Fredric Jameson makes a distinction between two utopian perspectives - that of the ‘root of all evil’ and that of ‘the political and social arrangements’. Please explain and discuss with reference to at least one of the literary texts we have read in our seminar.
Fredric Jameson distinguishes in the essay “The Politics of Utopia” between two utopian perspectives: the ‘root of all evil’ and ‘the political and social arrangements’. Jameson, born 1934, is considered to be one of the foremost contemporary Marxist literary and cultural critics writing in English. (Kellner) In his article he says that ‘utopian’ has come to be a code word on the left for socialism or communism and on the right for ‘totalitarianism’. Both politics wish to change the system. (Jameson 35) This essay has two aims: to explain both utopian conceptions made by Jameson and to discuss in how far these aspects of utopia appear in the futuristic play “Harvest” by Manjula Padmanabhan. Supported by fictional political and social arrangements, Padmanabhan criticizes ‘roots of all evil’ like unemployment and up-to-date global trade relations between the Third World and the West in her play “Harvest”.
Jameson’s focus within the perspective of political and social arrangements is on daily life. Everyday life involves how politics and a society are organized, e.g. by laws, and how the private life is regulated, e.g. by marriage. (Jameson 38-39) This utopian perspective is utterly anonymous, because the citizens are seen as statistical population and not as individuals. The utopian population is characterized as easy-going, good tempered and leisure-loving. They enjoy most mental pleasures. Their attributed character prevents the reader from imagining the concrete daily life of an utopian individual; instead depersonalisation and anonymity are a fundamental part of this utopia.
The play “Harvest” contains political and social arrangements. Padmanabhan writes about a futuristic live in the year 2010, when legal, moral and bioethical debates about organ sales and transplants have been overcome. The title “Harvest” relates to human organs which are taken from people in the Third World within a fully institutionalised trade with body parts. The scientific technology has advanced far enough to enable the prolongation of human life by body-transplants. Om, a young Indian man suffering from poorness and unemployment, sells the rights to his body parts to a buyer from the Western world. In change for organs Om can improve the living standard of his family with enough food and household goods: a toilet, a shower and television, later a mini-gym and luxury items. Now they consume exciting technological products like the contact module. This science fiction module enables the family to communicate with the receivers.
Two opposite groups come into conflict in the play: on the one hand Om’s impoverished family consisting of his mother (Ma), his brother Jeetu and his wife Jaya, on the other hand the receivers Ginni and Virgil, from Northern America and the company InterPlanta Services, represented by three aggressive guards. These characters present the contemporary global distribution of power, because Western companies dominate citizens in Third World countries by economic relations. Ginni, a beautiful, young, computer animated woman, wants to longer her life by living in bodies of other humans. Finally Om’s brother Jeetu is taken against his will as a donor due to Ginni’s decision. This stresses the disrespect for donors. After all, Om prefers to be a donor and decides to submit to the power of the receivers although they don’t offer a self-determined life. In the end Jaya and Virgil, who is another receiver, fight via the contact module. Virgil lives now in Jeetu’s body and wants to impregnate Jaya virtually. She denies, but demands real closeness and trust. This means that Virgil should risk something for her and accept his mortality. However, Virgil wants to push through ruthlessly followed by Jaya’s threatening with suicide. The resistance of Jaya warns the reader or the audience that one has to act or to govern instead of being governed like Om, Ma and Jeetu.
Although the family members have the same enemies they don’t start a common initiative against them. A consensus among the family could weaken the power position of the receivers and the guards, but the selfish relatives always argue. The receivers and the guards don’t respect the dignity of the donors and treat them as anonymous group, more as goods than as human beings. Ginni equips the donor’s household with sanitary stuff and food for holding the organs healthy. The inhuman and brutal treatment becomes obvious when the guards catch Jeetu instead of Om as donor:
JEETU (as he runs) You fools! Can’t you see I’m not your man?
GUARD 1 (dodging around the others) Always the same story - no one wants to pay their dues. Come on! It’s hopeless to run away. (catches Jeetu) There - there! (as Jeetu struggles) I’ve got you now!
JAYA Don’t hurt him - don’t hurt him - oh he’s sick! Please!
GUARD 1 Resistance is useless. (starts to drag Jeetu kicking and struggling) we’ll have you knocked out in a second. (Padmanabhan 58)
Jameson says that in utopian texts there is a loss of psychic privileges and spiritual private property. Every individual interest and politics must be excluded in the name of the General Will. (42) Private life and psychic privileges are totally ignored by the receivers. They keep the family under surveillance through the contact module. The guards of the organisation InterPlanta Services function like an army for them. Nevertheless the deal with organs is seen as a chance by Ma and Om to improve their life. Ma, who is bored by real life, doesn’t protest against the danger for his sons and watches the whole day TV. Finally she orders a science fiction TV coach and stops having contact with anybody.
Jameson and Padmanabhan review the problems that globalisation brings. While Third World countries have difficulties with misery, poverty and violence, Western nations are wealthy, use modern technologies and live with pleasure. (Jameson 35) Nevertheless this point is simplified, because the reality is more complex. In the First World, too, many people are economically exploited or are unemployed. In Padmanabhan’s play the commoditization of organs is a metaphor for socio-economic exchange. (Ramachandran 166) Nowadays numerous people in the Third World, also children, work for Western companies under bad conditions. That is a significant reason, why “Harvest” shows a scenario of neo-colonialism, even neo-cannibalism, where people from India are exploited by superior Western science fiction humans. It seems that Om makes a voluntary decision to be a donor, but he decides under pressure of unemployment, starvation and poorness. Maybe he even feels responsible for his mother and his wife, who both don’t work and haven’t a regular income. The family doesn’t care about an individual way within their cultural identity, but assimilates into the Western living standard. They don’t analyze the benefit of TV or the contract with InterPlanta Services. Instead they live in affluence what is a common wish in most economically underdeveloped nations.
The other utopian perspective made by Jameson has to do with the way in which this or that ‘root of all evil’ has been eliminated from that world. (40) He argues that the ‘root of all evil’ is to be found in gold and money. Consequently, there is greed which needs to be repressed by utopian laws and arrangements in order to arrive at some better and more human form of life. Jameson sees a particular ‘root of all evil’ in unemployment. (38) An establishment of full employment would transform the capitalistic system, because capitalism requires unemployed people in order to function and to avoid inflation. Most people are familiar with the fear, the lack of income and the negative consequences that unemployment brings. Psychic misery, demoralization, crime, drugs, violence, boredom, etc. can be diagnosed as results of a society unable to accommodate the productiveness of all its citizens.
(Jameson 38) Following a society without these roots of evil is a society where everybody has the chance to earn enough money for a satisfactory life by working.
In “Harvest” the ‘roots of all evil’ still exist, because it is a dystopian play. It shows a negative picture of the future. Whereas utopian fiction describes happiness within an ideal or perfect place or state or any visionary system of political and social perfection, in dystopian fiction the reader is confronted with a creation of a horrible or degraded society. Under pressure of unemployment and his bad living conditions Om decides to sell his body parts. He is not the only one who wants to be a donor. Many Indians apply for this “job” and Om is chosen trough a long and strict procedure. Jameson’s article puts forward the argument that the ‘root of all evil’ idea of utopia is an essentially existential one, because we as individuals have a relationship with material things like property and money. As a result many people are greedy and cannot imagine a life without these things. In “Harvest” the meaning of money and property is very strong, what emphasizes its dystopian character. Especially Ma develops greed for property and consumption. I want to add that Jameson doesn’t write about possibilities that unemployment offers. If one is unemployed one has time for hobbies and development of the personality. In case of being employed one has less free time, because employer as well as colleagues expect that employees perform well. Moreover, not all jobs are interesting; some are also monotonous and one-sided. This includes the problem of boredom, which Jameson only relates to unemployment.
In conclusion, “Harvest” demonstrates the contrast between impoverished India and wealthy West. This dystopian play bases on political and social arrangements that are against human dignity. The organ market in “Harvest” functions like a new slave trade where nobody of the donors has the possibility of a free choice. ‘Roots of all evil’ in terms of Fredric Jameson like the greed for property and unemployment are an important part of the plot. Padmanabhan wants her readers and the audience to get aware of problems that globalisation and capitalism bring. She criticizes the exploitation of people in Third World countries by First World employers. Apart from this Padmanabhan shows the pressure applied to donors, furthermore the surveillance and violence that is used against the donor family. As a result the family members lose control over themselves. Finally, this lost of control of one’s life happens not only in the Third World but also in Western societies. Sometimes people in responsible positions exert a lot of pressure in order to accelerate decisions or to manipulate others. Therefore, everybody has to be careful when deciding important matters in life. Open communication with other people, enough information, support and education is necessary to avoid exploitation and mutilation of vulnerable human beings.
Jameson, Fredric. “The Politics of Utopia.” New Left Review, Jan Feb 2004, pp 35-54 Kellner, Douglas. “Fredric Jameson.” Web. 19 Oct. 2015 <www.uta.edu/huma/illuminations/kell19.htm>
Padmanabhan, Manjula. Harvest. London: Aurora Metro Press. 2003. Print
Pravinchandra, Shital. “The Third-World Body Commodified: Manjula Padmanabhan’s Harvest.” Web. 11 Oct. 2015.
Ramachandran, Ayesha. “New World, No World: Seeking Utopia in Padmanabhan’s Harvest.” Theatre Research International, pp 161-174
Utopian Literature. Web. 19 Oct. 2015. <www.utopianfiction.com>