Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights

Imagining Utopia: Politics, Planning, and the (Im)Possible (In-Person)

Instructor: Isi Litke
BISR Central
68 Jay Street, #425
Brooklyn, NY 11201

Dystopias abound in the contemporary landscape—in literature, on screen, in our diagnoses of the present. From the zombie apocalypse to planetary catastrophe to nightmarish visions of gender disciplining, dystopia is today a particularly salient category, a popular outlet for imaginations of (im)possible political futures. But the utopian genre, older by over a century, appears to have been all but eclipsed by its unsettling counterpart, even relegated to a pejorative: the utopian as politically naïve, escapist, nostalgic, irrational, dogmatic, and, ultimately, unrealizable. While the latter designation perhaps misapprehends the actual value and aspirations of the genre, what are we to make of this apparent retreat from utopian thinking—in both our cultural and political imaginaries? For whom, and in what form, does utopia remain—or stand a chance of becoming—a fruitful category for contemporary politics?

In this course, we will engage the project of utopia in its various forms and functions—as regulative principle, diagnostic tool, speculative exploration, and concrete political intervention. Beginning with Marx’s admittedly ambivalent relationship with the utopian socialists of his era, we will work our way through writings by Thomas More, William Morris, Oscar Wilde, before expanding our conversation to include twentieth and twenty-first century thinkers for whom the utopian impulse was vital for a Marxist politics—including Ernst Bloch, Walter Benjamin, Herbert Marcuse, Fredric Jameson, and Mark Fisher. How did these writers and thinkers situate their visions of utopia in relation to emancipatory movements past and present? Along the way, we’ll explore literary and other cultural expressions of utopia, with a focus on utopian literature’s close affinity with feminist and queer theory in works by, among others, Shulamith Firestone, Ursula Le Guin, and Jennie Livingston. How does the figure of utopia allow us to envision a world that might be otherwise—at a time when crisis and catastrophe dominate our imaginations of the future?

Course Schedule

Monday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
April 10 — May 01, 2023
4 weeks


Registration Open

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