CfP: New Approaches to Hans Blumenberg: International Symposium at the Center for Literary and Cultural Research (ZfL) in Berlin, October 10–12, 2019

Interest in the work of Hans Blumenberg (1920-1996) has been on the rise in Germany and many other countries for some time. Today, an older generation of scholars, who knew Blumenberg personally or had studied with him, is joined by a younger generation forging its own approaches to his works under different circumstances. New materials come to light as more and more posthumous material is being published. Numerous conferences and workshops, as well as translations of his works into various languages, testify to an increasingly internationalized reception. While a critical edition of Blumenberg’s collected works is still a desideratum, a handbook (ed. R. Zill et al.) is currently in progress, sealing Blumenberg’s status as a modern classic. The canonical questions that dominated and often divided Blumenberg scholarship in the past—the prioritization of, and relationship between, metaphorology, phenomenology, rhetoric, and anthropology—have not lost their urgency, as they remain largely undecided. However, new perspectives, questions and approaches have emerged in many disciplines. Bringing older and more recent scholarship into dialogue and exploring new perspectives on Blumenberg is the aim of this symposium organized by the Center for Literary and Cultural Research (ZfL) in Berlin.

Blumenberg belongs to a tradition of intellectuals who have long shaped the profile of the ZfL, among them Aby Warburg, Walter Benjamin, Gershom Scholem, Jacob and Susan Taubes, and Hannah Arendt. With the symposium “New Approaches to Hans Blumenberg,” the ZfL continues and extends this tradition. True to its self-understanding, the ZfL wants to serve as a platform for international research on Blumenberg across countries, generations and disciplinary boundaries. The ZfL’s research foci established in 2015 provide the organizational framework for the symposium. The three section titles History of Theory, World Literature, and Life Knowledge are to be understood heuristically as access points to interpreting Blumenberg’s works.

Under the heading History of Theory, one can pose the question with (and to) Blumenberg whether an object as ill-defined as ‘theory’ actually exists and, if so, whether its history can be written and how. After all, Blumenberg himself offered an ‘Ur-History of Theory,’ which could serve as a test case for the complicated interferences of philosophy, history, and theory. Moreover, which genealogies of thought can Blumenberg be assigned to, and which did he initiate? Can Blumenberg, who commented sparingly on contemporary affairs (1968 is a case in point), be brought to bear on present controversies and concerns? Is there still something to discover in this scholar of old European learnedness in the age of migration and digitization? Is there an aesthetic theory in Blumenberg? A theory of language? What does the future hold for this controversial theorist of modernity’s self-assertion and the persistence of myth?

The section World Literature addresses the fact that for Blumenberg, literature was not only source material, but constituted a theoretical object in its own right and —a fact increasingly attracting attention today—it also amounted to a significant dimension of his own writing practice. How do the different literary formats he engaged relate to each other? How do “problem thrillers” (O. Marquard)—for example, the Genesis of the Copernican World—interact and intersect with miniatures such as those collected in the volume Concepts in Stories? How is the world-disclosing potential that Blumenberg attributed to literary genres such as the novel or the anecdote connected to his criticism of the secularization thesis and his diagnosis of modernity as a world of many worlds?

Life Knowledge alludes to Blumenberg’s interest in anthropology, particularly in the late work, but it enables other questions as well: Does metaphor, understood as a “model invested with a pragmatic function,” offer not only theoretical, but also moral orientation? Does Blumenberg, who wanted to exclude discussions of happiness from philosophy, harbor a (proto-)ethics after all? What is the role of technology in modernity? And how to approach Blumenberg’s “rational” affirmation of technology as a necessary instrument of human self-assertion in the age of the Anthropocene?

The international Hans Blumenberg-Society, founded last year in Berlin, will hold its first general meeting during the symposium in fall of 2019. We encourage you to become a member. The advisory board of the Blumenberg-Society will also convene on this occasion. We are very pleased that Bettina Blumenberg, who is a member of the board, will be present and will lead the general meeting. And we are also pleased and honored that Manfred Sommer has agreed to give the symposium’s keynote lecture.

Presentations should not exceed 30 minutes. Conference languages are English and German. The ZfL will arrange for your accommodation and reimburse you for your travel expenses.

We look forward to receiving your suggestions by December 1, 2018. Please send a title, a short abstract, and your preferred section to sekretariat@zfl-berlin.org. We will contact you by January 7, 2019.


Eva Geulen, Daniel Weidner, Hannes Bajohr

(German version)