Retrotopia | Book Review

Retrotopia Utopium

Retrotopia, the idea that we are molding our future by using the past as a model, is a book and concept by author Zygmunt Bauman. Using this idea as a foundation he takes us through four different versions of the past that are used in one way or the other as these models for our future: Hobbes idea world, Tribalism, (capitalistic) inequality and the back-to-the-self movement.

“Let me observe that Nostalgia is but one member of the rather extended family of affectionate relationship with an ‘elsewhere'” – Zygmunt Bauman

There is a lot of subjects getting a shake in Retrotopia and a constant flow of ideas flies passed the readers eyes. Each chapter introduces an umbrella of retro-romantic ideas that gets a closer look, all highly interesting. How certain parts of the past gets a wash and placed on a pedestal as something desirable, something we want to take with us into the future. There is a slight cross-over between the chapters, but their own unique qualities are kept intact.

The authours view on consumerism as a vehicle of violence is one of the ideas presented in Retrotopia that stuck out to me as very noteworthy, but there is a ton of stuff in here that at least tickle the taste buds.

Then, there are the less pleasant parts; The chapter called Back to Inequality reads like a Bernie Sanders speech and is crammed full of all sorts of anti-capitalism classics you could imagine. The same chapters different takes on Basic income gets aired out, justified and parallels from historic aspects like poorhouses get drawn. The reflections on the social aspects are interesting, but not convincing. Mainly because they rarely touch the practical.

“A neighbourhood filled with strangers is a visible, tangible  sing of certainities evaporating, and the prospects of life – as well as the fate of prusuit of them – drifting out of control. Strangers stand for everything evasive, feeble, unstable and unforseeable in life that poisons the daily bustle with premonitions of our own impotence and the sleepless nights filled iwht nigthmarish foredbodings.” – Zygmunt Bauman

This is a book deep in political lore, pulling in various philosophers, scholar sociologists and economists to try and explain the complexity of the macro of the world we live in today and the quotes get put like beads on a necklace the author hangs around the reader’s neck. If you happen to disagree with the author on something, however small, the necklace doesn’t quite fit and that feeling keeps itself present even when you enter territory where you both can still agree.

It is a common approach to writing books, but requires a lot from the one reading the book; Familiarity with the quoted material makes the reading less bumpy, so the more intimate you are in the idea buffet that Bauman chooses to present the smoother it gets. Mine wasn’t particularly straightforward.  Off-road a couple of times, even.

Bauman, a self-described socialist, is practically on the opposite side on the political spectrum from me, but I didn’t mind as much as I suspected I would. This fact together with the off-roading mentioned above tells something about the quality of Retrotopia as a literary work.  

The author helps out with his own reflections here and there to try and tie things together (a bit), but large sections of the book are just a constant salvo of text from others. It makes it easy to get lost in who to attribute what text to as Bauman blends quotation styles constantly. I stumbled on a sentence that was chopped up in a split of 90% someone else and Bauman himself only contributing supporting words. I am not a fan of that kind of writing.

The upside is that I got my horizon broadened on new (to me) authors to note down for the future in a very condensed manner – The feeling of reading a trailer for other books kept popping up. I’m not entirely sure that was the intent.

“Let me add that our present day condition cimes as well with Lenin’s formula for the ‘revolutionary situation’ as a state of affaris in wich the rulers can no longer rule in the way that they did, while the ruled no longer wish to be ruled in the way they have been” – Zygmunt Bauman

Some of the things brought up in the book gets a bit too simplistic, almost naive, run-down (“the gun lovers think they are superior to the gun haters because they love guns“),  which makes me think the audience was pre-determined in a way.

Another case in point: “Our sci-fi films and novels are more and more often cataloged in the section of horror movies and gothic literature“.

Didn’t Bauman know that this has always been the motive and streak in science fiction? Mary Shelley, Lovecraft, and so forth wasn’t exactly writing stories for children – The golden age of science fiction is filled with stories of doomed humanity and critique of its society. The happy, sparkly and hopefull fiction were exceptions in my estimation.

This book turned out to be a fascinating dance between the author and me. I can nod my head in agreement through certain parts of the book and decide to join in on his ride, and then he decides to crash us into a wall.

I am glad I read this book because parts of it are brilliant and gave me new things to meditate on.


Retrotopia Utopium

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