The Art of the Impossible: Culture, Philosophy and Dissent from Havel to the Present

Event Date: 23 -25 May 2013
Christopher Ingold Lecture Theatre,
Christopher Ingold Chemistry Building,
20 Gordon Street,
University College London,
London WC1H 0AJ

The UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies presents:

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.

Programme:

Thursday 23 May

Welcome by Tim Beasley-Murray (UCL).

Opening remarks by HE Michal Žantovský, Czech Ambassador to the United Kingdom

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Dissent & the Moral Life: Legacies of Havel

Jacques Rupnik (Sciences Po) – Václav Havel and the Legacies of Dissent Revisited

AUDIO HERE

Aviezer Tucker (UT Austin) – Living in Truth: Moral Authenticity as Dissent

AUDIO HERE

Delia Popescu (Le Moyne) – Lived Responsibility: Václav Havel’s Practical Approach to Private and Public Responsibility

AUDIO HERE

HE Martin Palouš (Knihovna Václava Havla) – The Parallel Polis Thirty Years Later: Protecting Václav Havel’s Legacy for the 21st Century

AUDIO HERE

Friday 24 May

Thick Histories

Peter Bugge (Aarhus) – Zooming In: Discovering and Defining Dissent in Svědectví before 1977

AUDIO HERE

Veronika Tuckerová (UT Austin) – Thoroughly Possible: Ivan Martin Jirous’s “Merry Ghetto” and its Legacy

AUDIO HERE

Charles Sabatos (Yeditepe University, Istanbul) – The Erotics of Dissidence: Foreign Writers and Women in the Czech Underground

AUDIO HERE

Mikołaj Rakusa-Suszczewski (Warsaw) – The NO LOGO Message: Polish Youth Against ACTA

AUDIO HERE

Padraic Kenney (Indiana) – Who Controls the Square? Occupied Spaces & Democratic Transformation

AUDIO HERE

Saturday 25 May

Aesthetics and Politics

Kieran Williams (Drake) – Havel’s Subversive Ohnisko 

AUDIO HERE

Peter Zusi (UCL) – Dissent at Rest: The Aesthetic Impulse to the Active Life

AUDIO HERE

Tom Rowley (Cambridge) – Samizdat as Literary and Political Device: Evgenii Fedorov’s Deep Opposition

AUDIO HERE

Tim Beasley-Murray (UCL) – Politics and Impossibility

AUDIO HERE

Klara Kemp-Welch (Courtauld) – Reticence as Dissidence? An Anthology of Experimental Art in 1970s Czechoslovakia

AUDIO HERE

Svetlana Boym (Harvard) – Arts of Dissent: From Sinyavsky to Pussy Riot

AUDIO HERE

Closing remarks by Tim Beasley-Murray (UCL)

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