Proposals for papers are invited for a panel at the "Walter Benjamin and the Architecture of Modernity" conference to be held in Sydney, August 17 - 19
Panel Title; "Brushing Up Against The Grain": Creative readings (between the lines) of old Benjamin.
Chair; John Grech
Walter Benjamin often expresses his most profound thoughts with a poetic, mystical, and, one could add, subtle Kabbalistic tenor. Indeed, one of the features of his writing is that he seems quite deliberately careful to camouflage or remove the prospect of creating a direct, indexical significance of what he could be seen to be saying in his writing. Instead of providing textual certainty, Benjamin can sometimes leave his reader with a sense of the mysterious and elusive effect of language and the meaning it can produce.
This panel forefronts the textual ambiguity and uncertainty and seeks creative, innovative, alternative, and/or intertextual dialogues "between the lines" of part or the whole of Benjamin's oeuvre. Welcome approaches would re-read specific essays in Benjamin's work and open up, again, and interrogate the basic questions or problems they pose. For example, in "The Task of the Translator", why does Benjamin finally land in a bottomless abyss where the specific language of an author and their translator opens up to the infinitude of 'pure language'? Or, in "The Arcades Project", to what effect did he so carefully juxtapose the discarded shards of culture into an evocative walk through the arcades of historical debris? And, in "Theses on the Philosophy of History", what does the account of Paul Klee's 'Angelus Novus', amongst images of vanquished Carthagians and victorious ruling Romans, suggest about the way we re-member and re-collect the past?
Other welcome approaches could re-interpret Benjamin's work into contemporary contexts and examine whether his work continues to be relevant. For example, turning to "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction", Benjamin goes to great length to show that the greatest threat facing humanity is fascism, and the most powerful weapon the fascist dictator has is modern technology with its capacity to standardise the production of the artifact and universalise its meaning. But is such a virulent anti-totalitarian critique still relevant in a partial, oversaturated age of new media? And is Benjamin really saying that the 'aura' of the reproduced artifact is irretrievably depleted? So how do contemporary advocates of global democracy respond to his critique of the social bonds and cultural relations produced through reproduced/reproducing objects? Then Benjamin ends the "Mechanical Reproduction" essay by portraying communism as a great liberator of humanity, but who, after 1989, or, in fact, after Sartre after Kruschev, still believes this? Is there something still in old Benjamin's consideration of communism that remains productive? What does Benjamin offer in a post 9/11 world?
In addressing such or other questions, this panel asks whether there is an overarching project in Benjamin's writing, and if there is, whether that project is yet, and is always in need of being articulated?
Abstracts of 300 words should be submitted to John Grech by 16th June.
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