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October 9, 2017 | by  | in Features |
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A learned man’s utopia is a desolate place. He creates a replica of himself to populate a land that hides the secret of perfect happiness and harmony, because he must play the role of the seeker of the truth, and what is true is what he perceives to be true. He both enquires and answers, quests and supplies, and Plato’s Republic is filled with thousands of other philosophers like him.

Consider Jorge Luis Borges. His protagonists are men from the continent — professors, writers of unpopular work, bookworms, librarians, collectors of dictionaries, speakers of Latin, and scholars of Old English. His utopia is a geometric universe where infinity renders meaningless utterances and complex poetries the same.

Here, the world is a congress of every individual who populates the earth — a deliberation on writing requires a further deliberation, indexes replace objects, fiction becomes more real than actual persons, and the layers of self-replicating simulations replace intimacy. Strangers come together to share their stories, but lovers’ desires are unfulfilled, companionship is forfeited, and familiar faces on the street are passed without a word.

In the library of babel, a book of sand, a garden of forking path, where both perfect and imperfect copies of masterpiece are catalogued, and copies of copies reproduce and amplify an error of single digit, out of this jumble, a new meaning is born, under the solemn gaze of archivists. The book of sand that Borges imagines is a bible that includes every possible combination of letters and illustrations, which are never repeated or exhausted. The searching mind that browses the tome grasps nothing.

The pursuit of nothing is a singular experience on its own. How can you say there is no art in the game played by letters, and no beauty in the imperfection? This is not a meaning that can be communicated to others, but from this solitude comes a tranquillity. A mind can lose itself there, and forget about material loneliness.


“In our schools we are taught doubt and the art of forgetting — above all, the forgetting of what is personal and local. […] You said your name is Eudoro. I can’t tell you my name, because I am simply called Someone.”

“And what was your father’s name?”

“He had none.”

— Jorge Luis Borges, “Utopia of a Tired Man”


The loneliness of adolescence sends youth off on a search for utopia. Richi Ueshiba is a graphic artist who draws inspiration from traditional tales and fetishistic, budding sexuality to create his own blend of psychedelic, modern myths. His adolescent characters explore a world where reality and fantasy blend together, just like in childish dreams, or a dream of a “kidult”, boxing his desire for a complete union into his drawings.

One of his narratives revolves around “the World of Hirukos” — the utopia populated by copies of the ideal being named Hiruko. Individuality is erased upon entering the world, because only perfection can exist, and Hiruko, the personification of an androgynous superego, is the perfection. Since everyone in this world shares the same genetic information, appearance, and psyche, there is no conflict, fear, or ostracism, as Narcissistic desires becomes the sole basis for any form of interaction. There is nothing to distinguish between you and I, so there is nothing to separate a couple. An individual is a cell in a process of mitosis, a part of the fractal, a building block that forms a symmetric beauty of the utopia.

In the traditional Japanese mythology, Hiruko is a first child of two gods who rule over the domain of life and death. Born without limbs or bones, like a snake or a leech, because of his parents’ transgression of gender roles, Hiruko is cast into the sea, and when fully grown comes to be known as Ebisu, the god of fishing, luck, and good fortune. Taboo becomes luck, and imperfection is healed.

In Japan, a utopia is found in tokoyo-no-kuni, a place under the direct governance of the deities. Rainbows function as bridges to the celestial realm, which is the closest parallel to paradise. Both the underworld and the celestial realm co-exist in our world, just beyond the visible spectrum, and one can easily slip through the crack, fall into the other world. Similarly, in China, utopia is imagined as a peach orchard in the depth of mountains. Only those who belong to that defiled world can find the location of the orchard, but there is a story about a fisherman who finds his way to the cave by chance. A crack in one of the walls leads to the orchard. The visitor descends.

And, of course, utopia in mythology tends to promise an eternity. One does not stray from the path of health and prosperity, and the lack of variety in passing days make one lose track of time. In the Chinese version of utopia, when the fisherman has returned from the orchard, he finds that mere days in the strange realm had turned into years in the outside world. In theory, infinity can be generated by repetition of parts, but as with the failure of No Man’s Sky, a game that promised to offer utopia in the form of an inexhaustible universe, we are too quick to memorise a pattern. Small imperfections in the copy are erased under the weight of infinity.

There is an infinite space between any two points, according to Zeno of Elea. There is an unreachable space between you and me, and so our longing for intimacy intensifies. An echo travels between two lovers locked in embrace, and any attempts to exist in harmony send us traversing the universe filled with atoms, which are still divisible into electrons and nuclei, and still we haven’t bridged the vacuum between the particles that form our bodies, and still the gap between 0 and 1 widens. The vibration caused by a path of light, which divides into rainbow, is our only means of contact.

While rainbows provide a celestial pathway in the Japanese myths, in Australia, a rainbow serpent is the creator of the world, who watered the land when it was closer to being a paradise than it is now. A rainbow serpent is sometimes androgynous, sometimes pansexual, sometimes hermaphroditic — always fluid — and it nurtures and destroys the land, which changes according to the season. Unlike the garden of Eden, where seasons have no meaning, and where a snake is blamed for a loss of utopia, governed by human beings shaped in likeness of the god, who would later command them to be “as shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.” The first human couple in Eden are made from the same soil, same mould, and even shared a bone between them. The loss of paradise, in effect, expands the gene pool by introducing variety to Adam and Eve’s perfection, who supposedly share the same genetics. The world is made unpredictable.

A paradise must be protected, like Eden ringed with a serpentine river of fire. A visit to utopian society is temporary. If you are not born within its walls, you are a transient, displaced being, who would soon be ejected, forget your way back, or leave voluntarily after failing to understand the unwritten rules.


Having to converse in Latin inhibited me, but at last I said, “Doesn’t my sudden appearance amaze you?”

“No,” he said. “We receive such visits from century to century. They don’t last long. Tomorrow, at the latest, you’ll be home again.”

— Jorge Luis Borges, “Utopia of a Tired Man”


Borges’ short story “Utopia of a Tired Man” begins with an epigraph that reads, “He called it Utopia, a Greek word meaning there is no such place.” In myth, each daybreak in utopia brings just enough mixture of light and dark to colour the sky at dusk and make shadows play on the ground. An island, a place lost in the past, a fortified garden, a cave — utopia is a place that travellers may seek, but cannot reach. Arrival is always an accident.

Words cannot carry us there, so we wrap our minds around four syllables, simple undulations that bring out four of five vowels available in English, u, to, pi, a. The word rolls out from the tongue with longing and, unreachable in this immaterial form, takes only our thoughts to the Platonic land populated by myths and philosophical ideals, leaving our bodies to ache with the effort of pronunciation. The word is a marker on the empty ground, designating a no-place where travellers come to plant their dream of ideal governance, communities, systems, routines, and civility. This is not a word that comes with a direction or an index.

I would not be happy in the utopia you dream of. It must be a separate garden that exists in a vacuous dream; a land constantly being created, uncontaminated, elusive, protected from strangers. I dream of utopia, a place to come, a no-place, a place that encompasses everything and everything. The place locked up between my brows.

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