International Conference of the Utopian Studies Society (Europe)

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Webb, Darren

University of Sheffield, UK

Session 2, Sun. 18.30-20.00, Rm A112 (Chair: Stella Achilleos)

The Politics of Utopia in the Work of Paulo Freire

Paulo Freire, the widely revered Brazilian educator, is a fascinating figure in the history of utopian thought and practice. Insisting on the need for a concrete, normative, positively annunciated goal while at the same time emphasising the inherent openness of the future, and condemning as authoritarian those who conjure visions that claim to speak for others while simultaneously arguing that the role of liberating education is to direct, persuade and even 'convert' the other, Freire was a champion of both "blueprint" and "process" utopianism. This paper uses the tensions within Freire's work as a means of exploring tensions within the politics of utopia.

Williams, Katarzyna Kwapisz

University of Lodz, Poland

Session 39, Sun. 18.30-20.00, Rm A008 (Chair: Jim Arnold)

Polish Ideal State in the Southern Seas: A Journey to Calopea by Wojciech Gutkowski (1775-1826)

Published for the first time over 150 years after being written, the first Polish socialist utopia remains an unknown and unappreciated contribution to the world’s utopian literature. A Journey to Calopea by Wojciech Gutkowski is a classical utopian narrative written before the third partition of Poland (1795), the final territorial division of the country perpetrated by Russia, Prussia and Habsburg Austria that erased Poland from the map of Europe. Thus, the social and political tensions that provided historical background to Gutkowski’s narrative were enormous, leaving literature to be the only space for cultivating patriotic feelings. Eager to fight for his motherland both as a soldier and a writer, and aware that his idealist vision could never be implemented in Poland, Gutkowski presents a journey of an emigrant-wanderer to distant Australia where a great and powerful nation of Calops is situated. The location of the utopian country is interesting in itself, as it follows popular in the eighteenth century British and French travel narratives exploring the theme of the great southern land. Yet, unlike a simple travel narrative A Journey to Calopea focuses predominantly on political and social issues. Visiting Calopea the traveler witnesses inconceivable technological progress, remarkable advancement of science and flourishing culture, but most of all, he admires social equality based on equal access to education. In my paper I would like to discuss this relatively unknown text, presenting it as a response to specifically Polish situation of deep national crisis, and locating it in the context of political thought of the Enlightenment as well as in the wider tradition of utopian writing and travel narratives of the time.

Williams, Rhys

Warwick University, UK

Session 9, Sat. 16.30-18.00, Rm A008 (Chair: Vincent Geoghegan)

Violence and the Utopian Impulse in Mores Utopia and the Libyan Intervention

More's Utopians profess to loathe violence, but display in fact a propensity and eagerness for it. Extending far beyond self-defence to outright colonisation and righteous intervention in the affairs of other societies, Utopians - like the so-called 'West' - are masters of war, though apparently reluctant. Their lack of doubt in the basic virtue of their society unavoidably makes them colonists at heart since, with their laws and their morality so seamlessly aligned, exporting their culture marries both their interests and their values. Through investigating the structural source of the Utopian lack of self-doubt, this paper will explore the place of violence in the utopian impulse. Utilising Benjamin’s ideas of ‘law-making’ and ‘law-preserving’ violence (Critique of Violence) and Graeber’s recent re-conceptualising of 'Joking' and 'Avoidance' relations (Possibilities), the paper will look at the secret kernel of private property, power and 'the sacred' that founds and sustains Utopia. It will conclude by drawing some parallels with the West's intervention in Libya, and consider how the utopian impulse comes to be abused as a Trojan horse for exporting culture and self-interest rather than true change and possibility. 

Yannopoulos, Alexis

University of Toulouse, France

Session 1, Sat. 11.00-12.30, Rm A007 (Chair: Jorge Bastos da Silva)

Building a Literary Feminist Utopia in Latin America: The Work of Angélica Gorodischer

In her science-fiction books, Angélica Gorodischer (Buenos Aires, 1928) establishes a critical and reflexive dialog with a conflictual society undergoing ideological crisis and other radical transformations. Adopting a distant point of view, she initiates a reflexion on social and political institutions, specifically questioning the injustices caused by Argentinian authoritarianism and the patriarchal structures which sustain it. Through a process of anamorphosis of reality, her work reveals the historicity of cultural and social constructions, triggering their denaturalization and inventing new forms of subjectivity. Temporality constitutes an essential element in this effort as her stories mostly take place in a post-apocalyptic future where people need to build a new society upon the ruins of their predecessors and where Empires succeed one another.

Although Gorodischer's work is solidly linked to Argentinian literary tradition (to authors like Jorge Luis Borges or Silvina Ocampo), she carries out a constant transgression of its limits. Indeed, in order to better understand the utopian character of her fictions, we must connect them to a long genealogy of feminist utopias, from Christine de Pizan's City of Ladies to contemporary feminist science-fiction like Ursula Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness. There exists nevertheless a constant parodic tension in Gorodischer stories which contributes to her profound originality and that could also be considered as the fundamental feature of a nomad utopian creation – constantly renewed, open and moving. This subversive parody functions at three different levels: it challenges social inequalities produced by gender or race, transforms the literary canon and induces a progressive and nearly imperceptible change of perspective.

Yavarian, Reza

Islamic Azad University, Iran

Session 23, Sat. 16.30-18.00, Rm A007 (Chair: Maria Aline Ferreira)

David Mamet’s Lakeboat: A Utopian Hell or Dystopian Heaven?

Lakeboat, a less-known play (in comparison with some of his which are now considered the classics of twentieth-century American drama) of David Mamet, shares, in some ways, the features of his plays in its language (fragmented, obtrusively ‘life-like’, obscene and purposeless), setting (limited to one single place and limited continuous time), and the all-male dramatis personae. However, it is, in its own way, a very unique one. The notion of journey as a vital utopian concept is treated deconstructively not to provide freedom or a path to freedom in utopian world but to entrap the characters in itself and imprison them in the loop of the journey itself. The journey, in fact, is manifested in the play in different fields such as the trip of the boat on the lake, the movement of the sailors on board the boat and the elaboration of a storytelling. Their life is a utopian desire of many, which has turned to be a hellish boredom for sailors of the boat who are excited by the development of a story originated from the land which gives them the opportunity of experiencing the plurality and diversity of a dystopian heaven in fabricating the story.

Yorke, Christopher

Dalhousie University, Canada/University of Glasgow, UK

Session 12, Sat. 11.00-12.30, Rm A112 (Chair: Jacqueline Dutton)

Andô Shôeki’s ‘Shizensei’: Anarchy, Myth, or Utopia?

It seems clear that in Japan, as elsewhere, nascent utopian thought is evidenced in its mythology and fairy-tales. Stories of bamboo-cutters and fishermen, which refer to mysterious cities on the moon and fabulous undersea palaces, can be read as proto-utopian visions, as heterotopic imaginary spaces. These myths, like utopias, are fictions that can be seen to serve definite political functions.

Unlike utopia, however, myth does not appeal to reason; it justifies states of affairs that arise through magical transformations, and thus we cannot bring ourselves to rationally prefer a myth to a utopia. Myth is preferred, where it is preferred, due to the appeal of its other features. Centred, as myth is, on phenomena, experience, and intuition, it caters to certain psychological, emotional, or spiritual needs and wants. Due to the implausible content of their narratives, myths lack the logical structure that would make them rationally appealing—in other words, we must suspend our rationality to find myths plausible.

This is not to imply that all myths need be deleterious (in that they work against the interests of the lower classes) or coercive (in that they are enforced by an authoritarian regime). This paper examines how, in the manner that Plato justified inegalitarianism through his ‘myth of the metals’ in the Republic, Andô Shôeki conversely offers a justification for egalitarianism with his concept of ‘shizensei’ (‘the natural order’), wherein:

people of the plains would provide grain; people of the mountains, wood; and people of the seacoast, fish. Natural resources are distributed in all three environments, so there should be neither rich nor poor people… Thus people will not bear grudges, quarrel, or fight. With everybody equal, there will be no egoistic teaching, no distinction between the wise and the foolish. Seiji Nuita, in Aware of Utopia, David Plath ed. (University of Illinois Press, 1971), p. 21 [emphasis added].

Andô’s vision of epistemic, economic, and political parity is the polar opposite of Plato’s epistocracy of the Republic, and yet it is no less valid. Ultimately, a myth of equality is no less (and no more) plausible than a myth of inequality. While Andô’s vision aims to eliminate the advantage of the strongest, it nonetheless requires the suspension of the reader’s critical faculties—for, critically, we may suspect that any equilibrium between the peoples of the mountains, plains, and seacoast will be fleeting and temporary. To avoid these concerns, Andô’s shizensei must, it seems, remain in the land of the mythical.

However, this is not to say that there is no possible rational application for Andô’s schema. This paper invokes the grand philosophical tradition of the thought experiment, which includes utopian proposals, and in which we can comfortably situate the shizensei. Especially in early modern political philosophy, thought experiments often took the form of ‘state of nature’ theories, such as those laid out in the work of Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. The point of these thought experiments was not to explain how people could actually coexist in a state of nature, but to justify the establishment of a proper State to arbitrate disputes between them. In Karl Mannheim’s terminology, these could be construed as ‘ideologies’ rather than ‘utopias’. An argument is offered as to how Andô, in positing a state of nature wherein no disputes will break out (and therefore no formal State is necessitated to arbitrate), could be interpreted as endorsing anarchy, rather than either an ideology (a myth supporting an existing State) or a utopia (a fiction agitating for a perfected State).

Yorke, Christopher

Dalhousie University, Canada/University of Glasgow, UK

Session 8, Sat. 14.30-16.00, Rm A008 (Chair: Gregory Claeys)

Engineering Morality: Positive Situationism and its Utopian Applications

Situationism is the philosophical and social psychological position that environmental factors significantly influence or supervene upon what we ordinarily characterise as moral behaviour. It is typically invoked, by authors such as Gilbert Harman and John Doris, as a foil to the virtue ethicist’s claim that moral behaviour issues from within moral agents, from their settled states of character. Harman holds that situationism proves that character traits do not exist, while Doris makes the more modest claim that if character traits do exist, situationism shows us that they are not stable, i.e. they do not constitute the ‘settled states’ they have previously been theorised to be, as in the neo-Aristotelian schema of ethics.

This ‘negative situationism’ of Harman and Doris is largely descriptive. It focuses on securing a firm basis for its anti-virtue theory postulates in the field of social psychology; in the work, for example, of Milgram, Isen and Levin, and Darley and Batson. Drawing on new theoretical directions in situationism (suggested in the work of Luke Russell and others), I describe a ‘positive situationism’, a normative ethical position that recommends the intentional manipulation of environmental influences in order to stimulate appropriate moral responses in contexts wherein moral lapses are found to be common, or likely to occur.

Positive situationism (in its most robust form) requires the development of social psychology to the state of a precise science of human behaviour, capable of predicting the effects of minute variations in environmental stimuli on dispositions to act, but does not imply a recourse to the cruder methods of Skinnerian behaviourism. It thus constitutes the continuation of a major line of thought in the utopian canon: that by perfecting, or at least improving, the (built) environment, we can perfect, or at least improve, the humans who inhabit it. I argue this central intuition, shared by utopian architects and urban planners alike, finds its ultimate site of theoretical substantiation in the doctrine of positive situationism.

Zirange, Rajaram Sitaram

Bharati Vidyapeeth Deemed University, India

Session 17, Sat 14.30-16.00, Rm A107 (Chair: Maria Margaroni)

Futuristic Utopias and Dystopias in Angela Carter’s fiction

The present paper modestly attempts to study the elements of Futuristic Utopias and Dystopias in the fiction of Angela Carter. As a feminist writer of Science Fiction, Angela Carter contrasts reality with the imaginative world of the future, or the world populated by bizarre characters and situations.

Futuristic Utopias and Dystopias appears to be the hallmark of Angela Carter’s fiction, making it rich with meanings and associations to a variety of references in the literary cannon of English and European world.

In Heroes and Villains, she uses the process of defamiliarization to deconstruct rationality as well as Rousseauean utopia about the Noble Savage. She also challenges the Enlightenment doctrine of Binarism, showing how the dominant societies construct the ‘Other’ for their own identity and survival. This strategy of deconstruction finds a powerful expression in The Passion of New Eve, in which she questions the anthropological idylls of both Rousseau and Levi-Strauss. In The Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman, she virtually deals with the war between the forces of passion and reason. Angela Carter interrogates values and beliefs of the mainstream society through the situations and characters created by her in her fiction because, according to her, these values and beliefs lead to oppression and exploitation.

The paper concludes that Angela Carter exploits and reverses the strong world to examine and comment upon the reality. It seems that the aim of these female Utopias is to bring revolution in the social and political system and in the system of beliefs.

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