A Christmas Fable

Utopia is not a place, nor a way of living, but a collection of forces, forever shifting, forever realigning. The customs of Utopia are never settled, but are always being created, embraced and discarded; the citizens of Utopia do not put stock in such things. Utopia is without crime, without want. Nothing is owned, except as it is used, nothing is hoarded or wasted; sex is broken free of possession, and can neither be taken nor forced. Utopians are casually promiscuous, casually loyal, casually faithful, as they are casual and easy in all things. They live communally, eat communally, talk and perform communally, with a fierce egalitarianism that is both unstructured and absolute.

It may come to pass that someone must be exiled from the community, driven out into the darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. These things happen; Utopia is, of course, not perfect. Nor tries to be; perfection is stasis, and Utopia is dynamic. Though without walls or doors, Utopia is the labyrinth come again, a perfect map of itself, with endless choice and no branchings of the way. It is impossible to act against Utopia, because all is permitted within Utopia; what is not permitted is impossible, either to conceive of or to do. In the same way it is impossible to lose one’s way in the labyrinth, or to act against it, to engage with Utopia is to become Utopia.

All-encompassing, all-accepting, ever-learning, ever-changing. A thousand thousand tongues are spoken there, and none.


A woman, in loose pants and shirt, whipped by the wind, a rifle slung over her shoulder. A shadowy figure struggles up the dune behind her, half-hidden by the endless storm.

The streets of the city of Hell match, point for point, the gaudy streets of Paradise. The damned and the blessed rub elbows, park their motorcycles next to each other, drink in the same scarred and homely bars; there is nothing to distinguish between them, save the clear sight of Manastabal, she who calls herself your guide.

Paradise and Hell, those cities which are not one, are forever self-touching, self-stimulating; their residents are blind except to themselves. The damned do not see the blessed; the blessed take no heed of the damned, though they are pushed together by the desert, hemmed in by strange apocalyptic beasts the size of skyscrapers. Manastabal, the guide, knows every nook and cranny, every alleyway and thoroughfare, as well as she knows the endless dunes, as well as she knows the butt of her rifle.

Her name is Reason; she has little time for fools, but endless patience. She does not keep the gate, but does stand watch upon it, to warn those who approach and welcome them to the ranks of the knowing. She is always learning, always teaching; like the desert, like Hell and Paradise, forever changing, forever the same.

The Island

The island is not discovered, but built; a small parcel of land reclaimed from the barren ocean, a tenuous strip of fertile ground pulled from the unfriendly waters. Its beauty cannot last. The sea will have its own; the waters must rush in again and drown the land. They know this, they who build their castles out of sand.

Society apart. A utopia flawed, not in vision, but in scope — utopia is always at war with society until all society is utopia. Shakers dancing in separate lines, lesbians in Appalachia, pirates in the Atlantic. The island, no less than those who build it, is always radical, always radical, always questioning itself. It exists as an affront, a reproach to the myth of law, both common and natural.

A journalist asks why dada rages in the streets: why is art a curse in your mouth? dada rages because dada is. dada is furious that the world allows dada to be. dada is a sickness and a corruption and you are idiots and madmen who let dada live.

So. An impossible place, an impossible challenge; Jane takes up her forceps and her autoclave and dares to think abortion.

The Empire

A boot on a human face, forever.

The Empire is a city without windows, without crack or seam. Your every movement is watched, is judged by a legion of those without faces. You are fed, housed, exercised, cared for with the same solicitous unconcern as any beast of burden.

The Empire is the dream of control. Like all such dreams, it is also a dream of being controlled, of perfect tyranny. There must be constant dread, constant worry. Your confinement must chafe at you.  Your every act of rebellion is anticipated; your coconspirators all moles. You are driven to rebel, because you must be punished; you rebel in order to be punished. Your punishment constructs the state; there can be no empire without rebellion, no rebellion without empire.

The Empire is Utopia envisioned by autocracy. Its citizens are broken, brought to heel, but do not love the black eagle on the red flag—nor should they. Fear is a stronger bridle than respect. But its weakness is its perfection. You have but one escape, but that escape can never be closed to you. The Empire can only watch; it can only ever watch.


Her color is red, which is both a royal color and a warning of danger. She is much loved, much hated; they call her whore, queen, god in her mask of death. She is famous for her art, her trade, and her corruption. In her storied gardens, bureaucrats walk like spies. Everything here is for sale, everything save loyalty. In their own mercurial way her people love her.

She has never been truly conquered. Her cunning soft tongue fills every rude mouth, cuckoos out bolder speech; her ravishers become her sons, grow tightly curled beards, and only dimly remember the stink of horses and the blood-flicker of firelight. Her topless towers are burning, her astrologers are all cast down! No matter. She and the stars are both eternal. These plagues draw her dry and fill her markets with snakeskins and pelicans.

She is the opposite of empire. Like the waters she exists as constant flux, and it is said that no one visits the same city twice. Each of her fourteen gates opens on a different city; walk in one side of a room and walk out centuries away. She is forces in suspension, not this shifting form; a system of weather, not one moment of rain or sun.

Those who remember her best speak the speech of Babel: Funes the Memorious draws his own conclusions, forever incommunicable.