Fachkonferenz · Berlin
Walter Benjamin in the East – Networks, Conflicts, and Reception
This conference will trace the reception of Walter Benjamin’s thought throughout Eastern Europe, more specifically in a late and post-Socialist context. The dissolution of the Eastern Bloc and the Soviet Union to some degree ended the rivalry of two contingent versions of modernity. Among other things, it catalyzed an intellectual and artistic engagement with the 1920s, directed at different authors, strands of Marxism and Materialism in the formative years of the communist project. As a historical materialist thinker and Western intellectual sympathizer, Benjamin is referenced and appropriated in the context of various Eastern European approaches that rework the legacy of the communist project, starting in the Glasnost period. Thus, the 2020s come as a fitting occasion to re-read and historicize late and post-Socialist retrospections of the 1920s. In doing so, the conference also focusses on the ways in which academic cultures govern implicit imaginaries of the East and West (division) that remain prevalent in theoretical practices until today.
The main objectives of the conference on Benjamin’s reception in the East concern three aspects: the different networks (1), the conflicting appropriations (2), and a collaborative historicizing of these theoretical transfers from scholars across Europe (3).
(1) First, the conference will aim at charting the reception of the works of Walter Benjamin in Eastern Europe. This approach includes the mapping out of different networks—ranging from research groups, artistic movements, and conferences to translations and involved publishing houses—and how they interacted over time. For instance, translations of Benjamin’s works into Slavic languages rose significantly in the 1990s and 2000s. From a comparative perspective, they can form the starting point for shifts in interpretation and reception. Here, it is particularly important to decentralize the Eastern European space: instead of reducing it to perspectives from Moscow, the conference will consider more complex dynamics and entanglements with other cities, regions, and countries.
(2) Second, the conference reflects on conflicts in the treatment of Walter Benjamin’s work based on their particular geo-cultural and political situatedness. Ranging from the conflictual editing process of Benjamin’s works in West Germany and the GDR to post-structuralist appropriations of Benjamin’s account of Soviet Russia (Derrida) and the uncovering of structures of complicity among Western travelers such as Benjamin (Ryklin), this conference will exemplarily uncover the role of Benjamin’s theorizing and the ways in which it was appropriated by post-Socialist endeavors across Eastern Europe.
(3) Third, Benjamin’s ‘afterlife’ in Eastern Europe is a possible focal point in order to rework the ways in which these conflicting theoretical and political perspectives from the East perpetuated implicit imaginaries of an East/West division in academic cultures (and vice versa). In other words, these theoretical transfers of Benjamin’s thought pose an important question: how did the processes of reception offer themselves to construct a unique and extremely diverse post-communist (as well as post-Marxist) heritage? The outlook for Benjamin Studies is to potentially uncover the ‘off-modern’ (Boym) of Walter Benjamin’s legacy. The benefit in reflecting on the role of the Humanities more generally lies in questioning how practices of theorizing partake in shaping geo-cultural imaginaries. The conference thus aims at reflecting imaginary constructions of an East/West border more generally, which are prevalent not only in European society but also implicit to and reinforced by specific Eastern/Western academic perspectives.
Veranstaltungsort:Leibniz-Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung, Schützenstr. 18, 10117 Berlin, Aufgang B, 3. Et.
Referent/innen:Caroline Adler (HU Berlin), Sophia Buck (Oxford/ZfL), Carolin Duttlinger (Oxford), Matthias Schwartz (ZfL)