Some Fore-Thoughts for a Blog on Samuel R Delany’s novel Triton: An Ambiguous Heterotopia

A utopia, as its etymology displays, is itself a heterotopia. The word utopia as fashioned by Thomas More amalgamates eu-topos and ou-topos but retains both in pronunciation and meaning only the former signification. The good-place is also a no-place, not because a good future is impossible either to imagine or to instantiate, but because it must be purified of the place from which it is imagined or instantiated if a future is to be a good-place, that is a place at all.

As soon as the future is imagined from a place, it is shaped by that place in the manner of a purification or an inversion (or of an infection, unseen). it must come from this place. The no-place amounts to a concealing of a birth-place, and the good-place a concealing of the no-place. But this concealing can also be an active difference in the sense of a heterotopia. An active difference, this means seeing the tension between good place and no place without collapsing the difference into the one or the other. This means, above all staying with the tension, inhabiting a space of difference.

Instead of a concealing, there can be enacted places in which, as Foucault puts it, “the real sites, all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted.” These places are heterotopias – mirrors, gardens, rugs, baths, forbidden places, placeless places. Heterotopias are different places in the sense of different than “the real sites, all the other real sites,” but also in the sense of a place of difference – for what is different from everything real and from the reality of that totality, also opens up a space of difference, an outside, a new.

A ‘different from’ having become embodied as a ‘difference’, also includes the difference between ‘difference’ and ‘different from,’ so that the very designation of difference is contested. ‘Different than’ we might say is subsumed into and set beneath that which it is different from, but ‘difference’ that also enacts the difference between itself and ‘different than’ must refer to an entirely different place, an entirely different real, one which can’t be reduced to the place from which it is different but also one which can’t cast off its difference and return to that which it was.

This space of difference entails an ambiguity, where ‘different than’ in the sense of ‘other to’ (both of which are defined in relation to a term that hierarchizes factically even when ontologically it might be transcended by this very otherness) blurs and contests and acquires autonomy as a ‘difference’ that elides the comparative ‘than,’ but which nevertheless is still a ‘different than.’

A simultaneity, a double consciousness – depending on whether one is seen or seeing. This space above all activates a way of seeing that is a seeing from this blurred space of being different whether one is seen or seeing. That is, it activates a way of being seen by something that is not yet real, but a way of being seen that is nevertheless, real.

Heterotopias are above all ambiguous, for the reason that they are not necessarily good places, or (e)u-topias, for they don’t necessarily take upon themselves the revolutionary responsibility of saving the place from which they are seen to be different. In this sense, more than (e)u-topias which are doomed perhaps to conceal their no-place/birth-place, heterotopias can open up the new and the outside in such a way as not to reduce to, represent by, or invert it from the perspective of the present.

Foucault says, “places of these kind are outside of all places.” He says further that places of these kind, a kind that includes the space where we live which is after all a heterogonous space, “draw us outside of ourselves.”