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Utopia and iconicity: reading Saint-Simonian texts

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>2012
<mark>Journal</mark>Word and Image
Issue number3
Number of pages14
Pages (from-to)317-330
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


In his study of Thomas More’s Utopia, Louis Marin identifies a productive discontinuity peculiar to that work. The discontinuity arises from the tension between, on the one hand, the textual objective of delimiting the complex social reality of the egalitarian island state within a given conceptual language and, on the other, the capacity of the reader of More’s work to visualize mentally the referential content of that language in the form of an iconic representation, as a map of the island. This article develops the tension identified by Marin between discourse and iconicity by reference to some examples of texts by members of the Saint-Simonian movement, one of the chief currents of ‘utopian’ socialism in nineteenth-century France.

While Marin’s analysis is based on a cartographic conception of the utopian text’s iconic elements, however, this article argues that in Saint-Simonian discourse, the iconic function is not supplied by a real or imagined map, but transfers instead to the opaque (typo)graphic support of that discourse. Shapes and patterns are produced by the graphic disposition of signifiers across the page that are surplus to their tacit referential function, but which point to something that Saint-Simonian doctrine cannot yet affirm via the conceptual antithesis of ‘matter’ and ‘spirit’ which underpins it.