‘The Art of the Impossible: Culture, Philosophy and Dissent from Havel to the Present’
A conference to be held at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London, 23-25 May 2013.
‘This, then, is Havel’s tragedy: his authentic ethical stance has become a moralising idiom cynically appropriated by the knaves of capitalism. His heroic insistence on doing the impossible has ended up serving those who ‘realistically’ argue that any real change in today’s world is impossible.’ Slavoj Žižek
On 23 December 2011, the funeral mass of Václav Havel was celebrated with a degree of ceremony that not only commemorated his personal achievement but also signalled the end of an era. Havel’s death apparently confirmed the transformation of one of the most astonishing events in post-war Europe—the collapse of Communism—from living memory into complete historical narrative. Yet, the dramatic story of 1970s and 80s dissidents and the path to 1989, this story of private individuals helping to bring about what seemed impossible, has assumed ever greater relevance to the present.
Today, the structures that appeared to have triumphed in 1989, and in what followed, are now themselves the subjects of contestation in, inter alia, the Arab Spring, China’s Charter 08, Greek anti-austerity protests, Wikileaks and pirate parties, and the Occupy Movement. Thus, a triumphalist narrative, with its implied ‘they all lived happily ever after’, cannot provide the end to the story. Rather than a closed chapter, ‘East European dissidence’ and its conception of politics as the art of the impossible appear an open book.
This conference seeks to identify the political, cultural, and philosophical questions that underlie ‘East European dissidence’ and to consider their implications for dissent today.
Individual proposals of no more than 300 words, and brief biographies of no more than 100 words, should be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org by 10 December 2012.
Further inquiries can be addressed to the conference organizers, Tim Beasley-Murray and Peter Zusi, at the above email address.
Conference registration fee: Ł50 standard, Ł30 students and other concessions, free for University of London students
Proposals may address, but need not be limited to, the following topics.
• Impossibility, newness, and political change
• ‘Living in Truth’: politics and ethics
• Dissent from both state socialism and global capitalism
• Politics, drama, and performativity
• ‘Velvet’: political change and violence
Dissent, the private and public
• Communities of dissent: the politics of friendship and intimacy
• Spaces of dissent: street, squares, apartments
• Solidarity and solitude
Figures of dissident
• The dissident as writer: culture and real politics
• The dissident as celebrity: from Havel to Žižek
Genealogies of dissent
• Philosophical genealogies of dissent: Patočka, Arendt, Heidegger, et cetera
• Technologies of dissent: from samizdat and posters to Facebook and twitter
• Dissident lifestyles and culture: from ‘The Plastic People of the Universe’ to the present
• Doing dissent today: the Arab Spring, Occupy, Free Tibet, anti-globalization, Charter 2008
• Thinking dissent today: Jacques Rancičre, John Holloway, Alain Badiou, et cetera
Tim Beasley-Murray, Peter Zusi
School of Slavonic and East European Studies
University College London
London WC1E 6BT
United Kingdom Email: email@example.com
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