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Transgressive Utopianism

Essays in Honor of Lucy Sargisson


Edited By Raffaella Baccolini and Lyman Tower Sargent

In 2014, when Lucy Sargisson was promoted to professor in the School of Politics and International Relations, at the University of Nottingham, she became the first and, so far, only, professor of utopian studies. This choice symbolized the centrality of utopianism to her life, thought, and educational practice. In three books, each in their own way groundbreaking, a fourth book co-authored by one of us, and in important articles, her work falls into four primary areas: political theory, feminism, environmentalism, and intentional communities, with much of her work intersecting two, three, or even all four. And in all her work, she brings the lens of utopianism to bear on the subject and, in doing so, illuminates both utopianism and the subject at hand. The volume honors Sargisson’s contributions to the field of utopian studies, with contributions by Ibtisam Ahmed, Raffaella Baccolini, David M. Bell, Suryamayi Clarence-Smith, Chris Coates, Elena Colombo, Davina Cooper, Rhiannon Firth, Ruth Levitas, Sarah Lohmann, Almudena Machado-Jiménez, Dunja M. Mohr, Tom Moylan, Robyn Muir, José Reis, Lyman Tower Sargent, Lucy Sargisson, Simon Spiegel, Maria Varsam, and Laura Winter.

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A Quantum of Hope? J.M. Coetzee’s (Post)Colonial Dystopia Life & Times of Michael K



Having left his native South Africa to take up residence in Australia, J.M. Coetzee expresses through his fictional alter ego, Elizabeth Costello, part of the difficulty of imagining not only a better future for societies in the postcolonial era, but also of narrating one, indeed, creating one in a fictional form: “What is the future after all, but a structure of hopes and expectations? […] We do not possess a shared story of the future […] compared with our fiction of the past, our fiction of the future is a sketchy affair, as visions of heaven tend to be. Of heaven and even of hell” (Elizabeth Costello 38). Coetzee, however, has not shied away from imagining such fictional futures in several of his novels, and they are neither sketchy nor bloodless.

Indeed, the nightmarish setting of his 1983 Booker Prize winning novel, Life & Times of Michael K (hereafter LTMK), stands in the pantheon of twentieth-century postcolonial/dystopian fiction not only for its treatment of the genre’s conventions expressed in unprecedented formal innovations but also for its engagement with the specific topos of South Africa. As a dystopia, LTMK forms a companion novel to its predecessor, Waiting for the Barbarians (1980), by referencing institutionalized modes of violence and oppression while simultaneously proposing its main protagonist as a model of resistance. Yet, this enigmatic character, Michael K, has baffled critics with his insistence on silence, fasting, idleness, and an unwillingness ←51 | 52→to conform to the rules of a postcolonial, dystopian society...

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