21 March 2007


Filed under: Culture, Ktismata — ktismatics @ 4:28 pm

Yesterday’s post summarized Foucault’s essay on “heterotopias”: real but marginal places that are only tangentially connected to the sociocultural continuum. But Foucault wrote forty years ago. Today the heterotopia seems like an endangered species. It’s not being crowded out by the multiplication of normal sites; rather, the entire systematic proliferation of interconnected but discrete sites is endangered. In its place we see the extension of the atopia, the no-place.

The marketplace is the paradigmatic exemplar of an atopia: a vast array of nodes for buying and selling through which money and goods are transmitted. No one runs the marketplace. It’s everywhere all the time but nowhere in particular. It’s an orderly system, but the order isn’t imposed on it. Instead order emerges from the interaction as it propagates through the system: the results of human action but not of human design, in the words of economist Friedrich Hayek. Hayek argues that emergent order is superior to planned order because there’s more intelligence available for rational decision-making distributed throughout the system than could ever be made available to any central planning board.

The internet is another atopia: a vast array of nodes and links through which information is transmitted. Consciousness is another: a distributed network of neurons and synapses through which information is transmitted and from which thoughts and decisions emerge. Democracy: an array of voters and issues from which decisions emerge. Science: arrays of scientists who transmit the data and theories from which knowledge emerges. Evolution: arrays of genes and environments from which adaptive organisms emerge. Pop culture: arrays of brains, mouths and ears through which memes like jokes, pop tunes and fashions are transmitted.

ATOPIA is no place. It is literally the non-place which exists only virtually. Just a knot in the net which grants no hold but connects other knots. ATOPIA is nothing more than a weaving loom intertwining heterogeneous strings. There is no preconceived model, the form constantly transforms itself. A polylogue will raise of consonant and dissonant voices amplifying each other. Literature, philosophy, art and politics are meant to infiltrate, inoculate each other and create new constellations. This virtual archipelago is hosted by Tokelau, an independent island group in the Pacific. Like Tokelau, ATOPIA will stand on the edge of two days, of day and night. Between bright and dark the difference begins to oscillate, the unknown appears. ATOPIA is the search for this atopos, this uncontrollable difference. Utopia?

This is the manifesto of ATOPIA, a “polylogic e-zine.” The last question is the poignant one. Are atopias, as Hayek proposes, optimal arrangements for the real world? Or is the atopic optimum an ideal that cannot be achieved, a utopic dream? Or is it a dystopia: Baudrillard’s world of simulacra and empty signifiers and the Matrix? Is atopia the postmodern move beyond interconnected but distinct sites, or is it the logical next step in the long-running modern project of superimposing abstract continua on the universe, a project begun a long time ago by guys like Galileo, Newton, Adam Smith, John Locke?



  1. We’re already having this conversation elsewhere. Although this particular post is really interesting. Maybe we should just update and re-locate our other three conversations to here. What do you think? Might be kinda’ difficult to do?


    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 21 March 2007 @ 8:04 pm

  2. The conversation is everywhere but nowhere in particular? Nah, leave the conversations where they are — I’m all for adding depth to the matrix at the expense of breadth. However, I may feel less compulsion to write another post tomorrow if this one doesn’t generate some commentary. On the other hand, this one’s got the link to the ATOPIA e-zine, which has some potentially interesting stuff on it.


    Comment by ktismatics — 21 March 2007 @ 8:09 pm

  3. Yeah I was just looking at that e-zine. It is quite interesting. I’ll go with you on “leave the conversations where they are”. I was just thinking of ease. For one it might not even be easier; for two, Rilke says “Only trust in that which is difficult.”


    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 21 March 2007 @ 8:25 pm

  4. …a statement of trust that is all about the Ground :)


    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 21 March 2007 @ 8:25 pm

  5. I like the Rilke quote — not sure how it relates to the ground, though, unless the difficult is subterranean and can be unearthed only by bringing in a lot of heavy earth-moving equipment. Subtopia? Anyhow, in case anyone else has the urge to comment but feels left out of the conversations, don’t worry. The comments on heterotopia are the most relevant, but I think some of the interesting threads there have been dropped, so feel free to say what you like — here, there, anywhere — and you will receive a prompt reply on this blog.


    Comment by ktismatics — 22 March 2007 @ 7:34 am

  6. Aahh…you’re onto it. Yes, the ground and difficulty. Gravity, death, bills, necessity…LOVE, sympathy, friendship. I’ll have to get back to all this later. I guess I can’t concieve of a subtopia without its being coupled with an Sur-topia (“sur” is “on” or “over” in French, right?). Daniel Libeskind speaks of “both the Ground below and the Ground above.”


    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 22 March 2007 @ 4:07 pm

  7. Ah, you religious types — the Ground above. The sky is falling!


    Comment by ktismatics — 23 March 2007 @ 8:10 pm

  8. The sky fell a long time ago with the curtain between audience and actor. Hence our confusion!


    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 23 March 2007 @ 10:39 pm

  9. I still want to know which side we’re on.


    Comment by ktismatics — 23 March 2007 @ 10:58 pm

  10. This side. And not That side.


    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 24 March 2007 @ 12:11 am

  11. Doubling. Self-as-subject and self-as-object. Both sides. Neither side, if you’re Lacan. Actually for Lacan the curtain is also a mirror, like Narcissus’s reflection in Echo’s pond. Same problem: am I the one who looks, the one being looked at, or the reflection of the one who looks. Tripling.


    Comment by ktismatics — 24 March 2007 @ 5:41 am

  12. OK. This side, and That side. And in-between too. But not all at once as far as I experience it (most all the time). But then there’s still a That side of which ALL that is a reflection.


    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 24 March 2007 @ 8:23 am

  13. In Gen. 1 God doesn’t come from anywhere before the Creation; he’s always already of this universe. He creates Eden on the earth and lives there for awhile. Later he moves to heaven, which is another place that’s in the same universe as the earth, a place where the birds also fly around. He also kept a vacation place in the Ark of the Covenant, for desert treks and visits to Israel. So I wonder when God made some completely non-material spiritual realm and moved there. Since the material world came first in the Bible, maybe the spiritual world is a reflection of this one.


    Comment by ktismatics — 24 March 2007 @ 10:41 am

  14. Part of the ancient Hebrew meaning of the term “heaven” is “what you don’t see”, or something of the sort. Part of it is also simply “air”, or “that which is above the ground”, which you also don’t see. Anyway, when folks see God in the O.T., the regularly fear for their lives. It seems to imply more than just their idea of God as powerful Lord. I mean, there is also what we just discussed elsewhere in Judges 13 where the angel of the Lord ascendes in the flames.

    Anwyay, although I don’t dwell on it, or think of it primarily this way, I am a bit of a scholastic, in thinking in terms of an infinite regress of causes. I guess that’s an a priori reasoning process that informs my sensible exprience.

    Besides, your interpretation that God was always around hinges on your interpretation that God is the teacher of meaning. However, “vacation place in the Arc” is, again, funny and entertaining and imaginitive.


    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 25 March 2007 @ 1:46 am

  15. The Judges 13 appearance is a physical one; both Manoah and his wife think the stranger is a man. He reveals himself as angel by ascending with the flame of the burnt offering. I can imagine Rene Girard’s rereading of this story: the Philistines begin impregnating the Israelite women, but revenge is impossible because the Philistines rule. Some stranger comes along, neither Israelite nor Philistine, and is caught with Manoah’s wife. The Israelites kill him, because he has no one to avenge his death. Afterward Manoah’s wife becomes pregnant. They decide the dead man was an emissary of God, perhaps an angel. From then on they commemorate his visit, offering sacrifice. So the image of the visitor whom they killed is commingled with the burnt offering. As is so often the case, the scapegoat is transformed into the deity.


    Comment by ktismatics — 25 March 2007 @ 4:29 pm

  16. Your Gnutty interpretations are such…but genuinely entertaining and inspiringly imaginative each time. No, really, I’m serious. So well thought out that it checks out with Deuteronomy. Anyway…carrying on…I’m aware that they thought he was a man…at least that was my assumption. I mean, the do kinda freak out when he ascends.


    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 26 March 2007 @ 6:59 am

  17. Maybe there’s a book here, The Bible for Gnuts — kinda like The Bible for Dummies. And I’ve got to admit I’ve never seen anybody ascending in the fire of a burnt offering.


    Comment by ktismatics — 26 March 2007 @ 8:37 am

  18. Well, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a burnt offering, so there ya go.


    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 26 March 2007 @ 5:55 pm

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