Thinking Together

Circluding History II

River delta in Island

River delta in Island

© / Oleh Slobodeniuk

  • Simultaneous translation into German

Past Dates

Circluding History I
Saturday, 23 Mar 2019, 14:00 — 18:00

Thinking Together 2019 looks at history and historiography through a politically focused lens of time. In its fifth year of investigation, the Thinking Together Conference scrutinizes common and dogged conceptions of linear time and history in order to disclose their underlying political matrices. What are the variegated politics behind historically contingent philosophies of history? What conceptions of time are they based on? And how do they, in turn, influence views onto the present, the ways of relating to the past and the ability to shape the future? The title of the conference, “Circluding History”, hints at a different way to approach history. “Circlusion” (a term coined by Bini Adamczak) is the antonym of penetration. It suggests non-linear understandings, inverts the relation between activity and passivity, and calls for a symmetrical distribution of agencies. Following its speculative trajectories, this conference will investigate and (re)imagine relations to the past, present and future, alternative genealogies, decolonized, global, connected as well as queer histories.

Elizabeth Freeman
On Libidinal Historiography

Revisiting and drawing from my work in “Time Binds” on chrononormativity (the politics of how the body is normatively timed) and erotohistoriography (the representation of real and fantasised carnal encounters with the past), this talk will explore a model of historical thinking and writing which puts desire at its very centre. The African American writer Pauline Hopkins’s 1908 novel “Of One Blood”, I will argue, approaches history as a matter of bodily interpenetration, using nineteenth-century American investments in animal magnetism, spiritualism, and Egyptology to reimagine the present as a membrane porous to the past. Her work reminds us that historical thinking is always libidinous, always a matter of reinvesting and reigniting past materials so that they can interface with the present – a process that has particularly important purchase for queer politics and theory. This process of thinking history as a membrane, I claim, not only reflects the model of circlusion that organizes this conference, but also confronts and redresses the racialization of African Americans through their reduction to skin.

Björn Schmelzer
“Nous faysons contre nature” – Polyphony, Sex and the Machine

This lecture is based on a new ongoing research, which helps me to understand what kind of event the invention of Parisian polyphony in the 12th century was and what kind of rupture it made into the cosmological and religious perception.
Protagonist of this perception is one of the most intriguing and ambiguous figures of western philosophy, Alain de Lille (Latin: Alanus ab Insulis,1128 – 1202/03), and his major work “De Planctu Naturae” (On the Complaint of Nature). In this work Alain de Lille describes a dream where he meets Nature herself who complains about the degeneration and decline of mankind.
The world of de Lille is a completely sexualised one – this is not something strange as this is a crucial aspect of traditional cosmology, where things are perceived as creating harmony and balance through sexualised binary forces.
Not only is mankind responsible for a radical rupture with this order, it becomes clear that Nature itself is in the end out of joint, and sex is a problem that transgresses binary logic. Although de Lille condemns what he describes, the ambiguous character of the description itself opens the path for a long-term artistic and musical queerness.
Traditionally, music articulated the sacred proportions and the harmony of the spheres: but what if the new art of polyphony breaks with harmony in order to engage in a counter-natural practice, as a French composer of a 14th century ars subtilior chanson, to which the title “Nous faysons contre nature” refers, calls it? This is only the beginning of an ongoing moral critic on polyphony, on the coupling of bodies that should not be coupled, deforming natural vocality and finally engaging in a writing practice which alienates agents from an oral tradition, making them part of a polyphonic machine. Is there an emancipatory potential in Western music we have missed since a couple of centuries?

Amelia Groom
All a Blur

Beginning with the blurry forms in an old, damaged Daguerreotype, and proceeding through readings of blurriness in a number of contemporary art works, this lecture will focus on sites of non-focus while considering the unheroic temporalities of maintenance and making-do. In the background of the events and names and dates that constitute the historical record, there is the never ending but always hidden / overlooked support that sustains the conditions in which the record is made. For the bleary-eyed, it can be difficult to tell where one thing stops and the next thing begins. As failures of proper inscription, blurs can visualise the temporality of the tedious, repetitive tasks that are going on all the time, around the supposedly autonomous individuals who are remembered by history.

Vali Mahlouji
For a History of the Defeated: Archaeology of the Final Decade

To heed the call of the German philosopher Walter Benjamin for ‘brushing history against the grain’, Archaeology of the Final Decade (AOTFD) has committed to constructive re-readings of (art) history from the point of view of the defeated, the victims. The paper argues for a constantly evolving, multiform commitment to combatting the tainted nature of history transmitted from victor to victor and memorialising instead those who were subject to violent erasure.
The methodology re-examines culture not as a communal space of harmonious existence, but a conflict-filled field of negotiations; art itself must be situated in this crossfire to realise its historical meaning.
AOTFD focuses on recovering cultural memory and reclaiming ‘sites of disappearances’ – areas of history that have been erased, destroyed, banned or endangered. The practice concerns itself with dark spots and blind spots of histories – those histories of nations which have been condemned by social displacement, cultural annihilation or deliberate disappearance. It engages with accounts of culture lost through material destruction, acts of censorship, and other political, economic or human contingencies.
This paper proposes a processual retracing and reintegration into cultural memory and discourse, as a performative counteraction of violent, systematic historical erasures. It propounds a pedagogy-driven and counter-hegemonic form of exhibition making, that embeds its objects within a field of suppressed historical narratives so to carefully listen to the marginal, spectral voices of the past.
Vali Mahlouji will discuss the working methodology of A Utopian Stage. A multi-faceted and constantly evolving project, A Utopian Stage takes the radical decade-long Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Persepolis (1967-77), as its points of departure to journey through the countless utopian episodes and ideals that defined the long twentieth century: transcendental internationalisms; radical liberations; emancipating solidarities.
This talk will argue that while virtually forgotten, the festival enables us to reconstruct a complex space of international modernity, that was interspersed with the ‘third worldist’ sensibilities of the immediate post-colonial period. Introducing distant voices from Asia and Africa into the international cultural discourse and juxtaposing them alongside neo-avant-garde expressions, the festival allowed for a fluid artistic exchange across geographies, histories and forms in ways and on a scale that had never been possible before. In the aftermath of the collapse of European hegemonies and the rise of the Global South, it gave voice to widespread calls for a ‘global re-orientation’: subverting the single ‘reading’ of West to East into a more cyclical model, engaging in cultural negotiations from East to East, East to West, South to East, South to South.
Situating the festival against the background of contemporaneous political events and movements like the Non-Aligned Movement and Pan-Africanism, the talk examines how Shiraz-Persepolis acted as a contested site of competing solidarities and proliferating visions of an interconnected world; and how, importantly, it facilitated the encounter between international and ethnic avant-gardes. It is precisely the festival’s pronounced rejection of a tension-less, homogenizing fusion of cultures, and its alignment with the principles of particularism, cultural difference, and alterity that demand our attention today. For these qualities make the festival not only a unique historical object but point to the still latent possibilities of the utopian impulses that marked the cross-cultural histories of art and anti-colonial struggle in the 1960s and 1970s.


14:00 – 15:00
On Libidinal Historiography
With Elizabeth Freeman (USA)

15:00 – 16:00
“Nous faysons contre nature” – Polyphony, Sex and the Machine
With Björn Schmelzer (BE)

16:00 – 17:00
All a Blur
With Amelia Groom (AU/DE)

17:00 – 18:00
For a History of the Defeated: Archaeology of the Final Decade
With Vali Mahlouji (GB)