The Politics of Utopia: Marxism, Myth and Religion

On November 19th there will be a workshop at Sheffield University organised jointly by the Bakhtin and the Bloch centres dealing with questions of the relationship between critique and faith. The central question will be how much it is possible to develop a rational critique of the existing order without having an alternative mythology to offer. The success of the Tea Party in the US, for example, shows just how much myth and fantasy is impervious to rational critique and evidence. Does this mean that the only way to combat such movements is through developing a progressive mythology as an alternative pole of attraction? Bloch’s book Heritage of Our Times addressed precisely this issue in the 1930s with regard to a critique of emergent fascism and it is perhaps time to ask whether his analysis might have something to say to us in a new period of economic and social dislocation.


The Politics of Utopia: Marxism, Myth and Religion

Friday, 19th November 2010

Workshop jointly organised by the Centre for Ernst Bloch Studies and the Bakhtin Centre

Humanities Research Institute

10.00 – 11.00 Reception and coffee

11.00 – 12.30 Peter Thompson (Sheffield): “The Communist Hypothesis and the Invariant of Direction. Badiou, Bloch and the political theology of the impossible”

Craig Brandist (Sheffield): “Semantic Palaeontology and the Passage from Myth to Science and Poetry: The Work of Izrail´ Frank-Kamenetskii (1880-1937)”

12.30 – 13.30 Lunch

13.30 – 15.00 Esther Leslie (Birkbeck): “Mountains and Crystals: Utopia in the Snows of Weimar”

Richard Howells (King’s): “Creation and Creativity: Utopia and Navajo Design”

15.00 – 15.30 Coffee

15.30 – 17.00 Caitríona Ní Dhúill (Durham): “Experiments with the name of God: Bloch’s reading of mystery”

Johan Siebers (IGRS/University of Central Lancashire): “Gratia naturam non tollit: Outline of a Blochian environmental philosophy”

17.00 – 18.00 Wine reception

18.00 – 19.30 Film screening and discussion in the Exhibition Space as part of ‘Homeland’ (details below)


Pasolini’s Accatone attempting to film a narrative in front of live performance events. Characters speak in front of the chaotic events going on behind thus turning them into the continuous narrative we see in Hermitos Children.

Stephen Connolly

Más Se Perdió (we lost more)

Más Se Perdió (we lost more) structurally unites a series of historical and cultural references in contemporary Havana, Cuba. A variety of cinematographic approaches are used to explore the spaces of the derelict National School of Ballet, to document young athletes at an outdoor stadium, and to record a street scene with construction workers  the latter in reference to Chris Marker’s film Letter from Siberia (1957). Each place maintains some relationship to notions of utopia; however, the autonomous soundscape of the film is suggestive of underlying conflicts contained within these visions.


The Whistleblower’s Pocket Guide to Dissent in the Public Sphere

Freee will broadcast a recording of their spoken choir performance, The Whistleblower’s Guide to Dissent in the Public Sphere. The manifesto is a rewriting of Blast, the Vorticist manifesto of 1914. Long overlooked, and despite its conservative version of avant-gardism, the Vorticist manifesto is unexpectedly militant. Freee’s updated version of the manifesto might borrow the terms of contemporary political thinkers, but the rhetoric of British avant-gardism proves itself to be more up to date than one might expect.

Toby Huddlestone

Inert Gas Series: Box (audio), with Julian Claxton

The work consists of a telephone conversation between Julian Claxton (Plan 9) and conceptual artist Robert Barry. The conversation discusses the location and planned re-making of Barry’s Inert Gas Series: Krypton, 1969. Barry’s original artwork is presented alongside an attempted remake of this work by Huddlestone, working from memory and also through the telepathy of Julian Claxton back in the UK.

A Place of Their Own (Paula McCloskey & Sam Vardy)

The Luxury of Imagining

Using a recorded broadcast featuring multiple voices, the starting point for this piece is a desire to contemplate some of the inherent contradictions, dichotomies and paradoxes that are replete in discourses of utopia. The ‘transmission’ strives to create an-other, parallel space to conjure up other possible worlds and/or ways of being. This ‘text’ plays with ideas of imagined futurity (as potential) and of the possible present (the (in)controvertible ‘now-ness’ of the event).

The Politics and Aesthetics Reading Group,  Maresa MacKeith, Ange Taggart

It is not enough to portray what exists, it is necessary to think what is wished for and what is possible.

The Politics and Aesthetics Reading Group is a collective which meets regularly to read/think and take action, creating a space that supports the reading and dissemination of philosophical/political theory. The group will collaborate with Maresa MacKeith, and Ange Taggart. In Response to Bloch’s writing on The True Architect in The Principle of Hope, Volume 3, the reading group, Maresa and Ange will, together, explore notions of humanity, hope, vulnerability and capital.

Becky Shaw


Sourcing a piece of Galena from an online healing crystal store, Shaw will make a drawing of the crystal to be reproduced in the adjoining publication, with a sound recording of the drawing being broadcast on the radio. Here Becky aims to escape the ‘edges’ of the radio and the publication by the two elements referring to each other; proposing a route between the space of the material and the hopes and dreams of the immaterial.

Dan Smith

Modern Conditions

H.G. Wells’ significance in the development of literary forms of utopian discourse is incomparable. However, it was as a public intellectual that Wells was able to move towards a more socially and politically orientated space of utopian debate and discourse. For Wells, radio was a tool for intellectual speculation as mass communication on an unprecedented scale, to address listeners with political challenges driven by ambitions to achieve concrete utopian transformation. Smith proposes a script derived from H.G. Wells’ radio broadcasts for the BBC in the 1930s and 1940s.


3 Responses to The Politics of Utopia: Marxism, Myth and Religion

  1. Some people define communism as “paradise on earth;” others define it as “hell on earth.” The first definition is often used to seduce–all problems will easily be solved after our next proletarian revolution, according to Marxists. The second definition is a description of what actually happened in the Soviet Union. And now again Marxists promise that problems like exploitation, wars, poverty, alcoholism, anti-semitism, racism, and all other forms of injustice will disappear in classless society.

    But what about pollution, limited natural resources, overpopulation of the planet, global warming, etc.? Would they also disappear automatically in a classless society? If not then communism will not be a paradise on earth. The Soviet Union, by the way, probably became more polluted than the US. I am thinking about the sea of Azov, and about Siberian rivers carrying radioactive waste to the Polar seas.

    What evidence do we have that Russians benefitted from proletarian dictatorship? They would probably be better off today if they had been allowed to develop like other Western-European countries. So much suffering for nothing …

    = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

    Ludwik Kowalski, a retired nuclear scientist and the author of a free ON-LINE book entitled “Diary of a Former Communist: Thoughts, Feelings, Reality.”

    It is an autobiography illustrating my evolution from one extreme to another–from a devoted Stalinist to an active anti-communist. This testimony is based on a diary I kept between 1946 and 2004 (in the USSR, Poland, France and the USA).

  2. Peter Thompson says:

    ludwik, thanks for the comment. I am sure you will not find anyone at the workshop or attached to the Bloch Centre who has any illusions about what a dreadful mess the Soviet Union was. I personally was involved for years in supporting dissidents (albeit soicalist and marxist ones) in the Soviet Bloc before 1989. What we do try to tease out, however, is whether it is possible for humans to survive without a utopian dimension, without a principle of hope for the future which goes beyond that which exists. The relationship between heaven and hell is a complicated one after all. One might even call it a dialectic.

  3. Ana says:

    Ludvik Kowalski sounds like he probably has been a nuisance in both camps. If your point is to say “what evidence have we for…”, why don’t you just pour concrete on everybody? You can’t prove anything, and there is too much information and speculation around.

    Not even capitalism happens automatically. Nothing happens automatically. There are people actively being extremely greedy and unsensible out there, and you are spending your time, Ludvik, on actively annoying people who think about how to build intelligent structures with the one resource we have on this earth (i.e. the one that is not stolen), naive idealism?

    Cut it out! Stop being so active, Ludvik!

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