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?