Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore

Milena Massalongo | Università di Mantova | Italy 


September 16th 2022 | 15.00 – 16.30
Panel #11 | “Apocalypses and conflicts
Room G.127 | Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore Milan, Largo Gemelli 1

Use and Abuse of the Worst Case Scenario 

A few years ago S. Žižek noted that the repetition of the apocalyptic scenario in today's cinema and fiction testifies to how much easier it has become to imagine the end of humanity than a real change in the balance of power of the current global order. At the same time, much of today's dystopian imagination in movies and literature articulates oppressions so sophisticated and unbearable that they end up making our status quo, however battered, livable and even desirable. If the advantage of "things taken to the extreme", in life as in the imagination, is to finally make it clear to the senses where problems and dangers can lurk in "normal" daily life, it is likely that the final and persistent effect be anything but critical. Indeed, it could end up reconciling us on a psychological, ethical and socio-political level with a problematic 'normality' that we can't wait to re-establish as soon as possible. 
Starting from W. Benjamin's well-known interpretation that catastrophe, at least in modern society, has less to do with an abrupt end than with the continuity of a world that cannot stop being the way it is, I would like to offer some hints in order to reflect together on the use and abuse of this dystopian-apocalyptic tone that in recent years tunes the imagination as well as public discourse. To this end, I will take a cue from some literary works of the past, "untimely" in every sense (among others, one of the first literary tales of catastrophe, H. v. Kleist’s short story The earthquake in Chile and the novel-fragment by Kafka, The Castle, which some include, together with The Trial, among the first dystopian narratives of the twentieth century, but already capable of radically questioning the genre and what we consider to be dystopian). 

Milena Massalongo is Adjunct Professor for German Culture and Literature at the University of Mantua. Topics of research: aesthetical-political questions in German and Western literature and theatre. Selected publications: H.-T. Lehmann, Tragedia e teatro drammatico, Cue Press 2022, (ed. by); Brecht gebrauchen, ed. by M. Massalongo, F. Vaßen and B. Ruping, Schibri 2017. B. Brecht, La rovina dell’egoista Johann Fatzer, Einaudi 2007. Forthcoming: Occasione e misera del nostro tempo. Istruzioni da W. Benjamin e B. Brecht, Aracne; W. Benjamin, Congedo dall’opera. Scritti su Brecht, Castelvecchi (ed. by). Selected dramaturgical collaborations: 2010 -2012 Fatzer geht über die Alpen, (Teatro Stabile di Torino / Berliner Volksbühne), 2017-2018 Disgraced, by A. Akhtar, directed by M. Kušej (Teatro Stabile di Torino / Residenztheater München).