The Rise of Pop Pessimism and its Implications Conference is a sequel to the highly successful Rethinking Pessimism in the Covid World, which was hosted in September 2021. The conference gathered prominent experts from Europe and the U.S. who unpacked the realism and/or pessimism of modern European thinkers, as well as experts who discussed the tradition of melancholy in European thought. Attendees expressed a desire for a follow-up event on pop pessimism focusing on contemporary expressions of pessimism in the film industry, arts, literature and political ideologies.
After World War II, pessimism was marginalised in Western mainstream conception. However, it soon reappeared in popular culture. Hollywood movies starting with The War of the Worlds (1953) and On the Beach (1959) began to warn that the end of humanity could arrive at any moment. What was an occasional genre of apocalyptic films and series became a real industry at the end of the 20th century towards the beginning of the 21st century. Agents of annihilation of humans appear in different forms: hostile, warlike or hungry aliens; humans who themselves cause nuclear annihilation; cataclysms from outer space by comets or gamma rays; robots that take over the world from humans; a zombie apocalypse; climate cataclysm; mega volcanic explosion; and pandemics with mutated deadly viruses. Some of the films are more concentrated on what was left of humanity in a world following apocalyptic disasters.
In addition to films, some authors with rather pessimistic messages, such as H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937), who was virtually unknown during his lifetime, received unexpected appraisal and critical considerations many decades after their death.
In 1992, Al Gore, who subsequently became U.S. Vice President, published his book Earth in the Balance, for which he earned the title of an eco-pessimist by his opponents, and eco-realist by his supporters. Ever since then, the end of human civilisation due to climate change has become one of the most heavily contested issues in every corner of the globe. Eating Our Way to Extinction (2021) and Burning (2021) are prime examples of some of the anxiety-inducing documentaries shedding light on climate change and the impact of human behaviour on the future of the earth.
Finally, Christian fundamentalism is described as one of the leading political ideologies in the U.S. Many Christian fundamentalists believe in the imminent end of the world that will come during their life time through an end-time event known as the Rapture when the righteous will be resurrected and the remaining sinful humanity will be “left behind”. Tim LaHaye’s series Left Behind sold in more than 65 million copies by July 2016. The publication was also followed by a mini-series and various films.
Growing pop pessimism in films, literature, ecological considerations, and fundamentalist political ideologies means that scholarly analysis is more than needed. This conference represents an effort to describe, analyse and explain this ever-rising phenomenon in contemporary popular culture.
Sunday, 4th September
Panel: Pessimism and Dystopia in Politics
Prof. Christopher Coker, LSE IDEAS
Prof. Alexander Evans, LSE and LSE IDEAS
Prof. Slobodan G. Markovich, University of Belgrade and LSE IDEAS
Chairperson: Prof. Adrian Pabst, University of Kent and National Institute of Economic and Social Research
Panel: Pessimism in Films and Literature and its Meaning
Dr. Fernando Herrero, University of Manchester
Dr. Dejan Ognjanović, Independent Researcher
Prof. Radu Vancu, University of Sibiu
Chairperson: Prof. S. G. Markovich, University of Belgrade and LSE IDEAS
Panel: Between Utopia and Dystopia
Prof. Adrian Pabst, University of Kent and National Institute of Economic and Social Research
Prof. Simona Modreanu, Alexandru Ioan Cuza University Iasi
Chairperson: Prof. Alexander Evans, LSE and LSE IDEAS
Christopher Coker is Professor of International Relations at LSE. His publications include The Rise of the Civilizational State (2019); Rebooting Clausewitz (2018); Men at War; what fiction tells us about conflict from The Iliad to Catch 22 (2014); Warrior Geeks: how 21st century technology is changing the way we fight and think about war (Oxford University Press 2013) and Barbarous Philosophers: reflections on the nature of war from Heraclitus to Heisenberg (Columbia University Press 2010).
He has written for The Times, Times Literary Supplement, The Financial Times, The Spectator, the Independent and The Wall St Journal. He has been a Visiting Fellow at National Institute of Defence Studies (Tokyo); the Rajaratnam School National technological University (Singapore), the Institute for Security Studies (Chulalongkorn University Bangkok) and is a regular lecturer at staff colleges and academies around the world. He is at present Visiting Professor in War Studies at the Swedish National Defence College.
Slobodan G. Markovich MBE is Full Professor at the School of Political Science of the University of Belgrade where he lectures Political Anthropology, Political History of South- East Europe and Image of European Other. He is also Full Professor at the Institute for European Studies in Belgrade. He has been Research Associate at LSEE/LSE since 2012, and at LSE IDEAS since 2018. He has been the head of the Centre for British Studies at the School of Political Science in Belgrade since 2017. His published monographs include a book on Freud’s pessimism: Pessimistic Anthropology of Sigmund Freud (Belgrade, 2012), and a monograph on British-(Balkan) Serbian relations: British Perceptions of Serbia and the Balkans 1903-1906 (Paris, 2000, in English). His (co-) edited collections of papers in English include: British-Serbian Relations from the 18 th to the 21 st Centuries (Belgrade, 2018), Problems of Identities in the Balkans (Belgrade, 2006), and Challenges to New Democracies in the Balkans (Belgrade, 2004). He has been the coordinator of annual meetings “Psychoanalysis and Culture” since 2016. His research interests include: Construction of Ethnic/National and Religious Identities in the Balkans, British-Balkan Relations, psychoanalytic anthropology, and History of European Pessimism.
Alexander Evans OBE is Professor in Practice at the School of Public Policy of the London School of Economics and Political Science.His previous academic posts have included being the Henry Kissinger Chair at the Library of Congress, a Senior Fellow at Yale, and a Gwilym Gibbon Fellow at Nuffield College Oxford. He has a Ph.D. in politics from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. A career diplomat, he has worked as an advisor to the Prime Minister in 10 Downing Street,
Strategy Director in the Cabinet Office, and Director Cyber in the Foreign Office. He has served as Deputy and Acting High Commissioner to India and (briefly) Pakistan, led the United Nations Security Council expert group on Daesh, Al Qaida and the Taliban, and been a senior advisor to Ambassador Richard Holbrooke in the U.S. Department of State. He was awarded an OBE for his work in Pakistan, where he led the UK’s work on the Tribal Areas from 2007 to 2009.
Fernando Gomez Herrero (Spain, US; PhD (Duke University), MA (Duke U, Wake Forest U, U of Salamanca), B.A. (U of Salamanca). He has taught at Duke, Stanford, Pittsburgh, Hofstra U, Oberlin College, etc. Relocated in the U.K, he has taught at the University of Birmingham and the University of Manchester in the last four years. His book Good Places and Non-Places in Colonial Mexico: The Figure of Vasco de Quiroga (University Press of America, 2001). He is working on a volume tentatively titled The Hispanic Misnomer in the Anglo Zone: Public Conversations (2001-2022). Latest publications include: “The Latest American Appropriation of Western Universalism: A Critique of G. John Ikenberry’s “Liberal International Order,” included in Rethinking
Sovereignty and Territoriality in the 21st Century (http://journal.thenewpolis.com/archives/1.1/index.html ; Inaugural Issue, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Winter 2022), Decoloniality and the Disintegration of Western Cognitive Empire: 90 pages.
site: https://www.fernandogherrero.com. He has recently collaborated with the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia covering international news, particularly U.S. and U.K. (https://www.lavanguardia.com/autores/fernando-gomez.html , in Spanish).
Dejan Ognjanović. Born in 1973. Lives in Niš, Serbia. Got his PhD in Literature (“Historical Poetics of Horror Genre in Anglo-American Literature”) at the University of Belgrade. In Serbia he published three horror novels, three studies on horror cinema and two collections of essays. Contributed to Steven Schneider’s 100 European Horror Films, 501 Movie Directors, and 101 Horror Movies You Must See Before You Die, and also to academic collections Speaking of Monsters (Palgrave, 2012) and Digital Horror (IB Tauris, 2015). He is an editor at Orfelin Publishing (Novi Sad, Serbia) since 2015, where he edits the series of books “Poetics of Horror” (26 titles so far).
Adrian Pabst is Professor of Politics at the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent. He joined the School in 2009, and became Professor in 2019. Previously he gained a PhD in political thought and philosophy of religion from the University of Cambridge (2002-06) and held a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship at the University of Nottingham (2007-09). His research in politics is focused on liberalism and its modern critics, and in political economy on the moral philosophy. He co-authored book The Politics of Virtue: Post- liberalism and the Human Virtue (Rowman & Littlefield International, 2016). In contemporary European and international politics, he has written on the limits of liberal democracy and capitalism, as well as on post-liberal ideas and contemporary movements such as Blue Labour. He co-edited collection Blue Labour: Forging a New Politics (I.B. Tauris, 2015) and The Demons of Liberal Democracy (Polity, 2018). Since 2007, he has been an associate editor of the critical theory journal TELOS . In November 2017 he was appointed as a Fellow of the National Institute of Economic and
Social Research where he works on a Nuffield-funded project about British fiscal policy.
Simona Modreanu, university professor, director of the Department of French language and literature at the Alexandru Ioan Cuza University in Iasi (Romania), translator. PhD from the University of Paris VII. Director of the Romanian Cultural Center in Paris (1999-2001). Author of the books: Cioran or the forbidden prayer (Iasi, 2002); Eugène Ionesco or the agony of significance (Iasi, 2002); The Paradoxical God of Cioran (Paris, 2003); Cioran (Paris, OXUS, 2003); Nomadic Readings (Iaşi, 2006); Sedentary
Readings (Iasi, 2010), Unfaithful Readings (Iasi, 2014), Fluid Readings (Iasi, 2018), The Atom, an endless story (Iasi, 2020); Cioran or the chance of failure (Paris, 2021), Ludic Readings (Iasi, 2022).
Radu Vancu (Sibiu, Romania, 1978) is a Romanian poet, scholar and translator. Since 2019, he is the president of PEN Romania. He works as an associate professor at the Faculty of Letters and Arts at the „Lucian Blaga” University from Sibiu. He is editor-in-chief of the Transilvania magazine – and also an editor of the Poesis Internațional magazine. He is the national editor of the Romanian section for the Poetry International website. Starting with 2002, he has published eight books of poems. His scholarly publications include two book-length essays on Mihai Eminescu and Mircea Ivănescu, as well as a book on the anti-humanist poetics of modernity. He has coordinated several anthologies of modern and contemporary Romanian poetry, either alone or in collaboration with Mircea Ivănescu, Claudiu Komartin, or Marius Chivu.
He has translated novels and poetry, mainly from the works of John Berryman and W.B. Yeats; he is also the translator of the on-going four-volume Ezra Pound edition coordinated by H.-R. Patapievici. He is an organizer of the International Poetry Festival in Sibiu Poets in Transylvania (2013- ongoing).