Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Committee Chair

Allen, Annette C.

Author's Keywords

Utopian studies; Agamben; Adorno; Messianic/messianism; Irigaray; Utopian expectation


Utopias; Adorno, Theodor W., 1903-1969; Irigaray, Luce; Agamben, Giorgio, 1942-


What is the idea that "utopia" names? How can discourse represent that idea? Setting aside temporarily deeper problems with the idea of representation, and focusing on how a complex philosophical discourse might approach the problem of conveying or representing a large, only fairly precise, and important idea is the question of this dissertation. It ultimately answers that question obliquely, by focusing on the way the utopian discourse present in the work of three late 20th century philosophers, Theodor W. Adorno, Luce Irigaray, and Giorgio Agamben, addresses a subject position that can be named a "subject of possibility." How this subject of possibility might relate to the possibilities for transcendence located in the material world that is the stage for utopian imagination is another area of the study's investigation. The dissertation introduces the question with a look at the problems associated with utopia. It considers utopian discourse in select works of each of these thinkers, paying attention to dystopian context, identification of style and language, subject-object considerations, and the discursive treatment of space and time. In particular, it traces the theme of messianic expectation, in a loose secular sense, through this discourse. Finally, it links the way the messianic theme provides content to the idea of utopia present in this discourse. It claims that the messianic idea thematizes a materialist interpretation of transcendence and metaphysical experience that is developed in the work of each of these authors. That is, these authors locate the metaphysical moment necessary for the idea of utopia in the transcendent relation of the material subject to the subject of language and thought; in its concrete difference from that subject. This materialist moment provides a base for a non-representational and transformative approach to utopian imagination and perhaps even utopian practice, by linking the idea of "utopia" to a nonlinguistic understanding of the negation of suffering.