The Lost Continents of Utopia — Visions 2009

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The Lost Continents of Utopia©™.

Peter Lang

(manuscript excerpt)

 

 

 

When things go missing a panic ensues, as one begins the hopeless process of going through pockets, wallets, bags, table tops, behind shelves, below sofas, underneath beds, repeating the round, running back to the corner café, calling lost and founds, retracing walks through parks, sending out emails, and then finally in a fit of total renunciation, giving up the search.

 

Some people have their special tricks, when they give up the search they suddenly—when they are thinking of something completely different—remember a spot they hadn’t yet thought of, and run there, or simply retrace in their memory the moment when by distraction they threw the thing out, in the garbage, or in the recycling bin or remember clearly having left it on the back seat of a taxi cab in the city where they were that morning.

 

In a way its not much different an experience when one loses track of utopia, it may seem temporarily displaced, as if someone else had it rearranged, or by accident placed the address in the shredder, or when out looking for it not remembering whether it was somewhere East or West, or upwind. Maybe that’s the nature of utopia, its gone missing, but could turn up any moment, or perhaps sunk under the water, like Smithson’s Spiral Jetty had for some years at Salt Lake in Utah, only to emerge one day from the depths as the water receded around it.

 

But many of us retain that nagging feeling it might not be possible to ever find it again. For one we weren’t sure we ever had it located in the first place. One didn’t quite have the time to go off and make travel arrangements when we heard about it the first time, and then for a while airfare was too expensive, and then when the low costs came in the nearest flight was beyond reasonable taxi fare from the airport. Then, finally, when a friend nudged everyone to make the trip together, and we all went to the travel agent, there weren’t any convenient dates to accommodate all our busy schedules. A couple years went by, and to our great surprise, the place wasn’t there anymore. Closed down, maybe shut down by the government for defaulting on taxes, or simply shuttered because the last person to live there left.

 

ARTHOR’S NOTE:

At some point, when the search for utopia looked the most futile I considered the possibility of creating a taxonomy on utopias, and from there I gradually moved to the idea of mapping a topology of utopias, an atlas depicting hypothetical regions where different utopic realities might co-exist together, making it one day more feasible to mount an expedition, perhaps expediting fund raising for this quest.

 

The utopian world is divided into 5 main continents (and were there sufficient space I would also illustrate here Utopia’s 7 Seas), each with its own distinct topographic, urban and demographic characteristics. Each of the continents recalls many disparate fantasy and fictional inspirations that link the ancient utopian models to their numerous successors. The continents act as open shelves and reefs that become sublime depositories for the human imagination.

 

I am of course deeply indebted to Frederic Jameson’s magisterial opus, Archaeologies of the Future: the Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions,1 which broadened the sweep of this project. I also would like to recognize Herbert Marcuse’s seminal work on the “End of Utopia”.[i] The fundamental given that utopia is no-where does not negate what Marcuse sees as its logical anti-utopic realization.

 

The Five Continents of Utopia are just the sort of mapping project that can lead to alternative social roadmaps. If and when a roadmap is finally realized, then it follows that the context gradually changes and the roadmaps are to be redrawn. It is not that we can’t get to utopia, its just that both the nature of utopia and ourselves change once we arrive.

 

Finally, like any map will show, there are different routes to any one particular destination. Locating the Five Continents of Utopia is not about presenting a fixed continental arrangement locked to specific social categories, political systems, geography or climate. Rather it is because I believe that one arrives and departs from each continent in an open process of contamination, cross pollination, much more in accordance with how Gilles Clements envisions the planetary flow of nature. Social categories, just like their natural counterparts, tend to spill over, to infect, to inspire.

 

The way utopia is imagined here is a bit like the 1982 Wim Wenders’ film “The State of Things” where the science fiction film within the film captures simultaneously the uncertainty of one future world while living the entropic decline of another. Utopia requires this form of constant contradiction in order to retain its criticality. To think of Utopia otherwise is to condemn it to some frozen form of nostalgia.

 

The following is the list of Utopia’s Five Continents:

1.  The Lost Continent

2.  The Ghost Continent

3.  The Virgin Continent

4.  The Dark Continent

5.  New Zenlandia

(In addition to the 5 continents I have recognized the existence of an extensive archipelago: The Archipelago of Heterotopias, which lies somewhere off the coast of the Dark Continent.)

­

 

The Lost Continent:

EASIEST WAY TO GET THERE: PLAN A JOURNEY

 

Description: Territory, Climate and People.

An expansive territory with rolling hills, fertile valleys and Mediterranean climate, the Lost Continent has long coasts with sandy beaches, one major river that traverses the continent from north to south, and a graceful glacier capped mountain range. While there are no megacities to speak of, half of the population lives in the small garden cities, of about 250,000 inhabitants each, while the remainder lives in small towns and villages, farm communities and craft communes. About 10% of the population is nomadic, and travels throughout the country setting up markets and fairs, or festivals and circuses. The people speak the language in singsong dialects and are very hospitable. There is no currency or stock trade and private property is banned on the Lost Continent.

 

Respected Figures and Celebrities:

The most honored man in these lands is Sir Thomas More, but Plato, Dante, Campanella, Giordano Bruno and Ebenezer Howard are all highly esteemed and have monuments dedicated to them in each city center. Time is a fickle concept hereabout, and many celebrities are linked to time travel, like H.G. Wells, Jeremy Bentham, William Morris and Woody Allen.[ii]

Natural and Cultural Landmarks:

Atlantis, an island off the Western coast that emerges and submerges periodically is a must see for any tourist making their first visit. There are also temperamental volcanoes that erupt occasionally and earthquakes as well, that have buried or brought disaster on the cities in nearby range. Nonetheless, it is highly recommended to visit Revolutionary Bay where the local population stage huge weeklong free concerts and Rick Steve’s guidebook gives top star to a month-long camping tour with the nomads and visits to hippy communes tucked around within the Rolling Hills wine region. A must see is the Continental Museum of Natural History featuring an entire wing on Time travel, machines and artifacts, as well as another wing dedicated to exploration and map making, including discovery vehicles, boats, vessels and spaceships and robot explorers.[iii]

Holidays:

Every town each month holds a 48 hour marathon celebration with music and poetry readings at the town’s most important buildings, urban landmarks and city parks. One of the most popular tours across the country is the transcontinental train the “Ruskin” equipped with sun deck—a mandatory pilgrimage for all citizens of the Lost Continent.

 

Tourist Advisories:

The greatest difficulty for visitors to the Lost Continent is getting there. There are no international airlines or transoceanic ships making regular connections. Instead visitors are advised to book their own passages, either by air or sea. An overland passage exists only during winter, and is a risky trek on frost lands and ice. One should also be alert when travelling by boat during the tempest season—arriving by shipwreck is unfortunately more common then one thinks, and there is also the constant threat of pirate attacks. Once there, one should be weary of artists offering “derive” tours, Situationist walks and other random non-programmed events.

 

 

 

 

 

The Ghost Continent:

EASIEST WAY TO GET THERE: JUMP THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS

Description: Territory, Climate and People.

Much of the continent’s territory is rugged, with steep valleys, torrid rivers and streams and almost uninhabitable swamps and wetlands. The Infinite Plains of Kanzas, on the interior, are subject to frequent dust bowls. The famous Sleeping Forest is thick with centenary trees and in places impenetrable. The climate is mostly humid, rainy and foggy while in the north it is unbearably hot. But the cities, towns and settlements in the Ghost Continent are not like anything one would expect to find in these kind of harsh environments because they don’t belong to a specific historical time or place. The inhabitants are themselves different from most people found else where, consisting of different human and superhuman races, including giants and dwarfs, hobbits, talking lions, animated card decks, Kings and Queens, slaves, magicians and crafty witches and warlocks.

Respected Figures and Celebrities:

The national heroes are the brothers Grimm, Lewis Carrol, JR Tolkein, Frank Bauman, Rod Serling, Walt Disney, Robert Venturi, Michael Graves.

Natural and Cultural Landmarks:

The most important landmark is a towering Germanic castle set deep inside the Sleeping Forest. Most visitors chose also to visit the high planes of Kanzas, where tornadoes are daily occurrences. But the most popular destinations are the 7 major Disneyworlds, the MegaCelebration town updated yearly according to the latest New Urbanist criteria, the 200,000 Seaside Villages, and the complete Paladian Arcadia in the Novo Venice lagoon. There is also a dilapidated but still functioning set from “Westworld” worth visiting[iv].

Holidays: Everyday. Most people of the Ghost Continent only pretend to work.

Tourist Advisories:

Cruise ships and Low-Cost airplanes provide regular and reliable service to the Ghost Continent. Be aware of the steep export taxes for shipping prefabricated house parts (Palladian Windows, Disney castle towers etc., and historic furniture and domestic goods. Especially popular this year are the Chipendale computer cabinets and latest version Warcraft gameware). Nonetheless there is a notable black market export, and by now most of the rest of the world features authentic revival artifacts made in the Dark Continent.

 

 

The Virgin Continent:

EASIEST WAY TO GET THERE: USE A DIVINING ROD

 

Description: Territory, Climate and People.

Strikingly sculpted mountains with many picturesque bays and inlets, the continent features a hardy climate with brisk seasonal changes. The Virgin Continent sits above New Zenlandia separated by the Gray Lakes district and the Eastern mountain range, known as the Highland Crests. Several impressive suspension bridges connect the two continents across the Phosphorous Sea Channel.  There are a multitude of well-organized contemporary cities that are constantly evolving. The celebrated forefathers were inventors of better futures, rooted in the sciences: engineering, systems theories, communications networks, biogenesis. The people are tall and fair and tend to be cheerful and optimistic.

Respected Figures and Celebrities:

Jules Verne is their most honored citizen, having foreseen wonderful machines and excellent voyages. For Verne succeeded in connecting his inventions to probable and improbable uses, initiating a form of technology-adventure narrative that would structure many possible scenarios to come. Other noted citizens and honorary citizens include Paxton, Eiffel, Ferris, Otis, Taylor, Buckminster Fuller, Paolo Soleri, and some of the more celebrated engineers, like Luigi Nervi and Calatrava. Many Science Fiction writers were frequently honored guests to the continent, including Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clark.  A statue was erected recently to the inventor of Velcro George de Mestral, and an entire moving monument was dedicated to the group Archigram.

Natural and Cultural Landmarks:

Mount Neverest the tallest mountain in the world and a major attraction for expert mountain climbers. There is also the world’s deepest marine crater, and the world’s most advanced Space Launch Center. No tourist would miss such attractions as the fountains of Villa d’Oveste, Trivoli, the Coney Islands, the Pompipous Centre.

Holidays:

All year round every first weekend of the month are nationwide festivals, where great contraptions are built to make moving floats, operating cranes, firework engines, and all sorts of popular festivities.

Tourist Advisories:

The government prides itself on developing the most advanced and efficient intercontinental communications and transportation system. Check before booking, many new travel packages have recently been offered that include Space shuttle/Maglev roundtrip accommodations at discounted prices. There are few dangers worth mentioning when visiting the Virgin Continent, mainly because the International Rescue Squad[v], was adapted as a viable operative model and consolidated into a fully equipped state sponsored emergency rescue agency. The only menaces are occasional accidents following the testing of missiles, ray-beams, airplanes or other new technologies. Though the population is frequently put at risk, these tests are considered too important to abandon. There is however a tendency to sublimate the benefits of technology over and beyond the benefits of social resources, gradually leading to the weakening of public institutions and a steady erosion of the eco-system.

 

 

 

The Dark Continent:

EASIEST WAY TO GET THERE: BOOK A TICKET ON A REGULAR FLIGHT, PLENTY OF DESTINATIONS STILL AVAILABLE

Description: Territory, Climate and People.

Most of the continent is spectacularly beautiful. The southern cities feature wide boulevards and immense plazas, though the contrast between the rich and the poor classes is considerable. In the north, the preponderant level of poverty has led to the appearance of sprawling urban shantytowns with populations over the tens of millions. Over-foresting, industrial pollution, smog and lack of public amenities mar the otherwise beautiful landscapes. Most of the fascination with the Dark Continent comes from a long tradition in mass social movements. In fact more has been written about political life on the Dark Continent then about anywhere else in the world, but for a long period most publications were censored and their authors sent to remote gulags. More recently there are noticeably less prohibitions against the free press, mainly because of a drastic drop in public interest and an increasingly monopolized media services that have successfully substituted programs of critical value with caberet comedy talk shows and TV infotainment shows with lots of sex.

 

Respected Figures and Celebrities.

Marx, Engels and Lenin, Mao, Franco, Mussolini, Hitler, Pol Pot,  are intermittently and or simultaneously admired and despised. Depending on whether one is on the East or West coast, statues of these figures are either mounted on high pedestals or lying horizontally and decapitated. Each of the coastal oppositions consequently risks their survival on reversing one or the other state. Che Guevara survives equally well on both sides.

Nonetheless the great figures are mostly literary, George Orwell (Animal Farm, 1984), Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451), Margaret Atwood (the Handmaid’s Tale 1985)… William Golding (Lord of the Flies 1954).

 

Tourist Advisories:

Visitors who stick to the official itineraries provided by the government will find the Dark Continent satisfying for most holiday making experiences. Especially worth seeing is the Monumental Park Dedicated to the Great Leader, a vast marble and mosaic exedra located in the center of the country. The world’s largest 3 star hotel is located conveniently nearby. Also not to miss are the monuments to Albert Speer and Nicolae Ceauşescu, and of course the birthplace of the Great Leader renamed The First City. For the more adventurous, be aware of a very strict People’s Surveillance Army whose prime mission is to enforce the continent’s elaborate codes of conduct. Nonetheless, a small but lively network of opposition Jazz clubs and eateries can be found in almost every city, and are worth visiting for their creative ambiance.

 

 

New Zenlandia:

EASIEST WAY TO GET THERE: ASSUME THE LOTUS POSITION AND MEDITATE

 

Description: Territory Climate and People

New Zenlandia is a sweeping continent that joins the land mass of the Virgin Continent—only a 25 minute ferry ride across the Phosphorous Channel. New Zenlandia is acclaimed for its natural beauty, rolling hills, thermal waters and mud lakes. The organic agriculture practices here are the most advanced, and here one finds the best vineyards and olive groves in the hemisphere. There are also grazing animals, cattle and sheep with fine wools and cheeses. Moreover the country is dotted with ancient waterholes, temple ruins, great statues to forgotten gods, menhirs and druid sites.

Respected Figures and Celebrities.

Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha has been on the bestseller’s list for almost a century. Fritjof Capra’s the Tao of Physics is required for all advanced science classes. The book and film adaptation by Jerzy Koszinski, “Being There” with Peter Sellars and Shirley MaClain shows every Friday at midnight along with John Boorman’s 1974 “Zardoz” with Sean Connery.

Tourist Advisories:

The most profound concern among the local medical staff with visitors on prolonged stays is deep states of mystical paralysis, whereby the visitors cease to take part in any kind of productive activity. Locals on the other hand complain incessantly about boredom. Nonetheless here is where to take advantage of the most advanced body treatments known to mankind, from exclusive beauty treatments, wellbeing spas, health retreats and age retardant clinics.

 

 

 

The Archipelago of Heterotopia:

EASIEST WAY TO GET THERE: SEEK THE EXCLUSIVE.

 

The archipelago of Heterotopia consists of hundreds of islands spread across the tropical Gulf of Science. Of volcanic origin, these islands are rich in nature and fauna, and provide excellent habitats for all sorts of exotic creatures. Most famous are the coral reefs that make these islands the most incredible areas for viewing tropical fish. Cruise ships regularly connect the many beautiful port towns and plenty of airports as well. The local people are friendly and of mixed races, though some islands tend to have embraced strict immigration laws. Several are completely off limits to tourists.

Respected Figures and Celebrities.

Michel Foucault is celebrated for having wrote the fundamental constitution for the archipelago, which then has been adapted and modified by the various smaller island governments and states.

Tourist Advisories:

It is necessary to consult with home state department notices prior to planning a trip to the archipelago. Some islands are tightly secured and prohibited access, even to press agencies and human rights groups. Nonetheless, the islands fall into several categories, from those that maintain themselves indemnified from international laws, and practice different forms of court and punishment functions like Guantanamo, to simple panopticon prisons like Sing Sing. More popular art the tax haven islands, the gated community islands, the exclusive golf and beach resorts, club meds and sex trade islands. Most popular these days are the monasteries and convents, whose ancient complexes are very beautiful and worth visiting.


1 Federic Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions, (London, Verso, 2005) For Frederic Jameson the bottom line for defining utopia is a decentralized propertyless world, linked by through a global infrastructure.

[i] Herbert Marcuse: The End of Utopia and The Problem of Violence

(lectures in Berlin, July 1967 published in Five Lectures (Boston: Beacon, 1970) scanned/OCR by Harold Marcuse (homepage)part of the Official Herbert Marcuse website page created May 27, 2005; updated 5/30/05

[ii] Wells, The Time Machine, Bentham Looking Backward, Morris, News From Nowhere, Woody Allen, Sleeper

[iv] “Westworld” written and directed by Michael Crichton in 1973 with Yul Brynner

[v] created in 1965 by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson using Supermarionation, the Thunderbirds TV series featured a variety of rescue vehicles and technologies geared to different disaster typologies