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Imaginary Communities: Utopia, the Nation, and the Spatial Histories of Modernity by Phillip E. Wegner; The Senses of Modernism: Technology, Perception, and Aesthetics by Sara Danius Review by: Stephen Arata Comparative Literature, Vol. 57, No. 2 (Spring, 2005), pp. 195-197 Published by: Duke University Press on behalf of the University of Oregon Stable URL: . Accessed: 26/09/2012 09:16
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more or less smoothly to a close-up picture of a mosquito net. There are some lengthy discursive endnotes, which is a practice about which I am usually puritanical, but here the nature of the material and the way it is discussed both lead naturally to further iterations of thought. Freinkel is authoritative and interesting in steering round critical obstacles-there is a lot of originality here, and yet the whole thing is carefully oriented. This is a weighty and intriguing book that combines a bold project and formidable learning with a light and energetic touch. RAPHAEL LYNE New Hall, Cambridge

THE AND SPATIAL IMAGINARY COMMUNITIES: HISTORIES MODERNITY. OF UTOPIA, NATION, THE By E. Wegner. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002. xxvi, 297p. Phillip

Cornell University Press, 2002. xi, 247p. "Amap of the world that does not include Utopia," wrote that noted socialist philosopher Oscar Wilde in 1891, "isnot worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing." Though Wilde is not quoted in Imaginary Communities, the spirit of his remark suffuses Phillip Wegner's illuminating and fiercely intelligent treatment of modern utopian narratives. For Wegner as for Wilde, another name for a utopia-less map of the world is Ideology: the world as given. The function of utopia is precisely to trouble this givenness, to overturn our sense of the immutability of thingsas-they-are. As Wilde suggests, and as Wegner persuasively demonstrates, utopian narratives are never about the end of history. Rather, as the country at which humanity is alwayslanding, utopia names the site where the possibility of historical becoming is kept perpetually open. In Wegner's words, each successful "narrative utopia generates the cognitive space around which new kinds of lived experiences and theoretical perceptions form" (xx). As that formulation suggests, Wegner is interested in how utopian narratives serve as conduits for what Antonio Gramsci called cultural pedagogy. As it also suggests, Wegner is intent on making the strongest possible case for the value-ethical, intellectual, emotional, ideological-of an oft-undervalued literary genre. In his view, "narrative utopias serve as a way both of telling and of making modern history, and in this lies their continued importance" (xvi). The first third of Imaginary Communities devoted to offering a is theoretical justification for this claim. Drawing on the work of Ernst Bloch, Darko Suvin, FredricJameson, Henri Lefebvre, and especially Louis Marin, Wegner argues for utopian fiction as one of modernity's paradigmatic genres. It is no accident, he contends, that the form emerges in tandem with the paradigmatic political expression of modernity, the nation-state. Wegner posits "a continuous exchange of energies" (xvi) between the two: the imaginary communities of the narrative utopia and the imagined communities of the nation-state are bound in dialectical relation, with the former functioning as a testing ground for new conceptions of the ways in which the latter might be configured. Indeed, the nation-state is itself the ur-Utopia. In an astute and subtle reading of Thomas More's Utopia (1516), Wegner traces the lineaments of the modern nation-state as they begin to emerge from More's speculations on the nature of the ideal commonwealth. Within the space of More's narrative, the nation-state is the not-quite-fully-imagined "elsewhere" against which traditional social configurations are measured. Within a generation of More,


the now-fully-imagined nation-state had become the norm, and thus the departure point for utopic fictions. As the founding text of a new genre, More's work also provides a clear instance of the centrality of "figuration" to narrative utopias. Wegner adopts the concept from Louis Marin, both enriching it and extending the range of its uses. Figuration refers to what Marin calls a "preconceptual" and Wegner a "pretheoretical" mapping of the world. As Wegner shows, utopian fiction invariably works to "mediate between two different cultural and social realities, between the world that is and the world which is coming into being" (37), but the world which is coming into being is necessarily presented in a manner that is at once untheorized and unconcretized. That is, by the very nature of his task the utopian writer cannot give a fully realized and particularized representation of his imagined world (in the manner, say, of a realist novel), nor can he offer a fully formulated theoretical account of it (in the manner, say, of a work of political philosophy). Thus, "while crucial aspects of a newly emergent social reality are present in the utopian fiction, the relationship between these elements, dispersed as they are throughout the text, cannot yet be articulated ... [T] he utopia presents a narrative pictureof history-information rather than a theoretical description a fully formed historical situation" (37of 38). It is the unique office of the genre to occupy a "middle ground" between the "phenomenological concreteness" of literature and the "abstractsystematicity"of theory (xviii). Here, in Wegner's view, is where the work gets done. By showing in detail how modern utopian writers deploy the resources of figuration, Wegner seeks to reclaim utopian narratives for serious critical consideration. He correctly notes that the genre's reputation has suffered at the hands of commentators whose evaluations are based on the wrong generic criteria. Utopian narratives are neither failed (because naive or "thin") political treatises nor unsuccessful novels. Wegner is especially concerned to refute the latter charge. He does this in part by making a literary-historical case for the siring of the utopian narrative out of the early modern romance, and in part by arguing that, unlike novels, utopian fictions expend their freshest energies not on plot or character but on description. Mostly, though, Wegner persuades through the richness and intelligence of his engagements with individual texts. The bulk of Imaginary Communities devoted to extended readings of a half-dozen seminal utopian fictions: is Edward Bellamy's LookingBackward(1888), Alexander Bogdanov's Red Star (1908), Jack London's The Iron Heel (1908), Yevgeny Zamyatin's We (1920), George Orwell's 1984 (1949), and Ursula K. LeGuin's The Dispossessed(1974). Wegner shows himself to be a gifted close reader, crisply attentive to the aesthetic patternings and figurations of his texts. Yet he never allows his close readings to become myopic or repetitive. Instead the view continually opens up to take in, as it must, the complex historical situations from which these works grew and which in turn they address. What could have been a weakness in his book--namely, the decision to bring together under one critical heading texts from different eras and vastly different national contexts-is made a strength as Wegner demonstrates not only their groundedness in a particular place and time but also the various yet alwaysself-awareways in which his writers negotiate with and modify the utopic tradition. Most impressive, though, is Wegner's ability to direct our attention to those places in his texts where a conceptual or perceptual limit has been reached (and occasionally breached)-where a sense of the genuinely new struggles to find an adequate means of expression. In TheSensesof Modernism, Sara Danius likewise professes her commitment to combinan "historicizing approach with close textual analysis" (5). She goes further than ing Wegner, contending that no theoretical or historical approach to literature can be wholly persuasive unless "acareful and sustained textual analysis"has been placed "center stage"


(45). In her case the challenge is not, as it is with Wegner, to rehabilitate underread texts but rather to find new ways to understand familiar ones. The texts in question are James du perdu (1913-27), and ThoJoyce's Ulysses(1914-22), Marcel Proust's A la recherche temps which Danius approaches as indices of "a technologimas Mann's Der Zauberberg (1924), cally mediated crisis of the senses" in Modernist aesthetics (1). Specifically, she is interested in these writers' responses to a world in which "categories of perceiving and knowing" have been fundamentally altered by the development of new technologies-telegraphy, telephony, photography, x-rays, moving pictures, and so on-for "storing, transmitting, and reproducing sense data" (3). Danius rightly points out both the ubiquity of such devices in the works of her three authors and the relative silence of critics regarding them. This silence she attributes to the cumulative weight of a long tradition of commentary that places the Modernist fetishizing of the senses in opposition to, or as refutation of, modern machine culture. Danius offers her own work as a counterweight to that tradition; by showing instead the tight entwining of bodies, senses, and machines in her chosen novels, she seeks to make a case for her central claim that "technology is in a specific sense constitutive of high-modernist aesthetics" (3). Her close readings in support of this claim are unfailingly illuminating, though they occasionally stray into paths tangential to her main pursuit. A more troubling consequence of Danius's commitment to explicationde texteis a certain historical thinness. At and De Zauberberg one point she calls Ulysses,A la recherche, "representative" texts of the period. Many would be inclined instead to call them idiosyncratic and to ask whether they are, as Danius contends, "indices" of the period. Taking a longer historical view, one might also ask whether the crisis of the senses Danius charts begins much earlier than she acknowledges. It is discernable, for instance, in the decadent fantasies ofJ.-K. Huysmans and Villiers d'Isle Adam; reaching back further, it is a central component of Walter Pater's aesthetics and, in a different way,John Ruskin's; further back still, it provides fodder for and elsewhere. This is some of George Eliot's metafictional speculations in Middlemarch not to take awayfrom Danius's achievements, only to suggest that the landscape her book traverses is more constricted than it needed to be.

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