Synapsis 2010: Utopia

Pontignano (siena)
Synapsis (European School for Comparative Studies)
Closing date for submissions: 
15 May, 2010
Event dates: 
23.09.2010 - 30.09.2010
E-mail contact: 
Ever since ancient times, moments of crisis and change in the history of the West have encouraged a cultural analysis of society in its negative aspects and its failures, presenting at the same time alternative visions of a better world. To name a few examples, one might think of Plato and Lucian, of Augustine and of the different prospects of renewal presented in Dante's Commedia and Boccaccio's Decameron or in the visual synthesis of the Good and Bad Government by Ambrogio Lorenzetti in Siena. Since the early Sixteenth Century, Renaissance thinkers resorted to the power of utopias, from Erasmus to More, from Machiavelli's Discourses on Livy to Bacon, to Campanella and many more. Utopian cities started materializing into real architecture as the Tuscan town of Pienza had already done earlier on. Later, amidst the wide range of utopias of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, the concept of ‘dystopia’ appeared, its emergence being partly fostered by concerns linked to the flourishing of science. Yet in the copious literary production of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century, even juvenile fiction recovered the original impulse of the early ‘non-places’, and with its imaginary lands grounded in reality (Neverland, Wonderland) it was a reminder to adults that a different world was still attainable. Finally science fiction arrived: just as utopia during its long journey through the centuries, so science-fiction images in cinema and literature alternate between visions of a better world and a dystopian future expressing the problems and concerns of our time. Yet these very same dystopian visions often end with a radical change, as if to remind us that utopias can never be suppressed.

It is within this context, already extensively explored by historians, philosophers, sociologists and literary critics, that Synapsis 2010 will consider those aspects bearing witness to the “utopian impulse”, an impulse which although it does not always translate into the construction of organic, imaginary worlds, incorporates a capacity of transfiguration that enlivens the stories that literature, cinema and the other arts tell us. In doing so, these stories often resort to the universe of romance, which opens new perspectives in the scope of modernism and post-modernism thanks to its propulsive and cognitive force. Specific places which the utopian imagination uses as its settings can be identified and contrasted, if only implicitly, with those  inhabited by the artists and their public : real or invented countryside and suburbia versus modern cities, and thus community and its stable temporality against atomization and urban frenzy; or, alternatively, islands and faraway lands, either imaginary or real; furthermore certain cities, regions and nations of a specific moment in time where retrieving the utopian rush seems somehow easier (be it the England of the Beatles, the various protest flashpoints of 1968 or the city of Berlin for today’s young people); ultimately, the Web, which in principle at least should allow everyone to live in an egalitarian and unbound space onto  which individual expectations and wishes are to be projected. Other than places, historical moments can also be contemplated, such as the great revolutions that unleashed throughout the Modern era like the French Revolution, and stimulated new ideals, shattering the ancien régime or Colonialism. In these moments the romance becomes collective, a development that is equally true in times of reconstruction such as the aftermath of World War II, with its attempt at recovering a common ethos able to heal the wounds of a tragedy that had witnessed dystopia come true under the guise of Nazi concentration camps. But there are times when the private dimension prevails over the public one and the utopian impulse invests in sentiments and relationships, sheltered from the outside world. Finally, there is the utopia of utopias, the one conjuring up a world where private and public spheres perfectly harmonize: a true paradise.

Authors, locations and moments in time will be the object of the seminars, conferences, cinema and theatre workshop at the heart of Synapsis: the topic will be approached by taking into account both historical aspects and contemporary dimensions, thus confronting our participants with a problematic picture that will be the starting point for their research, which will culminate in the volume of collected works that marks the conclusion of each Synapsis edition.


Lectures by:

Matthew Beaumont (University College, London)
Laura Caretti (Università di Siena)
Gioachino Chiarini (Università di Siena)
Simona Corso (Università di Roma “Roma Tre”)
Vita Fortunati (Università di Bologna)
Daniela Guardamagna  (Università di Roma “Tor Vergata”)
Orsetta Innocenti (Università di Siena)
Neil Ten Kortenaar (University of Toronto)
Ariane Landuyt (Università di Siena)
Patrizia Lombardo (Université de Genève)
Simona Micali (Università di Siena)


Seminars by:

Gillian Beer (University of Cambridge, in English)
Roberto Bigazzi (Università di Siena, in Italian)
Laurent Darbellay et Julien Zanetta (Université de Genève, in French)
Maria DiBattista (Princeton University) and Barry McCrea (Yale University, in English)
José M. González García y Fernando Bayón (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Madrid, in Spanish)
Florian Mussgnug (University College London, in German)
Giuseppe Piccioni (Film director) e Anna Masecchia (Università di Siena, in Italian)


Theatre Workshop
directed by Laura Caretti