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NO.377 02.19.2018

Seeing Reality Again through “Utopian Imagination”

Kyung Hee professors majoring in literature are celebrating "liberation" on every fourth Thursday of each month


On that day, they enjoy “reading for the sake of reading” rather than for reading for work. The “World Literary Book Club” (hereinafter referred to as the “Book Club”), a group of Kyung Hee professors majoring in literature, is an “academic play community” that reads and discusses literature in diverse languages. Read books without the onus of professional pretext and discuss without limit, ever ruminating the question, “What is literature?”


Recently, however, the Book Club ran a full circle and the professors returned to their “real work,” as an idea of retracing the genealogy of utopian literature in the world caught on in the Club eventually led to the publication of a series of scholarly articles. The serendipitous professional output of the professors on their play day has been collected and published as a book titled, The Return of Utopia: The Age of Ruins, Finding Traces of Hope (Kyung Hee University Communication and Press, 2017).


Restoring the scattered dreams for future in an era of collapse
The power of neoliberalism has overwhelmed the world. People who are blinded by hedonistic consumerism deny any possibility of another future. Due to climate change, economic inequality, destruction of the community, violence and terrorism, it is difficult to guarantee the sustainability of the present world, let alone the future. At this time, utopia is like the story of a castle in the air that can be easily discounted as a daydream.

However, as German sociologist Karl Mannheim pointed out, the abandonment of utopia results in the loss of the capacity to understand history as well as the will to create history. This is also aligned with the sense of problem shared by the members of the Book Club in that, since it is now difficult to dream of a different world, it is necessary to restore utopian imagination, which disturbs and criticizes the reality from the outside.

Professor Myung-ho Lee at the School of Global Communication said, "If we define utopia as a future-oriented awareness of problem that emerged during the modern enlightenment period or the socialist enlightenment era, it is now an era of collapse. We wanted to reverse the trend." Against the torrent of collapse, they saw a need to restore once again the fragmented dream of a future that is scattered and hidden in this era.


Dealing with 25 utopian literatures on six themes
The Return of Utopia deals with 25 utopian literatures in all ages and countries, ranging from the seminal “Utopia” by Thomas More to the ‘Ping Pong’ by Min-gyu Park. Utopian literature is categorized in six themes: private property and class inequality, science and technological civilization, wu wei and nature, scrutiny and freedom, body and desire, violence and coexistence. In addition to deep criticism of the collected works, the Return of Utopia includes friendly introductions to their synopsis and writers.

Professor Lee Myung-ho emphasized that "the two components of utopian literature are criticism on contradiction of reality, and directionality toward an alternative world beyond. The six themes are also a compilation of contradictions displayed in human society.”

About the publication of the Return of Utopia, Professor Lee said, "I am very pleased at the high level of corroboration and execution of the final product by the all members involved. It is a great achievement that we can produce books in a sustainable series thanks to the publication by the University Communication and Press.”

The Return of Utopia is the first volume of the World Literature Research Series at Kyung Hee University Center for Cross Cultural Studies. The World Literary Book Club plans to continue publishing a series of books that will reflect people, lives and the world from a transnational perspective.

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