Claudio Magris’ 1999 work, Utopia e disincanto, begins with his observation that the present moment pleasures in apocalyptic pessimism. This pessimism is tied to the death of the myth of the Revolution, confirmed by the fall of communism. If there is a question of irrelevance, it is that of utopias. Current conversations in literary theory deal with finding definitive criteria for “dystopias” or “counter-utopias,” ideas which are very much in vogue in the science fiction genre. Apocalyptic narratives, or post-apocalyptic narratives, have been invading bookstores as well as movie screens – as seen most recently with Lars von Trier’s latest film, Melancholia. One could say that this is symptomatic of the state of contemporary art.
The disqualification of the idea of utopias is partly tied to the totalitarian experiences of the 20th century, as well as an inarguable melancholic tropism which colors our representation of History and time : a History which seems stalled when it does not appear to be focused on catastrophes of the past, in a “pure and simple revisionism of the narrative of emancipation.” (Rancière). And yet, there are thinkers of “our time” who keep the idea of utopias alive – imaginary utopias born out of either disaster or disillusionment. Walter Benjamin developed the idea of a “messianism without a messiah,” while Georges Didi-Huberman explores “the survival of the fireflies,” a title of a recent book which expands on the work of Pasolini. In art history, fireflies are symbolic of the fragility of a possible future which must take into account the imagination, inseparable from politics.
In this issue, we would like to explore the idea of utopias while interrogating the question of survival in contemporary art and literature – the term “contemporary” broadly understood as the moments after World War II. Claudio Magris believes that while the intellect is incapable of exploring the contradictions between utopias and disillusionment, literature can insert itself within the spaces which both connect and separate them. He believes that utopias and disillusionment should not “be opposed,” but should “mutually and simultaneously support and critique” each other. How can contemporary art and literature play within these spaces of “contradiction” without necessarily working to resolve them ? Novels such as Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World investigate the thin line between utopias and counter-utopias : chapters titled “Wonderland” are interwoven with “The End of the World” chapters. The Austrian author Peter Handke’s Der Bildverlust is entirely built around the comparison of two allegories : the utopic town of Hondareda is opposed, at least initially, to “The Zone,” Nuevo Bazar, whose name suggests its counter-utopic character. The contemporary moment invites us, perhaps, to redraw the map of “non spaces.” Do the traditional political utopias (explored by More or Campanella) give way to other types of utopias : ecological, spiritual, or aesthetic ? Do installations, in contemporary art, offer the parameters for new “non spaces” ?
It is, fundamentally, the links between art, ethics and politics which question the idea of utopias : can literature and art still help us imagine our idea of time and the future ? Do they still investigate the ideas of commonality and the community ? What is at the heart of this link between politics and the imagination, reaffirmed by Georges Didi-Huberman in The Survival of Fireflies ?
This topic, which is intentionally open, is not exclusive to any literary genre (novel, short story, theater, poetry, etc.) and can include the plastic arts and cinema. It is only the comparative angle which is required. Proposals (3000 characters) with a brief bibliography and biography of the author must be sent before April 12, 2012 in a WORD document to : firstname.lastname@example.org. Accepted proposals must be submitted by June 12, 2012. A reminder that the general and comparative literature journal TRANS- accepts articles in French, English and Spanish.
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