International Conference of the Utopian Studies Society (Europe)




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Ferreira, Maria Aline

University of Aveiro, Portugal

aline@ua.pt

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


No Alternative? Atwood, Winterson and the Present Future Crisis


Dystopias proliferate in times of crisis, providing a fictional response to and dramatization of the main fears and anxieties in a given society. The present Zeitgeist is uncontroversially steeped in a mood of crisis, which in many ways has become reflected in the critical juncture at which Utopian thinking finds itself, with an overwhelming predominance of dystopian and apocalyptic rhetoric.

In his recent and provocative book Living in the End Times (2010) Slavoj Žižek makes the case that globalized capitalism is approaching an apocalyptic end. According to Žižek there are three distinct forms of apocalypticism operating in the West today: Christian fundamentalist, techno-digital-post-human and New Age. Žižek further identifies four main menaces threatening the world, which he then correlates with the four horsemen of the Apocalypse: the relentless pressure on ecosystems, the economic crisis, biotechnological revolution and increasing social hierarchies and exclusion.

My purpose in this paper is to analyse three recent dystopias, whose main thematic concerns are precisely those singled out by Žižek: Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake (2003) and The Year of the Flood (2009) and Jeanette Winterson’s The Stone Gods (2007). All three envisage future worlds wrecked by exacerbated versions of current day capitalism and biogenetic disasters. Indeed, these post-apocalyptic dystopias can be seen as thought experiments, extrapolating onto a not too distant future what our world might be like if stringent measures are not taken to protect the environment, avoid economic collapse and monitor potentially nefarious biotechnological developments. The aporia facing us, recounted, dramatized and even corroborated in Atwood and Winterson’s novels, is that even though extreme capitalism has the potential to destroy societies and bring about ecocide there is a widespread sense that, as Mark Fisher puts it, “not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it” (Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?).

This paper will examine the multi-layered impasse and pervasive sense of impending crisis mediated by the fictional world and cautionary tone of Atwood and Winterson’s dystopias, utilising the lens of recent theoretical work dealing with the future of the human in a world in which discordant discourses and practices are intrinsic to its very function.


Fischer, Joachim

University of Limerick, Ireland

Joachim.fischer@ul.ie

Session 47, Mon. 11.30-13.00, Rm A010 (Chair: Stella Achilleos)


The Professor in Erin (1918): A Gaelic nostalgic utopia in times of war and political crisis


Forgotten by Anglo-Irish literary scholarship, the curious and in many ways unique novel The Professor of Erin, published in 1918 by Gill in Dublin, is a key text within the Irish tradition of literary utopias. Charlotte Elizabeth McManus’ novel imagines an Ireland after a different outcome of the battle of Kinsale in 1602 which firmly established British rule, where a profoundly Gaelic culture has been allowed to develop unimpeded. The story is constructed around the rather convoluted mystery of a stolen book and the novel can as such be assigned to the genre of crime fiction, with the issues of law and justice crucial for the plot. The political structures of this imagined wholly Gaelic and Gaelic-speaking land will be analysed. True to established utopian literary practice this Gaelic wonderland is visited by an outsider who marvels at the way things are done in Ireland. Significantly, the visiting foreigner, the Professor of the book’s title, is a German scholar of Celtic from Berlin. Even though the author is anxious to state in her foreword that the novel was written “some years before the war”, this fact places the book into the particular set of violent and turbulent political circumstances that prevailed in Ireland in the dying days of World War I, after the (initially) unsuccessful Easter Rising of 1916 and the (intercepted) German arms shipment in its support. The book is in fact not the only Irish utopian text with a German dimension from the war years. Professor Schliemann’s antagonist is a Jewish-American businessman, adding further material to a political reading of the novel. Written by a female author, the gendered nature of this utopian vision will also be analysed. Very possibly one of the last attempts to imagine a Gaelic Ireland in pre-independence days, its vision will lastly be held against the cultural, political, economic and technological practices the Free State initiated only three years after the book appeared.


Fischer-Griffiths, Peder

Independent Scholar

pederfg@gmail.com

Session 35, Sun. 16.30-18.00, Rm A107 (Chair: Timothy Miller)


Christiania as a Freespace in an Age of Empire: A Phenomenological Approach to Exploring the Meaning of Utopia in Contemporary Political Struggle


Based on fieldwork carried out in Christiania in Copenhagen, I will explore how this self-proclaimed Freetown emerges as a utopian project that engages contemporary institutions and systems of global capitalism, or Empire as Hardt & Negri have called it. The origins of the financial crisis and the environmental crisis can be found in the current political and economic systems and power configurations of neoliberalism. Christiania, as a utopian project, seeks to establish an alternative order to that of neoliberalism. Utilizing a phenomenological approach I will aim to show how utopia comes into being through the emergence of (bio)political subjects that are engaged in and with physical spaces. Utopian political action, I believe, can be expressed through the arrangements of everyday life. By presenting a picture of a group of young men and women in Christiania I hope to illustrate how everyday activities and inhabited space are central to the emergence of political subjects. Yet the intimacies of everyday life seek to overflow the confines of the near and the mundane, and manifest themselves as emerging alternatives to neoliberal global systems and power configurations. Drawing on both Foucault and de Certeau I wish to show how the politics of utopia seek to overcome the power of Empire through the conscious ordering of everyday life.


Foufoulas. Dimitris

Université Paris-Diderot, France

dfoufoulas@hotmail.com

Session 7, Sat. 11.00-12-30, Rm A107 (Chair : Yannis Stavrakakis)


Achieve the Revolution, Overcome the Crisis, Fulfill the Golden age of Humanity: Aspects of Saint-Simon’s Utopian Thought


We often think that social crisis comes to light as the disturbance of social order, that is to say, the world as we know it. According to this acknowledgement the revolutionary fact, reversing or attempting to reverse social order, can be seen as a part or even as the cause of a crisis. However, the above opinion and Saint-Simon’s beliefs don’t reach an agreement. Saint-Simon, having taken part in both the American and the French Revolution, avoids equating revolution with crisis. As far as he is concerned the latter has been more the result of an incomplete revolution, rather than a harmful symptom of any radical effort to establish another world. As a result this means that the ending of the crisis requires the justification of the social powers' demands, which from 1789 up to the Restoration struggled for the establishment of a new industrial world. If the world before the Revolution based on “power” and “prejudice”, now it tends to rely on “creative work” and knowledge. If the Ancient Regime inspired competition and conflict among people and nations, the new one favors co-operation of producers on equal basis and in terms of a mutual pursuit of the common transnational interest. If, once, the distinction between those who govern and those who are being governed revealed the state of a corrupted society, the negation of this distinction brings forward a new era within which all people relate to one another by fraternal bonds of friendship. Taking another path away from both the anti-revolutionary thought and the liberals, Saint-Simon, reminds us that the golden age of humanity is still ahead of us, while at the same time, he proclaims that the excess of the crisis requires the fulfillment of the ideals of the Revolution, which still remains incomplete.


Fourikos, Konstantinos

Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences, Greece

fourikosk@gmail.com

Session 11, Sat. 14.30-16.00, Rm A010 (Chair: Antonis Balasopoulos)


Utopia and Marxism in the Context of Dystopian Capitalist Crisis


This paper is positioned to critically examine the relation between the work of Marx - Engels and utopian tradition. It is especially positioned to analyze Marx and Engels’s critique to what they called “utopian socialism” and “little Icarias” but also to inquire into common elements that exist in utopian tradition and their work.

More specifically this paper will try to investigate common routes that relate the content of the utopian socialists’ and Marx – Engels’s work according to their conclusions about theoretical tradition of the Enlightenment and its effects in social and political life of capitalist society but also according to their disagreements that are mainly based –from Marx and Engels’s aspect– on the founding of scientific socialism. It will also try to argue that in such a “relationship” beside the differences and the “anti-utopian” criticism, Marxism and socialism still contain an element that could be characterized as a utopian one. A utopian element that -in order to put it in a more provocative way- makes possible for the researchers to even consider Marxism and scientific socialism as a type of utopia. A utopia of “temporal process” as Harvey describes it or an “open ended utopia” as Paden sketches it out.

Finally the main point of this paper is to prove the importance -especially now in the era of crisis- of such an approach concerning open discussions and controversies, inside Marxism’s notion, with reference to the aims of development and “re-establishment” of Marxism and Socialism’s theoretical achievements. A systematical examination of Marx and Engels’s relationship to the utopian socialists and to utopian thought more generally could help clarify and refine their critique of bourgeois society and their views as to its possible alternatives today.


Galant, Justyna

Independent Scholar

justynagalant@gmail.com

Session 30, Sun. 11.00-12.30, Rm A107 (Chair: Jim Arnold)


Gas-s-s-s! Or: It Became Necessary to Destroy the World in Order to Save It. Aggregate signification in Roger Cormans utopian Menippea.


The paper shows how the multi-perspectivism of the genre of Menippean satire reflects and enhances the psychedelic collage of the Hippie New World. While the distanced manner of presentation and the episodic construction typical of the genre facilitate the mode of cynical detachment visible in the film, the features of philosophical reflection and utopian consideration which also characterize Menippea convey the omnipresent utopian spirit of Gas-s-s-s. In effect, the film comes across as a Bakhtinian carnivalesque construction lauding complete freedom as much as it exposes grotesque exaggerations of the contemporary modern-era ‘humours’ and the social mechanisms which the search for a utopia necessarily calls forth.

In a world where everyone over 25 is dead, the rebellious young without the antagonistic older generation to criticise and challenge, find themselves internally divided as they look to the past in an attempt to re-create themselves in the new reality. In the process, the chronos of the linear past is set against the kairos of the one-off chance for a Hippie utopia as criss-crossing semiotic structures of various ideologies and approaches to life thrive, compete and merge.

The central group of travellers and all the young ‘sole heirs to the earth’ recklessly and playfully multiply, distort, convert and undermine the alleged stability of meaning of the late grown-up world. In effect, the post-apocalyptic, chaotic and subdivided universe of the film can be considered in terms of semiotic crisis of representation, revealing how the new reality enforces experimentation with signs and their meaning.


Gallardo-Torrano, Pere

Universitat Rovira i Virgili, Tarragona, Spain

pere.gallardo@urv.cat

Session 40, Mon. 11.30-13.00, Rm A007 (Chair: Pavla Vesela)

Future Ideologies in the Past, Present Ideologies in the Future: Karel Čapek’s R.U.R. Revisited

Karel Čapek’s play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) was premiered at the National Theatre in Prague on January 25th, 1921. On October 9th, 1922 it was performed at the Garrick Theater in New York. One year later the English edition was published. The play was enormously successful both in Europe and the United States. Because the plot included some humanoid characters called “robots”, R.U.R. has become a landmark in the history of Science Fiction. It is difficult to find encyclopedias (SF or mainstream) which do not mention this play and Čapek as responsible for the coinage of the term robot. However, outside the field of Computer Science and Robotics, the play is practically unknown. Curiously enough, the original relevance of the plot revolved around political ideologies at an external level, but also tackled profound ontological questions such as the nature and limits of sentient life.

The main purpose of this presentation is to discuss the ideological validity of R.U.R. ninety years after its first performance. However, it will also consider the play as a critique of humankind’s inability to find socio-political alternatives to past and present crises.

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