Walter Benjamins Treue - True to Walter Benjamin?

14-17 September 2009
IWBA and IWBG Joint Conference
University of Antwerp

Applying the notion of "fidelity" – "Treue" – to Walter Benjamin’s intellectual legacy highlights central issues of his life and work: continuity and disruption, transmission and mortification, loyalty and betrayal. This point of view is also relevant for an exploration of the reception of his works, since "fidelity to Benjamin" focuses on the paradoxes inherent in transmitting an oeuvre that resists becoming tradition. Benjamin himself integrated these paradoxes into his thinking while remaining true to his topics, concepts, and intellectual goals. The awareness of these questions among his ever-growing readership raises crucial concerns about how to approach Benjamin’s texts today: Should they be preserved, popularized, validated or appropriated? Should we historicize his thinking, apply it to our present or project it into the future? Being true to Benjamin seems to imply more than the search for new readings of his works; it challenges us to confront an attraction or resistance to Benjamin’s intellectual legacy.


  • Vivian Liska (University of Antwerp / Institute of Jewish Studies)
  • Daniel Weidner (Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung Berlin)

Organizing Institutions

  • International Walter Benjamin Association (IWBA)
  • International Walter Benjamin Society (IWBG)
  • Institute of Jewish Studies (University of Antwerp)

With the kind support of

  • Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO)
  • University and Society (University of Antwerp)
  • Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung Berlin

Keynote lectures by:

  • Peter Fenves (Northwestern University)
  • Werner Hamacher (Goethe-Universität Frankfurt a.M.)
  • Sigrid Weigel (International Walter Benjamin Association / Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung Berlin)
  • Bernd Witte (International Walter Benjamin Society / Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf)
  • Irving Wohlfarth (Université de Reims)


(Chair: Detlev Schöttker)

Since the beginning of the 1950s the reception of Benjamin's works has passedgone through a number of stages and assigned him a variety of positions: from the theologically oriented metaphysician to the political, historical and sociological theorist and finally to the founder of cultural and media studies. These positions correspond to assumptions made about Benjamin's life: as an outsider and eccentric, a Marxist, and victim of political persecution during the period of National Socialism. The section will analyze the different stages of this reception, taking their presuppositions within historical contexts into account and correlating the various positions assigned to Benjamin with references from his texts. In view of the discrepancies posed by these presuppositions, Benjamin's fame might possibly be best described as a legend.

(Chair: Davide Giuriato)

Benjamin was a "paperworker" (Papierarbeiter). Many of his texts were either the outcome of a long writing process or have never been finished. This gradual "fabrication of texts in the process of writing" has barely attracted any critical attention. Benjamin's texts are not only riddled with reflections regarding the medial and material conditions of writing, he also paid attention to all the aspects of the creational process. His micrological faithfulness to details is reflected in his careful but sometimes ambivalent scriptural praxis: Benjamin's meticulous accuracy of writing and archiving his texts contrasts with a frequent failure to finish his own texts. As a result, many of his manuscripts remained fragments. Proposals for this section should focus on Benjamin's aesthetic of text production, his poetics of material, e. g. his working techniques (writing tools and materials), the creative process of individual texts as well as oppositions such as between handwriting and the printed word, image and typography or the correlation between the theory and practice of the media.

(Chair: Jane Newman)

Benjamin describes Baroque allegory in the following way: "Jede Person, jedwedes Ding, jedes Verhältnis kann ein beliebiges anderes bedeuten." Infidelity would seem to characterize Benjamin's Baroque in general as it too has taken on a veritable infinity of meanings, both as a particular period, style, and canon, and as a term to describe the several political, theological, and representational logics that shape Benjamin's main statement about the Baroque, the Trauerspiel book. This session will examine the ways in which Benjamin does and does not remain 'true' to the Baroque in his work. Papers should address his readings of Baroque drama and lyric or his claims about Baroque poetics, politics, theology, emblematics, and language theory. They may also question whether fidelity to the Baroque should be of central importance when reading the book he often referred to as his "Barockbuch," or whether it too can "ein beliebiges anderes bedeuten."

(Chair: Sabine Flach)

"Many of those photographers who shape the character of this technique today, originally came from painting. They turned away from it after trying to relate its means of expression more closely to contemporary life. The more they were alert concerning the signature of their time, the more problematic became this starting point for them." Benjamin's concern with the point of departure expressed in his A Small History of Photography mirrors his faithfulness to painting, to art and the practices of the arts, all of which are used as a background for reflecting on new technologies of art and media. Among other topics, contributions should discuss Benjamin's interest in the alterations to the perception of the ambient world (the "optical unconscious"), his program of an "interpenetration of art and science" and his numerous reviews of art exhibitions. Thus, the panel aims to re-read the relevance and meaning of the arts in Benjamin's thinking.

(Chair: Bettine Menke)

To what extent is fidelity a means of identifying Benjamin's attitude toward citation, toward processes of writing and reading, toward words and letters? Is fidelity necessary in order to be true to his texts? Melancholic "fidelity" cannot be isolated from "betrayal". Benjamin's criticism is aimed at the "attitude of the philologist", who becomes easily caught up in the illusion of the immediacy of philological as well as historical givens and falls prey to a mythical concept of reality. A reading of Benjamin that pays close attention to his wordings takes a different path and confronts their decomposability (Zerlegbarkeit). This approach marks the manner in which fidelity to Benjamin's readings and to readings of Benjamin's texts can be assessed.

(Chair: Gerhard Richter)

Walter Benjamin's radical philosophy of language and his politics of representation are inseparable from his concepts of citing and citation. Benjamin writes: "Before language both realms - origin as well as destruction - identify themselves in citation. And, conversely, only where they traverse each other - in citation - is language perfected." Proposals should pursue Benjamin's treacherous faithfulness to citation in the diverse areas of his writings - for instance, in his practice of literary reading, his media theory, his philosophy of history, or in the deconstruction of the concept of faithfulness itself.

(Chair: Burkhardt Lindner)

We owe the present corpus of Benjamin's works to the history of their inheritance. The impact of his texts was belated, coming after the catastrophe of World War II. Their relevance hinges on their unique capacity to combine seemingly incompatible thoughts and ideas. Yet, many of his most popular texts have only been made available, because they were first selected and then edited on the basis of archived material. That this was possible is due to the author's decision to keep the majority of his sketches, manuscripts and notes for posterity: he conceived of them strategically as part of his legacy. This questions the principle of "Werktreue," according to which only the final version (Fassung letzter Hand) is authoritative. The section will address the consequences of this curatorial approach to reading and editing Benjamin's texts today.

(Chair: Jeanne-Marie Gagnebin)

When looking at Benjamin from a political perspective it is not enough to classify him and his writings as characteristic of a left-wing ideology; rather, it is also important to contribute to the critical transmission of his political thought. This implies that abstract research into Benjamin and the reception of his work using universal criteria are not sufficient. Instead, one needs to explore the specific historical and geographical determinations of this reception and evaluate cultural differences. In this section, the apparent "fatigue" of philological research on Benjamin in Europe will be confronted with approaches in countries having a shorter history of the reception of Benjamin's political legacy, where one can find more immediate and direct attempts to apply Benjamin's thinking to current political and social phenomena and conflicts.

(Chair: Justus Fetscher)

Simple renarrations of Benjamin's life (comics, novels, films) risk a reductive understanding of Benjamin as an esoteric thinker and a committed intellectual. While popularizations of Benjamin (Jay Parini, François Darnaudet etc.) seem to be appalling simplifications, they also represent genuine transformations of his opus and demonstrate the powerful and unavoidable interferences between fiction and theory. Benjamin's resistance to a compartmentalized approach to art, the flexibility of his theoretical reflections on the media, and the variety and virtuosity of his own writing techniques suggest the relevance of references to Benjamin, in which this aspect of his thinking transforms the cultural idioms of his intellectual heirs. Approaches that go further in the direction Benjamin specified, even to the point of distancing themselves from his views, might possibly come closer to what he himself propagated.

(Chair: Eckart Goebel)

There is a persistent myth that Benjamin was intellectually isolated throughout his life - at least in his years of exile - and that only a very limited number of personal relationships contributed to his intellectual development (e.g. Adorno, Brecht and Scholem). But the evidence, especially with reference to his correspondence (numerous letters addressed to Benjamin are either not or are only partly known today), demonstrates that his intellectual socialization took place in a dense network of relationships and acquaintances. Instead of wanting to remain true to an essential "genuine self" in this interplay of exchange, stimulation and criticism, he displayed a disposition to "receive a new being within himself" in his dealings with others. This section will explore the traces of accord and disagreement, productive adoption and indifference in these encounters, moving beyond mere biographical reconstruction by opening up hew horizons for the interpretation of specific moments in Benjamin's thought processes.

(Chair: Paul North)

Papers should address Benjamin's rejection of the historicist demand that historical scientists handle their objects in good faith. But the assertion that history betrays its objects does not go far enough. Can history remain faithful to itself as an idea? Do Benjaminian concepts that refer to history-from "unendliche Erstreckung" in the 1915 essay on Hölderlin to "Katastrophe" in the Paris arcades fragments, and many in between-not require more than one theory of history, perhaps even a historically articulated theory of history in order to be understood? Would a constant theory of history even survive the "catastrophe"? This section addresses the epistemological crisis that such a treacherous theory of history triggers and the critical response it receives in Benjamin's writings.

(Chair: Karl Solibakke)

"If the kinship of languages manifests itself in translations, this is not accomplished through the vague similarity between adaptation and original." Rather, liminal spaces with clandestine meanings emerge, which have to be perceived as dynamic venues of translation: as possibilities to spawn new relationships, situations and interactions using translation processes. Starting from Benjamin's idea that translation is an agent of difference, the section intends to document concrete examples of recent efforts to translate Benjamin's works into foreign languages and cultural paradigms. Apart from "fidelity to the original", issues involving cultural transferal, liminality and reconfigurations of meanings should be addressed, especially those that have encouraged a "recharting" of Benjamin's intellectual legacy.

(Chair: Arthur Cools, Vivian Liska, Daniel Weidner)

"The experience of commemoration forbids us to conceive of history in fundamentally atheological terms, however little one ought to attempt to write it in directly theological categories." Benjamin's "theology," his explicit and insistent resorting to religious concepts and practices follows a complex logic. Religion is, for him, simultaneously a paradigmatic model of tradition - which is also always an act of destruction - and its object, albeit an object requiring as much as preventing fidelity. As the quote suggests, this project oscillates between an experience marked by traces of the sacred, and the act of writing, in which these traces can be articulated in the first place. This section explores the interaction between Benjamin's recourse to the religious tradition and his modes of writing and addresses recent attempts to pursue this tradition in the work of Jacques Derrida, Giorgio Agamben and others.

Program (PDF)

Jewish Music

Donderdag 22 oktober – vrijdag 23 oktober 2009
Internationale Studiedag
i.s.m. AMUZ, in het kader van het Joods CultuurFestival, een initiatief van de Provincie Antwerpen

The geographical dispersion of the Jewish people throughout the centuries made its culture a true treasure trove of influences from the entire world. This diasporic existence resulted in various localized cultural modes and customs, the Ashkenazi (from the Rhine to Russia), the Sephardic (Jewish-Arabic culture around the Mediterranean Sea) and specific circles within, for example, India and Yemen. This variety is also found in music. In this colloquium experts will highlight the various traditions in Jewish music. We will return to the source of Jewish religious music and then explore the old Sephardic and Ashkenazi musical tradition. By means of several concrete examples, the lectures will explore the mutual influences between the Jewish and the classical European musical tradition.

Thursday October 22th, 2009

19.00 Keynote Lecture Joshua Jacobson (Northeastern University)
University of Antwerp
, Rodestraat 14 (auditorium R.013), 2000 Antwerpen

The definition of “Jewish Music” is to a great extent dependent on the nature of Jewish identification. Is “Jewish” a religion? A culture? A race? A nation? Prof. Jacobson will investigate what “Jewish Music” has meant to composers and critics, Jew and non-Jew, friend and foe.

Joshua R. Jacobson holds a Bachelors degree in Music from Harvard College, a Masters in Choral Conducting from the New England Conservatory, and a Doctor of Musical Arts from the University of Cincinnati. Dr. Jacobson is Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities at Northeastern University, where he served nine years as Music Department Chairman and six years as the Bernard Stotsky Professor of Jewish Cultural Studies. He is Visiting Professor of Jewish Music at Hebrew College. He is also the founder and director of the Zamir Chorale of Boston, a world-renowned ensemble, specializing in Hebrew music. He has conducted workshops on choral music for various groups, including the American Choral Directors Association, and has guest conducted a number of ensembles, including the Boston Pops Orchestra, the Bulgarian National Symphony and Chorus, the New England Conservatory Orchestra and the Boston Lyric Opera Company. He has also written articles on various aspects of choral music, and compositions and arrangements that have been published and performed throughout the world.  In 1989 he spent four weeks in Yugoslavia as a Distinguished Professor under the auspices of the Fulbright program. In 1994 he was awarded the Benjamin Shevach Award for Distinguished Achievement in Jewish Educational Leadership from Hebrew College. Prof. Jacobson is past President of the Massachusetts chapter of the American Choral Directors Association. He is the conductor and host of the PBS film, Zamir: Jewish Voices Return to Poland. His book, Chanting the Hebrew Bible: The Art of Cantillation, published by the Jewish Publication Society in 2002, was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award. In 2004 the Cantors assembly presented Prof. Jacobson with its prestigious “Kavod Award.”

AMUZ, Kammenstraat 81, 2000 Antwerpen
20:00     Introduction to the concert by Ensemble Lucidarium
21:00     Concert Lucidarium Ensemble

Last year the Lucidarium ensemble impressed the AMUZ audience with their repeatedly awarded concert programme La istoria de Purim. This season these excellent musicians are back with a new production that will carry you back to the cradle of the so-called ‘Yiddishkeit’. On the programme are poetic and musical traditions from the 16th-century Ashkenazi Jews who lived in German-speaking areas of Europe. Piquant humour, biting satire and contemplative moments: even in those days these elements were an essential part of the Yiddish culture. In the most lively and moving way, Lucidarium again knows how to revive a forgotten repertoire for a 21st-century audience.

Lucidarium specializes in medieval and early Renaissance music. Depending on the requirements of each project, the ensemble employs a varied formation, uniting from four to twelve of Europe’s finest early music specialists. Each programme is the fruit of a long period of research and preparation in various fields, resulting in a different sonority for each programme: a mixture of voices and instruments which permits a recreation of the medieval soundscape, in all its vitality, with the freedom in execution which comes from a solid knowledge of musical style and historical background. From its beginnings, this combination of meticulous preparation and creativity, which has opened up new perspectives in historical performance practice, has won the group both popular and critical acclaim while participating in the most important international early music festivals.

  •  Gloria Moretti - voice
  •  Viva Biancaluna Biffi - voice & viola d’arco 
  •  Enrico Fink - voice & narrator
  •  Marco Ferrari - recorder, dulcian, bagpipe & double flute
  •  Massimiliano Dragoni - hammer dulcimer & percussion
  •  Elisabetta Benfenati - renaissance guitar
  •  Avery Gosfield - recorder, pipe, tabor & artistic direction
  •  Francis Biggi - viola da mano, lute, cetra & artistic direction

Friday October 23th 2009

AMUZ, Kammenstraat 81, 2000 Antwerpen

09.30  Doors
10.00  Welcome - Vivian Liska (Institute of Jewish Studies / University of Antwerp)

10.05  Lecture "Defending Salomone Rossi: The Transformation and Justification of Jewish Music in Renaissance Italy" - Joshua Jacobson (Northeastern University)
Four hundred years ago a new practice was introduced into several synagogues in northern Italy: artistic choral singing. While this innovation was welcomed by some congregants, others were bitterly opposed. In 1622 the liberal rabbi Leon Modena wrote an eloquent defense of polyphony, which was included as the preface to a stunning publication: thirty-three Hebrew motets composed for the synagogue by Salamone Rossi Hebreo. This publication was the first of its kind ever to appear in print, and would remain unique for two hundred years.

Joshua R. Jacobson, one of the foremost authorities on Jewish choral music, is Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities at Northeastern University and Acting Director of Hebrew College’s School of Jewish Music. He is also founder and director of the Zamir Chorale of Boston. His many musical arrangements, editions and compositions are frequently performed by choirs around the world. He is the conductor and host of the PBS film, Zamir: Jewish Voices Return to Poland. His book, Chanting the Hebrew Bible: The Art of Cantillation, was published by the Jewish Publication Society in 2002.

11.05  Break

11.15  Lecture"Jewish Music and Musicians in the Renaissance" - Daniel Jütte (Universität Heidelberg)
Jewish musicians achieved an astonishing success in Italian Renaissance music.  As early as the beginning of the 15th century, Jews can be found as music instructors and dancing masters or instrumentalists. These musicians did not make Jewish (sacred) music. Rather they offered profane music for a mainly gentile public. Reconstructing their musical practice shows that it enabled intense contact between non-Jews and Jews. The talk also deals with the impact that the emergence of the Ghetto had on Jewish performers and, ultimately, on Jewish music itself.

Daniel Jütte, M.A., studied history and musicology at the universities of Zuerich and Heidelberg. In 2007/2008 he was a Visiting Fellow at Harvard University. He is currently working on his Ph.D. thesis at Heidelberg University. His main areas of interest include German and Italian Jewry from the early modern to the modern period. He has published extensively on topics such as Jews and music, but also on Jewish history of science in the early modern period. Daniel Jütte is a regular contributor to major German-language newspapers, such as the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.

12.15  Break

12.30  Recital by Benjamin Müller

14.00  Lecture "Ayn Lid Banign: Renaissance Jews and the Sung Poetry Tradition" - Avery Gosfield & Francis Biggi (Ensemble Lucidarium), with musical illustrations by Enrico Fink (Ensemble Lucidarium)
Even if the Jews’ participation in the musical and cultural life of Renaissance Europe has been well documented, very few actual compositions by Jewish composers, or music specifically destined for the Jewish community (apart from Shlomo Rossi’s albeit impressive output, the dances tunes found in Guglielmo Ebreo da Pesaro’s dance manuals and a few other exceptions) have come down to us. However, next to these rare musical sources, there exists a repertoire proving that the Jews enjoyed a rich and varied musical life: dozens of song collections written in Hebrew characters have survived. However, although there is abundant evidence that this poetry was performed vocally - references to a melodic model, indications in the text itself, or a metric structure that is typically sung - these sources are devoid of any musical notation. They contain a wide-range of pieces, including Hebrew character transliterations of the greatest German-language hits of the era, translations of Italian epic poetry into Jewish German, Purim plays written in Giudeo-Italian, a breathtaking Hebrew translation of a Serafino Acquilano strambotto, and devotional (and satirical) songs reflecting the Jewish experience. While in many cases, a clear melodic model has survived, others call for educated guesswork, often working between historical sources and the oral tradition. Of undeniable cultural and historic and aesthetic importance, their performance presents a series of challenges, not always unsurmontable, to the 21st century performer.

Avery Gosfield was born in Philadelphia. After receiving her diploma from Oberlin Conservatory, she moved to Amsterdam, where she studied the recorder with Walter van Hauwe at the Sweelinck Conservatory. Her interest in medieval music brought her to Basel, where she specialized in the history and performance practice of fipple flutes, in particular the double flute and the pipe and tabor. She has performed in most of the important European early music festivals, and has given numerous stages throughout Europe, Israel and South America, notably at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis and the Centre de Musique Médiévale de Paris.
Francis Biggi was born in Carrara. Co-founder of Alia Musica and Ars Italica, two of the most influential Italian medieval groups of the 19801s, he is considered a protagonist in the development of the Italian interpretative school. He has played with several early music ensembles, such as: the Boston Camerata, The Ferrara Ensemble, Micrologus, Daedalus, and Hesperion XX; and is the first person to have received a diploma in medieval lute at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis. Francis Biggi has published various articles concerning the medieval lute and Italian music of the 14th and 15th centuries.

15.00  Closing Remarks - Bart Demuyt (AMUZ)

15.05  Closing Drink

The Representation of the Holocaust under Question: Jonathan Littell's Les Bienveillantes

Donderdag 17 december 2009
Internationale Workshop
Universiteit Antwerpen, Gebouw Grauwzusters, Lange St Annastraat 7, 2000 Antwerpen
i.s.m. Liran Razinsky (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

This workshop is devoted to Jonathan Littell’s novel Les Bienveillantes and its implications for the representation of the Holocaust. Published in 2006, Jonathan Littell’s Les Bienveillantes can be called the most important literary phenomenon in France in recent years, having sold over one million copies and having won France’s most important literary prizes. It has also been the object of a strong debate ever since. Furthermore, Les Bienveillantes, translated as The Kindly Ones, which tells the story of World War II and the Holocaust from the point of view of a Nazi SS officer, seems to be a turning point in Holocaust representation. The lectures in this workshop will explore the novel’s literary, historical and cultural dimensions. They will address its narrative aspects, the theoretical and literary references and traditions relevant to its understanding, as well as the way the novel deals with ideology of history.


9:30-10:00 Welcome - Vivian Liska
10:00-10:30 ’Je suis une véritable usine à souvenirs’: manufacture et littérature - Aurélie Barjonet (Université de Versailles, St-Quentin, CHCSC)
10:30-11:00 Mémoire de textes français dans Les Bienveillantes - Marc Dambre (Sorbonne Nouvelle - Paris III)
11:00-11:30 Coffee Break
11:30-12:00 The Perpetrator as a Totalitarian Subject: Allegiance and Guilt in Les Bienveillantes - Sandra Janßen (Freie Universität Berlin)
12:00-12:30 We Are All the Same: The Similarity of All Perpetrators in Les Bienveillantes - Liran Razinsky (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
12:30-14:00 Lunch Break
14:00-14:30 Les Bienveillantes ou le paradoxe d’une énonciation - Luc Rasson (Universiteit Antwerpen)
14:30-15:00 La plaidorie de Maximilian Aue - Herman Van Goethem (Universiteit Antwerpen)
15:00-15:30 Coffee Break
15:30-16:00 Goncourt antipodiques: l’Affaire Schwarz-Bart vs l’Affaire Littell - Kathleen Gyssels (Universiteit Antwerpen)
16:00-16:30 ‘Frères humains’, ‘Mesdames et messieurs’: à qui s’adresse le bourreau? - Catherine Coquio (Université de Poitiers)
16:30-17:00 Concluding Remarks
20:00 Evening Lecture

‘Je suis une véritable usine à souvenirs’: manufacture et littérature - Aurélie Barjonet (Université de Versailles, St-Quentin, CHCSC)
Dès les premières pages, le narrateur des Bienveillantes nous invite à une lecture symbolique. Ce narrateur (fictif) est un ancien SS reconverti dans la fabrication de dentelle qui, au moment où il commence la rédaction de ses mémoires, dirige une usine dans le Nord de la France. Ce narrateur ne se contente pas de manufacturer ce tissu “fragile [qui] craint la lumière”; en écrivant ses mémoires, il “se manufacture” aussi des souvenirs: il produit des faits en grande quantité, et ce avec une précision et une véracité quasi documentaires. Après avoir donné plusieurs exemples d’analogie entre la matière produite par Max Aue et son texte, nous nous intéresserons au fonctionnement de sa mémoire. Nous faisons l’hypothèse que par la métaphore de la manufacture, le texte se donne comme un artefact et assume ainsi son caractère fabriqué et expérimental.
Aurélie Barjonet est maître de conférences en Littérature comparée à l’Université de Versailles, Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines et traductrice diplômée. Elle est membre du Centre d’Histoire culturelle des sociétés contemporaines de son université. En 2007, elle a soutenu une thèse sur la réception de Zola dans la critique française et allemande (1873-1978). À côté de ses travaux sur Zola, elle s’est intéressée à Flaubert. Elle a coorganisé, avec Cyril Aslanov et Liran Razinsky, le colloque “Écrire la Shoah et la Seconde Guerre mondiale au XXIe siècle” qui a eu lieu du 21 au 23 juin 2009 à l’Université hébraïque de Jérusalem.

Mémoire de textes français dans Les Bienveillantes - Marc Dambre (Sorbonne Nouvelle - Paris III)
Si la tragédie grecque et la littérature russe, comme le montrent F. Leca-Mercier et G. Nivat, constituent des intertextes déterminants dans Les Bienveillantes, l’incipit renvoie clairement à Villon et Baudelaire. Sont également convoqués dans l’ensemble du livre d’autres auteurs de Guillaume d’Aquitaine à Sartre, des œuvres documentaires ou polémiques, des phénomènes de la vie littéraire. Quantitativement peu marquante, cette présence hétérogène pose une série de questions particulières. Tenter d’y répondre peut engager l’interprétation de ce “roman russe écrit en français par un Américain” (Nora). La culture française sollicitée, rendue vraisemblable par la diégèse et par la formation et les expériences du narrateur, relève-t-elle de la simple caractérisation? Entre-t-elle dans d’autres desseins, perceptibles par d’autres fonctions de l’intertexte, quand on tient compte par exemple du paratexte? Révèle-t-elle une esthétique ?
Professeur de littérature française à la Sorbonne Nouvelle (Paris III), Marc Dambre y dirige le Centre d’Etudes sur le Roman des Années Cinquante au Contemporain. Il a participé au séminaire de recherche “‘Vichy’ and the Holocaust in France since 1990: memory, representation, and revision” (Washington, Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, 2008). Il a “édité” des textes de Paul Morand et Roger Nimier (Arléa, Le Dilettante, Gallimard, Rivages) et plusieurs ouvrages collectifs, dont Le Roman au tournant du XXIe siècle (Presses Sorbonne Nouvelle, 2004), Henri Thomas, l’écriture du secret (Champ Vallon, 2007) et L’exception et la France contemporaine (à paraître fin 2009).  

The Perpetrator as a Totalitarian Subject: Allegiance and Guilt in Les Bienveillantes - Sandra Janßen (Freie Universität Berlin)
The paper will tackle the question of the perpetrator’s psyche by starting from Hannah Arendt’s and Bruno Bettelheim’s common assumption that the concentration camps are the crystallizing point of a totalitarian system, since the state the prisoner is reduced to simply takes to an extreme what is expected from the ordinary totalitarian subject. But even if the violence done to the persecuted and the violence the persecutors are supposed to do to themselves originate in the same “movement” and, to some extent, even have comparable psychological consequences, as Bettelheim shows, both kinds of violence are of course entirely different as to their ethical implications. I will argue that Littell’s book infers two possible concepts of guilt from two possible ways in which the perpetrator may (retrospectively) interpret his National Socialist allegiance.
Sandra Janßen is Research and Teaching Assistant of Comparative Literature at Freie Universität Berlin. She obtained a Franco-German PhD at Freie Universität Berlin and Université Paris 8 Saint-Denis in 2006, with a study of the concepts of imagination in history of psychology and literary history (1840-1930). She is co-editor of the diaries of the German writer Einar Schleef (1944-2001) at Suhrkamp Verlag. In 2007-2008, she started a research project which focuses on the relations between scientific psychology, political theory and literature from 1930 to 1950 as a fellow of the Maison des sciences de l’homme, Paris.

We Are All the Same: The Similarity of All Perpetrators in Les Bienveillantes - Liran Razinsky (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Max Aue is not only writing a personal memoir. He also attempts an overall interpretation of the Nazi era and of perpetrators’ behavior. In particular he puts forward several provocative theses, drawing an equivalence between all kinds of atrocities, be it those of Stalin, those of colonization and those of Nazi Germany. He cancels the difference between such acts and regular wars. I will try to examine the complex functioning of these ideas in the novel beyond Aue, and show how the text supports, subverts and mostly complicates them. Les Bienveillantes demonstrates, I will claim, how literature can engage in a very complex way with these issues.
Liran Razinsky is a post-doctoral researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Previously, he was a post-doctoral researcher at New York University, USA. He is working mainly in two fields, French and comparative literature and psychoanalytic theory.  He has published several papers on Jonathan Littell’s Les Bienveillantes, and also on Georges Bataille and on Sigmund Freud. Among his research interests are Holocaust literature, critical theory, psychoanalytic theory, death and the writing subject. His current research project studies the question of death and subjectivity in writing. He has recently organized, together with Aurélie Barjonet and Cyril Aslanov, the first international conference on Littell’s Les Bienveillantes, in Jerusalem, June 2009.

Les Bienveillantes ou le paradoxe d’une énonciation - Luc Rasson (Universiteit Antwerpen)
Le lecteur des Bienveillantes ne manque pas d’être frappé par la dimension encyclopédique du roman. Le narrateur n’est pas seulement cet ancien SS qui prit une part active à la mise en oeuvre du génocide, c’est aussi un intellectuel qui a bien assimilé les modèles d’explication du nazisme (et de la personnalité nazie) élaborées après-guerre. Je voudrais m’arrêter plus particulièrement à la façon dont trois hypothèses désormais classiques sont reprises dans le roman: celle du “monstre nazi”, inspirée sans doute par les travaux d’Adorno et de son équipe sur la “personnalité autoritaire”; dans le prolongement de celle-ci, ensuite, l’analyse de la personnalité fasciste psychorigide proposée par Klaus Theweleit – ce qui me permettra de lire le roman à la lumière de l’essai que publie Littell en 2008, Le sec et l’humide; et enfin les hypothèses sur la “banalité du mal” et sur “l’homme ordinaire” avancées par Hannah Arendt et Christopher Browning. Mon intuition est que Les Bienveillantes ne met en scène ces modèles d’explication que pour mieux les déjouer: Max Aue, en effet, ne se laisse pas saisir par ces théories, ce qui nous oblige à prendre acte du paradoxe de ce roman: ce n’est pas parce qu’on donne la parole à un nazi pendant 900 pages qu’on finit par le comprendre. L’énigme demeure entière.
Luc Rasson est professeur de littérature française à l’Université d’Anvers. Il s’intéresse au témoignage de guerre et à la littérature inspirée par les totalitarismes. Il est l’auteur, entre autres, de Littérature et fascisme: les romans de Robert Brasillach (Paris, Minard, 1991), Ecrire contre la guerre. Littérature et pacifismes 1916-1938 (Paris, L’Harmattan, 1997) et de L’écrivain et le dictateur. Ecrire l’expérience totalitaire (Paris, Imago, 2008). Il prépare un livre sur le statut de l’animal dans le récit de guerre.

La plaidorie de Maximilian Aue - Herman Van Goethem (Universiteit Antwerpen)
La force de ce livre est due au fait que la victime (Littell en tant que représentant du monde juif) prend la place de l’agresseur nazi. Dans son introduction déconcertante, Maximilian Aue nous fait entrevoir qu’il était devenu assassin par hasard. Chaque autre, à sa place, aurait fait la même chose... L’avocat d’Eichmann a plaidé dans le même sens en 1961. La Cour de La Haye a repris l’argumentation en 1993, dans la cause d’un policier Croate. Les auteurs potentiels de crimes de guerre sont donc, parait-il, interchangeables. C’est le contexte qui fait le criminel de guerre. Sommes-nous donc tous capables de mêmes crimes? Littell a compris le phénomène, à travers de récents travaux d’historiens et de sociopsychologues, mais il ne l’explique pas. Le lecteur devrait les connaître. Il devrait aussi connaître ces autres trajets de gens mêlés aux tueries, ceux qui ont refusés. Aue nous fait oublier que chacun a toujours le choix. Même les soldats allemands, à l’époque. Le lecteur est donc confronté avec une habile plaidoirie, qui le laisse pantois.
Herman Van Goethem. Historien et juriste, professeur à l’Université d’Anvers, président du département d’Histoire. Il étudie l’histoire politique de la Belgique, particulièrement la deuxième guerre mondiale. Sa biographie du roi Léopold III a été publiée en 1994 (avec Jan Velaers), et l’édition critique des carnets de guerre du ministre Auguste De Schryver en 1998. Actuellement il prépare un étude sur la collaboration administrative et la Shoah à Anvers en 1940-1942. Il est également chargé de l’élaboration de l’exposition permanente dans le nouveau Musée de la Shoah et des Droits de l’Homme à Malines, qui sera bientôt construit et qui ouvrira ses portes en 2012.

Goncourt antipodiques: l’Affaire Schwarz-Bart vs l’Affaire Littell - Kathleen Gyssels (Universiteit Antwerpen)
Dans un entretien avec Littell, l’auteur des Lieux de mémoire lui rappelle un roman étonnamment proche: "Quand je vous ai lu, j’ai tout de suite pensé à un autre livre, Le Dernier des Justes, d’André Schwarz-Bart, auquel il ne ressemble pas, mais qui a eu le même effet déflagrateur très puissant par rapport à la Shoah quand il a paru, en 1959." Non seulement la réponse de Littell montrera qu’il ne connaît pas ce roman, Nora se trompe quant aux correspondances: les deux Goncourt sont antipodiques. Sur certains points, l’écriture schwarz-bartienne surpasse même celle du Goncourt 2006. Puisant aux sources de la culture et spiritualité juives, insufflant au roman historique une dimension mémorielle, Schwarz-Bart sut contrer ce dont Les Bienveillantes souffre éperdument: spectacularisation de la Shoah, confusion entre Histoire et Littérature. Contrairement à Littell, Schwarz-Bart résiste à la “mémoire saturée” (Robin, 2003) et à l’ère du temps, celle de la surmédiatisation et de l’Holocaustkitch. 
Kathleen Gyssels est professeure de littératures francophones à l’Université d’Anvers. Titulaire d’un doctorat en lettres modernes de l’Université de Cergy-Pontoise avec un essai intitulé Filles de Solitude: essai sur l’identité antillaise dans les auto-biographies fictives de Simone et André Schwarz-Bart (Paris: L’Harmattan 1996), et d’un HDR en littérature comparée de Paris III, elle publie dans de nombreuses revues sur les littératures caribéenne et africaine américaine et dirige un groupe de recherche en littératures postcoloniales à l’Université d’Anvers.

‘Frères humains’, ‘Mesdames et messieurs’: à qui s’adresse le bourreau? - Catherine Coquio (Université de Poitier)
On connaît bien la formule d’incipit des Bienveillantes: “Frères humains, laissez-moi vous raconter comment ça s’est passé”. Plus que de réfléchir ici sur cet appel ironique à une “fraternité humaine”, je veux m’arrêter sur cette adresse aux lecteurs et sur ce pluriel d’un destinataire. Mais plus que de plonger dans cet univers littéraire singulier, je souhaite m’interroger sur la théâtralité de l’adresse, au-delà des Bienveillantes. Ce trait prêté au bourreau nazi, qui entre en résonance avec certains témoignages de criminels nazis, semble surjouer la réalité d’un certain cabotinage: le bourreau, devenu narrateur et plaidoyer de lui-même, semble ne pouvoir en appeler à l’autre que sur un mode déclamatoire, voire provocateur, à proportion que sa conscience de soi est flottante ou intermittente. Mais c’est à un autre texte littéraire que je confronterai celui de Littell: “Moi, le bourreau”, ainsi s’intitule le texte que l’écrivain hongrois Imre Kertész intègre à la fin de son roman Le Refus (1988). Kertész y met en scène le narcissisme littéraire d’un criminel, qui, écrivain dilettant, s’adresse à “Mesdames et Messieurs” afin de plaider sa cause. Kertész donne au bourreau littéraire un interlocuteur plus réel que lui, et qui, après lecture du texte, en désamorce l’impact en posant certaines questions simples. Ainsi, la harangue littéraire s’interrompt à peine amorcée - dans Le Refus on n’a que le “prologue” d’un roman qui s’annonce illisible - alors qu’elle devient un roman-fleuve chez Littell. Je voudrais donc préciser ce que disent de différent ces deux textes ultra-littéraires, sans perdre de vue ce qu’ils pointent de manière étrangement proche.
Catherine Coquio est professeur de littérature comparée à Poitiers, après avoir passé dix ans à Paris IV-Sorbonne. Elle co-dirige avec Pierre Bayard le “Groupe de Recherche sur la Violence Extrême” dans l’équipe d’accueil “Littérature et histoire” de Paris VIII. Elle est également la présidente de l’AIRCRIGE (Association Internationale de Recherche sur les Crimes contre l’Humanité et les Génocides)

II. Evening lecture: The perpetrator speaks: Les Bienveillantes between History and Testimony
20.00, Rodestraat 14 (R.013), 2000 Antwerpen
Liran Razinsky (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

Jonathan Littell’s novel Les Bienveillantes (The Kindly Ones) has stirred up a heated controversy since its publication in 2006. This lecture will address the most intriguing aspects of this book: its use of the voice of a perpetrator to tell the events of the war, its depictions of sexuality and violence, and its ambitions with regard to historical truth. Mainly, I will examine this work as a project of bearing witness, and turn a critical eye to the role that the literary genre of excess and transgression plays within it, to the novel’s historical aspects, and to the interplay between them. I will explore the narrator’s authority as a witness, focusing on both literary and ethical questions.
Liran Razinsky is a post-doctoral researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Previously, he was a post-doctoral researcher at New York University, USA. He is working mainly in two fields, French and comparative literature and psychoanalytic theory.  He has published several papers on Jonathan Littell’s Les Bienveillantes, and also on Georges Bataille and on Sigmund Freud. Among his research interests are Holocaust literature, critical theory, psychoanalytic theory, death and the writing subject. His current research project studies the question of death and subjectivity in writing. He has recently organized, together with Aurélie Barjonet and Cyril Aslanov, the first international conference on Littell’s Les Bienveillantes, in Jerusalem, June 2009.

André et Simone Schwarz-Bart, diasporas entretissées et écritures connectées: l'oeuvre romanesque de deux auteurs marranes et marrons

29 april 2010
Universiteit Antwerpen

Né le 23 mai 1929 à Metz, l’auteur André Schwarz-Bart est indéniablement une figure marquante dans le panorama littéraire caribéen. Paradoxalement, son nom reste pourtant souvent absent des anthologies et des manuels d’histoire littéraire, que ce soit d’auteurs de “souche” juive ou antillaise. Mort en 2006 dans un silence assez troublant, ce «Juif de nulle part» (Kaufmann 2008) demeure toutefois une figure de passeur étonnant: entre-tissant de manière originale, voire ingénue, des liens entre la diaspora juive et diaspora noire, il incarne le «maillon» entre communautés dispersées et minorités opprimées. Avant l’âge des «postcolonial studies», il œuvre non pour le «conflit des mémoires», mais pour les interstices textuels et les interactions entre des communautés réduites en esclavage dans dans systèmes totalitaires et des univers concentrationnaires :

Ce qui m’a touché, dès le début, chez les Antillais, ce qui m’a fait véritablement les regarder comme des frères… c’est le mot ‘esclavage’. (…) Ce mot me touchait en tant que descendant lointain d’un peuple né en esclavage et qui en émergea voici trois mille ans. (Schwarz-Bart, Pourquoi j’ai écrit La Mulâtresse Solitude», Le Figaro littéraire, 26 janvier 1967, pages 1, 8-9).

Dans ce séminaire, qui marque le cinquantième -anniversaire de son prix retentissant Goncourt, nous proposons une réflexion sur la co-écriture schwarz-bartienne. A partir de son Goncourt Le Dernier des Justes (1959) à l’écriture conjointe avec son épouse Simone Schwarz-Bart, il s’agira de revisiter le cycle romanesque que ce couple a offert au domaine des études francophones, postcoloniales et juives. Analysant l’oeuvre tour à tour sous son versant ashkénaze et antillais, nous aimerions ainsi rendre justice à un auteur antillais d’adoption trop souvent “exilé de la Shoah” (Scharfman 1995), méconnu des «Trauma Studies», ou tardivement découvert (Rothberg 2006, 2008), de surcroît reçu de manière ambivalente aux Antilles mêmes. Liant la réception de l’œuvre aux mécanismes de canonisation, nous interrogerons aussi la place des chefs-d’oeuvre imparables (La Mulâtresse Solitude, 1972 d’André, et Pluie et vent sur Télumée Miracle, 1972, de Simone Schwarz-Bart).


10:00 Accueil - Vivian Liska (Instituut voor Joodse Studies, Universiteit Antwerpen)
Introduction - Kathleen Gyssels (Universiteit Antwerpen)
10:15 La figure du Juste dans l’œuvre des Schwarz-Bart - Francine Kaufmann (UBI)
11:15 L’ancrage des œuvres de Simone et André Schwarz-Bart dans le présent - Malka Marcovich (Paris)
12:15 Le tissage des voix dans l'œuvre de Simone Schwarz-Bart :vers une poétique du métissage - Gabrielle Said, U CergyPontoise
13:00-14:15 Pause
14:15 D’un Je à l’Autre ou l’histoire ambiguë de La Mulâtresse Solitude d'André Schwarz-Bart - Marine Piriou, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL
15:15 Un plat de porc aux bananes vertes et «L’autrement qu’être» de la Relation - Maha Ben Abdeladhim (Paris IV)
16:15 Esthétique de la Shoah, esthétique de l’exil - Serge Goriely (UCL)
17:15 Du merveilleux au terrifiant, et vice versa? L'écriture schwarzbartienne dans le contexte caribéen - Mariella Aïta (Université Simon Bolivard)
18:00 Conclusions - Kathleen Gyssels (Universiteit Antwerpen) & Simone Schwartz-Bart (Paris)
18:30-20:00 Pause
20:00 L’entreprise littéraire d’André Schwarz-Bart: faire aimer l’étranger dans sa différence - Francine Kaufmann (UBI)

Programme (PDF)

3de Contactdag Joodse Studies over de Lage Landen

May 11th, 2010
Universiteit Antwerpen

The Institute of Jewish Studies organizes for the third time an interdisciplinary conference concerning Jewish Studies on the Low Countries at the University of Antwerp. The purpose of the conference is to facilitate contacts between researchers working within this area of study. We especially encourage young researchers to participate in the workshop. We also hope for contributions from more established researchers, in order to establish a positive exchange between different research generations. Presentations may include works in progress. We welcome all themes and disciplines within Jewish Studies concerning the Low Countries.

Programma (PDF)

Abstracts (PDF)

Tales of Transit: Narrative Migrant Spaces in Transatlantic Perspective, 1830-1954

9-12 juni 2010
FelixArchief Antwerpen

The aim of this conference is to bring together new insights and methodologies from migration and maritime history, translation studies and literary studies, and confront them with the rich but largely underexplored archive of transatlantic migrant narratives. In view of the opening of the Red Star Line Museum in Antwerp, Tales of Transit takes the city as its starting point to rethink transatlantic migration. We encourage contributions offering comparative perspectives on migrants traveling through ports in Europe, Africa and the Americas from the 1830s onwards. The year 1954, when the Ellis Island Immigration Station closed, was selected as an appropriate terminus ad quem indicating the transition from steamers to planes as the dominant mode of transatlantic transportation. One or more of the following subtopics may form the basis of paper proposals: language and translation, migration as business, iconography of migration, archiving testimonies.

For more detailed information on the conference please visit the conference website:

Jews, Commerce and Culture

20-22 june 2010
Universiteit Antwerpen, Hof van Liere
in cooperation with the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, University of Pennsylvania

This international conference challenges scholars to reconsider the economic dimensions of the Jewish past and to integrate that knowledge within the emerging narratives of Jewish experience. Although the field has moved far beyond the need for apologetics, there is an abiding reluctance to engage the Jews’ historic economic functions, which have long nourished anti-Semitic fantasies. Yet these functions formed the basis of Jewish global civilization: mercantile, transnational, and reliant upon money as a source of power. We will explore such topics as Jewish livelihoods, social
structures, trade networks, and fiscal mechanisms, thus investigating anew the relationship between the material and cultural components of Jewish civilization. By bringing together scholars from across the humanities and social sciences, we seek to devise a fresh research agenda for exposing the shifting linkages between commerce and culture in Jewish life from medieval to modern times.

Keynote Speaker:

  • Derek J. Penslar - University of Toronto


  • Cornelia Aust - University of Pennsylvania
  • Robert Bonfil - The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
  • Jonathan Dekel-Chen - The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
  • Glenn Dynner - Sarah Lawrence College
  • Yosef Kaplan - The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
  • Jonathan Karp - Binghamton University (SUNY)
  • Rebecca Kobrin - Columbia University
  • Eli Lederhendler - The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
  • Jerry Z. Muller - Catholic University of America Washington D.C.
  • Evelyne Oliel-Grausz - Sorbonne Paris
  • David B. Ruderman - University of Pennsylvania
  • Adam Teller - University of Haifa
  • Veerle Vanden Daelen - University of Antwerp

Conference Program