International Conference of the Utopian Studies Society (Europe)

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Miller, Timothy

University of Kansas, USA

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

Session 29, Sun. 11.00-12.30, Rm A010 (Roundtable on Henry Near, Chair: Joachim Fischer)

Utopian Visions in Response to Crisis: The Case of Indigenous North Americans

The world’s history is filled with tragic stories of eradication of cultures as conquering nations have obliterated the peoples in their paths. One group of such stories involves the American Indian, or indigenous, or First Nations people in North America, who were exploited and victimized by the Spanish, French, and English settlers of the continent and whose cultures were nearly eradicated and remain badly damaged.

As early as 200 years ago it became evident to some indigenous people that armed resistance to the conquering Euro-Americans was futile. By the late eighteenth century prophets and visionaries began to arise in several tribes urging an end to violent resistance to the European incursion. By and large the Indian prophets, as they are generally known, urged their people to turn inward in their pursuit of justice, reforming their own beliefs and practices instead of continuing to fight the invaders. Many of the prophets offered a utopian reward to those who would follow the path they proclaimed, a renewal of traditional Indian culture and a golden age of peace and plenty.

This paper will examine the messages and teachings of some of the prophets, focusing on Wovoka, the prophet of the millennial and utopian Ghost Dance movement, and Quanah Parker, whose advocacy of peyote religion led to a new kind of inward utopian vision.

The paper will be illustrated with powerpoint slides of Indian prophets and the ceremonies associated with their teachings.

Morgan, Diane

University of Leeds, UK

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

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

Globus terraqueus: Cosmopolitan Right, Fluid Geography and Commercium in the Utopian Thinking of Immanuel Kant and Joseph-Pierre Proudhon.

In The Metaphysics of Morals, Kant makes it clear that the physico-geographical fact of the earth’s sphericity grounds “cosmopolitan right”. This idea is in turn defined as a “peaceful, even if not friendly, thoroughgoing community of all nations on the earth that can come into relation affecting each other”. He then develops a mereological argument to demonstrate how particular claims to parts of the land’s surface as ‘private property’ are to be reassessed in terms of others’ more universal, and rightful, claims to access to the planet and its resources as a whole.

This paper will explore Kant’s ‘utopian’ theory of cosmopolitan justice in the light of contemporary ecological and political crises. It will also draw out parallels between Kant’s work and that of the anarchist, Joseph-Pierre Proudhon, for whom the limited nature of the earth’s resources and the ensuing right of everyone “to a place under the sun” led to a radical questioning of the justice of property “rights”.

Oppenheimer, Maya

London Consortium (Birkbeck), UK

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

Prospecting and Temporal Blending in the Search of Utopia

The act of prospecting implies a deep searching of a landscape, locating the hidden and assessing the potential of a presence—of a treasure beneath. It also presupposes the discovery of something beneficial, needed and worthy of the invested effort. What is compelling about this process is the penetration of material ‘–scapes’, a physical unearthing, but there is also a metaphorical search for an entity whose assets and influence cannot be fully anticipated.

I am speaking of moments brought forth through cultural time to alter and give context to the prospective betterment of the everyday. In other words, I am concerned with the attempt to actualise a utopian notion of the past to satisfy an anxious, hopeful future.

Prospecting moments of a pre-industrial ‘Golden Age’ is a preoccupation that yields a melancholic desire to re-enact and reconfigure the past. This paper will consider instances that demonstrate moments reconstructed from idealised conceptions of the past and performed within a contemporary space. The designed space of amateur historical re-enactment and technologies developed to capture the form of valued bodies (taxidermy, digital avatars) are fruitful and contrary examples of the tendency to manipulate time—one being a visitation and the other being a bringing-forward. Nurturing or denying the presence of age on an object or bodily surface (aesthetic surgery) takes this discussion to the extreme. There emerges an interesting dialogue of surface integrity and a tension between isolation and performance, temporality and documentation.

If Utopia is a directive pursuit of an ideal (Bloch’s concrete Utopia) and interest in history begets a compulsive inquesting, visitation and recreation (George Steiner), the combination of these impulses yields a unique historical materialism mediated by the past and future. If, however, historical time converges, there exists a danger in layering the so-called ‘beloved shadows’ Steiner attributes to our fascination with the past. The discussion will close with issues surrounding this dense phantasmagoria and whether it becomes a haunting of nostalgic potential rather than a directive guide towards a desired Utopics.

Ormrod, James

University of Brighton, UK

Session 15, Sat. 16.30-18.00, Rm A010 (Chair: Verity Burgmann)

From Utopia to Fantasy in the Pro-Space Movement

This paper begins with Jameson’s distinction between the utopian form or program and the utopian impulse or wish (from Bloch). It explores ways in which personal wish-fulfilment fantasy and its collective elaboration have been theorised in psychoanalytic theory. It then moves to discussing the proposition that in contemporary social movements the collective construction of utopias has receded in favour of highly individualised fantasies that carry with them no impetus for social change. Using Bookchin’s description of the move from social anarchism to lifestyle anarchism as a precedent, the paper looks at trends within the contemporary pro-space movement (which supports the human exploration, development and settlement of outer space). The author argues that this movement has undergone a similar transition from a utopianism capable of imagining alternative social forms in space to a collection of individuals pursuing personal daydreams under the aegis of ‘collapsed’ libertarianism. It is proposed that this shift reveals the basis of the movement in wish-fulfilment fantasy, and exposes the relationship between these fantasies and the ideologies that have supported them. This trend is seen as the result of economic, social, ideological and political shifts that have facilitated the emergence of sub-movements dedicated to new entrepreneurial space ventures and space tourism.

Ormrod, James

University of Brighton, UK

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

Pothole Gardens as Interstitial Utopias

This short paper responds to reports in the British press last year on the exploits of two ‘pothole gardeners’ who had been planting flowers in potholes in the road (made worse by the cold weather at the beginning of the year). The paper takes the pothole gardens as both an allegory for and an example of Michel Maffesoli’s concept of ‘interstitial utopias’ or ‘utopias in the gaps’. It is argued that gaps in the road’s surface can be, and have been, seen as symbolic of the opening of contradictions in the modern city. Public responses to the appearance of such gaps can therefore be read as both literal and symbolic illustrations of forms of contemporary political action. The paper argues that the pothole gardens can be read as representing Maffesoli’s notion of ingressive ‘little utopias’ which celebrate the gaps in everyday life, as opposed to totalising progressive utopian programs. However, the paper goes on to outline public responses to the pothole gardens through newspaper blogs, and suggests that both more ‘progressive’ readings of the pothole gardens, and more ‘progressive’ alternative solutions to the pothole issue, are alive in the public imagination. It concludes polemically with a critique of the view that would see pothole gardening as a form of political activity, and for the necessity of genuinely progressive collective action.

Pisarska, Katarzyna

Maria Curie-Skłodowska University, Poland

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

Post-apocalyptic Americas in Jim Craces The Pesthouse and Cormac McCarthys The Road

The paper seeks to explore the correspondences and differences in the post-apocalyptic representations of America as envisioned by two writers from the opposite sides of the Atlantic, an Englishman, Jim Crace, and an American, Cormac McCarthy. The theoretical framework of the analysis is based on the existing studies of utopia and dystopia (e.g. L. T. Sargent, D. Suvin, T. Moylan) as well as on the studies of (post)apocalypse contained in the works of Frank Kermode and James Berger.

Set in the imagined future, the two dreary travel narratives show their protagonists traversing the once Promised Land, now turned into a post-cataclysmic wasteland, whose humanity is exiled and degraded, struggling against slave-traders or cannibals, while the last forces of civilization hide in their flimsy bulwarks. Franklin and Margaret (The Pesthouse) and the father and son (The Road) set out for the sea in the hope of escape and survival. The dystopian spaces of their peregrinations in the ravaged continent, where old institutions and governments have ceased to exist, moral systems have collapsed and the world has come back to primitive power relationships, will be the subject of analysis in the first part of the paper.

The latter part will be devoted to the discussion of the utopian impulse in the world supposedly deprived of hope (particularly noticeable in The Pesthouse), which manifests itself through the rise of the communal spirit (individual bonds as well as intentional communities) and through the characters’ retracing of the traditional paradigm of a journey westward, which in the end reaffirms the perennial myth of America.

Pohl, Nicole

Oxford Brookes University, UK

Session 24, Sun. 16.30-18.00, Rm A010 (Chair: Pere Gallardo Torrano)

'Jenseits des Sees': Werner Koch's Lake Life Trilogy

My paper will introduce and discuss the utopian trilogy by Werner Koch (1926-1992), See-Leben. Published successfully in the 1970s, it has been sadly neglected as a philosophical reflection on utopian change. It sketches the conflict between capitalist apparatus and rebellion, between the private individual and anonymous public, between freedom and obligation in three parallel scenarios. In the vein of the critical utopia, it leaves the question open if utopia as a concept is possible and indeed, if a meaningful life is possible.

Poljarevic, Emin

European University Institute, Italy

Session 15, Sat. 16.30-18.00, Rm A010 (Chair: Verity Burgmann)

Nonviolent Salafi-mission and Mobilization under State Repression: A Case Study of Egypt

This paper seeks to discuss Salafi micro-mobilization in Egypt since 2000. It seeks to increase our overall understanding of their beliefs and modes of activism under repression by looking at low-level activists’ explanatory narratives. The activists’ discourse is divided into three major analytic categories: emotions, identities and beliefs. From here, it is possible to discern how Salafis have succeeded in increasing their numbers through presenting their vision of a utopian society. Their assumed success is contextualized by presenting state repression as a major indicator of religiously inspired social mobilization. Furthermore, there are some indications that point out their utopian message has had an impact on other Islamist social movement organizations. These are presented in form of activists’ discourse through analysis of daily interactions between different forms of Islamist activists (e.g. Salafis and Muslim Brothers). The vast majority of Islamist movement organizations are non-violent, and some are even prepared to work within the political structures set up by the ruling regimes (as the Muslim Brotherhood) others are not (as the Salafi Mission in Alexandria). It is therefore necessary to revisit theories of state repression and social movements in order to increase our understanding of activism under extreme conditions. What explains the religious revival and emergence of religiously based social activism in these societies? What leads some of people to engage in utopian high-risk social activism? How are everyday practices transformed into socio-political activism in repressive states? Lastly, the paper argues that social movement researchers have given little attention to (Islamist) social movement organizations active in repressive states. I argue that theoretical frameworks have not allowed for large-scale exploration of these types of SMOs. This paper presents a direction by which social movement research may develop more resourceful theoretical framework(s).

Pordzik, Ralph

Universität Würzburg, Germany

Session 20, Sat. 14.30-16.00, Rm A010 (Roundtable on Postcolonial Utopianism, Chair: Lyman Tower Sargent)

Session 27, Sun. 14.30-16.00, Rm A008 (Chair: Lyman Tower Sargent)

Escaping the Parasite: Utopia, Dystopia and the Politics of Destitution in the Fiction of Dambudzo Marechera

Despite a growing range of essays and books addressing the issue of utopianism in the African world, African literary criticism today still feels uncomfortable with the notion of literature projecting into the open future instead of looking back nostalgically into the ‘great’ African past. The aim of this paper is to carve out the peculiar utopian dimension at work in the fiction of Zimbabwean writer Dambudzo Marechera (1952–1987), taking into account his unique power to destabilize and desacralize traditionalist images of African identity. In order to better explore and situate his unique style of writing and cult status as Africa’s foremost ‘enfant terrible’, Marechera’s intriguing literary powers will be associated with the notion of a creative, ‘parasitic’ art devising sites of irritation and reconfiguration where concepts of the past and the future may be renegotiated so as to offer distinct routes for renewal and rearrangement. Two related concepts will come in handy to make a case for a particular brand of utopian thinking formed under conditions of prolonged suffering and privation. First, the concept of destitution, usually defined in terms of an extreme want of resources or means of subsistence, will be taken up to elucidate Marechera’s complex ways of gathering a variety of objects and signs into a single fictional context. (Connor 2000) Secondly, Michel Serres’s philosophy of the parasite as intruder and intervening power will be considered as a supplementary scheme. Marechera’s difficult style of writing forms what Serres describes as a milieu, an intermediary space: it is active between worlds that couldn’t by all means be more different; the one assiduously producing and processing and pretending to give and provide, the other depleted and indigent, a site of paralysis and decomposition left to bleed dry by despotic rulers ancient and new. Marechera seems to draw a perverse yet stimulating kind of gratification from his role as parasitic messenger in this framing milieu. Literally describing himself as cultural “parasite” in his near-future and civil war dystopia The Black Insider (1990: 33–35), he ventures to break the established symmetry of exchange between discrete or culturally separate units designated to be positioned eye to eye in the same constellation for ever: the one receiving, passive, the other active, handing out with magnanimous gesture. Feeding off all kinds of western discourse systems – art, existential philosophy, liberation theology, Beat literature, to name just a few sources – Marechera looks for the utopian in different places, in other epistemologies: his long-neglected writing leads the way in achieving a new interventionist ideal, if only as an alternative literary currency representing the parasitic power of signs and symbols in a thoroughly mediatized society, nourishing a new order.

Frequently, African critics have lamented this withdrawal from an African mythopoeic fram­ework grounded in traditional orality and folklore, finding in this only the unwholesome influence of the capitalist west. But Marechera grew up in the rapidly globalizing world of ‘altermodernity’ (Bourriaud 2009) where steady states are not imaginable any more, where – in theory at least – utopia may be achieved but only by constantly intercepting the unidirectional cultural flow (from oppressor to victim, resource to consumer, etc.); by creating, amidst a cancer of intermediate forms, a “pathological growth” of “flights, losses, holes” (Serres 1982: 12) inspiring the desire to conserve and carry on, to multiply affect, fluctuation, disorder. This, naively remonstrative or gratuitously ‘altermodern’ as it may sound as first, may indeed hold some – aesthetically and politically – creative potential in the African postcolony where far too many of the unifying processes of independence and postcolonial nation-building of the past have proved faulty or fatally deficient in some way.

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