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L’Atlas des Utopies. 200 Cartes. 25 Siècles d’Histoire (review)
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L’Atlas des Utopies. 200 Cartes. 25 Siècles d’Histoire. Paris: Le Monde, Hors Série, 10 2012. 186 pp. €12.00, ISSN M 089548HF.

It is a common notion that utopias seem to gain particular relevance in a context of crisis. This may explain why, as in May 1968, social movements throughout Europe are resorting to the concept of utopia in order to respond to the current economic crisis. What seems to be at stake, now, is a changeover to a new paradigm. However, for the common citizen, the word utopia is still resonant with the vain hopes of May 1968 or with the failure of the communist projects. This is why the recent publication of a special issue of the French daily evening newspaper Le Monde is so timely.

Founded in 1944 and reporting a circulation of over 320,000 per issue, forty thousand of which are sold abroad, Le Monde has been investing in the publication of special issues with regard to different topics: eminent authors in the collection “Une oeuvre, une vie” (Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Marguerite Duras, Simone de Beauvoir), the history of religion in the collection “Le Monde des Religions” (Le message du Bouddha, Le message de Jésus), and other controversial issues in the collection “États-Unis” (L’Amérique d’Obama—La Décennie Ben Laden). The “Atlas” collection is one of the most compelling publications offered by Le Monde, as it presents the reader with a schematic representation of the history of different topics under the form of geopolitical maps (L’Atlas des Civilisations, L’Atlas des Minorités, L’Atlas des Religions, L’Atlas des Mondialisations, L’Atlas des Migrations) carefully edited and benefiting from the contribution of mainly French writers, geographers, historians, philosophers, linguists, and specialists in a variety of subjects, ranging from ecology to law.

L’Atlas des Utopies was published in October 2012 and promises to offer the reader two hundred maps, as well as information on twenty-five centuries [End Page 153] of history. Ambitious though this promise may seem, it has not been made in vain: divided into five sections, the publication covers the topics pertinent to the field of utopian studies, starting with a conceptual discussion (section 1) and with a reflection on the origins of utopia (section 2) and moving then to the consideration of utopias that have been realized and/or are been realized now (section 3) and to very concrete examples of pragmatic utopias (section 4) in order to lead the reader to a reflection on the future that may be awaiting us (section 5). All this is provided with colorful maps and a very modern graphic representation of the material and the pictures of the contributors to the issue. As a result, utopia is presented as an interesting, dynamic, relevant, and rather attractive topic.

Section 1, “Qu’est-ce qu’une utopie?” (What is a utopia?), opens with philosopher Miguel Abensour’s contention that the definition of utopia cannot be found in dictionaries as it lines up with the collective dream (8–9). Abensour clarifies that utopia is not the cradle of totalitarianism; instead, it is totalitarianism that is the coffin of utopia. In this sense, a world without utopias would be the best definition of totalitarianism. This certainly gives Abensour grounds for an appeal to revolution through utopia. Quoting Walter Benjamin’s suggestion that the dream secretly awaits the awakening, Abensour sustains that the task of utopia lies in its capacity to transform itself into a “technique of awakening.” The first map appears on the next pages (10–11), displaying utopian historical landmarks from the Middle Ages to the twenty-first century: old villages that became mythical (e.g., Babylonia, Tiahuanaco), imaginary countries (e.g., Prester John’s kingdom, Eldorado), utopian philosophers (e.g., Plato, Campanella, Fourier, Bloch), critiques of utopias and dystopias (e.g., Swift, Zamyatin), utopias on film (e.g., Akira, Blade Runner), urban and architectural utopias (e.g., Hippodamus of Miletus, Ledoux, Lloyd Wright), and utopian communities (e.g., New Lanark, Auroville). The rest of the section consists of attempts to define utopia from the point of view...