Imagining Culture – Norms and Forms of Public Discourse in America

26.06.2009 - 28.06.2009

Organized and Hosted by the Departments of Culture and Literature

Conference Theme

The concept of the imaginary has preoccupied the humanities for the last thirty years. The term’s lasting attractiveness may best be explained by its promise to throw light on the relay between the realm of the individual and that of the collective, as well as on the relation between normativization and re-valuation. Recently, the debate has shifted to collective imaginaries which are inscribed into subjects by processes of identity formation, such as national, postcolonial, to transnational imaginaries. These imaginaries organize the norms and values shared by all individuals belonging to a certain social entity; these norms and values in turn inform the imagination of the individuals and structure their actions and their fantasies. Yet, this recent focus on collective imaginaries seems to risk reducing the imaginary to an instrument of subject positioning. To what extent is it possible to enrich this recent shift by the insights provided by earlier theorists of the imaginary coming from such traditions as phenomenology, existentialism, and psychoanalysis? By the same token, in what ways can the proliferation of “imaginaries” in recent criticism be used to build on these philosophical traditions? For instance, the emphasis on transnational and environmental imaginations have suggested that questions of spatiality must figure in theories of the imaginary more prominently. A renewed theoretical rigor would allow us to deepen our understanding of the conditions of the imaginary in a world in which communal and spatial boundaries are increasingly becoming disparate.

Conference speakers:

Mark Seltzer (University of California at Los Angeles), "Parlor Games"

Christa Buschendorf (Universität Frankfurt), "The Shaping of We-Group Ideals: A Sociological Perspective on the Imaginary"

Wanda Corn (Stanford University), “‘America is my country and Paris is my hometown.’ Gertrude Stein as Transnational Modernist“

Herwig Friedl (Universität Düsseldorf), "William James vs. Charles Taylor: Philosophy of Religion and the Confines of the Social and Cultural Imaginaries"

Paul Giles (Oxford University), "The Transnational Imaginary: A Reply to Winfried Fluck"

Ulla Haselstein (Freie Universität Berlin), "Poses of Fiction"

Heinz Ickstadt (Freie Universität Berlin), "Imaginaries of American Modernism"

Eva Illouz (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), "Imagination, Love, Modernity"

Walter Benn Michaels (University of Illinois at Chicago), "Real Toads"

Donald Pease (Dartmouth College), "Barack Obama: Changing America's State of Fantasy"

Ramón Saldívar (Stanford University), "The Transnational Imaginary in Postrace America"

Hortense Spillers (Vanderbilt University), "Some Thoughts on the African Diaspora"

Zeit & Ort

26.06.2009 - 28.06.2009

John F. Kennedy-Institut für Nordamerikastudien