Archives for posts with tag: Utopia

and so it begins: I have been given leave in 2018/19 to write this book for Camden House.

Beyond Tomorrow. German Science Fiction and Utopian Thought in the 20th and 21st Century will make a major intervention in German Studies and a significant contribution to debates in Futures Studies and Comparative Literature/Film Studies.

In German literature and film, as well as in German Studies more generally, the key focus and main emphasis since the end of World War II has rightly been Vergangenheitsbewältigung [coming to terms with the past]. The argument put forward by scholars, writers and critics is that only by understanding, and working through, the consequences of National Socialism, the Holocaust, the death of millions, the uprooting of entire populations and the destruction of entire cities can we avoid making the same mistakes again. However, there is a risk that such a singular focus on the past bypasses the rapid developments in science and technology (eg AI; genetic engineering) that require a thorough understanding of, and critical engagement with, our new capabilities so that we can make the right choices for their direction and control.

The book demonstrates how writing about possible futures has helped, and continues to help, society to understand, anticipate and cope with the consequences of scientific and technological advances. It combines a discussion of German utopian thought with a survey of the German utopian/dystopian literary and cinematic tradition. Through a close reading of selected examples from around 1900 to the present day that represent key milestones and major artistic achievements, it explores how German writers and film makers respond to the question of how humanity can match its technological advances with a commensurate social, ethical, and moral progress. It examines their visionary responses to global challenges and plots the trajectory of this ongoing inquiry. Whether in utopian anticipation or beneath a dystopian guise, I argue that these works have global relevance and contain valuable strategies for Zukunftsbewältigung [coming to terms with the future]: by imagining inspiring or disturbing futures, they enable us to shape the future.

German Science Fiction is rarely translated into English, nor acknowledged in the Anglophone research literature on utopian and dystopian writing (cp. Gregory Claeys, Dystopia. A Natural History, 2017). Nor is it analysed within its overall context: the last major study in English, William Fischer’s The Empire Strikes Out: Kurd Lasswitz, Hans Dominik and the Development of German Science Fiction was published in 1984 and had a narrow focus on texts from the first half of the 20th century. German Science Fiction tends to reflect specifically ‘German’ concerns stemming from the country’s historical experience which in turn has given rise to specific fears and sensitivities about totalitarian control, the fragility of civil society, and the environment. Precisely because of this sensitivity, German writers’ awareness of the potential consequences of our promethean capabilities means they are particularly able to influence the moral and ethical debates about the direction and implementation of scientific and technological advances. I argue that their works offer vital cognitive and affective strategies that need to be more widely shared to contribute to the transnational debate about the choices we are facing today (cp. Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus, 2016).

The project is timely, given the recent flurry of dystopian novels in Germany, no longer just by established SF authors but also ‘mainstream’ authors such as Christian Kracht, Karen Duwe, Thomas von Steinaecker, Juli Zeh and Uwe Timm, the recent contributions to Futures Studies by German academics such as Harald Welzer, Lars Schmeink or Hans Esselborn, and the growing research focus in the UK on the challenges of the future (cp. the RCUK Big Ideas for the Future report).

This article examines the relationship between, and the importance of, myth and utopia in Hermann Hesse’s work, their development over several decades, and their significance for our understanding of the utopian. The question whether Hesse’s work tends more towards the mythological or the utopian has hitherto not been convincingly answered. I demonstrate that Hesse’s work initially oscillates between (Promethean) myth and utopia. This becomes very clear in Narziß und Goldmund, where the author engages with the problem of death. In Das Glasperlenspiel, however, Hesse uses myth to create a utopian moment. I argue that Hesse’s persistent search for the culmination point of human existence does not necessarily lead to transcendence, but rather makes possible a concrete utopia. According to Hesse, man is capable of reaching a new level of consciousness. His ‘theory of stages’ found itself on the sidelines in a time of collective ideologies but may become relevant in the context of a developing ‘global consciousness’ of autonomous individuals.

German Life and Letters, Vol.66, Issue 2, April 2013, pp.156-172