Henri Bergson (1859–1941)

When her father was away, Mariana counted the hours, which were round and the colour of air, like invisible clocks. When they looked unbearably faceless, she pretended she could string them together, into necklaces made of sky. Katherine Vaz, Mariana

Not in Utopia, -- subterranean Fields, -- Or some secreted Island, Heaven knows where! But in the very world, which is the world Of all of us, -- the place wherein the end We find our happiness, or not at all!
William Wordsworth, The Fourteen-book ‘Prelude’, XI, (140-44)

In this article, published in the journal Social Anthropology/Anthropologie Sociale, I focus on the idea of utopia within social movements and how their members are increasingly seeking to exit from what I term, after Raymond Williams, a subjunctive grammar of transformation. Analysing a Marxist social movement in Brazil, the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST), and placing my ethnography in dialogue with the conceptual philosophical framework of Henri Bergson, I argue that such movements have a special relationship with utopia, inscribing a contradiction that is characteristic to the mode of willed transformation: the very impossibility of distant objectives becomes the justification for striving ever harder in perpetual struggle; for the MST, programmes of movement massification and the maintenance of a unified front are the inevitable and necessary conditions to create a new society. This teleological impetus is normative and regulatory in character and is resolutely premised on a linear understanding of time. Recognising that the occupation of land is central to MST practice, I question how change might occur through a disaggregation of space and time; how the unexpected and unforeseen might arise despite mechanisms designed to engender continuity; how in each moment, there is the latent potential to inscribe – in a creative gesture – a future as yet uninscribed of meaning and being.

auflynn [at] arts.ucla.edu

Alex Ungprateeb Flynn is an Assistant Professor at the Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance, University of California, Los Angeles. Working as an anthropologist and curator, Alex’s practice explores the intersection of ethnographic and curatorial modes of enquiry. Researching collaboratively with activists, curators and artists in Brazil since 2007, Alex explores the prefigurative potential of art in community contexts, prompting the theorisation of fields such as the production of knowledge, the pluriversal, and the social and aesthetic dimensions of form.