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Patrick Keiller has remarked that we now live in futurism's future, that future, which, from the historical avant-garde to last mid-century's space age, aspired to the radically new.
Moreover, things are not so very different after all. This is not unrelated to another meta-historical comment made recently, Fredric Jameson's claim that today it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism.1 Dystopic science-fiction scenarios notwithstanding, we find ourselves living in a future without a future, in a future that is already the past, living on a map of the world where that place called utopia has, for this modern memory at least, never been so out of sight.
I want to catch sight of that illusive thing called utopia, using as my illumination the bright glow that emanates from that thingest of things called the commodity. To begin his chapter of Capital called 'The Fetishism of Commodities (and the Secret Thereof)', Marx wrote:
It is as clear as noon-day, that man, by his industry,
changes the forms of
the materials furnished by Nature, in a way as to make them useful to him. The
form of wood, for instance, is altered, by making a table out of it. Yet for
all that, the table continues to be that common, every-day thing, wood. But so
soon as it steps forth as a commodity, it is changed into something
transcendent. It not only stands with its feet on the ground, but, in
relation to all other commodities, its stands on its head, and
evolved out of its wooden brain grotesque ideas,
Fredric Jameson, The Seeds of Time, New York: Columbia University Press, 1994, p.xii↑
Karl Marx, Capital, Vol.1, New York: International Publishers, 1967, p.76↑
Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, Cambridge and London: Belknap Press Harvard University, 1999, p.4↑
Roland Barthes, 'Leaving the Movie Theater', The Rustle of Language, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986, p.346↑
Walter Benjamin, 'Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit', Gesammelte Schriften Band I-2, Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1991, p.495↑
Miriam Hansen, 'Benjamin, Cinema and Experience,' New German Critique, no.40, Winter 1987, p.204↑
Carel Rowe, 'Illuminating Lucifer', in P. Adams Sitney (ed.), The Avant-Garde Filmed, New York: New York University Press, 1978, p.116↑
Fredric Jameson, 'Reification and Utopia in Mass Culture', Social Text, no.1, Winter 1979, pp.137-38↑
Georges Bataille, Visions of Excess, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985, p.242↑
Allen Weiss, 'Between the Sign of the Scorpion and the Sign of the Cross: L'Âge d'or', in Rudolf E Kuenzli (ed.), Dada and Surrealist Film, New York: Willis Locker & Owens, 1987, p.159↑
F. Jameson, op. cit., pp.138-39↑
K. Marx, op. cit., p.77↑
Walter Benjamin, Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism, London: New Left Books, 1973, p.56↑
Susan Buck-Morss 'Walter Benjamin- Revolutionary Writer (I),' New Left Review, no.128, July-August 1982, p.71↑
I refer here to Northrop Frye's The Great Code (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1982), in which he reads Western literature against the biblical narrative.↑
W. Benjamin, op. cit., p.631, W7,4↑
Taken from William Dieterle's 1935 version of A Midsummer Night's Dream in which Anger played the Changeling Prince.↑