International Conference of the Utopian Studies Society (Europe)

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Gawrońska, Zuzanna

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

Are We In Heaven Or In Hell? Utopia/Dystopia and Crisis in Stanislaw Lems Eden

In Stanislaw Lem’s novel Eden complex philosophical issues take on a form of a scenario in which a scientific expedition crashes on a planet whose subsequent exploration results in the discovery of a strange and fascinating, yet obscure and incomprehensible alien world. This seemingly self-regulating technologically advanced civilisation that for a long time remains an unsolvable puzzle to the newcomers from the Earth in the end proves to be ruled by manipulation and information control from its secretive government/ruler.
Paradoxically, however, the crisis which the readers witness does not occur among the inhabitants of this ‘brave new world’, whose function in the narrative is broadly reduced to the object of human cognition. Therefore, the paper will focus on presenting and analyzing the sources, the substance and the consequences of crisis which resulted from the contact with the alien world of the representatives of humanity. It will discuss various aspects of crisis which manifest themselves in the book on a number of planes and levels, mainly cognitive/epistemological, axiological/ethical and political. Special attention will also be paid to the problem of the impotence of scientific expert knowledge in the face of the unknown and elusive reality of the planet. Moreover, it will address an interesting and currently topical question of whether it is just and relevant to apply the categories and values from one world/civilization to a different one and whether the negative outcome of the evaluation justifies any kind of intervention on the part of the outsiders in order to bring ‘law and order’.

Geerlings, Jordy

Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands

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

The Crisis of Utopia? The Curious Relationship between French Post-war Philosophy and the Legacy of the Enlightenment.

French philosophy after the Second World War is often defined as highly critical, even dismissive of the Enlightenment project, which was considered a utopian attempt to improve both man and society through the application of reason, education and political power. Enlightenment utopian thinking had become linked to precisely these horrors, creating an impulse for the dystopian critique of reason and power that resonated strongly with French philosophers like Michel Foucault, Derrida and Deleuze. This dystopian impulse became the backbone of postmodern philosophy, which claimed to be a final and comprehensive casting away of modern, Enlightenment inspired ideals and their philosophical underpinnings.

Postmodernism seemed to be the final philosophy of the west, announcing the decadence of the west and the death of utopia.

However, in the past ten years, French intellectuals have returned to cosmopolitanism and other Enlightenment values in what may be termed a spectacular reversal of postmodernism, rehabilitating both the legacy of the Enlightenment in general and the legitimacy of its utopian ideals. The reopening of an intellectual space for utopia that has followed raises the question of how this reversal could take place, and what this means for the relationship between postmodernism and utopian thought. This paper argues that the critique and rejection of Enlightenment utopianism reveals an interesting 'complicity of opposites': the postmodern critique of utopia was carried out in the name of utopian ideals, and was therefore unable to fulfill its programme of transcending the legacy of the Enlightenment.

Gousis, Konstantinos

Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece

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

Utopia between Economy and Politics – An Interpretation of Greek Social Struggles in the Post – Crisis Era in terms of Jameson’s Recent Work

This paper aims to examine Fredric Jameson’s recent work in order to tackle the big questions that the current political and social conjuncture raises in Greece. The paper suggests that the Greek waves of social unrest in the post – crisis period have reached a turning point, which will either take the form of an explosion of political imagination among the mass movements or face the danger of the interiorization of defeat. This dilemma arises from the dual experience of the empirical present: the gap between a new sense of collectivity emerging in the field of social and political struggles and the personal suffering from the rapid deterioration of working and living conditions. This duality opens the field for all the varieties of Utopian/Anti – utopian/Dystopian aspects of the contemporary debate.

The main reference to Jameson’s work is his last book, Representing Capital, a commentary on Volume I of Marx’s Capital, in which Jameson draws some important conclusions about both Marxism and his own previous work on Utopias. The opposition between Utopian models or projects and the Utopian impulse is re-identified in terms of the essentially political nature of Utopian texts and revolutionary practice, on one hand, and the profoundly economic character of the Utopian impulse, on the other. The latter is then the moment of communism, as the unimaginable fulfillment of a radical alternative that cannot even be dreamt.

Such an approach, along with critical aspects, such as Peter Thomas’s proposed dialectical interaction of politics and economy is then being engaged with the situation in Greece, the problem of radical political programs here-and-now and especially the passage from a “partial” demand to the full-fledged “utopian leap”. The initial dilemma is finally re – interpreted, in terms of Jameson’s Utopia/Anti – utopia dialectical view, as the challenge of developing from the “anxiety about the loss of the past” to an “anxiety about losing the future”.

Graevenitz, Antje von

University of Cologne, Germany
Session 34, Sun. 16.30-18.00, Rm A008 (Chair: Evi Haggipavlu)

The Mentality of Failure: The Artistic Crisis in Art of the 20th Century as a Strategy or Iconographical Treasure

Around 1800 there was a general idea of the original genius that was intended never to fail. Poets and artists were expressing a particular idea of Utopia. They developed in their work models and visions for a future perfect society. However, parallel to this avantgarde vision there emerged a fear of failure. Margot and Rudolf Witkower’s 1963 book ‘Born under Saturn’ is about artists who toiled until their madness with their mission, and who were, at the same time, always conscious of their failing. The Witkowers’ history of this saturnalian mentality ends with the French Revolution, and it is about time that this period is expanded into the 20th century. Artists such as Alberto Giacometti, Antonin Artaud, Dieter Roth, Robert Motherwell, Bruce Nauman, Bas Jan Ader and Ben d’Armagnac deserve closer consideration. Expansion is also necessary to be able to present the history from 1828 onwards, in which the utopian belief triggered a turning of mentality that had its influence into the 20th century. Habitus, pretention and persuasion changed dramatically. In my paper the biographical fear of failing will not be sketched, but I will present a structure of three ways of artistic failure as a particular theme in art of the 20th century against a background of Utopian ideas: 1. an artistic strategy as such. 2. as a subject of creating art. 3. as iconographical motives of healing the spectator, whereby the idea of Utopia seems to return.

Hadjichristos, Christos

University of Cyprus, Cyprus

Session 25, Sat. 16.30-18.00, Rm A107 (Roundtable on Nathaniel Coleman, Chair: Tom Moylan)

Session 5, Sun. 16.30-18.00, Rm A007 (Chair: Nader Vossoughian)

(Un)author(ised) Micro-utopias and their Spatiotemporal Context

In De Certeau’s model as described in ‘The Practice of Everyday Life’, architecture could be seen as using ‘strategies’ in order to create ‘places’. Unable to significantly change the space thus produced, the users of these ‘places’ use ‘tactics’ which take advantage of opportunities offered in the temporal dimension to create their own, consequently ephemeral ‘micro-utopias’. This paper looks at a simple path on the sand along the Limassol coast in Cyprus, the most minimal or basic of architectural proposals, and examines how its various users take advantage of its characteristics and its context, in order to ‘make do’. Acts involving two or more persons inevitably have a social dimension while some of the phenomena flirt with the unethical or the illegal. The user is allowed to take infinitesimally small steps which break down any strong sense of agency, consequently diluting any strong sense of responsibility before the act itself. It is observed that the equilibrium of this multilayered system depends on slight yet significant syntactical or configurational shifts offered by the setup itself, a setup which will serve as the model for the textual presentation of the paper itself.

Hadjichristos, Christos and Loizidou, Chrystalleni

University of Cyprus, Cyprus and The London Consortium, University of London, UK

Session 6, Mon. 11.30-13.00, Rm A008 (Chair: Marios Vasileiou)

Monuments and Utopias: In Search of their Descendants

The monument is frequently seen as a discrete and contained entity, the task of which may have been, or still is, to serve a much larger or grander purpose, namely a past, present or future vision of utopia. It could thus be seen as a unique or rare aspect of utopia since it has a real physical presence in space and in a specific context. And while the creation of monuments, which according to Lefebvre express or generate consensus, as well as the creation of utopias as grand narratives, are by many seen as outdated acts, one can hardly conclude or argue that they are extinct. This paper focuses on the monument and examines the way it may have mutated into unexpected forms or moved into new planes and locations. We discuss the nature of the monument using specific examples and highlighting the importance of its location. Thus, rather than concentrating on the discrete objectivity of the monument, the scope is widened to include its configurational position within the syntax of the spatial urban fabric. The discussion then moves to other ‘fabrics’ or fields in which the monument’s descendants could now be located. In other words, rather than focusing on assumed and potentially outdated notions of what the monument is, the study first attempts to understand the places where it may be found and then visits them in order to get to know it as well.

Haggipavlu, Evi

University of Cyprus, Cyprus

Session 22, Sat. 14.30-16.00, Rm A112 (Chair: José Eduardo Reis)

That World According to Andrei Tarkovsky

In this paper I argue that Andrei Tarkovsky’s films are a response to a crisis--understood here in terms of a distance that manifests itself on two seemingly different yet essentially interrelated levels, the cinematic level—as distance between the audience and the work of art-- and the existential/spiritual level—as distance between humans and their world. On the one hand Tarkovsky with his time filled images, assertively takes a stand against a method of film-making (promoted by “the montage of collisions” school of thought based on the directives of a socialist realist aesthetic) that turns, in his mind, “thought into a despot” widening thus the gap between the audience and the work, while at the same time following another Russian tradition of thought (especially Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy), he questions the “spiritual” crisis of our times which he translates as the loss of faith or interest in our world. Using Tarkovsky’s own theory on cinema, existentialism, and Martin Heidegger’s thoughts on art, my aim here is to examine the nature of the crisis Tarkovsky addresses and the response he gives to that crisis through his films. Through a close reading of his “science-fiction” films Solaris and Stalker, I am showing that Tarkovsky’s poetic cinema by upsetting genre expectations—his response to the cinematic component of the crisis-- transcends at the same time compartmentalized/calculative thinking—his response to the “spiritual” crisis—thus giving rise to a differential, strange, un-homing yet very earth-bound world full of time in which Dasein finds her/his home.

Hanshew, Kenneth

Universität Regensburg, Germany

Session 39, Sun. 18.30-20.00, Rm A008 (Chair: Artur Blaim)

Crisis of Existence: Utopia in Czech Literature

If Ondřej Neff, the current uncontested star of Czech science fiction and author of the first history of Czech science fiction is correct, the first crisis of Czech literary utopias is their virtual nonexistence: he identifies only one novel as utopian, Karel Blažek’s Nejlepší století. This paper revises this notion shared by J. Czaplińska and D. Hodrová by studying select Czech literary responses to moments of crisis be they impersonal industrialization (K. Čapek’s R.U.R.), socialist conformity (I. Kmínek’s Utopie, nejlepší verze), or the proliferation of personal freedoms and technology after the fall of communism (V. Podracký’s Poslední člověk and J. Škvorecký’s Pulchra) from the beginning of the 20th to the early 21st century. By considering the positive, negative and anti-utopian it shall be shown that one may indeed recognize a Czech utopian tradition continuing to the present day that is more than mere critical reflections on a particular society, but rather a part of timeless anthropological utopian speculation and literary intertextuality.

Holland, Owen

University of Cambridge, UK,


Session 37, Sun. 16.30-18.00, Rm A011 (Chair: Hans Ulrich Seeber)

From the Place Vendôme to Trafalgar Square: William Morris’s Proleptic Memory’

Utopia is concerned with the transfiguration of space – the lived, the familiar, the known, and the reified. Yoking together the Greek words ou and topos, any classical utopian text contains an unavoidable dimension of spatiality. But the frequently noted pun in the word’s prefix can obscure the significance of the suffix: utopia is a good and a non-existent place. In this paper, I examine how two particular topoi consecrated to the celebration of imperialism – namely, the Place Vendôme in Paris and Trafalgar Square in London – were differently transfigured in divergent examples of utopian praxis. My conjecture is that the Parisian communards’ spectacular demolition of the Vendôme Column in May 1871 is an unrecognised influence on William Morris’s re-visioning of Trafalgar Square in News from Nowhere (1890). The communard example, which was widely reported in the British bourgeois press at the time, furnished Morris with a means to think the prospects for similar action in his own national context as he moved towards a more coherently anti-imperialist politics in the 1880s. The symbolic cache of the national monument, as well as the impression of timelessness and national continuity which the monumental aesthetic inculcates, was directly confronted in the radical action of the communards and in Morris’s speculative utopian transfiguration. Morris’s utopian intervention involved re-imagining the potential usages of public space – picking a site of imposing, neo-classical coldness, with a buried history of class struggle stratified in its past, and speculatively transforming it into a space of growth, fertility and abundance.

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