3/31/202413 分読む

It's 2024 and you're starting to run out of light. The shadow of Leviathan is shrouding further and further refuges of nature and man. You need a Utopia. Not a phatamorgana on a land turning into a desert, but a luminous vision of a mosaic in which all the glasses of shattered reality reassemble into a whole, in which good and evil are in their place, and every existence has meaning and equally supports the dome of the universe. You will not keep this vision to yourself. You will not prove its reality. Epiphanic and abysmally distant from the realities of life as you know it, it will seem unreal to you. You will be overwhelmed by the whispers of unbelievers and scoffers. Don't be afraid of them. Don't let your vision be taken away, that particular one which your moral imagination has planted in you. Though it may be fleeting, unreachable and surpassing you, it leaves a glow on your path. Grasp it and continue to follow along. You cannot possess Utopia, but you can build a bridge toward it. You just need to stay true to the vision and strain your attention not to lose the trail left to you by the messenger of courageous thoughts. Likewise, truth will elude you, but you can build a bridge between good and truth, between doing and thinking. At least, that's what Leonidas Donskis would advise you.

Practice is not external to the idea, it is not a tool needed to realize the idea, which, after making its own, is deposited in the storehouse of unnecessary things. Practice is inseparable from thought. Therefore, Utopia makes you a practitioner of ideas. Who would Alonso Quijano be if he were read in romances of chivalry? A poor hidalgo rocking in the clouds. He became Don Quixote by hiding a book in his travel bag and going out into the world to help the weak and wronged. Utopia is a vision in practice. Deprived of transformation into action, it becomes a delusion – one more destructive dystopia.

In the beginning there is an opening to the Encounter. You go into the unknown. You have to free yourself from yourself. Your rationales, preferences, attachments will snare you. Tolerance will allow you to bypass them. You are not born with it. It's a job to be done. This is how the practice of Utopia begins.

Renouncing Utopia, standing firmly on the ground, you say: tolerance is not enough. By this you mean the need to do more than tolerate the other person - to listen to his rationale, to try to get into his skin, to provide the conditions for him to speak his mind and defend it. "I do not agree with what you say, but I will give my life so that you have the right to say it." With these words Voltaire marked the horizon of the European understanding of tolerance. After all, it is not little. However, we continue to hold firmly to the sober ratio - for the convictions of freedom of speech and respect for otherness, we create laws, write them into the constitution and the foundations of education.

Utopia expects from you a deep tolerance. Experiencing it, you go further than the law reaches, you cross the horizon of Enlightenment rationality. You say: tolerance is more than I can do. By this you mean facing something that surpasses you. To go further towards the Other, you have to climb on your toes. That's how you get off the beaten path. You no longer have to do anything for the other, you have no mission, you stop being pragmatically goal-oriented. The most important thing becomes the transition to an unknown shore. Something changes in you. You free yourself from the dictates of the rationale for which you were ready to give your life. You become different for yourself, you take the risk of losing the ground you have trodden for years, you hear an inner voice going against the current of your previous thinking. You imperceptibly enter the path of practicing Utopia.

Perceiving that a person with the stigma of otherness is experiencing intolerance, you can resort to the law. Obtaining justice in court will no doubt give you a sense of something important, security and normalcy. At the same time, you will be aware that a person hurt by strangeness needs something more - empathy, love, solidarity. You will think: let's be rational, let's not demand too much. But it's too late, because your action towards the Other, once set in motion will demand fulfillment, awakening in you a longing and releasing a genuine need, in lyrical language called a dream. Before you know it, your heart will be stirred. You will feel the wind at your back - the first, most real, though unearthly ethereal and invisible flicker of Utopia.

"Let this newcomer settled among you be treated as a compatriot; you are to love him as yourself...". Old words are not sewn to our measure, you will find in them courage beyond the limit of your abilities. These come from the Book of Leviticus and have a pedigree going back to the middle of the second millennium BC, so they are one of the oldest, if not the oldest in the Judeo-Christian tradition of establishing coexistence with the Other. They lead us toward a love that is crossing, already contained in "as yourself" itself - so to love the stranger is to experience transgression. This love is not given to us, like self-love, so it can only be realized in the movement from self towards community expressed by the word obcowanie - intercourse. It points to the "stranger" (obcy) who is the core of coexistence. Similarly, the guest is the cornerstone of your home. Thus you end up on the trail of Xenopolis, one of the names of Utopia, which you chose to practice oblivious to the fact that the polis, the very core of democracy, remains inseparable from xenos, in one word encompassing strangeness and hospitality.

Embracing wholeness has something of a gesture of hospitality that can never be half-hearted. My grandmother believed that the proverb "guest at home, God at home" only makes sense if the host hides nothing for himself in the refrigerator: "If you share everything, you won't lack anything in life; otherwise you'll be eternally in debt."

Utopia is a real place, even if it remains unattainable in your lifetime. That is why it is not defined by the Greek word metopia, meaning a non-place or its delusion. Keep in mind the hyphen, inserted into the word u-topia by Paul Celan - you are always on your way towards it. And that's fine. Don't expect fulfillment in the sense of reaching your destination and establishing an ideal. In this world you could achieve it only at the price of debts incurred to others, their suffering and sacrifices, not rarely obtained by violence. Behind a realized Utopia lies its opposite, just as freedom gained exclusively transforms into enslavement.

You can climb a mountain, but you can't live on top of it. The most difficult art you will have to explore is descending the mountain. You will find in it the right space to practice Utopia.

Tomas Morus, the master of the pun, created a name for the island on which a perfect state system would exist, from a play on words. By adding the "u" sound to the Greek term for place - topos - he kept in mind that it could be written in two different ways, and thus be given different, even opposite meanings. The notation outopia indicates a place that does not exist. If you were to follow in this footsteps, paying no attention to the reality of the place and the idea inscribed in it, but contenting yourself with the mere image of it and the possibilities that the freedom of imagination opens up, you would inevitably find yourself in the wilderness of utopianism. Practicing Utopia must be rooted in the real. Otherwise it is akin to lying to yourself - even if it were to give you protection from the naked truth about yourself, in time it will lead you to self-destruction. By contrast, the notation "eutopia" indicates a "good place." As you follow this, you must remember that goodness is not waiting for you at the end of the road, but is its condition. The same is true of tolerance. When practicing Utopia, don't expect to arrive someday where goodness and deep tolerance are unquestionable principles of life, but challenge yourself at the beginning of the journey.

On the way to the "good place" you will need a bridge between value and fact. Therefore, your compass will be the moral imagination. For Leonidas Donskis, she was the glue of those resources and competencies of our consciousness that modernity has separated. He likened her to the two-faced face of the god Janus, looking simultaneously in two different, opposing directions: "Whereas one of its faces offers tradition, moral authority, social order, hierarchy, and symbolic centers of power, another face calls for challenge, reform, innovations, alternative, creative chaos, and critical questioning of authority."

To practice Utopia you must learn to look broadly and embrace the world in all its diversity. Contradiction, dissonance and strangeness are not obstacles in your path, do not try to unify, eliminate or assimilate them, but find for them an attunement with the whole. If they do not tune, it does not mean that their tone is false. On the contrary, it's a signal to you that you are relating them to a whole that is too narrow, still limited by your ignorance or negative emotion. Selective or half-hearted "wholeness" is the domain of apologists for one's own, of various kinds of irrationalists for absolute truth or the chosen nation, for whom the real is that which falls within the horizon of their appropriated possession. Do not fear that in striving to embrace the whole, you desire the impossible. It is in this pursuit that you are a realist.

When you think about it more deeply, you'll understand why Janus, never looking in only one direction, is the god of eternal youth, of beginning and opening, to whom temples were built in the shape of a gate. You will meet him on the threshold, at the source, in the first month of the annual cycle, to which he gave the Latin name januarius. He guarded the border understood not as a wall but as a passage. It was only over time that people, too weak to face the opening towards the Other, learned to use the border to close off their territory. The same happened with the double face of Janus - those who replaced the wide gaze of the host of a hospitable home with the narrow gaze of the guardian of a fortress, often blinded by hatred, began to speak of duplicity, depreciating everything polyphonic and dialogical. Duplicity or doublespeak rightly became synonymous with hypocrisy, but this came at the price of forgetting the source at which reality was perceived through a combination of different points of view.

The mystery of Janus was known and worshipped by the ancient Romans, but if you searched for him in the areas of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania you would come across the trail of a Borderlander. Asked who he is, he would tell you that you would hear three voices in a song sung by two borderland people. The Utopia of the borderland is precisely in this third voice, not mine, not yours, but coming from between, having no owner, belonging to no territory. At the same time, however, the third voice is not an entity in its own right, self-contained, it can only emerge from among the separate voices that have their own distinct identity.

As with the song of the Borderlanders, the same is true of the bridge. Learning the arcane art of its construction is the greatest challenge for a practitioner of Utopia. As you remember, Utopia became real for you as soon as you understood that you should transcend yourself so that the impossible becomes possible. But with the risky act of stepping out of yourself and abandoning a habitat where you were at least reasonably warm and safe, you could find yourself lost, self-destructive, falling into an abyss. You will need a bridge, more - the knowledge of how to build it, because ready-made constructions, tried by others, will never lead you to Utopia.

What delights us about the bridge is the fiber of the bond suspended over the precipice, between the distant banks. It is beautiful in its delicacy and intricacy, and the feeling is further enhanced by the knowledge that it is most vulnerable to rupture. You, however, must remember that the thin arch of a bridge is not an entity in its own right, but is supported by spans firmly planted on the two banks and sometimes at the bottom of the abyss. They are built like towers, separately, recognizing the ground well. It's a knowledge you can't abandon, even though you're drawn toward release from the shore, like a body longing for flight. You will be tempted by the prospect of getting rid of the gravitational force present in difference and contradiction, and thus carrying the potential for conflict, hostility and fear of the unknown. The homogeneity of the world is only an illusion, although there are times when states send armies and forge ideologies to prove otherwise. For the practitioner of Utopia, succumbing to the force of this persuasion presents another opportunity to get lost in the wilderness of utopianism, often in a sophisticated way that preys on your fear or just spiritual laziness,.

Think for a moment about the phrase "spiritual laziness." It may seem anachronistic to you. In fact, it has long since fallen out of use; no one calls their own problems this way, much less those they see in others. Rather, it is used to speak of overwork, of doing too many things at once, of life's rush that leaves little room for the selfless and frantic. However, overwork in a society of prosperity does not exclude, and often even translates into omissions in the sphere of inner human development. Czesław Miłosz did not underestimate this danger. He analyzed the cautions of the eremites, for whom the nightmare of akedia was a reality. Miłosz believed that the meaning of this Greek word is best conveyed not by the English sloth, but by the Old Church Slavonic language unynje. For you, too, the vice of sloth should be a warning. Just as an eremite determined to practice a life of meditation and asceticism can be haunted by a sense of meaninglessness, sadness and indifference, so your practice of Utopia can end in resignation and a return to "normal life." It's easy then to conclude that nothing like Utopia exists and put all the blame on the illusory nature of your inner desire. Meanwhile, the dog is buried in your spiritual laziness. Don't underestimate it - practicing Utopia is a life strained with work on inner development.

Returning to the art of bridge building, you must know that once you have become a master of tower erection, you will face another, perhaps the most difficult test - reevaluating everything you have learned so far, being ready to let go of the certainty you have gained and prepare for the act of transition. You will leave the tower behind and stand on the threshold again. This is what practicing Utopia is - instead of reaching your destination, forever standing at the beginning.

So to explore the art of looking broadly and embracing the whole you will need the craft of a bridge builder. Think of an orchestra conductor or choirmaster, whose job is to align the various instruments and voices to make a symphony or oratorio sound right. They select people with the right hearing and talent for their ensembles. Think of them and forget about them. Your path takes a different track. You can't practice Utopia by telling someone they're not up to it because they don't have the voice, or the hearing, or any other talent. Utopia, which would be for a chosen few, is fundamentally false and inevitably leads to dystopia.

As you remember Don Quixote set out into the world not alone. He had the Other as his traveling companion. In fact, as long as he was able to muster the courage to be fully himself, he was together with the Other. Sancho Panza was not only radically different from his principal, but he changed, became more and more different from himself as he interacted with a man who seemed strange and not of this earth. Both Don Quixote and Sancho Panza trusted someone who was not from their fairy tale. And maybe that's why they created the world's most wonderful fairy tale. There is some secret to practicing Utopia - a deep trust in the Other who usually makes us fearful, alien and uncomfortable.

Return again and again to the thought that by practicing Utopia you are not running away from the world, you are not excluding anyone, you are not exalting yourself above people leading "normal lives" and you are not making the "good place" towards which you are heading inaccessible to them. On the contrary, you befriend them with nothing to hide, sharing everything that is dearest to you. This, at least, is what Irena Veisaitė did. The path of her life was remarkable, marked by suffering, courage and wisdom. The world, admittedly only when she reached a late age, did not spare her expressions of admiration. In response to the tributes directed toward her, she insisted that there was nothing extraordinary about her, that she was only running in the shadow of those with whom she had incurred a life debt. And she incurred it not only as a teacher or civil society activist, but also - and perhaps above all - as a Holocaust survivor. When we met her - the only one of her kind since the beginning of the world - on this path, she did her best to show that she was here along with others, that those who had passed this way before were important, that this was no personal merit of hers. And when we had words of protest on our tongues, she would offer us her favorite collective action: we would stand in a circle, grasp each other's hands, and silently convey to each other the best we could afford at the moment: a smile, energy, a beaming gaze, good thoughts. This is what you should be doing - instead of hoarding, accumulating, receiving, buying, securing, locking up, guarding... give, open, share, pass on, bond, serve and commiserate. The building block of your Utopia is connective tissue.

Irena and Leonidas were united by something that could most briefly be expressed as being-in-between. Between people and other entities is the whole world - the whole world is in the "in-between." Living in the world, changing the world, saving - for them it was identical with entering the "in-between" and doing their duty right here. "Between" they understood, in the spirit of Hannah Arendt, as the public sphere, which has the power to illuminate - a feature most primary and essential for her. About this is Arendt's essay Some Thoughts in Connection with Lessing. On humanity in dark times: "...it is precisely this 'in-between,' to a far greater extent than (as is often thought) people themselves, or man as such, that is of particular concern today...” Being-in-between led Irena and Leonidas toward freedom understood more as interdependence than autonomy. That's why they would subscribe to the words of a philosopher from Königsberg: "More and more people in the West, which since the collapse of the ancient world has understood freedom from politics as one of the basic freedoms of man, are exercising this freedom by withdrawing from the world and from all obligations to it. Such withdrawal does not necessarily harm man, it may even amplify to genius his outstanding abilities, thus, by a circuitous route, benefiting the world. Only that any such withdrawal means an almost palpable loss of the world; the specific and generally irreplaceable space of the 'in-between' that would have been created between just this person and other people is lost."

By practicing Utopia you commune with the dead. Who knows if this is not behind the deepest sense of the "good place" established by luminous vision. "A friend’s death becomes a subject that rescues my floundering new book”, is one of Leonidas' moving aphorisms. Not only for Don Quixote the actual Utopia was the book. Leonidas’ words indicate an attitude that transforms loss into creation, as if trying to say that the death of our loved ones - lest it sow in us the emptiness of absurdity - is a kind of sacrifice for our further construction. "In death a friend extended my life – by redrafting the cartography of my thoughts and becoming the subject of my new book". Fidelity to friendship - as you should understand it in the spirit of Leonidas - is not a commemoration, but a continuation of practicing Utopia.

Practicing utopia

Krzysztof Czyżewski