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From Kant’s Copernican Revolution and France’s political earthquake to Goethe’s rediscovery of the Orient, spatial metaphors, such as re-orientation, allow us to examine how art, politics, philosophy, and science were redefined in the seminal decades around 1800.
Not only does “Re-orientation” invoke the important revolutions of the era, but it also encourages us to reconsider our understanding of the historical period’s distinguishing characteristics. How do we decide what the essential features of the Goethezeit are? By focusing on the artistic, social, and philosophic changes during Goethe’s lifetime, can we isolate the era’s unique qualities?
The spatial focus of this tri-annual Goethe Society conference leads us to reconsider the intellectual practices that caused writers to set and erase conceptual boundaries, from Enlightenment epistemology to the Romantic fascination with losing one’s way to the invention of World Literature. With an inevitable dialectical turn, the logic of spatial categories also invites us to reconsider the organization of history, so that we may find different temporalities and experiences of time by looking back.
Re-orientations will expand the already burgeoning scholarship on the relationship of German culture with Europe’s expanding domination over the globe. We will encourage scholars to re-evaluate the place of German thought within the broader discourses of science, trade, and colonialism throughout the world. Goethe’s espousal of world literature is most certainly a re-orientation of media networks away from the national.
Even as Re-orientations urges us to explore spatial turns within literature, but it also acknowledges that recent scholarship has also moved from the geographical to the atmospheric realm, so that meteorological and climactic concerns in poetry and prose have found a crucial new importance. By reconsidering these familiar terms we can draw connections between the culture around Weimar and our own environmental crises and informational ecologies.
Re-orientations will examine both how the era from 1749 to 1832 brought with it massive political, intellectual and artistic revolutions, but also how scholarship on this period has refocused critical analysis on questions such as the interaction of humans with their environment, or the inter-dependencies between philosophy and science. Is the reorientation of aesthetics onto Naturphilosophie also a redeployment of images and terms from religious discourse? To what extent does the increasing prominence of concepts such as “fluidity,” “porosity,” or “plasticity” give voice to a new orientation in the scientific study of nature and aesthetics?
Re-orientations emboldens us to find a new understanding of Romantic irony and Idealist self-consciousness. The term speaks to Idealism’s critical self examination of philosophical consciousness: the basic notion that subjectivity is not only orientated towards the outside world, but also back onto itself so that it engages in observations about its own subject-object relationships.
Re-orientations spurs us to reconcile the era’s devotion to Classical culture with modern notions of progress and advancement. We will consider how literature re-orients itself away from the conventions of established genres onto the experiences of subjectivity. How were the ends of the Enlightenment, which Kant, Lessing, and Mendelssohn considered far from attained, re-directed by subsequent generations? How were established literary genres, such as tragedy, rerouted from the misfortunes of monarchs to the misadventures of more humble individuals? How did the novel become ever more minutely concerned with the socialization of the individual? On the level of the text, Re-orientations also calls attention to the sudden redirections in plot within familiar narratives, –the unexpected turn of events that reveal previously unrecognized truths.
Re-orientations rouses us to consider the demise of the Holy Roman Empire and the redrawing of Central European boundaries under Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna. Re-orientations speaks to the domestic politics of an era that also called for the emancipation of women, Jews, slaves. Anthropological thinkers fixated on previously unrecognized features in order to reorient the classificatory systems used to define the “human”. The era saw the discovery of childhood as well as the first formulations of racial theories organizing humans according to skin color.
We will also question the extent to which literature reflects the era’s transformation of social institutions, whereby groups such as the nuclear family were re-codified in order to fulfill specialized biological and pedagogical purposes. To what extent did the literature of the Goethezeit re-orient gender identity and sexuality?