Timely cultural and social topics in conversation
In early 1919, a few months after the end of the First World War, Philippe Soupault and André Breton wrote the first surreal text in the history of literature, Les champs magnétiques (The Magnetic Fields), in the Hotel Grands Hommes in Paris. Together with Louis Aragon—the poet Guillaume Apollinaire had introduced the three young men—they founded the Surrealist movement. The Surrealists opposed the idea of an objectively observable external world and used states of intoxication and dreams to get in touch with an internal reality, which they portrayed in their work.
100 years of Surrealism are an occasion to talk about the movement and to reflect on its currency for the 21st century.
Social utopias that influence us to this day were conceived, “but what was actually so special about this Bauhaus, that children broke with their parents to come live in this community?” Ré Soupault asked, and then answered: “A spirit thrived among us: one for all, all for one. An ideal brought us together: away from the preconceptions of a bourgeois world dominated by Prussian militarism, a world that smothered people. The lost war, the material and spiritual misery was chalked up to this militarism and to this bourgeoisie. Not that people talked about it much, but our whole way of thinking and living was based on this: start anew, throw out everything that had been, don’t let society control you. There were eighty to one hundred of us, from many countries: Hungary, Poland, Russia, Austria. For us there were neither national nor racial nor social divisions: we were of the Bauhaus.”
A critical examination.
In these times of uncertainty, their fields of research consistently strike a nerve: from monotheism to the memory of nations or other forms of social groups to the possibility of overcoming collective trauma, cultural theorists Aleida and Jan Assmann have been working and publishing on important topics for decades.
Communicative memory and cultural memory are the two components of collective memory. Communicative memory is limited to oral transmission over three generations: about eighty years, according to Aleida and Jan Assmann. It’s close to daily life and group-specific. Cultural memory, on the other hand, is the tradition that shapes our consciousness of time and history, our image of self and world over generations, through the centuries- or even millennia-long repetition of fixed texts, images, and rites. Society becomes visible through this cultural transmission: to itself and to others. Which past this society makes visible and allows to emerge in the values exhibited in its identificational adoption says something about what that society is and where it wants to go.
Memory culture—what is it? The work of remembering—to what end? History and memory can’t be separated. There’s no formula for successful remembering. To cope with today and tomorrow, exchange is necessary, for memory means not only confronting one’s own experiences, but also the experiences of others.
Around the 6th century B.C.E., several philosophers and prophets came to prominence in various cultures around the world: Confucius and Laozi in China, the Buddha in India, Zarathustra in Persia, the prophets of ancient Israel, and the pre-Socratic philosophers in Greece independently strove to overcome traditional mythical thinking. Karl Jaspers dubbed this time the “Axial Age.” Jan Assmann describes how historians and philosophers since the Enlightenment have attempted to explain the astounding synchronicity of Axial Age cultures and have sought in the era the intellectual foundations of modernity. The assumption of an Axial Age in world history has become something of a founding myth of modernity. The thesis cannot stand up to historical scrutiny, as Jan Assmann’s book Achsenzeit vividly shows, yet the related efforts to overcome a Eurocentric view of history are still relevant today.
Nora Amin reflects on the role of women in Arab societies, as well as about privacy, intimacy, and physicality. Die Zeit writes: “Nora Amin presents a paradox: without the gaze of others, identity is impossible—no one develops in a vacuum. Yet the gaze of others has also changed every identity, by judging and thereby forming the other—this is as true in Egypt as it is in Germany.”
What is the role of literature by women in the Arab world? The fairytale Orient with its story of Scheherazade is as much a cliché as the image of the oppressed, headscarf-wearing woman is a generalization. In an essay, the Jordanian poet Siwar Masannat posed the question of whether works by women exhibit “artistic elements” that intentionally diverge from masculine criteria for reasons of life experience and the position of women’s identity in society.
See detailed programme for exact times and locations