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Make our own Walter Benjamin’s «Experience and Poverty» ?

October 15 - October 17

International Conference from October 15 to 17, 2020 at Rennes 2 University

Florent Perrier – maître de conférences en esthétique et théorie de l’art EA 7472 Pratiques et
théories de l’art contemporain (PTAC)

Christophe David – maître de conférences en philosophie EA 1279 Histoire et Critique des
Arts (HCA)

Call for Papers

The scene has often been described in our illustrated children’s books: surrounded by its
enemies, already sinking for part, a ship has no other choice, if it hopes to escape and sail
away, than to sacrifice its heaviest cannons, to throw them overboard in order to gain speed,
this ship has no other choice than to disarm itself and thus to lose any recourse in order to
force its luck, to sail to the deep sea, to free itself.

We are not in 1933, nor are we threatened, here in Europe, as Walter Benjamin was when,
between two apocalypses and already in exile, in an indifference due to historical
circumstances, he published his short and incisive text «Experience and Poverty» in a
Prague’s newspaper with short-lived existence. However, isn’t the assessment he made of an
alliance, by the great creators, between «a total disenchantment about the age» and,
nevertheless, «an unlimited commitment to it» also ours ? Not still ours (the Shoah and other
catastrophes have shaken up, since then, the order of the thinkable), but again ours, as if we
were at the point where, undertaking our poverty today or, disarming voluntarily, would be
the lifeline, the way out to escape the inertia promised by a dark future.

If this «our» or this «we» is obviously problematic and has to be questioned, even more so
as we are faced with the disappearance of natural resources knowingly caused by man, it
remains that this «we» could be that of communism defined in the 1930s by Brecht as the
just sharing of our poverty, collectively recognized when capitalism persists in being only the
mask of the sharing of an illusory wealth just pre-empted by a few.

It remains that this «we» could be that of a poverty of our trajectory finally accepted, of a
full recognition of this poverty when the capitalization of the traces, their accumulation is
reflected in nostalgic complaints and identity tensions over a fictitious past for which no one
can claim ownership.

It remains that this «we» could be an attempt to be indigestible by the time, to assert itself
irrecoverable by the impoverishment of any effect when the mirrors of the myth that second
the aestheticization of politics win again according to the ways of a levelling of consciousness
too much widespread, — «To silence a rhetoric of beauty, distinction and power, and thus to
denounce it as the instrument of a misrepresentation or a denial of what is and a repression of
what might be» [«Faire taire une rhétorique de la beauté, de la distinction et du pouvoir,
ainsi dénoncée comme l’instrument d’un travestissement ou d’une dénégation de ce qui est et
d’une répression de ce qui pourrait être»] (Daniel Payot, Après l’harmonie).

It remains that this « we » could be that of a prior silence facing the disasters of the world, the
painful realization of a withering of experience when the universal commentary mimics the
adulterated authority of the sentencious and drapes its inaction with murderous virtues —
«The reality of suffering […] cannot be expressed in communicable experiences, […] it
cannot conform to the assembly, to the syntax of our sentences» [«La réalité de la souffrance
[…] ne peut se déposer en expériences communicables, […] elle ne peut se plier à
l’assemblement, à la syntaxe de nos phrases»] (Jeanne-Marie Gagnebin, Histoire et narration
chez Walter Benjamin)

It remains that this « we » could be that of a persistent search for the elementary, the widened
gap with our assignment to a certain culture when it is precisely the emblem primed with an
impossibility of experiencing its richness, that of its sedimentation — « We have never seen a
spectacle more repugnant than that of a generation of adults who, after destroying all
possibility of authentic experience, impute their own misery to a youth now unable to
experiment » (Giorgio Agamben, Children and History [Infanzia e storia]).

It remains that this «we» could be the one given to the child, this inescapable figure of our
possibilities, of a utopia not yet disavowed and keeping its virtualities even when our
education persists in configuring the ways we feel by the addition of adjustments and of
forcing in all kinds.

It remains that this «we» could be that of barbarians who try to «survive» joyfully to the
culture when the others, civilized, polite and exhausted by their lying docility and so many
renunciations, sink deeper and deeper, wrapped in their individualism, towards the loss of
looks offered to the outside, to what may come.

To mix these possible «we» with other arrangements of the common, to bring their
discordances or their ajointements to the forefront in counterpoint of «Experience and
Poverty», to try to say (considering who could be for « us » today the great creators) to what
impoverishments «we» are ready to consent to maintain the hope of collectively sail away —
such is the desire associated with the organization of this international conference that, over
three days, will alternate thematic sessions with «Experience and Poverty» crossing spaces
offered to guests. Six thematic sessions will refer to the following words: GESTURES,
VOICES, STORIES, IMAGES, BOOKS, SPACES. The intended purpose will not be to
interpret «Erfahrung und Armut» in the light of these words, but to try to say, with what
gestures, what voices or what stories, with what images or what books, with what spaces
«we» could make our own Walter Benjamin’s «Experience and Poverty» ?

The papers proposals for 30-minutes oral interventions should be sent, in French, English,
Spanish or German to Florent Perrier (florent.perrier@univ-rennes2.fr) and Christophe David
(christophe.david@univ-rennes2.fr) by January 15, 2020.

To submit a paper proposal, please email a 15 to 20 lines abstract, plus a 5 to 6 lines
biographical note on the author.

A scientific committee, composed of Marc Berdet (Brasilia University – Brazil), Marianne
Dautrey (INHA – Paris), Henri Lonitz (co-director of the critical edition of the Works and
unpublished Works of Walter Benjamin – Frankfurt/Main), Patrick Vassort (head of the
International Critical Theory Research Programme – Caen University), Esther Leslie
(Birkbeck University – London), Bernd Stiegler (Konstanz University), Florent Perrier
(Rennes 2 University) and Christophe David (Rennes 2 University) will review the proposals
before end of March 2020.

Papers will be given in French whenever possible or they will be made available to the public
with a French translation, for which we offer to collaborate if necessary.
Please note that the conference is unable to provide financial assistance for travel or
accommodation, except for exceptional cases.

Details

Start:
October 15
End:
October 17

Venue

Rennes 2 University