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Dreaming within/beyond the Crisis of the Present

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Organizer: Geordie Miller

Co-Organizer: Timothy Brennan

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What happens to a dream defeated? The dream in question is as old as modernity: the dream of an alternative to capitalism. Current and looming crises would seem to make a mockery of the question. For what good is dreaming amidst crisis? Yet, recent years have seen a rise in utopian enthusiasms: dreams that range from presidential campaigns advocating democratic socialism to best-selling “utopias for realists.” Moreover, these renewed energies have come precisely at a time when the neoliberal “utopia of the global market” appears to be in ruins, though the question remains whether the current authoritarian moment represents a reaction against this project or a realization of its own nightmarish vision: a state-financial nexus that manages every aspect of our lives, as well as a reduction of politics to the defense of business and family, as Wendy Brown and Melinda Cooper have recently theorized.

Our seminar wagers that tracing the intellectual history of this “neoliberal dreamworld” could open up the sort of potentially emancipatory reckoning that Susan Buck-Morss proposed in the wake of the 2016 U.S. Presidential elections. Buck-Morss writes of the need to “acknowledge that history took a wrong turn. Straight into a dead end. We’ve got to retrace our steps and venture forward on different paths that, in our fantasies of history-as-progress, we long ago passed by.” This recovery work can begin with illuminating the “dead end” of monetarism, disinvestment, disaccumulation, and so on, processes that continue to mutate and intensify. The aim of such a project would be not only to make sense of current authoritarian strands articulated as defenses of freedom, but possibly, to begin to re-conceive the role of public good and a state not in the service of capital. Finally, we seek to interrogate whether the very concepts of crisis and utopia themselves are useful for conceiving of these different paths, or whether they lead us back to other well-known “dead ends”: does theory’s fascination with “epistemic breaks” and “ruptures” end up reifying neoliberal presentism? Does the utopian tradition offer a way out of this ahistoricity, or does it merely lead to new dogmas, doomed ethical strivings, or the latest commodified trends of the publishing market and politics as usual?
We welcome papers that historicize the concepts of dreamworlds and/or crisis, theorize the utopian/dystopian dimensions of neoliberalism, and/or trace intellectual histories that outline alternatives to capitalist authoritarianism.

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