Utopia in Dark Times (Public talk, 7th June)

With the rise of populist politicians like Donald Trump and Nigel Farage, are we entering an age of political dystopia? In this free talk to complement the Time Machines exhibition, Caroline Edwards (Birkbeck) will travel back to the 1930s writings of the philosopher Ernst Bloch, to reflect on how we might sustain a more positive, utopian imagination of the future. 

The German philosopher Ernst Bloch is the most significant utopian thinker to date. His immense oeuvre, of which the three-volume The Principle of Hope (1938-47) is illustrative, sketches out the persistence of the utopian impulse even in the darkest times. Writing in the early 1930s as Hitler’s National Socialism was taking hold of the German national consciousness, Bloch insisted on the importance of utopian thinking and developed a model of multi-stranded temporality that opened up utopian insights into the present – insights that act like time machines, landing in the unfathomable present from both the past and future.

Our own dark times of post-truth politics as embodied by figures like Donald Trump and Nigel Farage are replete with frightening echoes of populist movements in the 1930s; and Bloch’s thinking remains crucial to helping us confront the increasingly dystopian 2010s with a utopian counterweight. This talk will look at Bloch’s writings to offer some thoughts on defending the utopian imagination in today’s political climate. From the microcosmic phenomenology of individual experience to the macrocosmic scale of historical movements, the experience of lived time remains central to the question of utopian possibility – as Bloch’s writings show us.

Booking is not required for this free talk, but seating will be allocated on a first come, first served basis. The talk takes place on 7th June at 13.00 in the Learning Centre, Palace Green Library.


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