- In the BlindAlfonso Cuarón and the Question of Futurity
Already the sun from the Ganges more clearly sparkles—Alessandro Scarlatti, L’honestà negli amori
A flash of lightning. Then a dampgustBringing rainGanga was sunken…—T. S. Elliot, The Waste Land
A pronounced turn away from utopian discourses has long been felt across multiple academic registers—aspects of queer theory rejecting futurity, portions of the radical left adopting a similar politics of no future, and scholars in African American studies debating the idea of an Afro-pessimism, [End Page 151] to name just a few examples. This accumulation of tragic thought brings the question, Does the utopian text no longer hold any value in the development of alternative political thought? Responding to this in the context of Latin America, Erin Graff Zivin stands out because of her demand for a dismissal of the utopian and tragic or dystopian registers under the assumption that neither can offer a viable alternative to contemporary political thought, as they are based on the idea of a predetermined future (2014, 200–201). Working against the idea of a future that is dependent on the constructed stability of unburied truths, this well-articulated logic desires an an-archeological approach that seeks “a relation with the past that does not annihilate futurity” to discover an enclave in thought that leaves room for the unforeseen and the incalculable (197). I propose here, however, that a rejection of the utopian and the tragic need not occur to support such thinking. More specifically, the utopian register itself can, in some cases, contain the tragic and is quite capable of pointing us toward a theoretically rich and productively indeterminate futurity.
Much of this, of course, rests on one’s definition of the utopian register. Fredric Jameson’s work from the perspective of science fiction is instructive here, specifically his division of the utopian impulse from the utopian text. The former, an attempt to explain the uncritical and future-oriented aspect of the everyday, is structured by a predetermined logic of futurity. Utopian texts, in contrast, critically engage with that impulse. And for Jameson, within the bounds of the utopian text there exists a capacity to demonstrate failed utopias that exceeds the possibilities offered by a mere dystopian reversal. Though clearly all utopian texts do not attempt to demonstrate such failures, those that do and do so “most comprehensively,” according to Jameson, carry with them the possibility of activating an awareness of “our mental and ideological imprisonment” (2007, xiii).
Jameson labels the text that succeeds in presenting such failure as anti-antiutopian. What follows in this essay is an exploration of film writer and director Alfonso Cuarón’s relation to an anti-antiutopianism in his turn toward the borders of science fiction in Children of Men (2006) and Gravity (2013). In these films I will read an oblique disruption of the identitarian Mexican logic of mestizaje, or racial mixture, and a more direct critique of the [End Page 152] idea of utopia itself. Ultimately, in a conversation structured by Cuarón’s cinematic quotation of T. S. Eliot’s dystopian poem The Waste Land, I will argue that it is Cuarón’s treatment of the animal and the child in both films that offers a window into utopia’s tenuous potential for representing a productively indeterminate futurity.
Carlos Fuentes’s meditations on utopia serve as an entrance point to this conversation. In an essay revolving around Lezama Lima in Valiente mundo nuevo, Fuentes expands on the notion of the neobaroque as a form of counterconquest in a way that further addresses my question concerning the status of the utopian text. Here, he calls on those born
de la catástrofe de la conquista, nosotros, los indo-afro- iberoamericanos…ver nuestra historia como un conflicto de valores en el cual ninguno es destruido por su contrario sino que, trágicamente, cada uno se resuelve en el otro. La tragedia sería así, prácticamente, una definición de nuestro mestizaje.
[of the catastrophe of the conquest, we, the indo-afro-iberoamericanos…to view our history like a conflict of values in which...