CFP: International Conference "Schrift / Script: Writing and Image-Character in the Work of Walter Benjamin" (11/3/2011-11/5/201

full name / name of organization: 
Michael Jennings / International Walter Benjamin Society
contact email:


“Schrift / Script: Writing and Image-Character in the Work of Walter Benjamin”

Thursday, November 3-Saturday, November 5, 2011 at Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey, USA

International Conference of the International Walter Benjamin Society

Writing, the graphic character of inscription, and its relation to the image forms a central problematic in the work of the German-Jewish critic and philosopher Walter Benjamin. His work might in fact be said to constitute a theory of writing, if that term is understood broadly, so as to include not just issues of signification but of the graphic nature of handwriting and printing, as well as those of inscription and display processes in such diverse media as photography, film, drawing, painting, and architecture. The term “Script” (Schrift) emerges in the 1920’s as the center around which Benjamin’s meditations on the relationship between writing and image crystallize. This conference seeks to provide a forum for the investigation of the production, dissemination, and reception of “script” and the “script-image” that is the basis of all writing. Keynote lectures will be delivered by Peter Fenves, Winfried Menninghaus, and Avital Ronell.

We invite proposals for conference papers to be delivered in English or German; contributions are welcome from all fields of the humanities and the interpretive social sciences. Proposals of no more than 250 words should be sent by email to; the deadline for submission of proposals is May 30, 2011. Candidates will be notified by July 1, 2011.

Proposals may address, but need not be limited to, the following topics:

1) Benjamin, Religion, Writing. In a preliminary note to his theses “On the Concept of History,” Walter Benjamin describes the “messianic world” in terms of a language that is no longer “written but festively celebrated.” In this passage as in many others throughout his work writing is inextricably linked to religious categories such as fall and redemption, immediacy and transcendence, the daemonic and the divine. This section explores the relationship between Benjamin's multiple references to religious traditions – a theological approach to language, messianism, cabbalah, halachah and haggadah, scriptures - and his reflections on writing – the trace and the letter, literary genres, translation, and related topics. Participants are invited to reflect on Benjamin’s thought about the relationship between religion and Schrift or on responses to this dimension in his work in the writings of other thinkers from Gershom Scholem to Jacques Derrida, Giorgio Agamben and beyond. Section Leaders: Vivian Liska (Antwerp) and Hent de Vries (Baltimore)

2) Benjamin and the City. Benjamin saw cities as areas in which experience is at work. The city in general as well as specific cities made him rethink concepts fundamental to his overall project: history and society, language and culture, architecture and power structures, the allegorical implications of objects and forms, thresholds separating and bridging interiors as well as external space, utopian projects and human perception. Benjamin drew insights and ideas from metropolitan Europe – be it the seemingly self-confident Berlin of 1900, the short-lived laboratory of the Weimar republic‘s capital, Paris the capital of the 19th century or its Eastern counterpart Moscow. They were conceptual fields of media and mass experience, of people in the crowd and of a collective body shaped, polarized and united by changes in the technology of printed words and reproduced images. In Benjamin‘s view, cityscapes were characterized by a dynamic second nature demanding a philosophical approach that eschewed vitalism. Hence the city as a site making demands on thought. Other topoi central to Benjamin are to be found via those cities small and peripheral that had a dominant position in his mental map of German literature, aesthetics and philosophy (Jena and Weimar), and, finally, those imaginary urban safe havens the exiled intellectual was urged and supposed to reach yet never met (New York and Jerusalem). Section Leaders: Andrew Benjamin (Melbourne) and Justus Fetscher (Mannheim)

3) Theory of Media. As early as the language essay and the dissertation on Romantic criticism, Benjamin had emphasized that sounds, letters, and images are autonomous declarative forms. In this sense he defines language as a “medium of communication” and art as a “medium of reflection.” Even though he later failed to build directly upon this semiotic theory, he nonetheless claimed in a number of often cited essays from the mid-1920’s on that technologically produced images stand alongside printed writing as independent systems of communication. In order to question the sources and effects of these ideas, submissions should avoid wherever possible a return to the exegesis of the relevant texts. Where did Benjamin find the stimuli for his ideas on media? How do his contributions to mediality differ from other contemporary theories? How were his theories expanded and redirected by others? Section Leaders: Bettina Menke (Erfurt) and Detlev Schöttker (Dresden)

4) Memory. Benjamin’s writing is always a memory script that circles around the return of the past and the rereading of tradition—in an effort to lend permanence to his own texts. Already in the early work, the problem of transmissibility stands alongside those of communicability, criticizability, and translatability. In the rewriting of the metaphysics of experience in his later ‘materialist’ program, the theory of memory plays a decisive role in Benjamin’s formulation of a “Copernican Turn” in the writing of history. The section will provide a forum for the examination of Benjamin’s engagement with concepts of memory in Proust, Baudelaire, Freud, etc., and will examine the interplay between the metaphorics of script and the figuration of memory as space, image, citation, etc.; Benjamin’s own mnemnographic writing practice; the relationship of that practice to issues of place; and as well as to problems of cultural memory and memory and locale. Section Leaders: Jose Maria Gonzalez (Madrid) and Daniel Weidner (Berlin)

5) Script, Image, Script-Image. Throughout his career, Benjamin’s theories on language and the written word remain remarkably consistent, in the sense that strong correlations can be drawn between his early philosophy of language and his later reflections on translation, on concepts of similarity and mimesis, and on the material and epistemological status of archives and of forms of inscription. In Benjamin’s conceptualization, the mimetic function emerges as a human aptitude for the observation of real and ideal similarities in the plurality of signs encountered in the micro- and macrocosmos. Notable among the engagements of the mimetic faculty as Benjamin proposes it are those that take shape in relation to changes in the corpus of language in the wake of historical crises, developments in media technology, and transformations of culture within urban commodity capitalism. As at once an agent and an expression of cultural invention, the written word induces and absorbs changes in the circulation of signs, unveiling and reconfiguring historical similarities and dissimilarities. The imbrication of text and image in the technological media of the early twentieth century prompted Benjamin’s pointed obeservation that “script—having found, in the book, a refuge in which it can lead an autonomous existence—is pitilessly dragged out into the street by advertisements and subjected to the brutal heteronomies of economic chaos. This is the hard schooling of its new form.” Taking into account the visual dimension of the written word as a form of cultural mediation, this section aims to explore the many transformations that script, image, and script-image undergo in Benjamin’s oeuvre. Section Leaders: Brigid Doherty (Princeton), Peter Gilgen (Ithaca) and Karl Solibakke (Syracuse)

6) Writing as Other-Directedness: Interpretation, Translation, Textuality. It often has been argued that Benjamin's texts perform a self-focused undoing that ultimately ends in self-destruction. And yet, evidence can be found throughout the variegated Benjaminian corpus to suggest that such conceptual destruction is not content simply to remain itself. Rather, it is invested in what one might call an "other-directedness," in which the future potentiality of something remains to be thought, experienced, and understood. This section invites proposals on various forms of Benjaminian other-directedness, especially as the latter is illuminated and mediated by abiding questions of interpretation, translation, and textuality in the broadest sense. Section Leaders: Gerhard Richter (Davis) and Eduardo Cadava (Princeton)

For detailed information on this conference, see or

cfp categories: 
modernist studies