The True Utopia of Beautiful Souls

The true utopia is the belief that the existing global system can reproduce itself indefinitely; the only way to be truly “realistic” is to think what, within the coordinates of this system, cannot but appear as impossible (363).

The “Beautiful Souls” are the enemy. They are the ones who constantly bemoan their own fate and the fallen state of humanity. All the while though, they remove themselves from the vision of discord. Their hearts are pure—it is the world that is corrupt. We know, however, that these “Beautiful Souls” are the true problem: they are the ones who “really believe” that no matter how bad the system is or will become, it will continue to survive. Its survival is dependent upon this disavowal and divestment of negativity from the Beautiful Soul onto the corrupt world at large. It is through the deliberate erasure of their own participation in “corruption” that the “Beautiful Souls” spur on the current system. Their innocence is not radical: it is ironic.

How are we to think, think through, count, and locate the “impossibilities” of the current system? Here are four axioms:

    The impossible is thinkable.
    The unthinkable is possible.
    That which is thought is either Impossible or Possible.
    What is either Impossible or Possible only comes to be so in the (de)termination of the Act.

The meaning of the word “possible” here means to be actual, to have a positive existence, not just in thought, but in “reality.” Any phenomena that we label “possible” appears (i.e. is counted) on a line of positive values. Thus the “impossible” is that which the system places on a line of negative values. The easiest way to visualize this is a simple line that counts -1, 0, 1: all that is “impossible” will be plotted somewhere between -1 and 0 and all that is “possible” will be plotted somewhere between 0 and 1.

The “unthinkable” is of a different order: it does not rest on phenomenal possibility. For something to be “unthinkable” means that it has no representation in language: it is what escapes symbolization. What is unthinkable is also traumatic,

“not in some vague, trendy way (a whiff of melancholy here, some blurry photos there) but in a technical Freudian sense—trauma defined essentially as the slippage or non-synchronicity of experience: the belatedness or Nachträglichkeit [literally: “deferred action”] which turns the event into a missed event and time itself into a chronic process of self-overreaching” (Comay).

Indeed, all of the actions we might take to improve life for everybody are also seemingly impossible from within the system in which we currently live: we could all stop driving cars, or buying plastic water bottles, or paying bankers and politicians—these are exactly the kind of events that would result in an unprecedented “trauma” (one only needs to see how governments worldwide rushed to aid the failing automobile and financial sectors, while “climate change” took a backseat …).

The thought alone is not enough. It never has been. We must, as Lacan says and Zizek has repeated, not only fantasize the “impossible,” we must also “traverse the fantasy.” Traversing the fantasy is analogous to the notion of “fidelity to the event.” By following the fantasy through to the end we arrive at a place where we can see whether the world that was imagined belongs to the order of the Impossible or the Possible.

Traversing the fantasy, or, determining an idea’s level of “possibility,” is the thing that the Beautiful Souls will never attempt. It would shatter their comfort, their superiority over the corrupt world they do not deign to contaminate themselves with. Even if our ideas fail, success will come in the form of having experienced, first-hand, the unthought and impossible potential of something that could have been.

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3 responses to “The True Utopia of Beautiful Souls

  1. This “beautiful souls” idea is attractive, but seems to be yet another black/white, us/them exclusionary strategy, when I would suggest that individual experience doesn’t register such a clear distinction. I get up one day with gusto to traverse fantasy (which is a weird way of putting it), other days I’m swamped by impossibility and retreat into my comforts; one issue I tackle, another I’m hopeless on – and we continue along these lines until the whole idea becomes so entangled in complexity (or life) as to render it meaningless. Traversing fantasy, enacting impossibility also seems to lack a moral dimension – action as its own justification; I dare say I needn’t list historical precedents. And in this line, could we suggest regression is in fact also a kind of traversing of fantasy? Those we might consider belonging to the “system” don’t necessarily see themselves as constituting a status quo. Not to mention suspiciousness of the attractions of such thinking –“I’ve negatively identified the pernicious element, so need go no further”, “I, of course, identify with and thus belong to the ascendant group” etc.

    • I meant for the “beautiful soul” idea to be more of a measure: as the beauty of the soul increases, so too does the false consciousness in maintaining the soul’s beauty. (I use the term “false consciousness” in the loosest sense; what people say is often false consciousness in relation to what they do.) The price of “soul beauty” is the disavowal of ideology; ideology defined as what one does, the actual practice of life. You are right, however, to point out its vulnerability to reductionism; the vulgarity of “us / them.” Please be assured, this was not my intention.

      You also bring up a very good question:

      And in this line, could we suggest regression is in fact also a kind of traversing of fantasy?

      The short answer is Yes. Traversing the fantasy goes both ways. Regression posits the return to a primal state, the best examples of which today come from fundamentalist religious sects of all denominations; the paradox with many of these organizations is that they have a “pre-modern” agenda whilst using ultra-modern technology to help them achieve their goals!

      Another great observation:

      Those we might consider belonging to the “system” don’t necessarily see themselves as constituting a status quo.

      This is precisely how ideology functions, a variation of “they don’t know it, they do it.” In fact, we might even say that ideology has succeeded when it becomes invisible to those who practice it without being able to articulate exactly why they do.

  2. Good points/qualifiers all, particularly the sliding measure. Some other random thoughts:

    The negative valuing of what could be considered a humanist concept of ‘soul’ (or self, or psyche), and the potential corollary of its erasure or expiration. If by ideology we agree to mean what one does, ‘beautiful soul’ then seems to be defined by its degree of divorcement from the scene of action (I’m not here, this isn’t happening), as subject can be separated from predicate in grammatical analysis (but not if we wish someone to understand a sentence). An internal life contrasted to an external world whose possibilities/impossibilities are its measure. Misanthropy has always been a lure, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that ‘soul’ should be chastised by being put to the sword (even if this were possible) – an extreme possibility and nothing more, I admit, but one present in descrying ‘enemies’.

    The differential you articulate so well of ‘soul’ perpetuating the very discord it would draw away from has its flipside: discord, or the shame(fullness) of real life conduct (and that could include abstention, not acting being an act itself), perpetuating selfhood, that very Shakespearean movement in which one recognises oneself as performing, or one’s enunciations as being mere rhetoric. It thus seems that the beautiful soul’s disavowal of ideology is no such thing, or at least not something one could make any sort of avowal about even if one wanted to, because subject and predicate consist of a mutually inter-dependant relationship which constitutes our very humanness. One demands the other. I can’t go on: I go on. In this sense abstention would be just as much a traversing of fantasy (granted – one we may have false/bad consciousness about), and one, it would seem, that holds its own in the sphere of Possibility.

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