World Literature and the New Totalitarianism

World Literature and the New Totalitarianism
15 May 2017, 1.00pm - 16 May 2017, 7.00pm
Conference / Symposium
Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

At the beginning of 2017 we are faced with the spectre of a new totalitarianism. It blossoms from the victories of Trump, the Brexit camp, and far right candidates in Scandinavia and Poland. It anticipates strong performances by Marine Le Pen. It comes in the wake of Russian plutocracy’s concentration of power and the recrudescence of Neo-Nazi movements in Greece and the Balkans. The teleological narrative many have been telling ourselves—of progressive cosmopolitanism, tolerance, relatively open borders, of urbanity in every sense of the word—has been challenged by the return of anti-Semitism, racism, ethno-nationalism, and anti-intellectualism. 

This new totalitarianism is very much like its predecessor: global in scope yet nationalist in articulation, populist in orientation yet elitist in practice, local in its appeals yet power-consolidating in practice, and profoundly hostile to the cultural and social milieu that have nurtured art, literature, and critique since the end of the Second World War. But the new totalitarianism is amplified by technologies once understood as democratising: the internet, social media, and the proliferation of popular news sources. And it is bolstered by the rise of authoritarian neoliberalism. The symposium will address these urgent issues.

Draft event programme

This event is supported by the Open World Research Initiative, funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council. It is organised as part of the OWRI Cross-Language Dynamics: Reshaping Communities consortium, led by the University of Manchester in collaboration with Durham University and the Institute of Modern Languages Research at the School of Advanced Study, University of London.

Image: R.B. Kitaj, If Not, Not


Jo Bradley
020 7862 8833