernism when he reads it through the expectations we have learned
to have of modernism: "As soon as one allows the notion of the 'positive' or
'progressive' to reappear in analysis, the object one has in view is not post
modernity but a stage on the historical journey to the light" (35). And, of
course, thepostmodern does not admit such blatant utopianisms as "the histori
cal journey to the light." The point here is not to take Jameson to task, but
rather to suggest that in our current intellectual climate one is bound to find
this curious repositioning of utopia. I would like to furthersuggest that it is
not only in the theories of aMarxist critic like Jameson, but also inpostmodern
fiction such as D.M. Thomas's The White Hotel thatwe can perceive this
persistence of Utopian thinking in the context of our postmodern world.

Ill
D.M. Thomas's The White Hotel, a novel inwhich the central character
is split into culturally produced constructs that are mediated by language,
clearly lends itself to interpretationas a postmodern text (Lee 94). To begin
with, the proposed central figure of the novel, Lisa Erdman, is a composite
character constructed out of various types of discourse. In the prologue and
the firstfive chapters, she is characterized through lettersbetween psycho
analysts, an erotic first person narrative poem, a thirdperson explication of
the poem, a putative psychoanalytic case study of the subject, a more tradi
tional third person narrative, and through the detached observations of an
even more distant narrator in the chapter that ends in Babi Yar. But to say
that the subject is "composed"
through these discourses is not accurate.
Better to say that the subject is decomposed or deconstructed because we
never get at whatever it is that constitutes Lisa Erdman. Rather than adding

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up to a coherent self, these chapters undermine previous compositions of the
self; not only do we find thatwe have not known thewhole truth,but we
discover thatwe have been fooled by our preconceived judgments and have
grossly misinterpreted the subject; I am thinking of Freud's, and I might
add our, tendency to read Lisa's telepathy as revealing her past, rather than

prophesying her future.
The future she has prophesied is her end in Babi Yar, and yet, that is
not the conclusion to the book. The final ending to the novel is worked out
in the chapter, "The Camp," a peculiar, problematic chapter that has been
particularly disturbing to critics who have felt the hope it suggests, despite
its ambiguity, unearned and unsatisfactory (see Press and Levine). Follow
ing the terrifying realism of Babi Yar, one is struck by the other-worldly
aspect of the conclusion: themistiness and the reunion of the dead, even the
return to a state of oral gratification as Lisa and her mother are nurtured at
each other's breast. Ellen Siegelman has suggested threeways thatwe might
interpret this ending chapter; she writes thatwe might read it as either a
prophetic vision, as an experience of dying, or as a believer's account of the
afterlife (75). Ifwe use this last interpretation,Siegelman suggests that the
chapters might fall into the categories; "what Lisa wrote, what Freud wrote,
what a biographer would write, what a camera's eye would see," and finally,
"what God sees." Here we are asked to see Lisa in the plurality of her sub
ject and tomarvel at the unknowability of the human soul. I find this analy
sis provocative; but like other criticism that focuses solely on the spiritual
aspect of "The Camp," it is finally distorting because Thomas does more
than create a fantastic resolution to the violence of the holocaust.
If Thomas had represented "The Camp" as an attempt to elude or to
completely transcend terrestrialreality,we might well interpret it as Siegel
man has, but instead this chapter fluctuates between two competing meta
narratives, two impulses to recover a Utopian potential out of the experience
of Babi Yar. While the camp clearly represents a Christian vision of Heaven
and Hell particularly recalling Dante's Divine Comedy (Kinder 147), it is no
less grounded in the historical Utopian impulse of the birth of Israel and the
kibbutzim. Although there is indeed a transcendence of death in the camp,
there seems to be no transcendence of human problems?discomfort,
pain,
disease, work and shortages. Freud still suffers from themouth cancer that
killed him. Lisa still cannot have a satisfying talkwith her father.And this
is not an unambiguous representation of the static Christian universe: there
is a whirl of physical improvements being made, and the people remain
hopeful. Instead of privileging one unambiguous ending, Thomas combines
metanarratives, interruptingour ability to comprehend the text in the way
thatwe are used to. By combining thesemetanarratives, Thomas takes away
the clarity that choosing either a spiritual or a secular redemption might lend
it: indeed as themist begins to clear from the camp, the reader is further
engrossed in ambiguities and becomes distanced from the sharp clarity, the
piercing realism of Babi Yar, as well as from the kindliness and charity of
the promised land as tent camps.

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124 UTOPIANSTUDIES

Since we are not asked to privilege one ending over another, I suggest
that the important question is whether a resolution is possible at all. This is
precisely what Jameson means by the "question of Utopia": can a post
modern novel transmita Utopian impulse? More particularly, we have to ask
whether this collective project?the birth of Israel, albeit mystified?rests
as a Utopian representation arising out of real life experience?Babi
Yar?
or whether Thomas offers the ending as just another discourse among
themany discourses of the novel. Is a Utopian response, faith in theprogress
toward the resolution of conflicts, possible within the postmodern con
straints of the novel?
The postmodern constraints are clear: "Lisa," as a fragmented, textually
created subject, lacks a constitutive center, and therefore, is unable to for
mulate any meaningful response to her surroundings. She might, therefore,
be said to be incapable of a Utopian impulse. Her psychic fragmentation and
inability to respond climaxes in the bayonet rape, a fragmenting of her body,
inBabi Yar. Because this scene physically reenacts Lisa's postmodern men
tal state we might privilege thismoment as central to the novel. In this case
we would have to see the discourse of "The Camp" as a critique of utopia?
as an inadequate response to the violence of Babi Yar. But this interpreta
tion rests on the assumption of Lisa's lack of a center and ifwe do privilege
Babi Yar as a reality of violence, we are asserting that there is a central thing?
is susceptible to violence and that at thatmoment, there
that is "Lisa"?that
is a subject to be violated. If there is such a subject, then that subject can
also be mobilized and partake in collective action. And, indeed, we know
thatLisa ismore than fiction; Thomas's descriptions of Babi Yar are based
on the eyewitness account of Dina Pronicheva. If we do privilege Babi Yar
as partaking of reality, thenwe must also admit the possibility that "The
Camp" can?arising out of reality?be a Utopian response to it.
"The Camp" is not just one discourse among themany discourses of the
novel. It is the conclusion of the novel, and as an ending it asks to be privi
leged. But what we find in "The Camp" is an ending that is susceptible to
various pressures. As a postmodern creature, a creature of fiction, Lisa
inhabits different fictional spaces that are never taken as completely true.
But at the same time, as, in some sense, a historical character, she (and per
haps Thomas as well) is bound to try to resolve the conflicts thatfinally led
to theHolocaust. While Thomas cannot, within the constraints of his own
novel, break faith and offer a tidy resolution, he still cannot write theHolo
caust without writing a response?the misty, mystical, ambiguous, post
modern utopia of The White Hotel.
That Thomas seems unsure of the ending is understandable. In writing
about theHolocaust he iswriting about the dangers of utopianism. Lisa is a
victim of the Utopian drives of Nazi Germany, and it is the experience of
such twentieth century utopias as National Socialism and Soviet and Chi
nese communism, that have made us wary of utopia. We are made particu
larly aware of this fear of Utopian repression in the writings of French
theorists like Baudrillard and Jean-Fran?ois Lyotard. For example, Lyotard

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writes in the appendix to The Postmodern Condition: "The nineteenth and
twentieth centuries have given us as much terror as we can take.We have
paid a high enough price for the nostalgia of thewhole and the one, for the
reconciliation of the concept and the sensible, of the transparent and the
communicable experience" (82). Thomas faces the problem of suggesting
an ending that is sensitive to both this fear of utopia and a desire for resolu
tion to the horror of Babi Yar. He has the impossible task of writing a final
chapter thatwill resolve without reconciliation and it is this double-edged
situation that, I suggest, determines the ending of the novel as an unsatisfy
ing textual solution to real historical problems. Thomas cannot expect to
find resolution in the birth of Israel, which in its repression of the Palestini
ans appears to be another Utopian idea gone sour, so he finally leaves us
with an ambiguous utopia that hides the Utopian impulse of the birth of
Israel in the clothes of Christian redemption. The ending aims at satisfaction
by giving us the impossible, an Israel that is not Israel, a Utopian project that
does not turn to repression.
Like Jameson's theory of the postmodern, The White Hotel leaves us
wondering whether its Utopian impulse is actually postmodernism or
whether the postmodern needs to be abandoned in the desire for resolution.
Is this a residual modernism asserting itself at themost awkward moments?
Do Jameson and Thomas simply betray nostalgia for utopia? Are theirvisions
reactionary? Or is there a way of reading the postmodern as including the
potential for political progress? One interestingway of thinking about this
problem is to see it throughLyotard's interpretationof postmodernism.
IV
that attempts to recover the political
Lyotard's surprisingmove?one
to define postmodernism as an
potential of postmodern aesthetic objects?is
essential part of modernism. Rather than interpretingpostmodernism as a
radical break, Lyotard sees it as a partner in a continuing dialectic with high
modernism. Jameson, in the introduction to The Postmodern Condition,
describes Lyotard's position: "Rather, seeing postmodernism as a discontent
with and disintegration of this or that high modernist style?a moment in
the perpetual 'revolution' and innovation of high modernism, to be suc
ceeded by a fresh outburst of formal invention?in a striking formula he has
characterized postmodernism, not as thatwhich follows modernism and its
particular legitimation crisis, but rather as a cyclical moment that returns
before the emergence of ever new modernisms in the stricter sense" (xvi).
According to Lyotard, both themodern and the postmodern result from an
attempt to grapple with the unpresentable, albeit with different strategies:
the modern puts forth the unnamable "only as the missing contents"?
the postmodern
presenting the fact that the unpresentable exists?whereas
"puts forward the unpresentable in presentation itself (81). The postmodern
is the avant-garde that destroys, that clears the land, and to combine meta
phors, it is what gets down to the bone and makes us uncomfortable. The

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126 UTOPIANSTUDIES

is the building that is erected in the clearing?it hides the barren
of
thepostmodern.
spaces
This definition works well, and is clarified when applied to a contradic
tory text like The White Hotel. The bayonet rape in Babi Yar can be inter
preted as the pinnacle of postmodernism within the novel; Thomas attempts
to present the violence of the holocaust without resorting to what Lyotard
calls "the solace of good forms" (81). In other words, Thomas does not
appeal tometaphysical assumptions to rationalize the violence of theHolo
caust. The final chapter, however, plays a differentrole, fulfilling themodern
ist side of the dialectic. This ending discourse seeks to legitimate "itself
.. .
with reference to a metadiscourse
making an explicit appeal to some
narrative"
This
metadiscourse
is a Utopian vision rec
grand
(Lyotard xxiii).
to
the
in
its
reference
of
Israel
and in the prog
ognizable
Utopian impulse
ress toward the resolution of conflicts.
But, even though The White Hotel ends with reference to a meta
discourse, it is a metadiscourse with a difference. Rather than experiencing
resolution, the reader is struck by the awkwardness of the ending. And this
sense of incongruity is not so different from the experience of reading Jame
son's writings on postmodernity. When Jameson describes postmodernism
as a break, as depthless, as a shimmering play of surfaces, he seems to be in
touch with something that is representative of what we typically call "post
modern." Yet, when he tries to interpret these same phenomenon through
Marxist theory he seems to overreach and end up with something that is
quite differentfrom postmodernism.
And perhaps this is the point.What we see in The White Hotel, as well
as in Lyotard's and Jameson's theory, is an expressed unwillingness to
embrace either modernism or postmodernism in their undiluted forms, the
former because of its historical repressions, the latter because of its denial
of utopia. And this difficulty of creating a space for utopia outside of the
dualism of modernism and postmodernism, leads (in both Jameson and
Thomas) to the assertions ofmystical, occult, and decidedly awkward utopi
anisms. The limitation of Lyotard's position is that it appears too neat and
self-enclosed, without spotlighting the awkward task of yoking the ideologi
cal to the Utopian. But Jameson and Thomas seem to suggest that only
through these awkward, artificially forced readings of utopia can the self
reflexive and self-critical position of postmodernity be preserved, thereby
creating a place beyond the postmodern, without reverting to the terrorof
themodern (formore on critical utopias see Moylan). And we can also see
thatwhile we cannot have an unambiguous utopia with a postmodern sensi
we are incapable?of
bility, at the same time,we are not willing?perhaps
more
to
and
better
desire
the
integrated lives.
imagine
abandoning
modern

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and