Professor Seán Allan of the School of Modern Languages will deliver his Inaugural Lecture ‘Re-designing Utopia: Enlightenment Optimism and the Socialist Imaginary in Postwar Europe’.
In the wake of the French Revolution of 1789 many European artists and writers looked back to the art and culture of the classical world in their attempt to articulate a utopian vision of society. However, as the revolution’s universalist goals of liberty, equality and fraternity gave way to the violence of the Terror, such optimism was increasingly called into question and prompted the rise of Romantic art and literature as a counter-culture, reflecting the Enlightenment’s apparent failure to deliver on its promise of social progress for all.
In his lecture Professor Allan will argue that, 150 years later at the end of World War II, a remarkably similar picture was beginning to unfold in post-war Europe. In their efforts to combat the legacy of Hitler’s fascism, German communists looked back to their country’s neoclassical past and argued that the goals of postwar socialism should be seen as an extension of the Enlightenment project. However, following the Stalinist terror of the 1950s, the limitations of neoclassical models in the construction of an antifascist utopia were becoming all too apparent and led to a renewed interest in Romanticism and modernist works of art and literature. Often dismissed as ‘pathological’ and ‘degenerate’ on account of their subjective multi-perspectival character, these works of art – as the lecture shows – would play a crucial role in the articulation of a utopian vision of society for the postwar generations.
The lecture will be followed by a reception in Lower College Hall. All welcome.