Session 7: The spatiality and spatial otherness of utopia: All utopias lead to a void

Guest Speaker: Seif Ramezani (Ph.D. candidate in French Language and Literature, McMaster University)

OCTOBER 20th, 2022


Against General Literature which is the representation of the real world as it is (Saint-Gelais), we have the utopian world that is supposed to be a world other than our own (Suvin). It is to say that utopian works are constructed by hypothetical discourse and a global lexico-semantic system named the encyclopedic system (Eco). However, these materials are required but absolutely not sufficient to build a utopic space or a meta-empirical world altered from our own (Langlet). Therefore, the result will be a void that we try to fill solely with sequenced information. This void resembles computer software that can occupy some spaces but cannot itself create a space without an operating system.

Suggested reading before the meeting 

Meeting report

What can we say about the nature of the spatiality of the utopian worlds? Do they have the same kind of spatiality as the other fictional worlds? These are tough and important questions. If you are a literary critic, you may wonder if utopian literature ought to be categorized as a certain kind of science fiction. If you are not a literary critic, you may still ponder over what things or states are utopian and what utopian worlds are. After all, we always yearn for the better in life, and this may bring us close to contemplating the nature of utopian worlds and how they relate to us. Sceif walked us through the history of the concept of utopia, its significance, and what he takes to be its shortcomings. For Sceif, we all necessarily live in dystopias, and utopian worlds fail to create spatiality like the one created by science fiction. In his words, “all utopias lead to a void”.

In the Q&A section, Sceif was asked about the epistemological implications of his view about utopian literature: can we gain knowledge by reading utopian literature at all? Sceif believed the answer is positive. He clarified his position as an ontological thesis with important implications for certain debates in literary criticism. The audience also raised questions about whether and how utopian worlds reflect our value systems. Sceif argued that utopian worlds are necessarily context-dependent, and he gave us some concrete examples to show how our conception of utopian worlds changes over time.

We are used to thinking about the concept of space as what has to do with our actual world. But Sceif’s abstract line of thinking showed us that we can think about the nature of spatiality of the worlds that are far from the actuality. Sceif is a deep thinker and knows how to employ various concepts and tools in philosophy and psychoanalysis to address certain issues in literary criticism. He reminded us that we all live in dystopias and that this is an ontological necessity. He did so with a smile on his face, perhaps so that we do not forget that we can still make our dystopias a better place. This is at least what he did for us with his warm and humble character. It was a joy to get to know about Sceif’s research project. We wish him the best.