The Hole in Time: German-Jewish Political Philosophy and the Archive.
A workshop organised by the Centre for German Jewish Studies at Sussex (Nitzan Lebovic & Leena Petersen) and the Institute for Modern and Contemporary Culture at Westminster (Sas Mays)
23rd – 24th June 2010
Left discussions of politics and history owe much to German-Jewish theories of temporality that emerged in response to the political crises of twentieth-century Europe; yet, other than in the attention paid to issues of technological memory in Benjamin, there has been relatively little discussion of the archival ramifications of, for example, Adorno, Bloch, Celan, Rosenzweig, and Simmel, as well as other canonical Marxist thinkers. While Benjamin’s thought has often been mobilised to think the revolutionary potential of the archive, less has been done to think through the archival attitudes and implications of the work of such other thinkers, or the extent to which such attitudes are specifically predicated upon German and Jewish philosophical and political tradition.
Walter Benjamin’s ‘dialectics at a standstill’ invokes a temporary pause that diverts progress from its tracks, and functions instead as caesura of the movement of thought, a rupture in the present. This notion of temporality and Benjamin’s critique of history, owes much to a deep interest theology; and they are also informed by Benjamin’s conception of the material traces of history preserved by archival forms and the politics of their institutions.
Paul Celan's poetics of time and his politics of language are heavily embedded in the development of such ideas. ‘The Trumpet Place’, which alluded to a ‘hole’ or cessation in time that may allow time to begin anew, and which responded to the catastrophic events of the 1940’s, relies on temporal theories from the 1920s-1930s, and the idea of dismantling the “master’s” discourse, through a poetic reconfiguration of language as the vehicle and repository of politics, memory, and tradition.
Although these two concepts are ultimately dissimilar, they invoke a comparable category of rupture or negativity within time that operates between two notions of archived history: as normative, conservative, and static, and as revolutionary and transformative.
Such notions of archive and temporality pertain to current discussions of security and data-gathering. Since Foucault's work in the late 1970s, archives and other centres of information are seen as places that assist governmentality, but also recognise the destructive potential, the immanent absence of the ‘hole in time’, or of the rupture of the present, wherever power and information are collected. Seeking a theoretical framework to explain such moments, biopolitical critics refer not only to Foucault, but return from him back to Celan, Benjamin, and Kafka.
The conference ‘Temporality and the Archive’ aims to bring together interested parties to engage, broadly speaking, with the archival dimensions of German-Jewish conceptions of temporality, history, catastrophe and crisis, and is open to discussion of German-French dialogue in critical philosophy (Derrida, Deleuze, Foucault, Battaille, and Blanchot, for example), in this context.
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