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Invoking Hope

Theory and Utopia in Dark Times

2020
Author:

Phillip E. Wegner

Invoking Hope

An appeal for the importance of theory, utopia, and close consideration of our contemporary dark times


Phillip E. Wegner argues for the undiminished importance of the practices of theory, utopia, and a deep and critical reading of our current situation of what Bertolt Brecht refers to as finsteren Zeiten, or dark times. With Invoking Hope, Wegner provides an innovative lens for considering the rise of right-wing populism and the current crisis in democracy.

What does any particular theory allow us to do? What is the value of doing so? And who benefits? In Invoking Hope, Phillip E. Wegner argues for the undiminished importance of the practices of theory, utopia, and a deep and critical reading of our current situation of what Bertolt Brecht refers to as finsteren Zeiten, or dark times.

 

Invoking Hope was written in response to three events that occurred in 2016: the five hundredth anniversary of the publication of Thomas More’s Utopia; the one hundredth anniversary of the founding text in theory, Ferdinand de Saussure’s Course in General Linguistics; and the rise of the right-wing populism that culminated in the election of Donald Trump. Wegner offers original readings of major interventions in theory alongside dazzling utopian imaginaries developed from classical Greece to our global present—from Theodor Adorno, Ernst Bloch, Alain Badiou, Jacques Derrida, Fredric Jameson, Sarah Ahmed, Susan Buck-Morss, and Jacques Lacan to such works as Plato’s Republic, W. E. B. Du Bois’s John Brown, Isak Dinesen’s “Babette’s Feast,” Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312, and more. Wegner comments on an expansive array of modernist and contemporary literature, film, theory, and popular culture.

 

With Invoking Hope, Wegner provides an innovative lens for considering the rise of right-wing populism and the current crisis in democracy. He discusses challenges in the humanities and higher education and develops strategies of creative critical reading and hope against the grain of current trends in scholarship.

Invoking Hope

Phillip E. Wegner is Marston–Milbauer Eminent Scholar in English at the University of Florida. He is author of Life between Two Deaths, 1989–2001: U.S. Culture in the Long Nineties; Periodizing Jameson: Dialectics, the University, and the Desire for Narrative; and Shockwaves of Possibility: Essays on Science Fiction, Globalization, and Utopia.


Invoking Hope

Contents


Introduction: Reading in Dark Times


Part I. Reading Theory


1. Reading the Event of the New Criticism and the Fate of the Republic


2. Toward Nonreading Utopia


3. Beyond Ethical Reading; or, Reading Again the James-Wells Debate


Part II. Reading Utopia


4. John Brown, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Universal History


5. Politics, Art, and Utopia in “Babette’s Feast”


6. Repetition, Love, and Concrete Utopia in 50 First Dates


7. Conditions of Utopia in 2312 and The Best of All Possible Worlds


Conclusion: Optimism and Pessimism in Cloud Atlas


Acknowledgments


Notes


Index