To remind us what is missing today, the event will kick off with a lecture from Professor Frank Furedi (who has a great Substack of his own over at Roots and Wings) on the topic of Utopia and fatalism. This is an important session especially for an age where ‘utopian’ is little more than a dismissive pejorative. As one of our suggested readings – Russel Jacoby’s The End of Utopia: Politics and Culture in an Age of Apathy – puts it, the withdrawal of ‘impossible’ demands has opened the door to widespread sterility.
One area where we can see this quite acutely is in culture. Ours seems to be an age of remakes and reruns, with originality only notable in its absence. The intense politicisation of culture – the demand to make everything conform in advance to the ‘correct’ cultural script – has robbed art and culture of the ability to say anything interesting. So I am delighted that Dr Maren Thom, who co-hosts the excellent podcast Performance Anxiety, will be delivering a lecture on Cultural Exhaustion: Remakes and Originality.
But it’s not just culture that seems exhausted, but our society more broadly. To try and help us understand what to do about this, we are very pleased that Sherelle Jacobs, the Telegraph’s go-to ‘guaranteed to make you think’ columnist (and author of her own Substack here) is delivering the lecture Is Progress a Thing of the Past? This has been a theme of much of her writing, and Sherelle will help us think about what ideas have unpinned previous eras of economic and social progress, and how to fight for them.
Without any kind of progress, dystopia and apocalypticsm seem to reign supreme. Ours is the world of The Handmaid’s Tale and Extinction Rebellion. So it will be the task of Spiked’s Tim Black to put this into context, and try and tease out whether, perversely, there is actually something liberating, even useful, about dystopia in politics and culture.
The final one of our keynotes will come at the issue from the perspective of the past. The author, broadcaster and commentator Dr Tiffany Jenkins will take a look at how our unease about our past represents one of the major stumbling blocks to imagining the future. Reclaiming the future from the war on the past is a session to examine how the connection between past and future seems ruptured today, and the ideas underpinning it.
But, as ever, we have a range of sessions on historical and literary themes to give us a chance to approach the topic from a variety of perspectives. We’ll have a session on The First Transhumanist? Haldane’s Daedalus 100 Years On with Sandy Starr looking at how this essay defined medical technology and medicine’s relationship to society for decades to come. Academy regular Dr Nikos Sotirakopolous will tackle the bizarre, if hilarious, book defining the reactionary American right, Bronze Age Mindset. We’re excited, too, for ‘A short history of the future’ from Professor James Woudhuysen who will look at why forecasts of the future have always forgotten to include actual human beings at the centre. We’re also going to be investigating the transformation of science fiction – that reliable barometer for aspirations and fears about the future – with critic JJ Charlesworth.
There will be at least a couple further updates for the programme, but I hope for now that this is easily enough to get your appetites whet for the event. So, all that is left for you to do is to get your tickets before the offer ends, and pick up a few books to stimulate your thinking. See you there.
We are delighted to announce that earlybird discounted tickets are now on sale for a limited time only. Tickets start at £215 for a weekend including accommodation, meals, and lectures – not to mention the chance to carry on discussions with fellow attendees at drinks and dinner.
• One night, single occupancy £215 Buy tickets
• One night, double occupancy £370 Buy tickets
• Two nights, single occupancy £300 Buy tickets
• Two nights, double occupancy £500 Buy tickets
• Day tickets available from £60 Buy tickets
• Concession rates are available for full time students, senior citizens and unwaged
BOOKS AND READING
- Aristotle, Poetics (esp. sections I, II. IV, XXV)
- Tim Black, The tragedy of Capitalist Realism
- Arthur C Clarke, Profiles of the Future
- Stuart Hall, Cultural Identity and Cinematic Representation
- Martin Hägglund, This Life: Why mortality makes us free
- JBS Haldane, Daedalus, or Science and the Future
- Russel Jacoby, The end of utopia
- Sherelle Jacobs, Why everything we believe about progress is wrong
- Christopher Lasch, True and Only Heaven: Progress and its critics
- Bronze Age Pervert, Bronze Age Mindset
- Harmut Rosa, Social Acceleration: A new theory of modernity
- John Torpey, Making Whole What Has Been Smashed: On Reparations Politics
A version of this was originally published on the Academy of Ideas Substack.