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Durham University

Department of English Studies

Event Archive

This is an archive of past events within the Department of English Studies. Please see our current events for forthcoming activities.

Some of our public events are recorded and are available as podcasts via our Research English At Durham blog.

Apocalypse or Utopia: What Comes Next

27th September 2017, 17:30 to 19:00, Alington House, 4 North Bailey, David Cross-Kane and Sarah Lohmann

What can fiction tell us about where our planet and civilisation is heading? Discuss with a panel of speakers at this free public event. Part of our Late Summer Lectures Series.

About 'After The End: Post-Human Discourse in the Late-Anthropocene, or Tentacles of Past, Present & Future,' by David Cross-Kane

In the hyperstitional model…fiction is not opposed to the real. Rather, reality is understood to be composed of fictions – consistent semiotic terrains that condition perceptual, affective, and behavioural responses.

- CCRU, 1997-2003

Art and literature, most notably in the genre of Science fiction, has long depicted the Late-Anthropocene, yet, we have only recently entered the Anthropocene; an epoch determined by humanity’s influence on the Earth’s ecosystems and geology. This is the “era of saturation,” simulation, hyperobjects and cybernetic enterprise. Manifestos linger yet seem obsolete, whilst humans gather a sense of their own rapid decline humanity accelerates towards the end. Not the end of the world, mind, just the end of us (humans). What comes after the end of humanity? What is the post-human and who are ‘They’, if there is indeed a ‘They’ to be had? Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos depicts the post-human form as seal-like creatures directly descended from a survivor of the Hiroshima bomb. Michele Houellebecq envelops his late-capitalist narrative, Atomised, through the voice of a new species manufactured and evolved through cloning who deem the human experience inferior to their own.

Both these narratives are haunted; the absence of the human is visible in the presence of a past-human. The human body is increasingly displaced inside and outside the world, a world post- modernity, in which a We/They relationship becomes deterritorialized and reterritorialized within the Xenosystems of the everyday. The term Xenosystem here denotes that which is systematic is also alien, an unknown system, it is the outside come inside. Late-capitalism may be one such Xenosystem, the tentacular presence of an (un)earthly horror stretching deep into our recent past, extending from the now and into the ‘what will be’. Via a reading of postmodern SF narratives, and taking into account Jameson, we can ask if the engineering of a post-apocalypse and post-human imaginary goes someway to acknowledging the impact of humanity and late-capitalism has had on the future of both the human species and the planet Earth. After all, as Mark Fisher rescripts Jameson and Žižek we recount, “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.” – what then comes after the end?

About 'The Coming Races: Society, the Individual and the Evolution of Utopia in the 20th Century and Today,' by Sarah Lohmann

Utopian literature has historically presented itself as at the service of the community, showcasing a better life for all. However, in several utopian texts from the genre’s ‘golden age’, around the turn of the last century, an interesting tendency can be found that is somewhat at odds with this stated aim. In novels such as Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s The Coming Race, William Henry Hudson’s A Crystal Age, Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward and William Morris’s News from Nowhere, there seems to be a curious reliance on some sort of ‘natural eugenics’ that has produced humans evolved to a much higher standard. Though not always made clear, the physical and social effects speak for themselves – whether in the frightening efficiency of Looking Backwards’ ‘industrial army’, the sphinx-like elegance of The Coming Race’s Vril-ya, or the innocent beauty of Hudson and Morris’s pastoral utopians. In my talk, I will argue that this unsettling eugenicism can in fact be seen as undermining the very thing that could possibly make a literary utopia successful – the collective evolution that its societal transformation offers, rather than that of individuals. In fact, I will argue that this fact can be partially tied to the most common criticism of literary utopias: that they are mere static blueprints, inflexible and illusory. Moreover, I will contrast this paradoxical individualism with the collective-based focus of later feminist utopian novels from the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, such as Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time, Joanna Russ’s The Female Man and Sally Miller Gearhart’s The Wanderground – all of which, I will argue, present self-organising systems whose egalitarianism makes collective evolution not only possible, but highly sustainable. Finally, I will examine what these findings mean for the overall purpose of the literary utopia, as well as for its role in our current political climate.

About David Cross-Kane

David Cross-Kane is a MPhil/PhD candidate at Goldsmiths, University of London in the department of English & Comparative Literature. His area of research concerns representations of the apocalypse in narrative cultures, trauma studies, and philosophy. Having previously presented papers at Goldsmiths and Trinity College Dublin, he recently presented at the Goldsmiths GLITS symposium alongside Laura Mulvey. In addition to his academic work David has written texts and produced musical works for various publications, including N-O-O-N Magazine, White Noise City and released an EP on Invada Records.

About Sarah Lohmann

Sarah Lohmann is a PhD student at Durham University, working on 21st-century feminist utopias under the supervision of Professors Patricia Waugh and Simon James. Before coming to Durham, Sarah completed an MA (Hons) degree in English literature and philosophy as well as MLitt degrees in both ‘Women, Writing and Gender’ and analytic philosophy at the University of St Andrews. She is using this background to inform her interdisciplinary PhD thesis, which spans science fiction, utopianism, feminist theory, analytic and continental philosophy and complexity theory.

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