Indiana University Bloomington


(For an archive of events, see here)


Fall 2014


Symposium: Hans Blumenberg's Concept of Modernity

Patricia Ingham & Johannes Türk, Conveners

Friday, Oct. 31, Faculty Club, Indiana Memorial Union.

3 p.m.: Rüdiger Campe (German, Yale University):
“The Background of the Metaphor: Historicity Through Implication.”

Abstract: The Legitimacy of the Modern Age (1966) has often been seen as a deviation from Blumenberg’s earlier critical study of metaphor in philosophy and science (Paradigms of Metaphorology). According to this interpretation, Legitimacy amounts to a turn to history. I will argue that this is not the case. On the contrary, with regard to the understanding of modern history as a process of secularization, Blumenberg addresses not only a specific (theological and substantialist) candidate for historical transformation, but the nature of historical transformation as such. Read with an eye to this meta-critical argument, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age may turn out to be a daring manifesto for the critical reading of metaphor as a way of doing philosophy.

4:30 pm: Coffee Break

5 pm: Reading Blumenberg Today

John Arthos (Communication & Culture)
Patricia Clare Ingham (English)
Joshua Kates (English)
Sonia Velázquez (Theater Studies; Religious Studies)
Constance Furey (Religious Studies), Modertor


Saturday, Nov. 1, Oak Room, Indiana Memorial Union

10 am: Jane O. Newman (Comparative Literature, University of California, Irvine):
"Early / Modern: Augustine between Blumenberg and Auerbach."

Abstract: I explore the mechanics of the historical narrative – and of the history of modernity as narrative – that grows out Blumenberg’s version of the saint, who is made to cut a somewhat peculiar figure as both an “early” inspiration for modernity’s all-important “humanist” “self assertion” and as the inhibitor of its true, final arrival. Casting the fifth-century Augustine in this role creates the kind of telic narrative of which Blumenberg himself would have to disapprove. We may thus want to consider whether there might not be something like a “re-occupation” of earlier accounts of Augustine in the works here, given the fact that the bishop of Hippo played an equally as central, yet exceedingly different role in what we may want to think of as the competitor arguments about modernity developed by other notable German thinkers, particularly Erich Auerbach, but also Hans Jonas, Martin Heidegger, and Hannah Arendt.

11:15 am: Coffee Break

11:45 am: Kirk Wetters (German, Yale University):
"Science or Philosophy? – Blumenberg's Critical Anti-Anti-Positivism."

Abstract: My paper analyzes Blumenberg's Legitimacy of the Modern Age in its genesis and reception in the 1960s and beyond. It seeks to reconnect Blumenberg to Max Weber, an evidently crucial figure who plays almost no direct role in Legitimacy. There are a number ways of explaining Blumenberg's implicit dialogue with Weber. One way relates to the hyper-prevalence of Weber's thought in the 1960s. During the same years when Blumenberg was writing and revising his Legitimacy, Weber's legacy was being hotly contested in the so-called "positivism debate" (Positivismusstreit), a clash between academic sociology and the philosophically inflected Marxism of Adorno and Habermas. Already in 1964, Blumenberg's critique of secularization opted for a metaphorological historiography with more in common with the Weberian idea of "science" (Wissenschaft) than with the philosophy of history.

1 pm: Lunch (area restaurants)

2:30 pm: C.D. Blanton (English, University of California, Berkeley):
"Reoccupying Metaphor: On the Legitimacy of the Nonconceptual."

Abstract: From his earliest work on "absolute metaphors" and "background metaphorics" to his late intimations of a metaphorically grounded practice of "nonconceptuality," Hans Blumenberg’s work turns on the figurative and formal mechanism of metaphor. This paper revisits Blumenberg’s epochal and epoch-making account in The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, seeking to account for its powerful but often elusive sense of rhetoric: no longer fully opposed to dialectic, no longer fully reducible to linguistic or figurative invention. Ultimately, it suggests, Blumenberg’s notion of legitimacy depends on this rhetoric’s capacity to enact a mode of provisional negation that mimics the logical work of the concept by way of the power of misunderstanding.

3:45 pm: Coffee Break

4:15 pm: Reading Blumenberg Today

Hall Bjørnstad (French & Italian)
Jennifer Fleissner (English)
Johannes Türk (Germanic Studies)
Michel Chaouli (Germanic Studies), Moderator

The symosium is generously supported by the Departments of Germanic Studies and English, and by the College Arts & Humanities Institute, Indiana University.


Forum: Discussion of Work in Progress

Jennifer Fleissner (English): "The Embarrassment of Being a Subject: From St. Paul to Internet Porn" (PDF).

Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014, 8 pm; discussion at 8:30 pm. 1220 E. 1st Street, corner of Highland.

Abstract:This paper considers the possibility that the current theoretical turn toward objects, and away from subjects, may in part derive from the fact that being a subject is, frankly, embarrassing. Through attention to the Augustinian dimensions of the novel, it constructs an alternate genealogy of the trait often preeminently associated with modern subjectivity, the will, in which it stands for anything but the usual faith in rational autonomy.


Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Marx (But Were Afraid to Ask)

A Conversation with Benjamin Robinson (Germanic Studies)

Wednesday, Nov. 19, 7 - 8:30 pm, Edmondson Formal Lounge, Collins Living & Learning Center. Refreshments will be served. (The event was originally planned for Nov. 5.)


Spring 2015


Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Freud (But Were Afraid to Ask)

A Conversation with Eyal Peretz (Comparative Literature)

What exactly is the unconscious and how do we know it's there? Is psychoanalysis dead? Is a pipe sometimes just a pipe?

No question is out of bounds in our conversation about Freud. If you are curious why this thinker, who has been declared irrelevant many times, is still read, join us for this session. Maybe it will inspire you to open one of his books or take a class on his work. Professor Eyal Peretz has been thinking about Freud's work for many years. He will tell you why he keeps returning to it.

Wednesday, Feb. 25, 7 - 8:30 pm, Coffeehouse, Collins Living & Learning Center. Refreshments will be served.


Forum: Discussion of Work in Progress

Eyal Peretz (Comparative Literature):

"The Birth of the Off-Screen out of the Ghost of Modernity" (PDF)

This paper proposes to serve as an initial conceptualization of the cinematic device of the off-screen by tracing a history of its emergence out of two media of the early modern period, Shakespearean theater, focusing particularly on Shakespeare’s understanding of the relations between the stage and the off-stage, and Renaissance painting, taking Pieter Bruegel the Elder as a representative, and focusing on his understanding of the relations between the canvas and that which is outside the pictorial frame.

Wednesday, March 11, 8 pm, discussion at 8:30; 1220 E. 1st Street.


Symposium: Security, Violence Law

Oana Panaïté, convener

Saturday, April 11, 9 am - 6:30 pm, IMU Georgian Room.


9 am: Welcome, Oana Panaïté (French & Italian)

9:30 am: John Hamilton (German / Comparative Literature, Harvard Univ.), "Liberalism, Libertinage, and the Limits of Security: Laclos and the Charlie Hebdo Massacre."

Abstract: The terroristic attacks that recently horrified the world have occasioned reflection on public security and civic liberties. The primary issue, which concerns the relationship between security and liberalism, is hardly new, but rather persistently informs all modern political thought. In turning to Laclos’s Liaisons dangereuses, the notorious libertine novel of the 18th century, innovative insights may be gained in regard to today’s attempts in balancing safety and freedom.

John Hamilton, William R. Kenan Professor of German and Comparative Literature at Harvard, is the author of Soliciting Darkness: Pindar, Obscurity and the Classical Tradition (2004), Music, Madness, and the Unworking of Language (2008), and Security: Politics, Humanity, and the Philology of Care (2013), in addition to numerous articles: on Lessing, Hölderlin, Hoffmann, Eichendorff, Büchner, Heine, Kafka, Thomas Mann, and Böll; Pindar, Cicero, and Horace; Balzac, Gautier, Valéry, Roger Caillois, and Pascal Quignard.

10:45 am: Coffee Break

11 am: Chantal Mouffe (Politics and International Relations, Univ. of Westminster), "Politics and Violence: An Agonistic Approach."

Abstract: In this lecture, I will present my agonistic model and examine how it deals with the challenge confronting democracy when the ineradicable of antagonism is acknowledged.

Chantal Mouffe is Professor of Political Theory at the University of Westminster in London. She has taught and researched in many universities in Europe, North America and South America, and she is a corresponding member of the Collège International de Philosophie in Paris. She is the editor of Gramsci and Marxist Theory (Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1979), Dimensions of Radical Democracy. Pluralism, Citizenship, Community (Verso, London, 1992), Deconstruction and Pragmatism ( Routledge, 1996)and The Challenge of Carl Schmitt (Verso, London, 1999);the co-author with Ernesto Laclau of Hegemony and Socialist Strategy . Towards a Radical Democratic Politics ( Verso, London, 1985) and the author of The Return of the Political ( Verso, London, 1993) The Democratic Paradox (Verso, London, 2000), On the Political  (Routledge, London, 2005) and Agonistics. Thinking the World Politically ( Verso 2013).

12:15 - 2:30 pm: Lunch

2:30 pm: Elizabeth Anker (English, Cornell Univ.), "The Human Rights Turn, or the Political Will of Critical Theory."

Abstract: Many humanities fields are currently witnessing a reaction against the negativity of critique, hermeneutic suspicion, and the deflationary impulses of theory, and this talk locates the human rights turn within this broader climate of methodological self-questioning. For many, human rights have represented an escape from the sense of a political impasse within theory. This talk cautions against the interrelated risks of viewing human rights through the lens of idealism or utopianism; of merely repurposing established analytics within poststructuralist theory under the guise of human rights; of deploying human rights in ways that reinforce what I refer to as the “political minimalism” of much critique; or of endorsing human rights in ways that circumvent questions of cultural particularity and neo-imperialism.

Elizabeth S. Anker is Associate Professor in the English Department at Cornell University and Associate Member of the Faculty of Cornell Law School. Her first book is Fictions of Dignity: Embodying Human Rights in World Literature (2012). She is currently working on two book projects. The first, Our Constitutional Metaphors: Law, Culture, and the Management of Crisis, looks to literature, architecture, and film to study popular metaphors for constitutions, examining how they resolve challenges to democracy. Second, she is writing a book on Human Rights and Critical Theory that explores the “human rights turn.”

3:45 pm: Coffee Break

4 - 5:30 pm: Roundtable Discussion

Akin Adesokan (Comparative Literature)
William Rasch (Germanic Studies / International Studies)
Jon Simons (Communication and Culture)
Susan Williams (Law School)

The symposium is sponsored by the Center for Theoretical Inquiry in the Humanities, the College Arts & Humanities Institute, the Office of the Vice-President for International Affairs, and the departments of French & Italian, International Studies, and Political Science, all at Indiana University.


For older events, see here.