For the 100th anniversary of Benjamin`s doctorate, the conference and its program return to the beginnings of Benjamin in Bern. In six thematically-based panels, the program 2019 reflects how interconnected and transdisciplinary Benjamin`s thinking is. The conference languages are German, English, and French.
There will be a supportingprogram on Wednesday, June 26 with lectures and a concert at the Zentrum Paul Klee.
The conference will take place from Thursday, June 27, until Saturday, June 29.
It is accompanied by the exhibition "Walter Benjamin in Bern" with a cartography of the Bernese period and artistic works and videos by Martin Ebner, Ariane Müller, Florian Zeyfang, and Chantal and Lais Benjamin. Curator: Dr. Toni Hildebrandt. The exhibition will be on display from June 26th in the afternoon to June 29th in the afternoon at UniS, Schanzeneckstrasse 1, ground floor. It is public and free. An exhibition brochure (62 pages) is available (CHF 5) at the Conference Desk.
Supporting Program, June 26 at Zentrum Paul Klee
The conference will open at 15h30 at the Zentrum Paul Klee with an extract from Brian Ferneyhough's Benjamin opera (Manuel Bärtsch playing the piano) and two lectures by Annie Bourneuf and Axel Körner. Words of welcome will be spoken by Dr. Fabienne Eggelhöfer (Zentrum Paul Klee), Prof. Dr. Michael Jennings (International Walter Benjamin Society), Dean Prof. Dr. Stefan Rebenich (Faculty of Humanities) and Prof. Dr. Anselm Gerhard (Walter Benjamin Kolleg). This opening is free of charge.
The concert of the CAMERATA BERN with Patricia Kopatchinskaja starts at 18h15. Registered participants of the conference are free of charge. Students attending the Benjamin-Seminars in spring term 2019 at the UniBe and all other interested persons should purchase tickets via kulturticket.ch.
Please find the flyer of the concert here.
Prof. Dr. Annie Bourneuf: Too Many Times: On Klee’s Angelus Novus
The artist R. H. Quaytman recently discovered that Paul Klee mounted his watercolored oil-transfer drawing Angelus Novus (1920)—famous for its prominent place in the writings of its first owner, Walter Benjamin—on top of an engraved portrait of Martin Luther from 1838. In this lecture, Bourneuf ventures a new interpretation of the work in light of Quaytman’s discovery, considering issues of portraiture and defacement, disenchantment and reenchantment, and chronologies of modernity in relation to the object's material complexity and the relations it proposes among painting, engraving, oil-transfer drawing, and printed book.
Annie Bourneuf, Associate Professor, Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism, School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Annie Bourneuf is the author of Paul Klee: The Visible and the Legible (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015), winner of the 2016 Robert Motherwell Book Award.
Prof. Dr. Axel Körner: Benjamin, Klee, Catastrophe. Historical Time in European Perspective
Benjamin’s Thesen zur Geschichte have frequently been read in isolation, or within a narrow framework of debates in Western Marxism. Instead, my lecture will show how his understanding of historical temporality is linked to a much wider European trend in rethinking the relationship between idealism and historical materialism, informed by a specific experience of historical time. Benjamin’s reading of Klee’s Engel der Geschichte offers important keys to this wider context of thought. As I am not a philosopher, I approach this question with the contextual methodologies of an intellectual historian.
Axel Körner is Professor of Modern History at University College London and Director of the UCL Centre for Transnational History. The principal focus of his work is the cultural and intellectual history of Europe. His books include Das Lied von einer anderen Welt (Frankfurt/M., 1997) and Politics of Culture in Liberal Italy (New York 2009). His America in Italy. The United States in the Political Thought and Imagination of the Risorgimento, 1763-1865 was published by Princeton University Press in 2017 and won the Helen & Howard Marraro Prize of the American Historical Association. Supported by the Leverhulme Trust, he currently works on a major project entitled Transnational Monarchy. Rethinking the Habsburg Empire, 1804-1918. He previously published on Walter Benjamin in Intellectual History Review and is preparing a small book on Benjamin within a wider context of early twentieth-century European thought. Körner has held visiting positions at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, at the École Normale Supérieure, Paris, and at New York University.
Concert CAMERATA BERN with Patricia Kopatchinskaja: Pierrot Lunaire
GEORGE ANTHEIL (1900 – 1959): Serenade für Streicher Nr. 1 (1948): Allegro | Andante molto | Vivo
ARNOLD SCHOENBERG(1874 – 1951): Pierrot Lunaire, Part I: Mondestrunken | Colombine | Der Dandy | Eine blasse Wäscherin | Valse de Chopin | Madonna | Der kranke Mond
TŌRU TAKEMITSU (1930 – 1996): Nostalghia
ARNOLD SCHOENBERG: Pierrot Lunaire, Part II: Nacht | Gebet an Pierrot | Raub | Rote Messe | Galgenlied | Enthauptung | Die Kreuze
ANTON WEBERN (1883 – 1945): Langsamer Satz
ARNOLD SCHOENBERG: Pierrot Lunaire, Part III: Heimweh | Gemeinheit | Parodie | Der Mondfleck | Serenade | Heimfahrt | O alter Duft
This concert is free of charge for registered participants of the conference. Students, Alumni UniBE, and other interested persons should purchase tickets on kulturticket.ch.
Ceremony, June 27 at Main building H4, Aula
On June 27, 1919, Walter Benjamin passed his doctoral exam at the University of Bern. Exactly 100 years later, we want to celebrate this with an academic ceremony in the presence of three of Walter Benjamin’s granddaughters and two great grandchildren. The rector of the University of Bern, Prof. Dr. Christian Leumann, will give the welcome address. In his ceremonial address, Prof. Dr. Winfried Menninghaus will shed light onto Benjamin's relationship with Switzerland. This event is open to the public and free of charge.
Prof. Dr. Winfried Menninghaus (Frankfurt a. Main): Walter Benjamins Schweiz
Walter Benjamins literarische und geschichtsphilosophische Topographie des westlichen Europa seiner Zeit gilt Orten in allen drei Nachbarländern der Schweiz: allen voran Berlin, Paris und – in einem anderen Register – der Konfiguration von Neapel, Capri und Ibiza. Moskau ist ein outlier in dieser Serie. Eine Stadt oder eine Landschaft in der Schweiz kommt darin nicht vor. Walter Benjamins Bild von der Schweiz ist gleichwohl alles andere als geheim oder gar nicht-existent. Es lässt sich zusammensetzen aus vielen brieflichen Bemerkungen und auch aus seinen Portraits großer Schweizer Autoren. Aus Anlass des Zentenars der Promotion Walter Benjamins in Bern wird mein Vortrag einige biographische und intellektuelle Facetten dieses durchaus reichen Bildes zusammentragen.
Winfried Menninghaus studied at the Universities of Marburg, Heidelberg, Frankfurt am Main and at the Free University of Berlin. He completed his doctorate in 1979 on Walter Benjamin's theory of language magic and, in 1989, was appointed Professor of Comparative Literature at the FU Berlin. There, he taught at the Peter Szondi Institute until March 2013. Menninghaus was offered chairs in Bonn, Yale and Princeton and was a visiting professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the University of California, Berkeley, Yale University, Princeton University, Rice University and EHESS (Paris). Since 2002 he is a full member of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences. In 2007, he founded the Cluster of Excellence Languages of Emotion at the FU Berlin and managed it until 2010. In 2013 he left the FU Berlin and was appointed to one of the founding directors of the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics and literature.
Keynotes, June 27 - 29
Prof. Dr. Galili Shahar (Tel Aviv): Im Anfang war. Über Benjamins Wort
Das Wort, das im Anfang war, das schöpferische, das Wort Gottes, ist auch als das letzte zu nennen, ein Wort nämlich, das sich auch zum Weltgericht eignet, dessen Kraft sich nicht allein zum Schaffen der Welt, sondern zu ihrer Abschaffung richten will. Das Wort, mit dem die Welt begann, im Anfang stand, ist damit auch das erlösende. Diese kurze Lehre über das Wesen des Wortes, die man oft in der Tradition trift, war auch die Lehre Walter Benjamins. Die Keynote ist öffentlich und kostenfrei.
Deutlicher gesagt: in der Sprachlehre Benjamins ist ein Echo dieser Lehre zu hören: Dieses Wort steht im Anfang seines Denkens und zeigt sich auch in seinen späten Schriften, von dem Aufsatz Über die Sprache bis zu seinen auto-biographischen Fragmenten. Wir fragen nach dem Wesen dieses Wortes, seinem Benennen, und damit fragen wir nach den Namen, die in Benjamins Schriften, die Möglichkeit von Anfang und Ende tragen.
Prof. Dr. Juliet Simpson (Coventry): Walter Benjamin’s Uncanny Artists: Reisebilder, Memory and Iconic Presences
Prof. Dr. Brigid Doherty (Princeton): The History of Art as a History of Prophecies or, the Beginnings of Benjamin’s Artwork Essay
“The most important task of art history [is] to decipher in the great artworks of the past the prophecies valid for the epoch of its writing.” This talk takes that assertion from Benjamin’s preparatory notes for “Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit” as a point of departure for an exploration of his various conceptualizations of Kunstgeschichte, Kunstwerk, Kunstkritik, Kunsterkenntnis, and Kunsttheorie, from his reflections on early Romanticism in Der Begriff der Kunstkritik in der deutschen Romantikto his efforts to unfold “a materialist dialectic” by means of an analysis of film in the artwork essay — an analysis, I argue, to which Benjamin’s own reckoning with “the great artworks of the past” was crucial. This keynote is open to the public and free of charge.
Brigid Doherty teaches in the Departments of German and Art & Archaeology at Princeton University, where she is also Associated Faculty in the School of Architecture and Director of the Program in European Cultural Studies. Her scholarly work on Walter Benjamin includes The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility and Other Writings on Media (2008; co-edited with Michael W. Jennings and Thomas Y. Levin), as well as essays on Benjamin and Brecht in MLN (2000), on the artwork essay in Paragraph (2009), and on kitsch in Cabinet (2010).
Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Sigrid Weigel: Walter Benjamin und Gershom Scholem 1918/19 in Bern: im "Gespräch über das Klagelied“
From the exchange of Benjamin and Scholem - when both were at the same time studying in Berne's exile at the end of the First World War - did not only evolve the Acta Muriensa. A leitmotiv of their regular reading evenings is the "Gespräch über das Klagelied". Both had previously devoted themselves to the Klage, albeit from different perspectives: Benjamin in terms of expression and sentiment ("Die Bedeutung der Sprache in Trauerspiel und Tragödie", 1916), Scholem in terms of the Jewish Tradition ("Über Klage und Klagelied", 1917). The way in which their engagement with the Klage is at the interface of poetry and religious tradition is symptomatic of the specific nature of the lifelong friendship of these unequal intellectuals. Shaped by common interests, by consensus as well as misunderstandings and a permanent change of mutual fascination and demarcation, this exchange has proved enormously productive for the work of both. The conversations in Berne about the Klage have produced a number of central themes in their writings, such as the reflections on justice and justice.
This keynote is open to the public and free of charge.
Sigrid Weigel: From 1999 to 2015 Director of the Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung Berlin; Teaching positions at the universities TU Berlin, Princeton, Zurich, Hamburg; Director of the Einstein Forum Potsdam (1998-2000); board member of the Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut, Essen (WZ NRW, 1990-93). Recent publications e.g.: Das Gesicht: Bilder – Medien – Formate (Hg. 2017), Empathy (ed. with V. Lux, 2017), Testimony/ Bearing Witness (ed. with S. Krämer, 2017), A Neuro-Psychoanalytical Dialogue for Bridging Freud and the Neurosciences (ed. with G. Schabert, 2016), Grammatologie der Bilder (2015). Editions e.g. Gershom Scholem, Poetica (2019), Aby Warburg, Werke in einem Band (2010, together with M. Treml, P. Ladwig), Susan Taubes, Schriften (2011ff.), Stéphan Mosès, Momentaufnahmen/ Instantanés (2010).
Numerous publications on Benjamin e.g.: „The Flash of Knowledge and the Temporality of Images: Walter Benjamin’s Image-Based Epistemology and Its Preconditions in Visual Arts and Media History.“ (Critical Inquiry 41, Winter 2015: 344-366.); „Walter Benjamins Musiktheorie. Zur Geburt der Musik aus der Klage und zur Beziehung zwischen Oper, Trauerspiel und Musikdrama.“ In: D. Matejovski (ed.): Resonanzräume. Medienkulturen des Akustischen. Düsseldorf 2014, S. 167-190; Walter Benjamin. Die Kreatur, das Heilige, die Bilder (2008, engl. 2013, ital. 2014, french 2019); Body- and Image Space. Re-reading Walter Benjamin (1996, span. 1999) German Entstellte Ähnlichkeit. Walter Benjamins theoretische Schreibweise (1997).
Conference, June 27 - 29
1. Uncanny Modernities/Modernisms: Repetition, Phantom, Phantasm in the Wake of World War I
Chairs: Prof. Dr. Christine Blättler, Kiel / Prof. Dr. Gabriele Rippl, Bern
In an initial dissertation plan, Benjamin intended to subject the modern notion of the linear history of progress to scrutiny. Towards the end of the First World War he drew attention to issues surrounding the dark, uncanny aspects of modernity that were taking shape throughout the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the development of Soviet state, the failed German Revolution of 1919 and the rise of fascism in Nazi Germany. However, instead of aligning with the prevalent general critique of civilisation, including its pessimism with regard to culture, Benjamin examined everyday objects and works of art, new techniques and artistic processes, all of which deal with figures of repetition, phantoms and phantasms. By means of the analysis of cultural products and their associated desires and fears, Benjamin invoked a cultural-theoretical dimension of psychoanalysis, expanded theoretical approaches to aesthetics, developed media theoretical considerations and formulated social theory questions. We are looking forward to papers with such a focus.
2. Early Lives: Childhood and Youth
Chairs: Prof. Dr. Ben Morgan, Oxford / Prof. Dr. Michael Stolz, Bern
This section deals with the topic of ‘Early Lives’ in Benjamin’s biography and his writings. We welcome papers on Benjamin’s childhood, as it is reflected in his Berliner Chronik and Berliner Kindheit um neunzehnhundert; on Benjamin’s early texts on youth, such as Dialog über die Religiosität der Gegenwart (1912), Das Leben der Studenten (1914) and its obscure complement Metaphysik der Jugend (1913/14); on Benjamin’s ideas on children, childhood, play, toys and language acquisition; and, finally, on the broadcasts Benjamin composed for the radio program Berliner Jugendstunde, in which he addressed an audience of children―these have recently been republished in Rundfunkarbeiten, ed. by Thomas Küpper and Anja Nowak, Berlin 2017, and give an impression of how Benjamin intended to use a medium being still in its infancy at that time. Papers should reflect on the productive potentials of ‘childhood and youth’ in these and other texts of Benjamin’s oeuvre. Proposals comparing different writings to give an overview, and/or drawing on the resources of the new edition Werke und Nachlass are especially welcome.
3. Mobility, Migration, Exile: Lives and Ideas on the Move
Chairs: Prof. Dr. Carolin Duttlinger, Oxford / Prof Dr. Kristina Schulz, Neuchâtel
Walter Benjamin’s career was shaped by geographical and intellectual movement, some of it deliberate, much of it imposed by circumstances. This panel explores the role of mobility, migration and exile in Benjamin’s life, work and reception. What is the impact of his peripatetic academic career on his intellectual development, particularly the transcultural dimension of his thought, his interest in cosmopolitism, intellectual exchange and the migration of people and ideas? How does his later exile shape his intellectual career, the content and conditions of his production? Finally, to what extent does this aspect of his work shape Benjamin’s reception―the migration of his ideas across regions, periods and disciplines?
We welcome papers from colleagues working in areas such as History, Philosophy, Literary and Cultural Studies, Art History etc. Topics to be explored include, but are not limited to:
- Biography and historical context, including Benjamin’s intellectual networks during his studies, as a freelance writer and in exile.
- The role of exile, mobility and migration (of people, ideas, objects etc.) in Benjamin’s writings.
- Traveling concepts: the migration, mobility and afterlife of Benjamin’s ideas.
4. Benjamin, Switzerland, and Horizons of Jewish Identity: A Space of Experience
Chairs: Prof. Dr. Ilit Ferber, Tel Aviv / Prof. Dr. René Bloch, Bern
Benjamin’s years in Bern (1917-1919) were exceptionally fruitful. Not only did he submit his famous dissertation on Romanticism at the University of Bern (1919), but he also wrote one of the most important of his early texts: “On the Program of the Coming Philosophy” (1918), in which he fiercely criticizes Kant, yet at same time defining his own work on the background of Kant’s heritage. These were the years in which he read some of the texts that would continue to influence him in the years to come (notably Hermann Cohen’s Kants Theorie der Erfahrung), and met people whose thinking became important for him (e.g. Ernst Bloch). His lifelong friendship with Gershom Scholem (whom he met in 1915) took form and deepened during his years in Bern, and, mediated by Scholem, the influence Jewish sources had on him took root.
In this panel we welcome:
- papers that deal with Benjamin’s texts, written in his time in Bern;
- papers with a more biographical angle regarding his years in Bern;
- papers discussing Benjamin’s intellectual influences at the time;
- papers discussing his friendship with Scholem and its implications;
- papers concerning the question of the influence of Benjamin’s Jewish background on his work.
5. The Bern PhD. Dissertation: Art Criticism and the Art of Criticism
Chairs: Prof. Dr. Michael W. Jennings, Princeton / Prof. Dr. Alexander Honold, Basel
With his study on The Concept of Art Criticism in German Romanticism, Benjamin tried to simultaneously establish a general theory of scholarly criticism as well as to locate art criticism in the context of romantic self-reflexivity. Emphatic references to Fichte, Novalis, Friedrich Schlegel and Goethe seem to comprise quite different, even contradictory tendencies. This panel will examine some of these fundamental dichotomies: the explicit tension between systematic and historical approaches in terms of methodology, the implicit duality of romantic progression and classical completion in the field of aesthetic judgments, and the broader concept of “art” in its relation to the narrower concept of “literature”. We invite not only proposals focused specifically on the dissertation and Benjamin’s reading of Romanticism, but proposals that treat aspects of Benjamin’s more general theories of art and media.
6. The Art of Translation: Experiencing Other Languages
Chairs: Prof. Dr. Gérard Raulet, Paris-Sorbonne / PD Dr. Julia Straub, Bern
Set against the backdrop of Switzerland’s diverse linguistic landscape, this panel aims to revisit Walter Benjamin’s theoretical writings on language and translation. We invite papers that examine the relationship between e.g., translation, creativity, and literariness in Benjamin’s works as well as contributions that connect new approaches to translation (studies) with his writings. Thus, reassessments of the task of the translator and the ontological status of translations according to Benjamin are possible points of departure as well as broader discussions of e.g., Benjamin’s theory of translation and the cultural turn in the Humanities or its place amidst transnational contexts for the study of literature.
Reading Session: The Beginning of the Arcades Project – Method, Style and Concepts
Chairs: Dr. Ori Rotlevy, Tel Aviv / Dr. Toni Hildebrandt, Bern
To the various angles which the different thematic panels will offer to tackle the problem of beginning in Benjamin, this session wishes to add a unique angle, that of reading a beginning. In contrast to the thetic nature of a lecture, this session aims to promote a vibrant polemical and collective discussion of two texts written in 1927-1929, through which we turn the attention of the participants to the naissance of Benjamin's grandest project, the Arcades Project. The first is "Passagen", a brief text, which might have been written in collaboration with Franz Hessel, and the second is an untitled text, containing 24 fragments, which will later find their way to the convolutes. These fragments were re-ordered by the editors of the Gesammelte Schriften, which gave them the title "Passagen II".
These two small texts, hardly compared in the scholarly literature, provide a very concrete encounter with Benjamin's beginnings in terms of method, style, and concepts. With the first being an exemplar of flânerie in the arcades, and the second emphasizing the function of the arcades as miniature and archetype ("the hollow mold from which the image of 'modernity' was cast"), they allow pondering on the methodical limitations of flânerie with respect to completion and awakening ("being in the open"). The clear difference between the surrealistic tendency of "Passagen" and the fragmentary nature of "Passagen II" provokes Benjamin's fundamental question of presentation, and specifically, the question of an awakening or revelatory kind of writing in modernity. Significantly, through their comparison, the work of concepts as constellating the phenomenal details comes to the fore.
The two fragments, proposed in the reading session, also point to a complex, which can be addressed as Benjamin’s “idea of natural history”. Different from Adorno’s take on this idea, who tried to systematize the concept of “Naturgeschichte” in an essay from 1932, mainly discussing the Trauerspielbuch, the two fragments ask however for a close reading. In the prospected reading, concepts such as “natural history” will provide a jump board for discussing the relevance of these texts to contemporary debates, for instance, concerning recent debates on the relation of modernity to new geochronological historiographies in the context of the Anthropocene (Chakrabarty 2009).
The reading will begin with a brief 10 minute exegesis of the text and a brief response, and will then open to discussion by the participants.
Walter Benjamin, Gesammelt Schriften, Bd. V.1, ed. Rolf Tiedemann, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp 1991, pp. 1041–1059.
Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin, Cambridge, Mass., London: Harvard University Press 1999, pp. 871–884
Theodor W. Adorno, “The Idea of Natural-History” , in: Telos. Critical Theory of the Contemporary60 (1984), pp. 111–124.
Dipesh Chakrabarty, “The Climate of History: Four Theses”, in: Critical Inquiry35, no. 2 (Winter 2009): 197–222.
Contact and Organisation: Dr. Toni Hildebrandt, Institut für Kunstgeschichte, Universität Bern, firstname.lastname@example.org; Dr. Ori Rotlevy, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Franz Rosenzweig Minerva Research Center