Event Date: 23 -25 May 2013
Christopher Ingold Lecture Theatre,
Christopher Ingold Chemistry Building,
20 Gordon Street,
University College London,
London WC1H 0AJ
THE ART OF THE IMPOSSIBLE: CULTURE, PHILOSOPHY AND DISSENT FROM HAVEL TO THE PRESENT
‘This, then, is Havel’s tragedy: his authentic ethical stance has become a moralising idiom cynically appropriated by the knaves of capitalism. His heroic insistence on doing the impossible has ended up serving those who ‘realistically’ argue that any real change in today’s world is impossible.’ Slavoj Žižek
On 23 December 2011, the funeral mass of Václav Havel was celebrated with a degree of ceremony that not only commemorated his personal achievement but also signalled the end of an era. Havel’s death apparently confirmed the transformation of one of the most astonishing events in post-war Europe—the collapse of Communism—from living memory into complete historical narrative. Yet, the dramatic story of 1970s and 80s dissidents and the path to 1989—this story of private individuals helping to bring about what seemed impossible—has assumed ever greater relevance to the present.
Today, the structures that appeared to have triumphed in 1989, and in what followed, are now themselves the subjects of contestation in, inter alia, the Arab Spring, China’s Charter 08, Greek anti-austerity protests, Wikileaks and pirate parties, and the Occupy Movement. Thus, a triumphalist narrative, with its implied ‘they all lived happily ever after’, cannot provide the end to the story. Rather than a closed chapter, ‘East European dissidence’ and its conception of politics as the art of the impossible appear an open book.
This conference seeks to identify the political, cultural, and philosophical questions that underlie ‘East European dissidence’ and to consider their implications for dissent today.
Delia Popescu (Le Moyne) – Lived Responsibility: Václav Havel’s Practical Approach to Private and Public Responsibility