Guest Lecture: No higher purpose: Ursula Le Guin’s existentialist anarchism

Professor Alexis Shotwell
(Carleton University, Canada)

11 October 2023 (Wednesday) at 14:00 CET
Institute of World Literature SAS + online

It is a standard existentialist trope that humans come into the world without a pre-given purpose for existence. On this view, there is nothing in particular that we are made for, and we must make for ourselves any meaning or direction. Often this sense of being condemned to our freedom is experienced and discussed at the individual scale. This is odd, since from the beginning of the tradition philosophers have theorized the relationship between individual freedom and the collective context in which we exercise it.
The urgency of thinking beyond the individual becomes clearer when we confront existentially demanding problems such as climate change, migrant crises, global pandemics, wars, or famines. Professor Shotwell will argue that anarchism helps us in thinking about the necessarily collective aspect of addressing wicked problems like these. She will take Ursula Le Guin’s science fiction as a key theoretical resource for an existentialist anarchism and reflect on the following questions: What are the implications of reading fiction as philosophy? How is Le Guin’s conception of shared social responsibility helpful for projects of ongoing life on earth?

Meeting ID: 829 3617 4665
Passcode: 272992

Alexis Shotwell’s work focuses on complexity, complicity, and collective transformation. She is a professor at Carleton University, the co-investigator for the AIDS Activist History Project (, and the author of Knowing Otherwise: Race, Gender, and Implicit Understanding and Against Purity: Living Ethically in Compromised Times.