Abstracts – University of Copenhagen

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Kasper Frederiksen

London Consortium

Respondent: Martin Zierold

Instead of the Past, the Future! - on Sorelian myth and the catastrophic politics of Futurism 1909-1914

This paper will be operating on the level of "fantasies" in the Summer School's context of cultural catastrophe. It will examine the modernist belief in that catastrophe is necessary in order to achieve full modernity while, at the same time, examine how revolt turned into style with the birth of the historical avantgarde.

Futurism was aiming for a catastrophic revolution that would create a clean slate to built the future upon. This was imagined to be the Great War which, instead, ended what I here call "early Futurism" when it came. Throughout the paper I will reflect upon what happens when the political becomes aestheticised. Is it equal to fascism? Or is it deeper imprinted on modernity whether we like it or not?

The paper will analyse the relationship between avant-garde, anarchism and violence by using Marinetti's manifestos as examples on an aestheticisation of revolutionary politics. The futurists kept anticipating a catastrophic future that never happened, at least not as they imagined it. Instead they ended up being institutionalised as an art movement which might be the real catastrophe. Even though the movement often has been associated with fascism, it started out from anarcho-syndicalist ideas, primarily inpired by the French theorist Georges Sorel and his Reflections on Violence (1908), where he is calling for an art which, through artistic images, could create a social myth that would instigate a new type of rebellion. As such, Sorel's call for a revolutionary aesthetics was answered by Marinetti's aesthetic violence and the attempt to produce new art for a new world.

After World War I many of these thoughts were co-opted by Fascism, where the trajectory of (late) Futurism also culminated. This will therefore lead to a concluding re-examination and revision of Walter Benjamin's famous opposition between the aestheticisation of politics and a politicised art.


Maria Finn

The Royal Academy of Arts, Copenhagen

Respondent: Maciej Maryl

The Escape from the Spectacle

After the succes with Blow-Up (1966), where Michelangelo Antonioni managed to capture the spirit of swinging London in a convincing way, his next film would be filmed in America. Zabriskie Point (1971) takes place in California and in the desert and here Antonioni again gives us his take on the spirit of the time. The film offers a sometimes rather one-dimensional image of America as land of consumerism, but while following the young protagonists awkward attempts to escape this society are we presented with some extraordinary scenes that goes beyond criticism. In The Society of the Spectacle Guy Debord writes in paragraph 21; "So long as the realm of necessity remains a social dream, dreaming will remain a social necessity. The spectacle is a bad dream of modern society in chains, expressing nothing more than its wish for sleep. The spectacle is the guardian of that sleep". Antonioni produces with the ending scene of the exploding house in Zabriskie Point a perfect image of that bad dream of consumerism. Deleuze describes in Cinema 2 - The Time Image how Antonioni with his empty landscapes creates a void. But in Zabriskie Point the desert is filled with orgiastic sex scenes, which emphasizes the hollowness in the attempt to escape the spectacle. I will in my paper make a parallel reading of Antonioni's film and Debord's theories on the spectacle, to show how they in different ways predict a present condition established by capitalism.


Kirsten Pohl

Justus-Liebig Universität Gießen

Respondent: Deniz Yenimazman

Leisure Catastrophes - Forms of Crises in Computer Games

Considering recent computer game teasers one might wonder about the fun factor in games. In Fahrenheit, a game that received wide critical acclaim both from players and critics, the player is ‘invited' to play the role of a seemingly normal young man who for no reason becomes furious and attacks a stranger.

The Medal of Honour Series is set in original World War II locations and the player gets involved in the Allied Landing in Normandy in 1944. These are only two examples for a recognizable trend in computer game narrations.

Computer games are likely to display and simulate real or fictional crises and catastrophes. At the same time computer games can be regarded as situations of crises themselves. Anybody, who has ever played a First Person Shooter or has at least tried to do so, knows about the ever returning moments of frustration and aporia when one is not quick enough in handling different weapons and therefore fails to shoot his enemy or doesn't manage to cope with the various camera perspectives in order to find his way around the setting of the game. And it seems that these moments of crises are too seldom made up by moments of epiphany. Crises, it seems, are a constitutive part of the attraction of computer games. But why so?

The paper will argue that in computer games every crisis comes with its own resolution or dénouement and that the playing process is made up by the constant alternation of the already mentioned moments of aporia and epiphany.

Catastrophes or crises are then regarded as the elemental schema that motivates and defines the logic of computer games. Other than the narrative mode, the ludic mode is constituted by the constant evaluation of one's actions and the tracking down of rules, taxonomies and models. The special appeal of computer games is then not so much the crisis itself but the ways to deal with it and the strategies and solutions implemented in the game. The paper will show in which forms this schema appears in digital games, in combination with ludic as well as with narrative forms, and what its specific functions are.


Martin Zierold

Justus-Liebig Universität Gießen

Respondent: Kasper Frederiksen

Managing crises and catastrophes: The commercialization and professionalization of media scandals

"Happy is he who causes a scandal", Salvador Dalí is supposed to have said. And indeed, a scandal sometimes might be a good thing even for the person who caused it. Media scandals can be used to make people widely known, and the careers of some celebrities seem to be based primarily on gossip and scandals. However, in other contexts, a scandal can really be a catastrophe. Politicians and their political parties, CEOs or corporations fear everything which can harm their own or their organization's public reputation. At the same time, any complex organization has to take into account that they could cause a scandal at some point.

In recent years, a growing number of communication consultants and lawyers have specialized in crisis communication and media law, offering their expertise to organizations in fear of, or even in the middle of a media scandal. It seems that the frequency of scandals in modern media cultures has made processes of the commercialization and professionalization of scandal management profitable and attractive. For these experts in communication and media law, media scandals are anything but given facts. They see scandalizations as processes with specific actors and specific cultural forms. These processes might be complex and no single actor can manage them in any simple or linear way, however the organizations which are scandalized can play an active part in the (de)construction of media scandals depending on their behaviour in the process.

In my presentation, I will present first results from qualitative interviews with communication consultants and lawyers about their practices and self-perception as managers of scandals and will reflect upon the cultural implications of the commercialization and professionalization of scandal management. These interviews are part of a wider research project on scandals as indicators of processes of transformation in media cultures.


Maciej Maryl

Polish Academy of Sciences

Respondent: Maria Finn

Luddites and Vandals: New Communication Technologies as Cultural Catastrophes

The advent of new communication technologies, be it writing, print, television or contemporary electronic media, always caused a backlash. Each new technology brings about a complete reconfiguration of culture - it reshapes the existing modes of communication, and puts social actors in a position of witnesses of a huge change with unpredictable consequences. Such historical moments are often perceived as crises by social actors, who, opposing the complete novelty, try to preserve some of the cultural values and bring them through the cultural earthquake.

The critics of new technologies often depict cultural processes which work during the changes using two competing discourses, which can be categorized as the one of a Vandal and a Luddite. Vandals personify cultural powers (and social actors) who support the changes and destroy ("unthinkingly") the existing cultural order. The Luddites discourse stands for cultural inertia and conservative heroes, who oppose the changes for the sake of passing values and cultural configuration.

I propose to discuss both discourses as strategies of dealing with the cultural crisis and instability as specific adjustment processes, inseparable from technological changes in question.  In my paper I am going to analyze this attitude on the examples of the criticism surrounding main technological breakthroughs in communication technology: the advent of writing (Plato, Phaedros), print (Shakespeare, Henry VI, pt. 2) and electronic media (Bradbury, 451 Fahrenheit), drawing some analogies with contemporary discourses on information revolution.


Deniz Yenimazman

Karlsruhe University for Arts and Design

Respondent: Kirsten Pohl

Form follows fiction. On the cultural appropriation of crises via media technology

Since ancient times, the knowledge of cultures was dependent on an infrastructure of communication and mediation. As Horatio already states that "Everything I know I have read or heard", the situation today only differs in a few details.

With the advent of technological media however, our understanding concerning the notion of crisis changed fundamentally. How it reverberates in our culture and how its semantics are put to work in a framework of an informational infrastructure shall be the attempt to show in this essay. It will try to do so in three parts.

Fact - Although Foucault pointed out in one of his lectures in the 1970s that history has always been a history of the powerful -and therefore a construction-, the 20th century saw some massive changes towards the usage of so-called factoids in the context of the political and the cultural. It is no big surprise that an American cousin of Sigmund Freud, Edward Bernays, wrote the first treatise on propaganda around the same time Freud published his works about psychoanalysis. After the two world wars, propaganda differentiates into more subtle branches until the latest political tool of the mass media is born: spin. The first part of this essay seeks to analyse the changes the notion of the fact has undergone, from mere historiography over to political spin.

Forms - From a viewpoint of the history of science, it appears to have been a grave tragedy that even after the discovery of thermodynamics and other theories of complexity, like the theories of Ludwig Boltzmann, mankind was still wasting human lives even twice on a massive scale over what Lyotard later called grand narratives. Be it fascism, communism or even humanism, the form of these ideas was rather similar, that is, holistic. This second part of the essay seeks to outline how the form of the grand narrative declined and gave way to an intellectual movement of a tertium datur which wasn't located in absolute binaries and holisms. The essay will also suggest a strong connection between the differentiation of thought and the differentiation of media technologies.

Fantasies - Fantasies themselves belong to the field of emotions, albeit dialectical ones. They are symbols and carriers of something more profound, that is, desire. How desire relates to the usage and/or reception of content conveyed by technological media is the concern of the third part of this essay. From the objet=x of Lacan, the object that constantly moves, to an ecology of fear as Brian Massumi puts it in one of his writings, the premise of this part is to analyse how phantasms are utilised to create a defined field of cultural memory and identity.

Tamara Brzostowska-Tereszkiewicz

Polish Academy of  Arts and Sciences

Respondent: Dóra Nagy Imola

Neocatastrophic Theories  of  Cultural Evolution

Remarkably enough, Georges Cuvier's theory of intermittent catastrophes as the driving force behind evolutionary changes has proved particularly attractive for the most prominent historians and theoreticians of culture in post-revolutionary Russia. Their pre- and anti-Darwinist order of scholarly discourse could not remain unnoticed by orthodox Marxist critics who heralded

Darwinism as the base of dialectical materialism. The proposed paper concentrates on the subsequent cataclismic models of cultural evolution representative of Russian modernism strongly influenced by Lebensphilosophie:  Olga Freudenberg' s "paleontology of culture" based on the Greek concept of metabole, Grigorii Gukovsky's theory of literary explosive evolution, "literary saltationism" of Russian Formalists and Yurii Lotman's vision of "cultural explosion". It could admittedly be argued that it is their methodological regulations, elaborate terminological thesauruses, repertoire of metaphorical images and modes of conceptualizing cultural change that set foundations for modern East European cultural studies. There is no denying that neocatastrophic theories of culture flourished as a humanistic counterpart of pre- and anti-Darwinian developments in Russian evolutionary thought of the first decades of the 20th century. They vividly prove that the anti-positivist split of Naturwissenschaften and Geisteswissenschaften was neither radical nor conclusive in East European scholarly milieu. Apart from exposing the specificity of Russian modernist cultural scholarship, the proposed paper aims at investigating correlations between cultural studies and pre-Darwinian biology, elucidating modes and possibilities of transdisciplinary exchange of ideas and methods and, finally, reconstructing the historical and ideological environment of Russian neocatastrophic concepts of culture. Formulated against the drastic background of social cataclysm in Stalin's Russia they vividly manifest modernist self-knowledge best described by Maximilian Voloshin: "I witnessed dislocations of consciousness/ Geological faults of human souls".

Anikó Hankovszky

Pázmány Péter Catholic University (Hungary)

Respondent: Ulla Kallenbach

The Aesthetics of Catastrophe - Edmund Burke on Sympathy and Horror

'...there is no spectacle we so eagerly pursue, as that of some uncommon and grievous calamity; so that whether the misfortune is before our eyes, or whether they are turned back to it in history, it always touches with delight.'

Edmund Burke - who can be regarded as the first theoretician of the phenomenon of what we now call catastrophe tourism - in his work ("A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful") describes man as a creature susceptible to catastrophes and disasters, finding delight and pleasure in their observation. But he does not explain this feature with some kind of an inborn inclination to cruelty or selfishness, but in contrary he assigns it to the sociable feature of man. According to Burke the ability of the feeling of what he called sympathy can be interpreted as a trick of Nature on man. He claims - before Darwin - that Nature beneficially takes care of the creatures by stimulating them in the form of instincts to perform activities that are necessary for their long-term subsistence. Sympathy and the pleasure that arises from it and which comes together with the view of horror stimulate us to visit the scene of catastrophes and in case it is necessary provide help for the victims. In his opinion this is the cause of the human affection for catastrophes, and if he is right, the cause of our catastrophe tourism. Regardless of the fact whether and to what extent he is right in his explanation with sympathy, it is obvious that Burke himself had a strong affection for catastrophes as well. We can examine this clearly in the famous part of the "Reflections on the Revolution in France", in which he evokes in his imagination with delight and describes the attack on Marie Antoinette as a human catastrophe. One of the aesthetical implications of his theory is that he set himself against the Aristotelian view of catharsis which was generally accepted in his time. He claimed weak the feeling of horror, cleaned and sublimated by the catharsis of art, in comparison with the experience of real catastrophe and crisis. He claims that a real execution would easily entice away the spectators from a theatrical murder even if it was performed by the best artists. In my presentation I would like to reveal Burke's affection for catastrophes and present how he reckoned with this affection in his aesthetical theory.

Øystein Tvede

University of Oslo

Respondent: Ulla Kallenbach

The End of the Universe and the Question of Form - The Phantom of Thermal Death and its Influence on Paul Valéry

At the 41st congress of German scientists and physicians in 1867, Rudolf Clausius had some bad news to present. His studies had led him to conclude that the optimistic idea of the universe as an eternally auto regenerating cycle where force and matter were in perpetual transformation was false. According to Clausius, the tough fact was that the second law of thermodynamics, stating the constant increase in entropy in the universe, pointed to a development towards thermal equilibrium and molecular disintegration. In other words, the universe was headed towards a slow but inevitable end, choked in its own irreversible entropic process.

My paper will not try to explain in detail this much discussed concept of the thermal end of the universe. What interests me is the particular late 19th century context created by this collective notion of an ever distant but inescapable catastrophe. For a writer like Paul Valéry, entropy in all its concrete and metaphorical variations became a subconscious force that influenced both his idea of form and his "Poesque" cosmological musings. The "fantasies" provoked by the idea of entropic crises was particularly a driving force on his reflexions on the relation between order and disorder and form and formlessness.

In my paper I will look at Valéry's concept of the formless as an artistic reaction towards the insupportable idea of thermal death. His aesthetics are traditionally seen as dealing with a classical idealized idea of form, but there is also a Valéryan aesthetic of the formless that sees a richer and more potential force in that which has no recognizable form. One of the questions influenced by the notion of entropic disintegration posed by Valéry that I wish to explore is: Can one conceive of a literary composition where traces of order are no longer detectable?

Pietro Bianchi

University of Udine

Respondent: Violaine Chavanne

Is the image of a catastrophe a Real catastrophe? Lacan, the Real and the problem of the representation of a catastrophe

What is the border that separates catastrophe from the "normal state of things"? Is it possible to culturally and symbolically circumscribe the space of a catastrophe?

We could consider two options:

If the trauma of a catastrophe is a traumatic event of reality that has to be symbolized afterward; we have a two-steps schema: first, catastrophe in reality, and then the process of its own representation in the realm of cinema, collective fantasies and cultural products.

If on the contrary, following Jacques Lacan, we think that catastrophe is internal to the process of its own symbolization (it is none other than the form of symbolization), we have a topological schema: catastrophe is the void around which every process of symbolization constitute itself.

Isn't the successful image of a catastrophe a proof that this catastrophe after all was not able to put into crisis that much at the level of form?

At this regard we will refer to what Jacques Lacan called the Real. The Real far from indicating the point of collapse of the symbolic order (where there is a symbolic order and a traumatic external point) can show us how catastrophe and representation do not belong to two different orders that need to be mediated; they are rather the same point of tension of every symbolic act. Our question would be: are the different images of catastrophe and crisis that fill the imaginary space really that catastrophic? Or are they just the norm through which the symbolic order establishes its consensus?

A "catastrophe of sensation" is what - according to Gilles Deleuze - we would need in order to effectively rearticulate our production of images and representations and in order to create a real event of perception. But this catastrophe of sensation should shape into an aesthetic form that very point of tension that produces the representation. Aren't we today in a situation where the continuous production of catastrophic images ends up in concealing the fact that nothing catastrophic at all is happening at the level of the forms of representation?

Ulla Kallenbach

University of Copenhagen

Respondents: Øystein Tvede / Anikó Hankovszky

‘Troubled with thick-coming fancies': Macbeth and the Crisis of Imagination

As a contemporary, highly topical, Jacobean play William Shakespeare's Macbeth (app. 1606) is a political drama not only on desire for and succession of power but also concerning the instability of the state and of rulership. Issues, which had become exceedingly pertinent after the treachery of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 against King James I and the Parliament.

However, more than dealing with the external issues of political drama Macbeth is an internal drama of personal crisis, disaster and destruction. It is an examination of an inner chaos of the mind, of the fear, guilt, and trauma of regicide. In both medieval times (the historical setting of Macbeth) and the renaissance regicide was more than murder and not only the killing of a human being, but of the divinely appointed guarantee of order and justice. Thus it could issue a catastrophe for society in general as God could punish the sin by withdrawing his protection or by actively let the nation be struck by disasters such as war or the plague.

Harold Bloom has very fittingly described Macbeth as ‘a tragedy of the imagination'. In this paper I will examine Macbeth focusing on this tragedy, or more exactly crisis, of the imagination. A crisis, which also implicates a crisis of vision and of the perception of reality as the lines between reality, fantasy and the supernatural become more and more blurred in line with the escalation of the struggle for power.

Key issues in the paper will be the understanding of imagination in renaissance culture, and the representation of reality and imagination in (and under) crisis. How can we understand Macbeth in terms of this crisis of imagination, and how does this inner crisis relate as a ‘fantasy of crisis' to the outer cultural and political context of the time?

Violaine Chavanne

Université de Paris X

Respondent: Pietro Bianchi

The Action of the Theater According to Brecht and Artaud: The Energy of the Catastrophe and the Productivity of the Crisis

In Le théâtre et son double Antonin Artaud does not want to transpose the catastrophic events of which he is the contemporary, but to transpose their energy. Bertolt Brecht, in his Writtings, says that the stage director has to trigger some crisis. Both of them integrate the forms of the catastrophe or of the crisis into their different aesthetics. But they also think the way by which their theater can be an answer to the crisis and the catastrophes. If the catastrophe energy has to pass into the theater, it's according to a cathartic aim that Artaud attribute to this art. According to Brecht, the trigger of the crisis must come to a transformation of the reality (the spectator must solve by himself the crisis into the reality). If these two functions are very different, the two thinkers bring into play the dimension of the action. For the first one, the performance must act on the spectator. For the other one, the spectator must act by himself.

Through these two very different thoughts, we would like to see how the using of the forms of both catastrophe and crisis, come to a common point : the spectator must have changed after a performance. But this change is neither thought as a result of a simple reproduction of the disruptions which belong to the real life nor as as simple analogy with these disruptions. Now the performances can act and make change by the means of the production of images. The violent life of which Artaud dreams is the life of some special images. And, according to Brecht, the crisis triggered by the staging has to cause a better vision. Through these figures of the catastrophe and of the crisis and through two very different aesthetics, we would like to examine how the action of the performances depends on the production of some new kind of images.


Dóra Nagy Imola

Pázmány Péter Catholic University, Hungary

Respondent: Tamara Brzostowska-Tereszkiewicz

Novels of crisis by Sándor Márai

Despite being considered as one of the most representative figures of Hungarian Literature, Sándor Márai wrote and published the vast majority of his ouvre abroad, in Italy, the USA and France. During the Communist Regime his works were mostly forbidden, their re-publication could only begin after 1990. He died before his ouvre started to be widely acknowledged abroad. It was not until 1989 that his short novel Embers became successful in Italy then in France and Germany.

Both Márai's life and career can be related to the concept of crisis. He lived through revolutions, political dictatorship as well as their personal consequences, his exhile and emigration, and always reflected on these social and personal crises in his articles, essays and novels as well.

His novels are, almost without exception, those of crisis. This was the model he cultivated and refined until the end of his career. In these novels with almost unremarkable plot, the very limited number of characters he moves always face an existential crisis, thus have to make existential decisions. Márai's ouvre enumerates the varieties of the crisis novel. In my presentation I am going to analyse how his novels compare with other crisis novels in Western European literature and also, how his model of novel changes, if at all, in his late writings.



Hans Christian Post

University of Copenhagen

Respondent: Maja Krajnc / Toni Lahtinen

Past Futures and Future Pasts

Although the sudden and unexpected fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and the German reunification in 1990 are generally viewed and celebrated as events marking the end of conflict, the events at the same time mark the outbreak of a new conflict in Germany and in reunified Berlin. This conflict, which has centred on issues of ‘history', ‘statehood' and ‘national identity', surely hasn't been life threatening in the way the Cold War was, but it has taken on the form of battle, it has turned established life worlds and identities upside down, and it has left many casualties behind.

The field, where this conflict has manifested itself most clearly and where the fighting has been at its fiercest, is the architectural field. This comes as little surprise. As Andreas Huyssen has pointed out, architecture has always been deeply invested in the shaping of political and national identities, and in reunified Berlin this has been no different. What has been different in this particular case, however, is the new emphasis on the city as cultural sign, as well as the new emphasis on- and employment of the city's architectural past, both real and imagined, in the process.

Taking the current attempt to radically rebuild Berlin's Alexanderplatz as its primary example, the paper will examine the ways, in which the current conflict has been expressed and carried out in the architectural field. It will discuss the different strategies that have been employed, and describe the meanings and representations produced in this connection. Finally, it will look into the ways, in which the rich, multilayered architectural heritage of Berlin has been employed in the process and examine the particular roles it has played in the shaping of political and national identities in reunified Germany.


Timothy Ivison

London Consortium

Respondent: Maja Krajnc / Gladys Pak Lei Chong

Planning by Fire: A Catastrophist History of London Urbanism from the Great Fire to the Blitz

"This must be repeated: the disaster de-scribes."

-Maurice Blanchot

The urban form of modern London seems to go hand in hand with its repeated and elaborate catastrophic undoing. Looking at two of the most significant of these urban conflagrations, the Great Fire of 1666 and the Blitz of 1940, I will highlight the architectural, formal, and epistemic shifts wrought by the city-on-fire.

If we are to believe, as Paul Virilio envisions, that every technology creates the possibility of its own catastrophe, then certainly the (meta) technology of the city is the harbinger of myriad disastrous forms (Paul Virilio, trans. Julie Rose, The Original Accident). Architecture itself has an intimate relationship with destruction, renewing itself continually on the ashes of its aesthetic predecessors. In each instance, London's two major urban catastrophes throw into high contrast the key elements of the city's planning paradigms, laying bare the organizing logic of design (or lack thereof). This historical dialectic reveals the untidy struggle of architectural concepts and their constant negotiation with the realities upon which they are projected. Perhaps a way to describe this is through the concept of visual erasure-the tabula rasa of creative destruction mitigated by the palimpsest of history.

Fire tends to obliterate, evaporate, and incinerate the edifices of history, but never completely. Even if the testimony of every observer is suffused with the hyperbole of total destruction, it is often evident that as smoke clears, the remainder - both physical and psychological - proves just as decisive as that which it has swept away. Indeed, one could say that London's battle with fire is a battle with history, although both instances dealt with here will reveal different and conflicted attitudes within this struggle.


Toni Lahtinen

University of Tampere, Finland

Respondent: Hans Christian Post 

A Change of Weather in Children's Fiction - Environmentalism and Activism in Finnish Children's Literature

Finland's largest newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, recently titled its survey of contemporary Finnish children's literature: "Even the Children Are Recruited to Fight the Climate Change". Along with detective stories and fantasy, children's literature seems to be one of the quickest genres to react to cultural - and therefore also environmental - change.

Nature and the child are intimately connected in western thought. Due Jean-Jacques Rousseau's pre-romantic notion children are still presumed to have a privileged relationship to nature. For example, in children's literature there is often a special bond between animals and the child, and nature "speaks" through a child character. On the other hand, the child is also perceived as nature to be cultivated: at the current there is a growing pressure to educate children environmentally.

After modern environmentalism emerged in the 1960's, a child who prevents an ecological crisis became a common motif in Finnish children literature. From the earlier stages of literary history the archetypal character of the child saviour brings about a radical transformation in the social order. This motif is repeated throughout literary history, and one of its most modern variations seems to be a child who fights against environmental threats - such as pollution, the endangering of a species and the climate change.

In my paper, I shall not only present an ecocritical analysis of how the Finnish children's literature reflects the environmental movement and the modern apocalypses of ecocatastrophe, but I shall also raise more general questions about the children's literature and about its pedagogical emphasis: What kind of strategies does children's literature use to develop our ecological literacy and, in other words, our understanding of the relationships among people, other organisms and the environment in which we live?


Maja Krajnc

Istitutum Studiorum Humanitatis, Ljubljana

Respondent: Hans Christian Post / Timothy Ivison

Death in the Land of Encantos

On November 30, 2006, super typhoon Reming (international name: Durian) struck the Philippines killing hundreds of people and burying villages around the Mayon volcano area in the Bicol region. Nine hours of relentless heavy rain and wind caused harrowing deaths and destruction. The sight of the aftermath was apocalyptic. The typhoon was the strongest to hit the Philippines in living memory.

Filipino cineast Lav Diaz shot a great part of his previous work - Heremias Book Two and Evolution of a Filipino Family (Ebolusyon ng Isang Pamilyang Pilipino, 2004) - in the very same places, which were  destroyed by the typhoon and he returned there one week later. The land was devastated and in ruins, system behaved neglectfully. Diaz felt like he had to contribute something and he started interviewing and shooting. After a week of frenzied and relentless shooting, he decided to write a story, to record the event for memory; he used the "improve" method - the story has been written while the crew that consisted of the author and his local friends were shooting.

The story that grew and evolved during the six-week-shooting revolves on the return of the great Filipino poet, Benjamin Agusan, to his birthplace, Padang, now buried. Through shots made in time and place when and where the victims were facing the aftermath of the typhoon the story is revealing on many levels: Agusan returned from Russia where he spent several years on a scholarship grant to bury his loved ones, to confront some issues, to face secrets, to heal wounds and create more wounds, to face Mayon (the raging beauty and muse of his youth), to confront the country that he loved and hated so much, the Philippines. The author's unconscious merely flowed with all the threads that ended up with the lead character in the epic nine-hour film, a unique mixture of documentary and fiction - Diaz combines them unobtrusively; duality of film vision (film both as document and fiction) raises the issue of cinema as an aesthetic and cultural medium - Death in the Land of Encantos  (Kagadanan sa banwaan ning mga Engkanto, 2007), is a discourse on the death of beauty and death of aesthetics. The author establishes concrete reality and facts alongside a nearly mystical state of mind that at first occupies and eventually permeates the work. This shift precisely tracks the filmmaking process. With cinematic uconventionality - in the method, narrative, running time etc. - Death in the Land of Encantos establishes fields of new considerations.


Gladys Pak Lei Chong

University of Amsterdam

Respondent: Søren Staal Balslev

A Catastrophe Came to Rescue

The modern Olympic Games are a global media spectacle that presents a valuable advertising opportunity for the host country to showcase itself. For the People's Republic of China (PRC), hosting the Olympic Games was a symbolic moment marking China's ascendance to the international political arena. After 30 years of economic reform, the PRC has achieved significant economic growth and the party-state has been eager to stage its achievements and to cleanse the long-held national burden on "a century of national humiliation".  Nonetheless, the year 2008 - supposed to be an auspicious year symbolized by the date of the opening ceremony 8-8-2008 - turned out to be a year full of political crises and catastrophes. The Tibetan uprisings in March 2008 triggered months-long global media contestations, challenging China's legitimacy to host the Olympic Games. It is widely said, if it were not for the disastrous earthquake in Sichuan, the global media contestations would have continued much longer and the Beijing Olympic Games might have been in great jeopardy. In this article, I examine, first, in what ways and how the party-state seized the catastrophic Sichuan earthquake to divert the global media attentions, and presented itself as the capable governing body dedicated to serve its citizens; and secondly, how these official strategies co-related to the promotion campaigns of the Beijing Olympic Games. I do discourse analysis on the earthquake-related media reports on China Central Television (CCTV) and the Xinhua News agency.


Dominik Schrey

Universität Karlsruhe

Respondent: Marcella Rosi

Swan Songs and Cosy Catastrophes: The Notion of Hope in Recent Post-Apocalyptic Films

Unlike the disaster genre, post-apocalyptic fictions pay equal or more attention to the events after an - in the broadest sense - apocalyptic catastrophe, rather than to the spectacle of the apocalypse itself. Closely related to the tradition of dystopian science fiction, they often deal with questions of society and political governance, as mankind is usually not (yet) completely extinct, but civilisation and social order have collapsed, revealing their general fragility.

Apocalyptic dread might be considered as an anthropological constant, thus it is not surprising a great diversity of cataclysmic settings has evolved. During the Cold War Era with its innate fear of ‘collective incineration and extinction which could come at any time, virtually without warning' (Susan Sontag), depictions of nuclear war and its aftermath were the dominant mode of post-apocalyptic discourse, superseding other popular scenarios that include global pandemics, alien invasions, celestial bodies hitting earth and, more recently, climate catastrophes, each reflecting specific fears and threats.

Although the overall tone of post-apocalyptic films tends to be bleak and pessimistic, there are only few works that abstain completely from the figure of hope for a new beginning that seems to be a crucial feature of apocalyptic thinking. My paper focuses on three aspects related to the notion of hope in post-apocalyptic filmmaking, which I analyse based on a diachronic perspective on the genre:

1. In what forms is hope imaginable in the context of the almost complete annihilation of mankind, of the downfall of society and civilisation? What kinds of characters or plot devices are employed to convey hope?

2. Do fantasies of survival after a global catastrophe reflect a secret desire for a new beginning or, alternatively, for a more holistic way of life, a ‘return to wilderness' as Martha Bartter claims? Is the apocalypse depicted as a cathartic moment?

3. Does the notion of hope reduce the alarming potential inherent to post-apocalyptic fiction? Does the apocalypse turn out to be a reversible event after which mankind re-establishes its traditional order or is it a transition to a completely new era?


Rens van Munster

Danish Institute for International Studies

Respondent: Josef Teichmueller / Rene Dietrich 

Fantasies of Security: Imagining Catastrophic Futures in the Cold War and the War on Terror

For security professionals, the imagination of the future has become one of the main stakes in the management of catastrophic risks: how to manage a threat that has not yet happened, we don't know and cannot predict? This paper discusses the different ways in which security experts have mobilized and linked imagination to strategies of risk management during (i) the Cold War period and (ii) the post-9/11 War on Terror. While the genealogy of post-9/11 security practices can be traced to risk technologies deployed during the Cold War, this paper claims that there is a significant difference in the way in which imagination is integrated in governmental practices during these two periods. More specifically, ‘thinking the unthinkable' of nuclear catastrophe during the Cold War has relied on rational, cognitive forms of risk assessment and responsibility. Imagination was mainly deployed by the anti-nuclear movement in an attempt to make people aware of the catastrophic consequences of nuclear war. In the post 9/11 context, by contrast, imagination no longer serves this critical role, as it has been integrated in processes of governing in the war on terror. Through imagination, subjects are summoned to ‘expect the unexpected' and develop a precautionary attitude of response-ability in their daily lives.


Alberto Brodesco

University of Udine

Respondent: Josef Teichmueller

"Nobody came, nobody settled, nobody shopped". When the World Ends in a Mall: Dawn of the dead, The Wild Blue Yonder, Wall(e)

Consumerism notoriously represents a potential cause of extinction of mankind. Because of its ecological consequences, of course. But also because we have the shared perception that the values of consumerism or of hedonistic pleasure are not values at all: they seem to constitute a threat for the cultural survival of our civilization. A sense of apocalyptic risk derives from this tension. We can't find in consumption what the anthropologist Ernesto De Martino calls "the transcendent ethos" (ethos del trascendimento) or "the worthy transcending" (il trascendere valorizzante): the sharing of a collective project, an ever renewed going beyond that constructs the present and defines it in respect to the past and the future. For De Martino, this is the only way a society can resist to the permanent anthropological risk of cultural catastrophes. The act of buying and enjoying one's own goods seems not to fit the "transcendent ethos" concept.

The shopping mall represents an immediate symbol of consumerism. In cinema, a milestone can be found in George Romero's Dawn of the dead (1978), where humans search in a mall the shelter from zombies' attack. In Werner Herzog's The Wild Blue Yonder (2005) aliens colonizing the Earth and humans sent to the Andromeda galaxy to find "a safe heaven just in case" share the same belief: the mall has to be the architectural and social center of their life in the new planet. Malls as space shuttles. Or space shuttles as malls, as in Wall(e) (Andrew Stanton, 2008), where what remains of humanity is hosted in a huge spaceship furnished with all of consumers' comforts.

But: why does exactly consumption threaten our culture? We intend to analyze these three depictions of shopping malls from a visual and theoretical point of view. To study in which ways a land of desire turns into a dead-end, a trap, a prison. To see how it happens that consumption acts like an apocalyptic menace.

René Dietrich

Justus-Liebig-University Giessen

Respondent: Rens van Munster

"The Dreadful Has Already Happened": After Life and Beyond Catastrophe in Mark Strand's Post-Apocalyptic Poetry

Catastrophe as the impossibility of catastrophe (Baudrillard), the disaster that is always already past (Blanchot), the "apocalypse without apocalypse" (Derrida) - in various postmodern theorizations of catastrophe, disaster and apocalypse in the latter half of the 20th century, there is a dominant sense that the idea of a catastrophe in the apocalyptic understanding which would have any effect of change or resolution is no longer conceivable. This sense can be traced back to the aftermath of the caesura of 1945 signified metonymically by Auschwitz and Hiroshima, and resonates in a postmodernity understood as the ‘modernity of the aftermath', an "inverted millenarianism" characterized by "senses of the end of this or that" (Jameson). 

The extent to which such a retrospect vision of catastrophe also informs the Western cultural imaginary after 1945 is demonstrated through a reading of Mark Strand's Darker, an example of American post-apocalyptic poetry after 1945 in which "the dreadful has already happened". The imagining of the end is dominated by situating the present after the end, an end including the possibility of a catastrophe which could still bring about a change and create an alternative to exististing in a postmodern state of vacuum and limbo. After life but unable to die, this state of emptiness and meaninglessness is represented in the poetry both thematically and formally. The emptying of a meaningul narrative of the end in a stasis of resignation and negation is particulary significant in the context of US-American culture. For it explicity turns against the apocalyptic narrative of renewal and redemption so deeply embedded in American cultural memory and recalls its only in order to reveal its ideological implications and to negate its validity as a way of sense-making.


Marcella Rosi

University of Udine

Respondent: Dominik Schrey

The Last Man on Earth: Richard Matheson's Contribute to the Cinema of Apocalypse

The proposed paper aims to present and analyze the narrative work of Richard Matheson and its film transpositions in relation to the historic times lived by the author.

Matheson is a  master who can paint the uncanny and the suspense using a strict realism, pervaded of deep pessimism and can still give a strong paradoxical credibility to his stories, always touched by the borderline human being subdued by a power , by a system or a by a will that turn out to be characterized as "monstrous." His work as a screenwriter and narrator begins in the early '50s, at the height of the Cold War, the historical period characterized by the memories of the last world war and at the same time of a scientific and technological revolution in everyday life that has led society and the individual to cope with growing paranoia and phobia: nuclear danger, the fear for the "enemy next door", the "alien", the power and the future of humanity itself.

This psychological state is fully described in the Matheson "fantastic" opus and has inspired many generations of film makers. Starting point for the analysis will be the novel I'm a Legend, written in 1954, that offers us a reflection using the tools of the horror and distopic science fiction literary genres, to propose to the reader a reflection upon racism, violence in social relations and the end of human race in a plot that baffles the reader and disrupt his judgement ability; it was followed by three film adaptations shot in different decades: The Last Man on Earth Sydney Salkow and Ubaldo Ragona, 1964, The Omega Man by Boris Sagal, 1971, screenplay by Matherson himself, and I'm a Legend by Francis Lawrence in 2007.


Josef Teichmueller

Berlin / Heidelberg

Respondent: Alberto Brodesco

"The plagues that none can flee" - The Expectation of Apocalypse in the Poetry of New England Transcendentalism

The importance of apocalyptic discourses is something which besides many differences in the theological opinions of their time, all first generation New England Transcendentalists - clerics, former clerics, and lay people - could agree on. That expectation of the ‘revelation' was deeply rooted in the Calvinistic culture of the Boston-Concord-Cambridge-area from which its intellectualized version - i.e. the Unitarian theology - derived its eschatological philosophy of an approaching and inevitable last human crisis that is to overcome.

Historically, Transcendentalism came about during a major shift in thought and sensibility of early American cultural life. In sight of that particular change, the Calvinistic and Puritan ideas of a revelation for merely some ‘elect' was replaced by less fearful, more humanized ideas of the universe in which one could progress through good works while living in a benevolent environment, and the quality of life lived would be taken into consideration on judgment day.

My presentation is an attempt to trace such developments of expecting the ultimate crisis by the example of eschatological topics with its figures and tropes of speech in the poetry of New England's intellectuals and in place of the entire cultural life of Massachusetts. As poetry was the predominant literary form of the first half of the fruitful nineteenth century, I aim in this contribution to describe the multiple modes of representing ‘apocalypse' in three case studies from the colossal oeuvre of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Christopher Pearse Cranch and Jones Very.

At hand of these poems I will be trying to demonstrate that apocalyptical speech is a poetical issue of paradoxical structure that undermines the idea of literary representation through the dissimilar and non-mimetic nature of Christian eschatological representation, which could also be interpreted as ‘unthinking' and ‘non-premediated' speech, i.e. as the designing of a space in which the Holy Spirit will naturally, non-rhetorically speak. In consequence, the question of ‘authority' and ‘voice' will be at hand in my account to glimpse at the relationship between "the world's final crisis" (Channing) and its elaborate rhetorical techniques of literary representation in the poetry of Transcendentalism.



Peter Ole Pedersen

University of Aarhus, Denmark

Respondent: Thomas Bjørnsten Kristensen

The Never Ending Catastrophe

Shortly after the terrorist attacks on September 11 2001 a number of activist organisations formed in the U.S. under the name 9/11 Truth Movement. What they all have in common is scepticism towards the mainstream account of the catastrophe. In the following years this questioning of the official explanation has been expressed through demonstrations, books and films and the net has served as the central platform for debate.

In my presentation I will focus on the film and video production connected with the movement, more precisely Dylan Averys documentary Loose Change (2005-2007). As a result of the controversial approach to the subject and through distribution on the Internet Averys production have received enormous attention. The film has been downloaded over 50 million times and subsequently shown on television worldwide. As a filmic phenomenon Loose Change is closely connected to conspiracy theory and exemplifies a continuous desire for a definitive explanation to a modern, manmade catastrophe. I will argue that this type of film is part of an ongoing media related, cultural transformation of the documentary genre, a process that places its historical and political content halfway between fact and fiction.


Alexandra Brown

McMaster University

Respondent: Thomas Bjørnsten Kristensen

Imag(in)ing the Future in Geert Wilders' Fitna

Increasing debate in the Netherlands regarding the presence of Islam and Muslims has contributed to a growing sense of anxiety, crisis, and anticipation in the public realm. Such sentiment manifests in the growing popularity of the outspoken right-wing politician Geert Wilders, whose recent antics have included the creation and release of Fitna ("affliction"), an anti-immigration movie outlining the dangers of the Quran and Islam. Fitna's release via the internet in March 2008, in the wake of upheaval caused by the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh, created a public and media spectacle. Since its release Wilders has become an increasingly controversial and increasingly popular figure, touring the globe with his film and announcing his intentions to release Fitna 2 in 2010.

The proposed paper interrogates the formal and stylistic properties of Fitna in order to articulate two futures imaged/imagined in the film. I speculate that these futures index two separate but related conditions: anxiety surrounding the destruction of identity and disorientation resulting from a breakdown in understandings of time. These twinned symptoms crystallize in Fitna, which becomes the sediment of public sentiments. In undertaking a stylistic analysis of the film, this paper seeks to draw out some of the connections between structures of public sentiment- anxiety, fear, anticipation- and their physical products- in this case, a film. Conceptually, then, this paper considers both the particular futures imaged/imagined in the film, and a broader question of affect and the work of cultural products such as Fitna in reflecting and generating public sentiment.


Jenifer Chao

University of Amsterdam

Respondent: Dan Hassler Forest

Cosmopolitan and Flamboyant: The 9/11 Public Enemy and the Subversive Imaginary 

This paper explores two alternative post-9/11 of the Islamic extremist which deviate from the dominant and iconic images of the Muslim militant as the absolute enemy of the US "war on terror." Given the act of visually defining and stereotyping the enemy following 9/11 has not been limited to the political realm, an analysis of subversive popular images of the enemy is fruitful because it also highlights the ontological and epistemological anxieties of a post-catastrophe cultural imagination: Who is the enemy Other and how can/do I know him? My hypothesis is that these alternative visions of the enemy Other are specular in the sense that they serve as a mirror reflecting images of ourselves and our dissonant responses to disasters. My first object of analysis is a series of studio portraits of Taliban fighters taken in early November 2001, just ahead of the opposition's advance. Collected in a book entitled Taliban, the photographs-reminiscent of the kitschy religious art of Pierre et Gilles -show these soldiers with smoky eyes accentuated by heavy kohl eyeliners, holding hands affectionately as a couple or posed in groups, and often simultaneously doting Kalashnikovs and bouquets of flowers. The second object is the New York Times best-selling novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist which valorizes a cosmopolitan protagonist who narrates his radicalization from "a lover of America" into a Muslim fundamentalist through the uncommon but strategic second-person point of view narrative technique. Though disparate, with one being visual and the other textual, these two popular-culture objects share an intriguing oppositional strategy of seduction which solicits the desires of the reader/viewer. Cosmopolitan and flamboyant, these militants return the previously hostile Western gaze while representing themselves as objects of desire, compatriots and friends. In this sense, they subvert the entrenched political discourse of absolute enemies and claim that they, ultimately, are indistinguishable from us.


Christine Schwanecke

Universität Heidelberg,Germany

Respondent: Diana Gonçalves

"Turning Points and Falling Bodies": Literary Investigations into the Cultural Life of the Catastrophe of 9/11 and its Aftermath

The terrorist attack on the United States of September 11, 2001 has undoubtedly been experienced as a catastrophe of an unprecedented quality, not only with regard to the particularities of the attack itself, its simulacral and immediate medial presentation, but also concerning its economic, political and social results. As a cataclysmic event or turning point causing a fall - in both the original and in the Aristotelian sense of the Greek word -, it has triggered numerous cultural, commemorative explorations of both the catastrophic incident and its "before" and "after", especially in the field of literature.

With their respective works of fiction, Jonathan Safran Foer (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, 2005) and Siri Hustvedt (The Sorrows of an American, 2008) have each made remarkable, albeit different contributions to the ever-growing canon of "post-9/11 novels", which aims at representing, remembering and understanding the life-changing events of September 2001. In a comparative analysis, this paper seeks to exemplarily examine these two literary alternatives featuring metamnemonic narratives of the distressing incident.

Whereas Hustvedt relates private traumas to the public one of September 11, Foer uses the terrorist attacks of the new millennium as a foil to other man-made cataclysmic events of the 20th century, such as the bombings of Dresden and Hiroshima so as to inquire into the nature of the cultural life of catastrophes in general. Both novelists, in their respective ways, employ traditional cultural concepts (e.g. "the turning point" and "the fall") in new contexts as well as intermedial ways to mimic the experienced subversion of the order of things. In addition, both experiment with innovative modes of narration and forms of representation - including special iconic layouts or photography - in order to find a way of re-enacting, remembering and doing justice to the catastrophes their novels deal with. By pursuing these points further, this paper attempts at analysing the cultural life of the 9/11 catastrophe and its aftermath from a literary point of view.


Thomas Bjørnsten Kristensen

University of Aarhus, Denmark

Respondent: Peter Ole Pedersen / Alexandra Brown

Describing and Resounding Catastrophe

This paper will concentrate on the discourse and representation of catastrophe in contemporary literature and sound art. By comparing examples of works by novelist Don DeLillo and media- and sound artist Stephen Vitiello, the paper will discuss various, aesthetic strategies for articulating and describing the catastrophic event as well as the traumatic and post-traumatic experience. DeLillo, for his part, has been addressing the catastrophic and its impact on mass media, American culture, and the lives of individuals in a number of ways - for instance, in novels such as White Noise, Mao II, and Falling Man. In comparison, although having not used the catastrophic as a specific recurring theme, Vitiello's work has also included considerations on this topic.

A crucial point of interest for this paper will be to investigate how Vitiello, in his sound art projects, and DeLillo, through his writing, both carry out something similar when tracing the structures and sensibility of our perception apparatus as it is confronted with phenomena that resist straightforward explanation and rational apprehension - catastrophes, being exactly such events that can produce a fundamentally disorderly mode of experience. Thus, following the thematic outline of the seminar, the paper provides a reading of the works by both artists in question, taking into account, among other things, their reflections on the 9/11 terrorist attack as well as on the prehistory of the World Trade Center. Furthermore, the implications of using catastrophe as basic material for artistic work and aesthetic rendering will be subject to discussion.


Dan Hassler Forest

University of Amsterdam

Respondent: Jenifer Chao

Arma-Get-‘Em While They're Hot: The Apocalypse in the Post 9/11 Blockbuster

As Jameson and Zizek have famously claimed, it has become easier for postmodern audiences to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. Indeed, spectacular imagery of apocalyptic devastation has long been a mainstay of the Hollywood blockbuster (itself a commodity), and has helped to define the superhero film genre. But although apocalyptic images are hardly new to the American film industry, the contradictory ways in which end‐of‐the‐world narratives have figured in post‐9/11 Hollywood cinema have raised issues that reveal a great deal about America's historically ambivalent relationship to catastrophe. In my paper, I will relate the paradoxical requirement of these films to both deliver images of largescale devastation and to produce an affirmative narrative in which the world is saved to Kevin Rozario's book A Culture of Calamity and Jameson's postmarxist perspective on popular culture's de‐historicizing role.

One of the central contradictions brought into sharp focus by 9/11 and its media representations is that of representability: the American popular media responded to the attacks of 9/11 by presenting them as an exceptional moment of national trauma that transcends contexts of history, narrative, and representation. This however stands in direct contradiction with the genres of popular entertainment that have traditionally presented exactly these kinds of images of spectacular devastation as attractive commodities. Through a close analysis of the films Superman Returns (Bryan Singer, 2006), I Am Legend (Francis Lawrence, 2007), and Cloverfield (Matt Reeves, 2008), I will argue that contemporary fantasy films offer narratives and imagery that allow audiences to relate to historical events metaphorically, while paradoxically avoiding any historical understanding of these events.


Diana Gonçalves

University of Lisbon

Respondent: Christine Schwaneke

September 11 and the disruption of singularity

September 11 has been portrayed as a singular event spectacular and powerful enough to change not only the US but the world at large. Nevertheless, this paper will take to task the study of 9/11 not as a singular event but as a mnemonic singularity, that is, a catastrophic event that evokes or mimics, albeit in a renewed situation, the structure of past catastrophic events, namely the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, Titanic, Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, the Challenger disaster or the bombing of Oklahoma. As a result, it is our argument that September 11 does not introduce but reintroduce catastrophic thinking into our conceptual framework, thus disrupting and contesting the singularity often associated to the terrorist attack and to the narratives subsequently produced.

The paper will anchor in Aristotle's Poetics as the founding text for the thought of catastrophe as spectacle (thaumaston) and then look for further support in Benjamin's study of history and modernity as constructions of catastrophe, in Dayan/Katz and the concept of Media Event, in Bolter/Grusin and the idea of remediation, in Baudrillard's theorization of the unreal and the hyperreal and also in Girard, Doran and Attridge to clarify the concept of singularity. In this sense, we propose to understand 9/11 as a catastrophic event remediated in literary discourse (as in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Safran Foer, Falling Man by DeLillo, Terrorist by Updike and Saturday by McEwan) and evocative of a pre-existing body of narratives which circulate in a given culture and function as a kind of premediation, providing a template for the comprehension and representation of September 11 and proving the non-singularity of the transposition of the real event to the symbolic dimension.

Geesa Tuch


Respondent: Sarah Joshi

Memory Prostheses and Catastrophes: On the Return of 1950s Filmic Forms in the Current German Historical Film

Film knows no past; even the so-called flashbacks are experienced in real time. Film is a medium of visualisation in the present and operates in a mode of continuous updating. According to the American film scholar Allison Landsberg, films produce not memories but an experience - and although it is not felt physically by the spectator, it may be as decisive for the viewer's identity as any "real" experience. Accordingly, film as "prosthetic memory" gives access to the catastrophic: to events that seem to be closed to a narrative construction of meaning.

The paper will investigate the potential and the boundaries of the concept with respect to representations in feature films of World War II as a catastrophe. I will pay special attention to (West) German feature films. A presentation structure used in the 1950s has made a conspicuous return to the German cinema and television from 2004 onwards, whereby World War II has been styled as divine judgement and a catastrophe ordained by fate. For example, the relation of Der Untergang, a 2004 film by Oliver Hirschbiegel, to Georg Wilhelm Pabst's screen version of Hitler's final days, Der letzte Akt, goes beyond the merely thematic. Another example are productions by Teamworx - Die Flucht and Die Gustloff - whose predecessor, Nacht fiel über Gotenhafen was filmed by Frank Wisbar in 1959.

The question that needs to be addressed regards the function that can be attributed to film as "prosthetic memory" in the recent "sensualisation" of a catastrophic event and the role such memory plays in the contemporary films, all of which seem to draw a final line under the past in a strikingly similar way. Or do these historical films rather fulfil the need for an emotionally standardised abstraction from experience in which the "how it really was" is replaced by a mythologised narrative of downfall - thus constituting rather a prosthesis in the sense of a crown over a damaged tooth than a normative "re-embodiment" of history?


Caroline Rothauge

Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen

Respondent: Astrid Brigitta Matron

The Spanish Civil War as a Catastrophe: A Common Interpretation and its Possible Alterations in Contemporary Audiovisual Media

The Spanish Civil War has commonly been interpreted as a catastrophe, a repetition to be avoided at all costs. This view of the three-year conflict takes the Spanish people as innocent victims, reduced to mere objects in a violent confrontation that was supposedly unforeseeable.

Though incorrect from a historical point of view, this version of the critical events that preceded and accompanied the Spanish Civil War has been the dominating interpretation for a long time due to political reasons: Spain's particular transition from dictatorship to democracy led to politics of history that declared the past as irrelevant for the present. Instead of opening a wide and differentiated discussion about the Civil War and the subsequent dictatorship, aspects such as the legitimacy of the insurgents were put under a taboo and the Spanish Republic was judged by its failure. A public interest in these themes has not been noticed in Spain until recently.

In view of the memorialistic debates in today's Spain, the question arises how the common interpretation of the Spanish Civil War as a catastrophe is picked up and possibly altered in contemporary film and TV productions. These reconstructions of the past do not only play an outstanding role in transmitting and actualizing knowledge, their interpretations of the past ay also offer room for reflection, even guidance in coping with Spain's recent traumas.

Therefore, my approach to the cultural life of catastrophes and crises deals with the level "facts", as it analyzes the diverging audiovisual representations of a manmade conflict that is characterized as "catastrophic" in individual as well as collective memories.


Noam Leshem

The London Consortium

Respondent: Annette Jansen

The Spatial Afterlife of Catastrophe

In 1992, then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin toured the southeastern suburbs of Tel Aviv. When he arrived at the centre of Kefar Shalem, one of the region's most notorious slums, Rabin looked around and proclaimed: "This place looks like Jebalya." The comment referred to the largest Palestinian refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, erected after the Arab residents of Jaffa fled their city during the 1948 War. The prime minister was not too far off, though: The Jewish neighbourhood of Kefar Shalem was built on the remains of the Arab-Palestinian village of Salama, whose residents fled during the 1948 War and became refugees themselves.

The proposed paper excavates the spatial resilience of catastrophe. Through the rather humble case-study of this Tel Aviv neighbourhood, it illustrates some of the lingering effects of war and mass depopulation on the formation of a new spatial order. Catastrophes, it will be posited, can imprint themselves into the "spatial DNA" of places. Their manifestations can also exceed visible forms of debris and ruination and reappear in less-expected forms: Legal formulations devised to appropriate Arab property are turned against Jewish residents who settled in the village; a Jewish-Greek community that survived the Holocaust consecrates an Arab coffee-shop by implanting a stone tablet bearing the name of a synagogue in Greece, which was itself destroyed in an earthquake. The paper follows the accumulation of these recurring spatial disturbances to the moment when catastrophic pasts violently return to fracture the pretence that the catastrophe can be confined to the refugee camps of Gaza, Jordan and Lebanon.

The paper charts the unique quality of the spatial archive in storing the traces of past catastrophes in ways that are often ignored by the discourse of reconstruction and reconciliation. It acknowledges catastrophe's residual impacts, its mutative and resilient nature, and grounds it in the concrete experience of Salama/Kefar Shalem.


Kari J. Brandtzæg

University of Oslo

Respondent: Annette Jansen

The Role of the Political in Formulating a Cultural and Aesthethical Practice Between Two World Wars

Between the two world wars the Norwegian avant-garde artists shifted their focus from Paris and Berlin to Moscow. This paper will show how aesthetic, political and art historical impulses were conveyed, interpreted, explored and debated in this period of cultural and political crises and uncertainty. Both political and aesthetical orientations were connected to changing social and ideological conditions, international as well as national, and I will particularly analyse how three prominent artists Henrik Sørensen, Reidar Aulie and Willi Midelfart were inspired by the Russian revolution in 1917 to develop new strategies of narrations within a socially committed and political art movement

Reinhardt Koselleck notions of closed and open future points to how aesthetic strategies are developed on a historical backdrop of changing experiences and expectations. In this case, it started as an open future, where both artistic and political ideals were believed to merge in new aesthetic strategies. But increasingly, due to new historical events, information and experiences, it became a closed future, where they were confronted with their own failed utopian desires. Their early belief and fascination with developments in Soviet art led them to Moscow in 1933. The visit coincided with the anniversary exhibition "Khudozhniki RSFSR za 15 let 1917-1932" (15 Years of Soviet Art), an exhibition later regarded as the cultural political manifest for the establishment of socialist realism in the Soviet Union. Recently released source documents illuminate the Norwegian artists' reactions, interpretations and understandings of the aesthetic development they witnessed, and the emerging ambivalence in their belief in art as a political tool for a better society. 


Annette Jansen

University of Amsterdam

Respondent: Noam Leshem

Coping with Human Cruelty: Humanitarian Interventions as a Cultural Response

 ‘Human rights has become the major article of faith of a secular culture that fears it believes in nothing else', wrote Michael Ignatieff. Increasing­ly, this article of faith is applied as a set of criteria for humankind to which the convictions and practices of all should ultimately conform. The threat to those who do not wish to oblige is real: states who continue to vi­ol­ate human rights run the risk of being coerced to conform by ‘humanitarian interventions' - inter­na­ti­onal military forces invading their countries.

The urge to respond to horror scenes of communal killing or terrorism can not sufficiently be explained by the mere need to defend one's own security. It is a response to an image of human cruelty that is so appalling to those who cherish a worldview of human rights, that they feel they must resist it, if need be by violent means. The communal kil­lings, rapes and plundering committed by the Janjaweed are experienced as a direct attack against a culture that has embraced human rights as its core value system, and regards man-made catastrophes as an abnormality that should be made extinct through humanitarian interventions.

While many books analyse the effectiveness of humanitarian interventions, very few systematically study the worldview and beliefs behind it. In my paper, I want to examine which worldviews and beliefs in West European history of thought were conducive to the development of the concept of ‘humanitarian interventions', because ‘that [West European] history had profound consequences for the way in which hu­man rights has been conceived and implemented in the rest of the modernized world', to quote Talal Asad. I will amongst others study (the worldview and beliefs behind) the Holy Crusades, Grotius' and other theories of Just War, 18th century Freemasonry, the 18th century abolition of torture and French declaration of rights of man, and Christian eschatological thought on ‘redemption'. I will particularly explain how these worldviews influenced peoples attitudes towards cruelty, suffering, empathy, and other key notions underlying the concept of ‘humanitarian in­ter­ven­tions'.


Sarah Joshi

London Consortium

Respondent: Geesa Tuch

The Excess of Kali Yuga: Repetition, Remembrance and Longing

On October 27, 1947, more than two months after the Partition of India and Pakistan, the cover of TIME magazine featured a dramatic technicolour rendering of Kali, the Hindu goddess of death and destruction.  In an act of self-mutilation, she is shown plunging a sword into the India side of her geographically structured body, gushing forth a torrent of blood.  The caption below the image reads ‘India: Liberty and Death'; the cover story for the issue: ‘The Trial of Kali'. Classical Hindu mythology states that in the four cycles of the world, Kali Yuga, or the Age of Kali, will be the last, and the worst. It is the age when man is furthest from god, the darkest of all the Yugic cycles.  During Kali Yuga, it is written that murder and famine will be rampant, sin will abound, and the world will fall into chaos.  The TIME's story attempted to interpret the carnage of Partition, which seemed to herald the arrival of Kali Yuga, by means of the trial, looking to find some sense in "...the dark and universal fear which rests in the slime on the blind sea-bottom of biology". 

Pakistan and India had bloodily clawed their way out of this dark fear and spawned a genealogy that would interminably burden their children with the sins of their parents.  The manifestation of this ill-born genealogy is the Partition genre, and this paper will explore three critical aspects of it: repetitive imagery, hypermnesia and hyper-nostalgia.  By examining each of these, I will attempt to fit this genre into a larger discourse of psychoanalytic studies, viewing it as an attempted panacea to the long-term trauma Partition wrought and also question the need for any future works on Partition.


Astrid Brigitta Matron

Justus-Liebig-University, Gießen

Respondent: Caroline Rothauge

More than Representing the Crisis. Park Chan-Wooks JSA - Joint Security Area as a Particular Way of Coping with Korean Reality

After a history of colonization and war, remaining a divided North/South Korea is the ongoing crisis on the Korean peninsula. No place in the country represents this better than the so-called Joint Security Area within the Demilitarized Zone, a four kilometers wide strip of land where US-American, Swedish and Swiss military together with soldiers from both Koreas protect the

border and try to keep the ceasefire after the Korean War. As a matter of fact the two Koreas technically are still in war, since the armistice agreement was never confirmed by a peace treaty. Until nowadays the upcoming peace process is interrupted by several incursions close to the border - a marker for an unsolved crisis that recently got more intense.

The process of coming to terms with the past and of handling the present situation is a main theme in South Korean contemporary cinema, exemplary shown in Park Chan-Wook's JSA - Joint Security Area. Being the most successful Korean movie in 2000, it shows how a product of mass media deals with the contemporary social reality that could be seen as ‚stuck in the crisis'.

JSA is one of the first South Korean films which breaks up with the well-known stereotypes of friends and enemies in this unsolved conflict and foils the cliché of the bad communist. Playing with genre conventions and unreliable narration as well as time structure, the film designs its inventive aesthetic way to deal with Korean reality. Regarding the movie as a piece of art as well as of mass media, its analysis can offer an insight on how new aesthetics and narratives are explored to discuss social, political and cultural crises - such as the division of Korea which can be seen as a kind of crisis in all ranks.



Alex Mackintosh

London Consortium

Respondent: Jessica Ortner

Kunst macht frei: Misrepresenting the Holocaust in Jake and Dinos Chapman's Hell

Can a work of art hope to represent an historical catastrophe?  Many visitors to Jake and Dinos Chapmans' Hell saw it as an attempt to do just that, offering a moving portrayal of the Holocaust, the defining catastrophe of the twentieth century.  In this paper, however, I will argue that Hell is anything but a po-faced meditation on the horrors of Auschwitz.  On the contrary, Hell offers a critique of the way in which catastrophe is represented, both by the Holocaust ‘industry' and within popular culture more broadly. 

To understand the nature of this critique, we must turn away from Hell to examine the role of branding and representation in the Chapmans' work more generally.  I will argue that their work interrogates the way in which meaning and value are flattened by consumer culture, to the point where a swastika becomes interchangeable with Ronald McDonald, or a wheelchair sign for the disabled with a Congolese nail fetish.  For Adorno and Horkheimer, of course, it is precisely this all-encompassing tendency of Enlightenment culture that created the conditions for the Holocaust in the first place. 

Rather than allow a reductionist closure of the Holocaust as a historical event limited to a particular time and place, Hell aims to keep its meaning open, bleeding the iconography of Nazism into the signs and symbols of our own culture and reminding us that we are not so far away from fascism as we might like to think.  As such, Hell is less a meditation on a particular catastrophe than an attempt to provoke a miniaturised catastrophe of its very own, a ‘schizorevolutionary' eruption, as Deleuze and Guattari might put it, from within the language of consumerism itself.


Agus Soewarta

University of Copenhagen

Respondent: Anna Lyubivaya

Adorno's Idea of Art as the Revelation of a Permanent and Universal Catastrophe

The concepts of crisis and catastrophe are closely interconnected. A catastrophe is a destructive force that tears apart our normal way of life. A crisis emerges, when a catastrophe (whether anticipated, present or past) makes it impossible to maintain an existing order.

This is probably how we usually understand these concepts. Adorno, however, contrasts this understanding to another one.

In Adornos thinking the world is a catastrophe itself and not just the place in which catastrophes occur that are essentially foreign to it. What we normally call catastrophe is the completion of the destructive force inherent in the world. The catastrophe is so much part of our own being that we have become blind to it.

A crisis is the result of an insight into the catastrophic nature of reality itself. Thus a crisis does not come about by realizing the impossibility of maintaining the order of things, but by realizing the impossibility of breaking out of that order. Such an insight can only be conveyed to us by a phenomenon which does not fit into any known categories and which is therefore powerless and without any real effect. According to Adorno the work of art is such a phenomenon. Art functions as the revelation of the catastrophic nature of the world in its totality. The crisis which this revelation brings about cannot be overcome.

To say that the two world wars and the terror of fascism deeply influence Adorno's thinking is probably the understatement of the year, but somehow these very real and concrete catastrophes are translated into a philosophical-theological language, in which crisis is understood as a permanent, existential condition and catastrophe is understood as a metaphysical event.


Lily Ford

The London Consortium

Respondent: Suren Manukyan

The Angel of History: A Fantasy Figure of Witness and Record

While we might define a catastrophe by its evasion of comprehension and absorption into a narrative, we fantasise that from some distant perspective it will make sense. Historically, the figure of the angel of history has provided us with this perspective.

A somewhat apocryphal Christian phenomenon, the angel survived secularisation over the early modern period as a signifier for unseen forces and spiritual impulses. In Ripa's Iconologia, ‘History' is represented by a woman resembling an angel, dressed in the white robes of truth, looking backwards while recording events as they happen, from the privileged viewpoint her wings enable. Her tablet is supported by the stooped back of Saturn, or time. An enduring image, this fantasy of a superhuman eye monitoring and recording our actions and configuring them into one great story has retained its currency over the modern period. Its features of a high vantage point, objectivity and testament fuel the Enlightenment philosophy of history. Walter Benjamin's famously fraught ekphrasis problematises the passive nature of these qualities. His angel of history is an impotent witness to the ‘one single catastrophe'.

This paper will explore the recourse to the figure of the angel of history as a response to catastrophe. Comparing the impossible view that the angel represents with the impossibility of witnessing the catastrophe from its midst, it will consider attitudes towards the process of registry, assessment and closure involved in history-writing, and advance the thesis that at times of unforseen fragmentation and discontinuity, the angel of history represents our impulse to contain and rationalise our experiences.


Preeta Nilesh

University of Mumbai

Respondent: Suren Manukyan

Bollywood and the Gujarat Riots of 2002: Cultural Images in Films

The carnage in Gujarat, a state in the western part of India, in 2002 seemed well planned and managed. As the Sabarmati Express moved out of Godhra railway station on 27 February 2002, the train was stoned by an infuriated mob and a few minutes later, a coach was burnt with 57 helpless passengers. Who the attackers were and what provoked the brutality are not really known despite continued investigations. However, the Gujarat government decided that all Muslims had to be punished. Retribution was prompt and ruthless. Hundreds of Muslims were killed with the support of the state government by mobilizing large crowds, organizing hate meetings, distribution of weapons and even gas cylinders.

The victims of these attacks were primarily Muslims and the motive seemed to be to purge them. The objective seemed to be the physical and economic elimination of the entire community.

This was not the first Hindu-Muslim riot in post-independent India. However, the carnage was different from any incident of communal violence that had happened in India so far, denying understanding.

The repercussions are seen even today in the ‘ghettoization' of the Muslim community, their continued alienation and social boycott. Ironically, all this happened in the birth place of Gandhi, the apostle of non-violence.

Bollywood has imaged its own version of narration to this catastrophe. Three films made on the riots in Gujarat in the following years, are representative of the Indian cultural imagination, understanding and adaption after such a major crisis. The films, in a way, present an obituary to the dying secular ethos by exposing a society that intellectuals try to idolize as secular. The movie plots in all three films deal with the challenges to religious tolerance. The politician-police-criminal nexus presented in the films reveal a loss of sensitivity. The fact that, while Gujarat should not be repeated, Gujarat should not be forgotten is perhaps the idea in setting the films in the backdrop of the communal violence.


Anna Lyubivaya

Polish Academy of Science

Respondent: Agus Soewarta

Bombing of Dresden: Rethinking the National Trauma in the City Museum of Dresden

The main idea of the presentation would be to analyze the new approach to the one of the most painful events of the wartime for the German national memory. The new city museum exhibition in Dresden would be the core of the analyses. The exhibition opened 3 years ago is a new vision of the traumatic event: it tries to reconcile the different visions The exhibition is a new form of presentation the national trauma: "the inside view", the attempt of deconstructing the myth of innocent city and citizens. The exhibition "Democracies and dictatorships" presents a new vision and approach in the German history and memory. The exhibition tries to deconstruct many for years deeply rooted myths, first of all the myth of "innocent city". The whole narration tells a story opposed to the myth-making that dominated the last decades. It is the story of the city that was destroyed because a majority of the society in democratic elections chose the way of National Socialist dictatorship. The price of this choice was enormous: thousand and thousand of dead, ruined city, not speaking of those destructions Dresdners participated in foreign countries. The exhibition puts the question of the people's responsibility for the activity during the Nazi time into the fore. The real enemy to the city and the citizens were the citizens themselves, choosing the path of destruction. The exhibition shows how the society gradually destroyed the city and their own life by searching and inventing inner and outer enemies. The discrimination and subsequent annihilation of Jews is depicted as an intrinsic part of the life of ordinary people during the Nazi period, the common support and agreement for such cruel politics.


Suren Manukyan

Armenian Genocide Museum & Institute, Armenia

Respondent: Lily Ford / Preeta Nilesh

Diaries of Armenian Genocide Survivors and Memory of Great Catastrophe (Metz Eghern)

The Armenian Genocide in Ottoman Empire in 1915-1923 or "Metz Eghern" ("Great Catastrophe" in Armenian) is one of the turning points for the contemporary Armenian identity.

Genocides rarely achieve their goals - the extermination of ethnic communities. Thus, they can have an adverse effect, cause the revival of ethnic ties and national identity, and enhance its crystallization. In the Armenian case, genocide triggers a new phase of ethnogenesis.

In the case time Armenian Genocide created a strong traumatic memory of the Great Catastrophe.

A stream in art and literature attests to the fact that the memory of the Genocide, e.g. "literature of cry" in western-Armenian literature or "peaceful revenge" in eastern-Armenian literature emerged.

Historical memory, as a part of social memory, is a complex category encompassing the history pictured by the people itself and the general concepts of history. The moral norms contained in the comments on historical events, and the behavioral norms of the major historical figures and heroes of the people shape behavior norms for individuals, groups of individuals and the whole nation.

In relations between history and memory oral history has the unique role.

The study of diaries and memoirs (mainly unpublished) lets us to understand the perceptions on Great Catastrophe, which became a milestone not only in particular lives but in the nation destiny.

In case of Oral history and in Memoirs teller knows what happens because he/she was there during the Catastrophe, he/she met Catastrophe and identified it as Catastrophe.

These private stories couldn't be actually true. Somebody can "remember" things, which never took place, but these disillusions, imaginations and myths also very important as a part of collective fantasies.

This is one of the characters of trauma memories - it is not the answer to the event, but answer to the means given to the event, to interpretation of event.

And some questions appear: How can Catastrophe be remembered? Does memory erase the unacceptable? What are the possibilities for representation of sudden grief and collective suffering? How should we commemorate such events? How the memory works in remembrance and forgiveness?


Jessica Ortner

University of Copenhagen

Respondent: Alex Mackintosh

The literary language "after Auschwitz" of Elfriede Jelinek

In this paper I will argue that Elfriede Jelinek's literary language is a language that is constructed in response to the catastrophic and traumatic incident of Auschwitz.  In her writing, Elfriede Jelinek experiments with language to a degree that makes it questionable if it is still possible to detect a semantic meaning in her texts, thus placing form, not narration, at the center of her texts. In her own words, Jelinek makes use of the techniques of "permutations, alliterations, metathesis and the anagram, where sounds syllables and words - entirely reorganized- reveal, perhaps against their will, a higher knowledge that is embedded within" (Interview cited in: Lamb-Faffelberger, 1992). To what higher knowledge is Jelinek referring, and what is the reason for this emphasis on form in her work? Elfriede Jelinek's literature has often been seen as an unmasking of the phallocentric construction of knowledge, as a poststructuralist deconstruction of the media-shaped myths which dominate our notion of reality. But there is more to it. Later research stresses Jelinek's interest in Auschwitz, viewed by Jelinek as an all-compassing civilisational disaster. In fact, in response to Adorno's famous dictum, Jelinek has claimed: "no poem without Auschwitz." (Interview with Sigrid Berka, 1993). I will show that Auschwitz not only dominates Jelinek's literature at the level of content, but also at the level of structure and form. In this sense, the recollection of Auschwitz can be claimed to constitute the main structuring principle of her texts. Evelyn Annuss has pointed out that Jelinek's literature is attempting to make silence readable (Annuss, 2000). According to Annuss and Dunker, Jelinek represents the absence of the six million killed only by deferring the semantic surface of the text, by marking the missing void in the written, and by hiding the theme of Auschwitz in the subtext (Dunker, 2003). Thus the dead are referred to only in their state of total destruction.


Ramil Gayfullin

Polish Academy of Sciences

Respondent: Vibeke M. Viestad

The Cultural Life of Catastrophes and Crises among Romani people of Uzbekistan

"Luli", as the local population mostly calls the Roma groups of Uzbekistan, has been the only ethnic group that has survived throughout centuries no matter what hardships it has faced. Recently this minority group has survived the financial and political crisis just after Uzbekistan obtained its independence and just after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

This paper deals with the issue of the cultural life of Romani people of Uzbekistan. Some Romanis who did not have money continued to search for rags and scraps. At the present time because of high unemployment rates in Uzbekistan many have had to travel to distant place of Russia and sell clothes made of pure cotton. Reports on Roma that are forced to immigrate to Russia are rampant on Russian websites and in newspapers. Many Roma search for anything made of aluminum, copper and other color metals which they bring to the border of Kyrgyzstan and sell it. When interviewed by a local television in Kokand city they replied that they are forced to sell these metals illegally in the border of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan because they are pressed by the economic situation in the country, that they have to earn their living in this way and that there is no other way for them to survive in the situation of unemployment. The group is disadvantaged in its competition with Uzbeks in trade in common market which forces the Roma to seek alternative ways to earn their living.

Nevertheless, the group continues to celebrate great weddings, and local holidays in bright and colorful ways. The gather in the evenings men and women separately and celebrate despite crisis, economic hardships and political instability.


Andrej Sprah

The Institutum Studiorum Humanitatis, Ljubljana

Respondent: Bálint Kovács

Catastrophe, Documentary and Limits of Representation

The blaze of war in the »former Yugoslavia» was one of the largest European catastrophes at the end of the twentieth century. Especially heinous act of this war was the »ethnic cleansing«, carried out particularly against the Muslim population of Bosnia and Herzegovina. These actions - in a manner, similar to Nazi's »final solution«, aimed towards extermination of a certain nation - had catastrophic consequences for individuals as well as the nation as a whole. The representation of dehumanized »ethnic cleansings« reaches, like the unimaginable atrociousness of Shoah, well beyond the possibility of our comprehension. But unlike the Holocaust - which already included its own negation within itself - the butchery in the heart of Europe was unrolling like continuous breaking TV news. Against this »pornographic spectacle of the real« the Bosnian filmmakers were shooting their own truth of events. So in the besieged Sarajevo more than a hundred films were made, mostly documentaries of different lengths and formats.

In thematic context of ESSCS 2009 our interest thus focuses on The Monster's Confession, a political documentary observing the disturbing war crime testimony of a 21-year old Bosnian-Serb. In accord with a famous thought by Jean-Luc Godard, who claimed that the only proper way to capture the intolerableness of Holocaust would be to film it from a perpetrator's point of view, The Monster's Confession deals strictly with »problems« of the executioner. Within this framework we will attempt to sharpen the dilemma of representational limitations when dealing with such unimaginable brutality - particularly in the context of theoretical interventions arguing that the film about unendurable must also show what can not be seen. This is, namely, the only way to establish truth which transcends the witness and the addressee discourse - the truth of the catastrophic event itself.


Olivier Nyirubugara

University of Amsterdam

Respondent: Katarzyna Kuczma

Memory Crisis: What Rwandans Remember and Forget

Since the early 1990s, Rwanda has imposed itself on the scholarly and media arenas and certainly tops the list of African countries with the most prolific literature. However, none of the books and articles published so far has deeply addressed the collective memory issue and the part it played in the different tragedies, including the 1994 genocide. This lack of interest in the memories of Rwanda could be attributed to the fact that memory scholars have mostly focused on the West and the Holocaust memories, leaving Africa to anthropologists and oral historians. In this paper, I will argue that Rwanda's ethnic memories have been far the most important cause behind all inter-ethnic confrontations throughout Rwanda's history. I want to closely consider the uses and interpretations of the past for power-conquering or power-keeping purposes in Rwanda, focusing on how they give validity to class, social and political structure. It is my conviction, like it is Jack Plumb's that the most important problems facing Rwanda are not new since they have similarities and analogies in the past. I will first discuss parallel remembering, a phenomenon that is common in modern Rwanda. Then I will address the crucial issue of dual interpretations of the past, that is, witnessing the same event and yet interpreting it differently depending on one's ethnic memory. Thirdly, I will briefly explore the ethnic memories, their reminders, and their role in fuelling ethnic crises. Finally, I will look at cultural practices that spontaneously, and certainly innocently, pave the way for, and fuel ethnic conflicts. These include the naming mechanism, war poetry, and everyday communication that render the concept of violent death so ordinary.


Zeynep Kocer

Bilkent University

Respondent: Bálint Kovacs

"The Hood Event" and the Reception of Kurtlar Vadisi: Irak (Valley of the Wolves: Iraq, 2006) in Turkey and in Europe

On July 4th, 2003, United States troops arrested eleven Turkish Special Forces soldiers placing hoods over their heads in Suleymaniye, Northern Iraq. Turkish soldiers were released after two days and the US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld expressed his deep sorrow over the incident to the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, however the "Hood Event" quickly became a major crisis and traumatized diplomatic relations between Turkey and the United States. On the socio-cultural level, the crisis was perceived as an insult by the Turkish public which became the idea behind the controversial Turkish film; Kurtlar Vadisi: Irak (Valley of the Wolves: Iraq, 2006)

I will provide a textual analysis of Valley of the Wolves: Iraq in order to discuss its reception in Turkey and in Europe. The film starts with an historical reenactment of the "Hood Event" and continues with a fictional narrative, blurring the lines of reality and fiction and making it possible to cover two of the three levels of approaches to the cultural lives of crises, the fact and the form.

Even though the film and the "Hood Event" intensified the rising Anti-Americanism in the Turkish public and escalated the mounting distrust to the US in the national polls, I will suggest that the Turkish press offers not only one but multiple readings of the film which range from nationalistic values to religious conspiracy theories. I will also explore the debate over the freedom of speech and expression and discuss the ways in which this freedom was reconsidered and renegotiated especially after the film was censored in Germany due to being dangerously Anti-American, a couple of months after the Danish Cartoon controversy.


Katarzyna Kuczma

Justus-Liebig University, Giessen

Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan

Respondent: Olivier Nyirubugara

The Darkness Surrounds Us - Paul Auster's Narrative of Crisis in Oracle Night and Man in the Dark

"Suddenly a crisis occurs when everything about ourselves is called into question, when the ground drops from under us. I think it's at those moments when memory becomes a most powerful force in our lives. You begin to explore the past, and invariably you come up with a new reading of the past, a new understanding, and because of that you're able to encounter the present in a new way."

Paul Auster

Crisis is not only most significant and characteristic among the themes Paul Auster investigates and develops in his novels, but also it provides a structuring device that sets the pattern for his narratives. Indeed, more often than not, his stories open with an abrupt change or a series of alterations that destabilize the daily life of his characters and, subsequently, they unfold in an effort on the part of the protagonists to come to terms with the unexpected and its aftermath. In Auster's oeuvre not infrequent is the representation of crisis that results in physical and/or psychical trauma and his narratives are where the process of recuperation and healing is traced and accommodated. Oracle Night (2004) maps the process on a relatively personal level. Sidney Orr is recovering after a physical breakdown and tries to readjust his body to the demands of everyday life at the same time inventing stories and critically assessing the most recent events in his own and the lives of his wife and closest friends. In Man in the Dark (2008), August Brill is also battling a physical indisposition after a car accident and struggles with insomnia that fosters the recollection of poignant memories. However, Brill's preoccupations draw broader circles that include the political condition of the USA which he tries to cope with by imagining parallel worlds. For both the protagonists it is the story by means of which they are trying to grasp their past, establish their current position, and stabilize their racing thoughts that run towards the future. The story is weaved in the darkness which symbolizes both their physical and psychical condition as well as their unawareness, since both Orr and Brill are kept in the dark about certain facts. The aim of this presentation is to discuss the narrative structure of the two novels with respect to the process of recovery, the symbols and metaphors that are relied on to represent crisis and mediate the unspeakability of trauma, as well as the importance of the story that Auster emphasizes - whether spoken or rendered in print (words), displayed in movies or contained in the photographs (images) - for the processes of healing, gaining knowledge, and the creation of meaning. Finally, Orr's and Brill's personal darkness will be considered as representing the larger social condition and cultural attitudes, and the dialogue between individuals on the background of the collective will be considered, as Auster shows, to facilitate the turning of the end (caused by a crisis) into a new beginning.


Bálint Kovács

ELTE Budapest

Respondent: Andrej Sprah / Zeynep Kocer

Moments of Catastrophe in the Writings of Alfred Döblin and the Rebirth of Society after Second World War

Alfred Döblin is known as a writer who reflects actual themes, evolution of 20th century society and culture through his thematic focuses and narrative discourse from Expressionism until post-Second World War time. The paper deals with the problem of the emergence of ‘chaos' and ‘order' in the oeuvre of Döblin and concentrates on the analysis of the short story Zwei Mütter, elaborating two different paths towards finding peace after an unbearable traumatic event. In Döblins short story, two very personal fates turn into a reflection of a whole society trying to find its way back to a long forgotten normality after Second World War is over. The personal and ethic dilemma of the two figures of the story shows the dilemmas of post-war society and culture: to go straight away and to forget or to try to find an ethic solution through commemorating the past. Döblins short story, created at the very time of the depicted aftermath of the catastrophe, approaches the problem of individual fate versus society's fate on two different levels. The thematic representation of mothers of fallen soldiers is seamlessly combined with depictions of post-war everyday situations, parallel to an unmarked montage of inner monologues, dialogues, thoughts citations and narration on the level of narrative discourse as it is known by Döblin in his former works. The paper aims to the characterization of these parallelisms and oppositions between ‘individual' vs. ‘social', to draw a picture of the literary representation of a society moving towards the restoration of normality, with a methodic apparatus focused on a complex narratological approach.


Vibeke M. Viestad

University of Oslo

Respondent: Ramil Gayfullin

Catastrophes of Cultural Contact (or the Process of Cultural Change)

What happens when people of different cultures meet on uneven terms?

What are the basic differences between colonial encounters and other cultural encounters? We can focus on the extensive use of violence, domination and resistance, but we can also turn the question around and investigate how the process of cultural change might in fact not be that much different under colonial situations if we consider culture as a process of hybridization.

During the European colonisation of South Africa's Cape region, the indigenous hunter-gatherer population eventually disappeared. From different categories of source material we can however from this period of violence and oppression, deduce a continuation of cultural forms and representations, re-inventing cultural forms and practices within an "old" world of symbols and meaning.

In this paper I will try to outline three examples of the hybridization (and continuation) of a culture commonly viewed as dying, and eventually buried in the exhibition displays of museums around the world.

I will shortly comment on the oral history recorded in the Lloyd and Bleek collection. I will also give examples from the extensive material of rock art from the colonial frontier areas that likewise point to a conflicting meeting of cultures and lifestyles. Eventually I will elaborate on the changes and continuity evident in the traditional San dress and ornamentation during the colonial period.

The main argument of this contribution will be that not even devastating historical events can erase the efforts, creativity and innovation of human agency. On a more general level I hope that a new approach to what has become one of the most stereotyped cultures of the world can eventually give new understanding of the last representatives of the traditional hunter-gatherer people of South Africa, and their legacy as ancestors to a large group of people re-identifying themselves in the "New" South Africa.