Call for papers – deadline February 28, 2014
Critical Theory, Film and Media: Where is “Frankfurt” now?
An international conference at Goethe Universität Frankfurt, Germany, August 20-24, 2014, organized by the Institut für Sozialforschung and the Institut für Theater-, Film- und Medienwissenschaft in cooperation with the Permanent Seminar on Histories of Film Theories
In 2010, Alexander Kluge releases a DVD called “Wer sich traut, reißt die Kälte vom Pferd” (Those who dare tear the cold down from his horse), the third installment in a series that started with a ten-hour film based on Eisenstein’s project of filming Marx’ “Das Kapital”. Picking up on an unfinished project developed with Adorno in 1967 on the theme of coldness, the 2010 DVD presents a media mix of 31 different types of short films and 41 stories in an accompanying booklet. The project is a collaboration between 12 artists, scholars and experts from various disciplinary backgrounds, two of them being fictive characters. Reading theory has become a collaborative effort, involving various disciplines on different platforms, and dealing with unfinished projects. About the project Kluge writes:
“The possibility of a revolution in Europe has disappeared, and with it the confidence in a historical process that can be directly shaped by people’s consciousness. With this confidence, a certain unrest and urgency have disappeared. ... As if in a quiet garden we can now study strange thoughts from [x] and weird projects from [y], because they are like messages from an ideological antiquity. ... We do not have to announce anything new, we do not have to pass final judgments, can change little and do not have to imitate [x] or [y]. One can see this as a goodbye, or as a beginning.”
Kluge then goes on to make a statement about Marx that we could paraphrase for our purposes in the following way: “The analytical instruments of the Frankfurt school are not outdated. ... Sifting through the rubble of history we find useful tools.”
With a combination of social philosophy, philosophical aesthetics, political economics and a particular focus on technology the Frankfurt school and its kindred spirits Benjamin and Kracauer have paved the way for film and media studies as a critical discipline.
Now, at a time, when the generational project of 1968, the march through the institutions under the assumption that a revolution in Europe is possible, haslargely run its course, it is time to sift through the rubble of history, collect the tools, pick up on unfinished projects and think about new beginnings.
What, then are the analytical instruments that the Frankfurt school provided that will be useful going forward? How did the Frankfurt School of critical theory shape the course of film and media theory in the 20th century, and how will its tools continue to shape the study and critical analysis of media and culture?
„Critical Theory, Film and Media: Where is ‘Frankfurt’ now?“, an international conference organized by the Institut für Sozialforschung and the Institut für Theater-, Film- und Medienwissenschaft in cooperation with the Permanent Seminar on Histories of Film Theories (filmtheories.org
), proposes to address these questions through a series of panels, keynote lectures and panel discussions.
Contributions are welcome on various aspects of critical theory, film and media, from the impact of critical theory on the history of film theory and media studies and film and media practice to debates about media and politics and the continuing relevance of critical theory to postcolonial, queer and other recent strands of cultural theory.
In particular, the conference proposes to address, but will not limit itself to, the following areas of study
From the critique of the culture industry to the “creative industries”:
Without doubt the culture industry chapter of the “Dialectics of Enlightment” is among the most influential texts in the history of film and media theory. Together with Adorno’s notes on cinema in the “Minima moralia” this chapter constitutes a damning indictment of commercialized culture as exemplified most notably by Hollywood cinema. Among other things, with its strong focus on Hollywood, the “Culture industry” chapter laid the groundwork for the institutional histories of Hollywood proposed by the New Film History and continues to echo in current debates about creativity and the “creative industries”. One of the aims of this conference is to trace how the Frankfurt school critique of the culture industry has shaped the study of commercial and popular culture, but also to inquire into the possible continuing relevance of some of the basic tenets of Adorno and Horkheimer’s critique to digital network culture.
Essayism, Criticism and Critical Theory: In his famous essay on the “Essay as form” from 1958 Adorno argues for a kind of critical writing that strategically subverts and transgresses disciplinary boundaries. Going back even further, criticism constituted a crucial part of the project of critical theory since its beginnings, whether the film criticism of Kracauer or the music criticism of Adorno. One could argue that film studies emerged as a field in precisely the area carved out by Adorno – indebted to criticism, in a space in between disciplines, borrowing tools and approaches from neighboring field, avoiding for a long time the ossifications of disciplinary protocol. Emerging roughly a decade after film studies, “Medienwissenschaft” occupied a similar
trans- or non-disciplinary space. Revisiting the Frankfurt legacy of criticism as theory and of disregarding disciplinary protocol this conference proposes to explore the power and potential of essaysism in the academic study of film and media culture today.
Philosophy of History and the History of Media: The Institut für Sozialforschung was created in response to a failed revolution, the German revolution of 1918. Combining Marx with Freud to explain why the revolution did not happen led the Frankfurt school to develop a theory of power and subjectivity of which Foucault later acknowledged that it would would have saved him a lot of trouble had he known about it earlier. The idea of history as process evolving around the possibility of a revolution remained central to later generations of critical theorists. From the outset, Kracauer and Benjamin in particular tied the question of historical process and historical consciousness to the question of media technology, in particular photography and film. In the wake of the emergence of digital network communications and the current transformation of moving image culture the positions the work of Benjamin and Kracauer have re-emerged as key reference in film and media theory. This conference proposes to explore why, even though the urgency that comes with a confidence in history as process has been lost, as Kluge argues, this work appears to be immediately relevant to the study of media and history in contemporary media culture.
Critical Theory, Feminist Film Theory and the Politics of Desire: One of the most important and powerful contributions of the Frankfurt School to the field of critical theory in the 20th century consisted in linking the critique of capitalism to sexual politics and the politics of desire. Drawing on the Frankfurt School’s signature combination of neo-marxist analysis with Freudian psychoanalysis, Herbert Marcuse discussed the capitalist system of production in terms of a sublimation of desire in his book 1955 “Eros and Civilization” that an important reference for the generation of 68. Feminist film theory, from Laura Mulvey onwards, emerged in the 1970s from a similar convergence of Freud and Marx (and from Althusser and Lacan), while later approaches to sexual politics and media, from gender studies to queer theory, owe a significant debt to Frankfurt school critical theory in their own ways, in particular to Kluge and Negt’s critique of Habermas’ concept of the public sphere, but also to Benjamin and Kracauer and their interest in the historically changes modes of mediated affect. One of the aims of this conference is to explore how the critique of capitalism and the analysis of sexual politics intersect and re-align in contemporary media culture and in the face of what has variously been called “information capitalism” or “digital capitalism”.
Critical Theory, Artistic Practice and the Category of the Art Work:
Critical theory, from Benjamin’s works on the theater to his essay on the author as producer and the artwork essay to Kracauer’s film theory and Adorno’s sociology of music has left a significant imprint on film art and on media practice more broadly speaking. German experimental theater and radio in the 1920s, the television programs with avant-garde composes curated by Mauricio Kagel in the 1960s and 1970s and the new German cinema of Kluge and beyond all in varying degrees have use critical theory as
a frame of reference. Jean-Luc Godard, a former critic who never ceased to be a critic, continues to acknowledge his debt to critical theory and to Benjamin and Adorno in particular in his work for cinema and television as does, of course, Kluge in his television work. Of particular interest in these examples is a critique of the category of “work” that can be traced back to Adorno but is probably now more relevant than ever. This conference proposes to trace the Frankfurt lineage of the critique of the category of art work across a variety of artistic and media practices.
Critical Theory and the Critique of Institutions: The Institut für Sozialforschung was created in the late 1920s as a research institution outside the university, even though it had ties with the University of Frankfurt, which itself had only been founded in 1914. Benjamin’s troubles with academic protocol are well known, and Kracauer consistently worked outside the university until very late in his life. Critical theory emerges outside of, or in tension with, the established institutions of academic life and carries the critique of institutions as its birthmark, so to speak. The Frankfurt school’s critique of institutions further extends to cultural institutions, as in Benjamin’s critical analysis of Brecht and Brechtian theater or Adorno’s critique of the practices and institutions of classical music. One of the key legacies of the Frankfurt school is to keep the critique of institutions alive in film and media studies in areas where the focus tends to either be on representations of social and gender roles or on technologies regardless of their institutional dynamics.
Critical Theory and Gesture as Interruption: Few other concepts from early critical theory have developed a more virulent afterlife in the theory of theater, film and media than the concept of the “gesture”. Emerging from the theory of language and theater from his early essay on language an the book on the German “Trauerspiel” Benjamin defines “gesture” as a interruption of an action and as the “frozen dialectic” that later becomes a key to his theory of film and of the images, as well as to his readings of Kafka. Roland Barthes draws on Benjamin’s theory of gesture in his analysis of Eisenstein, as does Heiner Müller in his re-readings of Brecht, Jeff Wall in his tableaus or Godard in his “Histoire(s)”. This conference proposes to explore the prehistory and afterlife of this key concept of both critical theory and modern art theory.
Critical Theory and the History of Media Technology: Over the last few years a strain of Medienwissenschaft focused on the history technology and particularly computer technology has gained prominence in the Anglophone world under the label “German media theory”. Inspired mostly by the work of Friedrich Kittler and deriving from Heidegger rather than Adorno – or from Freiburg rather than Frankfurt –, this strain of media theory has proposed what we might call “Technohegelianism”, i.e. a philosophy of history as driven by technology and information technology in particular, as an alternative to a critical theory approach to media. This conference intends to explore the relative merits as well as the points of convergence and communication between “German media theory” and Frankfurt School critical theory, with a particular focus on the question of media technology.
The conference will be held at the Campus Westend, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt.
Proposals can be made for individual paper presentations or pre-constituted panels.
Proposals for papers and panels should be submitted via the proposal submission form on the website of the Permanent Seminar at
before February 28, 2014.
Notifications of acceptance will be sent out before March 15, 2014. Scientific committee:
Dr. Sidonia Blättler, Institut für Sozialforschung, Frankfurt Prof. Dr. Eva Geulen, professor of German literature, Frankfurt Prof. Dr. Vinzenz Hediger, professor of cinema studies, Frankfurt Prof. Dr. Axel Honneth, director of the Institut für Sozialforschung, Frankfurt Prof. Dr. Rembert Hüser, professor of media studies, Frankfurt Prof. Dr. Nikolaus Müller-Schöll, professor of theater studies, Frankfurt Prof. Dr. Juliane Rebentisch, professor of esthetic theory, HFG Offenbach Prof. Dr. Marc Ries, professor of media sociology, HFG Offenbach Prof. Dr. Martin Seel, professor of philosophy, Frankfurt Dr. Marc Siegel, assistant professor of cinema studies, Frankfurt