Dreaming Dangerously: Imagining the Utopian, the Nostalgic, the Possible

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Simon Fraser University, English Department Graduate Conference
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Nostalgia itself has a utopian dimension, only it is no longer directed toward the future. Sometimes nostalgia is not directed towards the past either, but rather sideways. The nostalgic feels stifled within the conventional confines of time and space.
–Svetlana Boym, The Future of Nostalgia xiv

So where do we stand now, in 2012? 2011 was the year of dreaming dangerously, of the revival of radical emancipatory politics all around the world. Now a year later, every day brings new evidence of how fragile and inconsistent that awakening was.
-Slavoj Zizek, The Year of Dreaming Dangerously

In recent years, the act of dreaming has gained currency as the thoughts of individuals and groups drift toward alternate versions of the world through nostalgic backward glances at imagined pasts, utopian projections of impossible future spaces, and inspiring movements grounded in the present.

Nostalgia is one version of this kind of dreaming. What is this desire called nostalgia and what work does it do? According to Svetlana Boym, nostalgia derives from two terms: nostros, or "return home" and algia, or "longing" (The Future of Nostalgia xiv). Thus, it encompasses two contradictory impulses. Depending on which term you want to accentuate, nostalgia can either involve the desire to restore some mythical unity thought to be lost, or it can mean the opposite, the desire to maintain the distance towards the past that Susan Stewart calls the "very generating mechanism of desire" (On Longing 23). Here is the wager and the risk of political dreaming - the idea that the dream might provoke action that attempts to change things or, conversely, that dreaming will serve as a substitute for action itself. Along with other kinds of cultural and political dreaming (the utopian vision, the militant manifesto), perhaps nostalgia offers alternative affective readings of history and the future, allowing us to think otherwise about our present spaces, institutions, and interrelationships. Additionally, to what extent does a conception of desire and nostalgia complicate or complement the (im)possibility of successfully completing its Utopian impulse?

Where do we think we stood in 2008? In 1968? In 1871? Where do we dream about standing in our various imagined futures?

The 2013 SFU English Department graduate conference, Dreaming Dangerously: Imagining the Utopian, the Nostalgic, the Possible, which will be held on June 21st and 22nd, asks that applicants consider some of the following in their papers:

-The dream and its relationship (or lack of relationship) to the political
-Dreams and dreaming across cultures and periods
-The textual reimagining and reinterpretation of the past in order to help us interpret the present (such as the Medieval and early modern use of Greek histories, the Victorian use of medievalisms, etc.)
-The potential of historical utopian projects and ideas
-Countercultural communities, or counterpublics, as utopian spaces
-Longing and desire
-Public memory and identity
-Retromania and Kitsch
-Alternative forms of thinking about the past or future that literature presents to us in the present
-The translation and transmission of ideas across genres and media
-The effect of repetition and reiteration to either dilute or crystallize ideas about possibilities ("First as tragedy, then as farce")
-Scientific and technological innovations that can reshape the possible or cause us to idealize a pre-technological past (or fetishize an ideal future)

We enthusiastically invite applicants from a variety of different disciplines and backgrounds to contribute to this conference. For a 15 to 20 minute presentation (approx. 8 pages), please email paper proposals of no more than 250 words to gradconf@sfu.ca by March 1st 2013. For a panel proposal, please specify the title and include the THREE abstracts which make up your panel.

Finally, the SFU Graduate Conference is proud to host a creative night on the final day of our conference which invites poets, performance artists, short dramatic pieces, video art, and musical performers to share their talents. Creative proposals ought to include a brief artist statement and a sample of previous work. Ideally, your submission will speak to some of the general concepts we are developing but all will be considered.