The Imagination of Detail: Barthes and the Politics of Utopia

McAuliffe, Sam. 2017. 'The Imagination of Detail: Barthes and the Politics of Utopia'. In: London Conference in Critical Thought. London South Bank University, United Kingdom 30 June - 1 July, 2017. [Conference or Workshop Item]

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Whenever the relation of utopia to politics is codified in the writing of Roland Barthes – and this process is undertaken time and again across his work, in a wide variety of distinct thematic contexts – its expression remains subject to a fundamental tension. On the one hand, a utopian projection is taken to be entirely discontinuous with the political sphere, it is something that in principle cannot acquire a definite form there (said otherwise, there where there is politics, utopia is always elsewhere, or rather, nowhere). This is stated most emphatically in Barthes’ reading of Fourier: "The area of Need is Politics, the area of Desire is what Fourier calls Domestics. Fourier has chosen Domestics over Politics, he has constructed a domestic utopia (but can a utopia be otherwise? can a utopia ever be political? isn't politics: every language less one, that of Desire? […]).” And yet, as something like a supplement to the order from which it is excluded, on the other hand, having indicated a lack within this order, at the same time utopia announces a certain imperative: “Desire should constantly be brought back into politics. By this I mean not only that utopias are justified but also that they are necessary.”
To follow the chains of signification by which the vicissitudes of this relation are articulated is to make one’s way towards what constitutes for Barthes the singularity of utopia as a discursive form: "Perhaps the imagination of detail is what specifically defines Utopia (opposed to political science); this would be logical, since detail is fantastic and thereby achieves the very pleasure of Desire.” What does detail mean here, why is it the preserve of fantasy, and how would it be brought back into politics?

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Visual Cultures


30 June 2017Completed

Event Location:

London South Bank University, United Kingdom

Date range:

30 June - 1 July, 2017

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

21 Dec 2017 11:58

Last Modified:

01 Aug 2018 13:32


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