*“Revolution and the Real”*

Graduate Student Conference on March 6, 2015

Hosted by the German Department at New York University

Keynote Speaker: TBD

“Philosophy, which once seemed outmoded, remains alive because the moment
of its realization was missed.” – Theodor Adorno

Much of German literature and philosophy could be considered a surrogate
for the unrealized revolution: Weimar Classicism or Romanticism for 1789,
Realism for 1848, the culture of the Weimar Republic for 1918. In all of
these cases, German culture observes the ‘real’ of the revolution from a
distance and reflects, substitutes, idealizes. Yet it is from these
idealist German responses that there arises the theory of revolution as a
process in the real, the “realization” of philosophy – namely in Marx’s
theory of historical materialism.

At each of these conjunctures we witness a simultaneous circumvention of
the political and a blossoming of creativity and insight in Germany. *Dichter
*such as Heinrich Heine, Georg Büchner, and Bertolt Brecht both thematized
and exhorted revolution, while many elements of Weimar classicism and
Romanticism are set off by the shadow of fully or partially realized
revolutions in other countries even and perhaps especially where national
politics is not the explicit focus. This German tradition of intellectual
substitution for the unrealized rupture with the present order stretches
back at least as far as Martin Luther’s 95 theses in 1517. Kant named the
intervention of transcendental idealism into the history of philosophy a
Copernican revolution, taking up an event that revolutionized the
understanding of the already revolutionary motions of its own celestial
objects of study.

Does the failure of the German political revolutions detract from their
status as revolutions? Or is it on the contrary precisely the realization
of revolution in determinate and purportedly permanent institutions that
threatens its revolutionary character? What constitutes a “real
revolution”? If, according to Lacan, the Real is the impossible, are real
revolutions condemned to ideality? Revolutionary rhetoric often proclaims
the inadequacy of mere resistance, of partial change or reform, instead
seeking to uproot the established order of things in its entirety and usher
in a new one. In that sense, the revolution takes aim at reality itself,
disrupting its balance and redefining its rules. However, unlike mere
revolt, the very notion of revolution also implies its own centripetal
momentum, perhaps assuming the possibility of some future stability and
permanence even as it presently resists or destroys. Paradoxically, the
ancient notion of the revolution of celestial bodies, the very image of
stasis and harmony, becomes in modern political discourse the name for a
purportedly absolute rupture with what is currently real or actual.

Literary and artistic realisms have had a mixed and contested relationship
to revolutionary practices of representation. Underlying the related
debates may in part be an internal tension within the term “realism” itself
symmetrical with that of “revolution” discussed above. Realism must promise
variously to depict, represent, or communicate the real. But to do this,
the *ism *of the real must differ determinately from the real itself,
whether as a movement, a philosophy, or a set of conventions. However
insistent they may be upon the primacy of reality or the real, realist
representational practices would seem always to assume that the real itself
requires some mediation in order to be accessible at all. If the purpose of
revolutionary intellectual and artistic practices is to change the world in
the real, as Marx’s famous eleventh thesis on Feuerbach might be understood
to suggest, what kind of realism would resist the danger of simple
reification in order to be capable of such a revolutionary intervention?

We seek papers that explore how literary and artistic practices negotiate
the interlocking paradoxes of revolution, the real, and realism, and the
political stakes of their doing so.

*Possible topics include, but are not limited to*:

-revolutionary writers or texts

-realism in philosophy, literature, and visual art

-studies of the revolutions of 1848 or 1918

-Bureaucracy and revolution

-Eternal recurrence

-Tropologies of revolution and revolving tropes

-Copernican revolutions in philosophy and/or psychoanalysis

-the impact of revolutions on literary production

-staging revolution and revolutionary stagings

-Political (“committed”) art; the relationship between art and politics

-Comparative paradigms of revolution (e.g., East vs. West Germany; 18th vs.
20th century)

-reality vs. the Real

-Propaganda and/or agitation

-theories of the avant-garde

-narratives and metanarratives of revolution and realism

-alternatives to revolution (e.g. Burke and conservatism, or Schiller and
aesthetic education)

-RAF and postwar radical politics

We welcome contributions from a range of disciplines, including German
studies, history, philosophy, gender studies, and other language and
literature departments. Please submit a 300-word abstract for a 15-20
minute paper by Dec. 20, 2014 to [log in to unmask] If
accepted, final papers should be submitted two weeks before the conference.

The German Studies Call for Papers List
Editor: Stefani Engelstein
Assistant Editor:  Olaf Schmidt
Sponsored by the University of Missouri
Info available at: