It Could Probably Just As Well Be Different

Why do this? As I travel into the bowels of Pakistan I return with despair. The obstacles are overwhelming. But towards what? On nights when I can’t sleep because I am too tired, I think about the futility of it all. I think about Utopias. Somewhere in the back of my mind I fear that what drives me is nothing more than a misreading of ideas in books I came across when younger. Or poems. Or words.

Whoever has [a sense of possibility] does not say, for instance: Here this or that has happened, will happen, must happen; but he invents: Here this or that might, could, or ought to happen. If he is told that something is the way it is, he will think: Well, it could probably just as well be otherwise. So the sense of possibility could be defined outright as the ability to conceive of everything there might just as well, and to attach no more importance to what is than to what is not. The consequences of so creative a disposition can be remarkable, and may, regrettably, often make what people admire seem wrong, and what is taboo permissible, or, also, make both a matter of indifference. (From Robert Musil’s A Man Without Qualities)

Robert Musil’s words are etched. Once read, they are impossible to forget. Do we seem Utopias? Is what is possible something that is not possible? Do we aim to confront the present because we believe that something better can appear tomorrow? Is this not a Utopia we seek – a timeless, idealised, perfect place from which we would never want to leave, that we will never want to change? Is this possible?

On nights when I can’t sleep I think about how all this is futile, and yet, how all this effort is crucial. But what else is there? It is the present – cynical, calculating, short-sighted, and crushing in its immediacy and its grasp. Utopias?

Utopias are much the same as possibilities; that a possibility is not a reality means nothing more than that the circumstances in which it is for the moment entangled prevent it from being realised – otherwise it would be only an impossibility. If this possibility is disentangled from its restraints and allowed to develop, a utopia arises. (From Robert Musil’s A Man Without Qualities)

We work to change minds, to compel them to accept an imagination of things different. Or possibilities. But what if they are living their possibilities, and ensuring that those are the only ones that survive?

For those born into families of privilege and power, or even into the bosom of the oppressor, what conditions make it possible for them to renounce those privileges? For those who are born into oppression, what enables resistance? For those who want to act, but fear, what conditions might offer courage, support, hope? (From Catherine Taylor’s Apart)

Catherine Taylor turns to Ernst Block and arrives at his conclusion of the need for an imagination of Utopias. A ‘dreaming forward’, one that is based on an understanding of the past, but not restrained by the present.

the [self] has to become conscious of its own doings; it must come to know its contents as restraint and revelation. And thus the point is reached where hope…not occurs as an emotion that exists by itself, but is conscious and is known as the utopian function…the content of hope represents itself in ideas, essentially in those of the imagination. The ideas of the imagination stand in contrast to those of recollection, which merely reproduce perceptions of the past and thereby increasingly hide in the past. (From Ernst Bloch’s The Utopian Function of Art And Literature) 

A sense of history that returns us to a place with a sense of hope. An awareness of the fact that where we are, and what we believe must change, is a result of decisions and choices made. That it could all…just as well be otherwise. Towards utopias. With hope.

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