2022’s Word of the Year was “permacrisis,” which describes a persistent state of insecurity, especially following catastrophic events. From the COVID-19 pandemic to rampant economic inequality, neo-imperialism, ethno-nationalism, and climate change, permacrisis hits the nail on the head when describing our world. In this context, the idea of utopia may seem laughably out of touch with reality. But for Mitch R. Murray, utopia is not an idealistic dream nor some impossible “good place.” Instead, utopia names aprocess of collective striving, history making, and world building.
As creative, laboring creatures, we humans build our world. This utopian impulse to make our own living conditions is also at the core of artistic creation and humanistic study. Therefore, a utopian approach to literature asks after the possible ways we could build our world for the better, how our collective existence could be more just, equitable, and sustainable. But the utopian knowledge unique to artworks must also be actively valued. As such, conceptualizing and conveying ideas—the realm of communication and media—are key features of world building. Therefore, Murray argues, studying literature and other aesthetic and cultural forms is indispensable to a genuine education in any discipline.
In his presentation, Murray will discuss the influence of utopia on his teaching and research, which traverse the environmental humanities, multiethnic literature, empire studies, speculative fiction, and popular culture. These fields offer creative ways of understanding and representing the systems that propagate our permacrisis. They also capacitate our ability to speculate about, and thereby actuate, a world built for the common good.