Tectonics of the Systems. New Readings of Oswald Spengler.

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University of Leuven (Belgium) - Research Unit Text and Interpretation

Tectonics of the Systems.
New Readings of Oswald Spengler

Tektonik der Systeme.
Neulektüren von Oswald Spengler

Tectonique des Systèmes.
Relectures d'Oswald Spengler

Leuven, 15-17.12.2009

From 15 to 17 December 2009, the research unit Text and Interpretation of the department of iterary studies at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium) organizes an international conference entitled Tectonics of the Systems. New Readings of Oswald Spengler. The aim of this conference is to explore new directions in the study of Spengler's work, and to make possible productive interdisciplinary exchanges that assess the continuing relevance of his oeuvre.

Few philosophical works have met with a more remarkable critical fate than Oswald Spengler's (1880-1936) controversial and bestselling "The Decline of the West"(1918, 1922). Upon publication, Spengler's philosophy of history became the object of a passionate public debate in which very different voices – such as those of Thomas Mann, Karl Kraus, and Ernst Bloch – expressed wildly divergent opinions. This so-called "Spengler-Streit" was fought in newspaper and journal articles, in essays as well as in monumental monographs, and it soon became a crucial reference point in the intellectual history of the interwar period.

After the Second World War, Spengler's work soon disappeared from the intellectual mainstream: any thorough engagement with a work that had been so controversial and ubiquitous before the war was pre-empted on grounds that were both ideological and methodological. Spengler was soon reduced to the status of a philosophical curiosity in post-war intellectual discourses. As Jacques Bouveresse notes, we have grown used to making fun of Spengler, without going to the trouble of actually reading him.

Given this state of affairs, this conference has a double goal:

(1) We would like to meet Bouveresse's challenge and provide a platform for new readings of Spengler's works, including his less familiar ones. The widespread failure to engage with Spengler's work seems to be almost an "excuse," as Adorno called it, that betrays an anxiety to confront an oeuvre that is extremely complicated and problematic on both political and rhetorical grounds. It is precisely the stylistic, rhetorical, and theoretical complexity of Spengler's work, or even its hybridity at the crossroads of philosophy and literature, of logic and rhetoric, that this conference wants to investigate. The complexity of Spengler's texts invites readings that aim to trace rhetorical and argumentative strategies – such as the construction of syntheses, analogies, and oppositions – and to foreground tensions and hesitations in Spengler's often seemingly apodictic statements. We also want to investigate to what extent these tensions – between continuity and discontinuity, between tradition and radicalism, between organ(olog)ical images and technocratic phantasies of the state – are a more general characteristic of discourses of the so-called Konservative Revolution, or of what has also been called a "German anti-modernist modernism" (Richard Herzinger).

(2) The conference also wants to focus on the renewed international reception of Spengler's work since the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. After the demise of the traditional opposition between the political Left and Right, we can observe a remarkable return of and to Spengler's work – as well as cultural-pessimistic discourses more generally. This call for papers explicitly welcomes contributions that attempt to test the possibilities of considering Oswald Spengler as our "contemporary." In a German context, for instance, the aesthetic and essayistic reactualization of Spengler in the work of Botho Strauß, Rolf Hochhuth, Reinhard Jirgl, and Peter Sloterdijk demands critical analysis.

This double perspective should lead to a timely correction of the highly reductive traditional images of Spengler, as well as to a more adequate understanding of the place of Spengler's work in contemporaneous as well as current discursive networks.

The different research questions will be dealt with in eight different thematic sections:

Section 1 – The "Spengler-Streit": Spengler and his contemporaries
Section 2 – Spengler's international resonance
Section 3 – "The Decline of the West": a "massive novel"
Section 4 – On the Faustian: The legacy of Nietzsche and Goethe
Section 5 – "The dirty literati": Spengler and aesthetic modernism
Section 6 – "World history is state history": Spengler's state, nation, and politics
Section 7 – "Das weltgeschichtliche Schauen": The actuality of Spengler's morphology of culture
Section 8 – Spengler's literary reception after 1989

Invited keynote speakers:
Barbara Beßlich (Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg)
Frits Boterman (Universiteit van Amsterdam)
Jacques Bouveresse (Collège de France)
Erk Grimm (Barnard College)
Dieter Heimböckel (Université du Luxembourg)
Richard Herzinger
Gilbert Merlio (Université Paris Sorbonne – Paris IV)
Susanne Lüdemann (University of Chicago)
Anson Rabinbach (Princeton University)
Gérard Raulet (Université Paris Sorbonne – Paris IV)

Abstracts (no more than 300 words in Pdf or Word-Format) for 30-minutes presentations can be sent to the following address before 1 September 2009

Proposals and presentations can be in German, English, as well as French. You will be notified of the acceptance of your proposal before 21 September 2009. We are planning the publication of selected contributions.

For more information on the conference (registration, program, venue, accommodation, etc.), please consult (from August 17 on):