When the lines of telesthesia — telegraph, telephone, telecommunications — connect topics into a topographic space, extensively mapped and storied, utopia is recruited out of the page and comes out to play. Utopia uncoils, spreading its tendrils out of the book, along the lines of the topographic, into the world. Rather than a retreat from the world, showing in its positive creation of a new world what the actual one beyond its line lacks, utopia becomes something else. The book becomes an alibi for more worldly lines of communication, some with the power of an order: diagrams, memos, reports, telegrams. Utopia becomes part of something instrumental, but thereby loses its power. Topographic lines are there now to make the world over by the book, but in the process they make the book over as well, reducing it to just another line. The smooth plane of the blank page is the green-fields site for delineating a pure topography of the line. But that page could be any page — a page of a novel or of Eichmann’s orders. Utopia’s problem is not that it is self contained, but that it is not self contained enough. Signs and images leak out of this bound-paper enclave, and are captured by other powers, connected to flows along other lines.
The power of topography is foreshadowed in dystopias. Russell Jacoby: “Utopias seek to emancipate by envisioning a world based on new, neglected, or spurned ideas; dystopias seek to frighten by accentuating contemporary trends that threaten freedom.” What they have in common is a belief in the power of the line of writing and the book as a topic, separate from but in a privileged relation to the world. Utopias dream of what is possible within that topic as a critique of what is beyond it. Dystopias are the nightmare of the loss of power of the line of writing, overcome by other lines. Jack London, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Yevgeny Zamyatin — all recoil from the lines that supercede those of writing. Dystopians pay close attention to the control of topography by various lines of analog signal — radio, television — threading topics together, making space transparent to an all seeing Big Brother or the cult of Ford.
The rise of dystopian forms might have less to do with the pernicious power of the utopian text than with the declining power of the text in general as a kind of line. Dystopian texts are the sign that the book has lost its capacity to function as a separate topic, from which to negate the world. Dystopias are writing’s guilty conscience. Their secret utopia — like Winston Smith’s diary in Nineteen Eighty-Four — is still the book. The failure of utopia might point to nothing so much as the inadequate properties of the lines employed to make it operational. The passage from utopian to dystopian texts charts the rise and fall of the book as the line that might negate this world through its positive description of another world. The book gave way to other lines, courtesy of IBM and other avatars of the military entertainment complex — creating topologies which colonized the world in different ways. All dystopian writing is also utopian. It cannot help reminding itself of the limits of writing and a lost world of the sovereign text before other lines sublimated its power.
Topography learned to live without its utopias, and settled in to a mundane resignation to the here and now. It assuaged its boredom in special times, special places, where different rules applied. Post-war play theorist Roger Caillois’ answer to the Nazis was agon mixed with alea — games of chance and competition — each in its proper place and time alongside but not above everyday life. They would take place outside of the uncertainties of mundane time and space, in special zones where consistent rules apply. Such spaces are ‘heterotopias’. Michel Foucault: “Their role is to create a space that is other, another real space, as perfect, as meticulous, as well arranged as ours is messy, ill-constructed and jumbled.” Heterotopias are at some remove from the dull repetition of meaningless labors with incalculable purpose in workaday life. They are spaces and times which lie along other lines.
Heterotopian spaces are very varied. Each has its own particular rules and seasons. There are heterotopias of bare necessity: prisons, hospitals, schools. These need not concern gamer theory much. More interesting are the heterotopias of useless luxury: galleries, arenas, sports domes. These in turn subdivide into heterotopias of aesthetic play and of the calculated game. One is a space of pure qualities; the other — pure quantities. One creates new values; the other pits given values against each other. In one, the ideal is that play is free; in the other, that the game is fair. In both heterotopias, these values have their limits. One is an artifice of rank and the other — of rank artifice. Outside the heterotopia that makes their autonomy possible, they amount to nothing.