Call for Participation

Call for Participation in the International Workshop and Conference

Benjamin in Palestine: On the Place and Non-Place of Radical Thought

Ramallah/Palestine, Dec. 6-11, 2015

Venue: Goethe Institute Ramallah and other venues in Ramallah (tbd)

Talking about Walter Benjamin in today’s Palestine is a political act. This project is part of the attempt to break the de facto cultural and academic boycott of Palestine, implemented and enforced by the occupation regime and its multi-layered web of checkpoints, territorial zones and other juridical-administrative measures. If in Benjamin’s heterodox Marxism the different strands of Jewish messianic and libertarian-utopian thought form a relationship of “elective affinity” (Michael Löwy), his name and legacy invoke a constant appeal against the arrogance of any state power and representations of victors’ history. In this vein, Benjamin’s texts speak not only to the international community of Benjamin scholars and critical theorists but also to political struggles in Palestine.

The project is comprised of three events: an opening event on Benjamin’s thought and life (Dec. 6), a workshop on key texts of Benjamin (Dec. 7-9), and an international conference (Dec. 10/11).

The conference will involve international and local scholars from the fields of Benjamin studies and critical theory as well as activists, writers and artists who work on aesthetics, political economy, political theology, decolonization, critical legal studies, critique of human rights discourse, architecture and the occupation, memory and political struggle, Nakba, diaspora experience, and the situation of refugees in Palestine and the Middle East.

At this time we are calling for participation in the three-day workshop on selected Benjamin texts (Dec. 7-9). The aim of this workshop is to bring together readers of Benjamin as well as activists working in the context of the Palestinian struggle to discuss and learn with each other. The conference that follows will build on this discussion and the insights that emerge from the workshop. The texts selected for the workshop are those that speak to the current situation in Palestine and the Middle East. Key texts that have been selected thus far include Benjamin’s “Critique of Violence”, “Theses On the Concept of History”, “The Task of the Translator”, “Capitalism as Religion” and the “Kafka” essay.” We are seeking proposals to introduce one of these texts or another text of your choice. Alternatively, if you wish to make an intervention or presentation that is thematic, rather than text-based, please write to us with a short proposal (before July 31, 2015).

The workshop will be held in English. However, we are seeking funding which would allow us to provide a simultaneous translation (English to Arabic), with the ultimate goal of producing new translations from the German original texts into Arabic.

All three events will be free of charge and open to members of the public. If you would like to join us for the workshop, please write to benjamininpalestine@gmail.com before July 31, 2015, indicating what you would like to speak about and which text by Benjamin you plan to discuss. Please also include a short biographical sketch (three lines).

In order to facilitate engaged discussion on the part of all participants, we plan to begin each day with brief introductory remarks by one or several scholars with expertise on the selected text, and we hope that all participants will have an opportunity to share prepared thoughts on the texts and questions that they are most invested in. We will get back to you by mid August to confirm your participation and ask you to prepare a short introduction or intervention (10-15 minutes) on the Benjamin text that you have chosen, to be presented during the workshop (Dec. 7-9).

Those who want to participate in the workshop and conference, but who do not plan to present a paper, are encouraged to get in touch with us at benjamininpalestine@gmail.com.  We will be happy to prepare a formal invitation to help with your travel.

Everyone registering and attending this conference is considered as standing in support of three basic Palestinian rights, stipulated in international law. That is, ending the occupation of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank including East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights; recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties. Endorsing these fundamental rights, we believe, is the minimum we can do as conscientious people in support and recognition of the Palestinian anti-colonial struggle. As Desmond Tutu reminds us, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

The organizational committee

Who Owns Walter Benjamin?

On the Place and Non-Place of Radical Thought

Initiative for an International Walter Benjamin Conference and Workshop in Ramallah, Palestine, Dec. 6-11, 2015

Today Walter Benjamin has arrived in the official pantheon of global humanities. His writings belong to the canon of Modern German and European philosophy and literary criticism. There are countless international conferences celebrating his legacy. But can this academic appropriation of Benjamin’s thought do justice to his ‘critical life’ and to the ‘tradition of the oppressed’ that his writings invoke? Given the uncritical if not ideological role of the humanities in today’s neo-liberal capitalism, a merely academic discourse on Benjamin does violence to his thought. Speaking of the legibility of Benjamin’s oeuvre, the question of time and place matter to both the text and its reader.

Talking about Benjamin in today’s Palestine is a political act. The international conference and workshop “Who Owns Walter Benjamin?” is part of the attempt to break the de facto cultural and academic boycott of Palestine, implemented and enforced by the occupation regime and its multi-layered web of checkpoints, territorial zones and other juridical-administrative measures. It is an intervention into ongoing debates on occupation, statehood, theocracy, binationalism, and anti-colonial struggles for liberation. If in Benjamin’s heterodox Marxism the different strands of Jewish messianic and libertarian-utopian thought form a relationship of “elective affinity” (Michael Löwy), his name and legacy invoke a constant appeal against the arrogance of any state power and representations of victors’ history. In this vein, Benjamin’s texts not only speak to the international community of Benjamin scholars and critical theorists but also to political struggles in Palestine.

A growing number of international Benjamin scholars, critical theorists, artists and writers have agreed to support this initiative. For details, initiators, and support, please write to benjamininpalestine@gmail.com.