- Tlön: Journey to a Utopian Civilisation by Aristidis G. Romanos
That utopia as a literary genre has suffered death, attenuation, transmutation, or dystopic inversion not too long ago, and at any rate by the last quarter of the twentieth century, is a widespread and well-established view among most of the critical thinkers in utopian studies. In his most recent foray on the subject, Fredric Jameson begins his "An American Utopia" by observing that "we have seen a marked diminution in the production of new utopias over the last decades," particularly after the publication of Ernest Callenbach's Ecotopia in 1975.1 At the beginning of our own century, Tom Moylan, whose Demand the Impossible (1986, new ed. 2014) had diagnosed a post–World War II transmutation of earlier literary prototypes into the "critical utopia" of the 1960s and 1970s, conceded that in the longer run this had proved only an "interlude" and that, during the period of the capitalist ideological reconsolidation in the 1980s, "a dystopian textual strategy" had made a comeback, generating, at best, something like the counterpart of the earlier phase, the "critical dystopia."2 In both of these cases, the diagnosis accompanies an effort to think beyond the impasse, whether by recuperating utopian energies where none seem to exist (as in Moylan's case) or by attempting to produce a utopian vision when everything suggests that this has become impossible (as in Jameson's); not so in the far more ideologically hegemonic and triumphalist narrative of liberal capitalism itself, according to which the fate of utopia in the broader sense was sealed more or less at the same time as that of "ideology" and "revolution," namely, around the collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1989, after which, as Russell Jacoby has put it, "radicalism and the utopian spirit that sustains it have ceased to be major political or even intellectual forces."3
The first of the anomalies of Aristidis G. Romanos's Tlön is, then, that it proclaims the news of utopia's demise grossly exaggerated, being very much a new work in the utopian vein, or, to put it another way, a work that avails [End Page 354] itself to being read as a utopia. Its pleasures—the pleasures it indulges in and offers to its reader—are at least in part unapologetically utopian and indeed utopian in ways that embrace virtually the whole history of the genre, from Plato to More and Morris and the utopian/SF writers of the 1960s. I will return to this point in greater detail later. Before doing so, however, I would like to note at least two further and equally intriguing anomalies that underlie this work: first, that its author is Greek and residing in Athens, in a country and city that would seem as removed from utopian enthusiasms as possible given their unenviable global fame as possibly the most immiserated loci of the seemingly endless era of stagnation and/or recession in which the European Union has found itself since 2009. To this apparent paradox we must immediately add a second one, namely, that this is a text originally composed in English rather than Greek—a language in which, Plato and Platonism notwithstanding, very few literary utopias have been composed and in which even the translation of the canon of utopian literature has been strikingly belated.4 The reader of Tlön will indeed discover not only that it is a work with a consciously transnational framework of reference but also that the geography and philosophical history it evokes constitute a tribute to the very origins of cosmopolitanism in the era of Alexander the Great's Asiatic conquests (28–29).
The last of the intriguing anomalies of Tlön involves the great difficulty it poses for anyone who might wish to assign it with a clear generic identity (significantly, the edition itself does not contain any of the customary "target audience" indications as to the genre to which the text belongs). What I have rather vaguely referred to as...