Critical Speculations - Future Worlds, Perilous Histories, and Walter Benjamin Unbound

University at Albany (SUNY), September 28-29, 2012 

The current divestment in the humanities signals that we have entered a time of critical speculation, an end time that ventures not only specialized modes of critical discourse, but challenges the humanist project itself. Theory as such now awaits auction as a relic of the European intellectual tradition. Yet, with the prospect of diminishing returns and sunk costs, it must wager its own capital. We might turn here to Walter Benjamin, already a kind of sacrificial figure, and cast our bets.

To take Benjamin’s writing as a point of departure may be relevant: First, because of his diversity of themes, his challenging of canons, and his refusal to conform to a single professional identity. And then, because of his exemplification of practices at the heart of the old liberal humanities – acts of reading, translating, decoding, deciphering of “that which has never been written.” Benjamin’s late writings, most prominently the Arcades Project, served to generate constellations of new sorts – snapshots at the point of vanishing or sketches of images that might come. 

Benjamin’s early reception was diverse and “untimely”: he was read extensively in French and Spanish, even before his massive emergence in the German- and English-speaking worlds. He was read both with and against major modernist thinkers, and on occasion transformed into a commodity of a “Critical New Left” (worse things could happen to a thinker who approaches fashion without the usual intellectual disdain). His “amplitude” has managed to survive the recent challenges to critical discourse. Now, one hundred years after his first writings, where does it stand? This conference will investigate Benjamin’s critical presence as and through speculation, his endeavor to form new constellations, and his relentless conjuring of snippets of Geistesgegenwart (presence of mind).

This event is linked to the 2011 NEH Summer Seminar for College Teachers, “Walter Benjamin’s Later Writings: The Arcades Project, Commodity Culture, Historiography” (

Papers are invited on, albeit not limited to, the following topics:

  • The Incalculable: Games, Chance and the Risk of Speculation

  • Spectacle and Image-Thinking, Allegory and Thought Images

  • Speculation and the Visible in Benjamin’s Late Writings: Coming to Legibility

  • Peril, Experiment, and Writing as Performance

  • Risks of Citation and Translation

  • Dislocations of Speculative Philosophy (History in the Aftermath of Dialectic)

  • Thresholds, History and Retrograde Temporality in Walter Benjamin

  • Transgressing the Boundaries: Benjamin in the Americas

Please send 750-word proposals to Ilka Kressner (ikressner[at]

Proposals due: July 20, 2012

Notification of acceptance: August 1, 2012

Conveners: Ilka Kressner (University at Albany, SUNY), chair; Alexander Gelley (University of California, Irvine), Michael Levine (Rutgers University), Erin Obodiac (Cornell University), and Charles Shepherdson (University at Albany, SUNY).

Program Information

University at Albany, SUNY
Washington Ave 1400, Albany, NY, 12222

Locations: Assembly Hall (2. Floor, Campus Center, Uptown Campus)
and Alumni House (Uptown Campus)

Thursday, Sept 27, 2012

Assembly Hall

8:00-9:30 PM

Reading Paul LaFarge (co-organized with the New York State Writers Institute)

Friday, Sept 28, 2012

Alumni House 

8:45 AM

Opening Remarks

9:00-10:30 AM

Panel I: Missing, Mourning, Mimicry: Reading Along Benjamin
Edward S. Cutler (Bringham Young University): “‘The Old Thought of Likeness’: Romantic Philosophy and Benjamin’s Mimetic Faculty”
Branca Arsic (Columbia University): “Memorial Life: Thoreau and Benjamin on Nature in Mourning”
David Kelman (California State University, Fullerton): “Politics as Translation; Following Benjamin in Martínez’s Santa Evita”

10:30-10:45 AM


10:45-12:30 AM

Panel II: Philosophy as Experience, Technology as Reflection
Sami R. Khatib (Jan van Eyck Academie Maastricht/Freie Universität Berlin):
“Redemption through Repetition;; Walter Benjamin and the Epistemo-Political A Priori of Historical Cognition”
Jonathan Adjemian (York University): “‘The Coming Philosophy’: Critique and Experience of Eternity”
Senem Samer (California State University at Bakersfield): “Indifferent Histories, Interested Parties: Dialectical Image as the Home of Contradiction”
Jon Dodds (University of Memphis): “Benjamin and Deleuze on Technology”


lunch break


Keynote Address 1: Alexander Gelley (University of California at Irvine): Benjamin Dreaming, Awaking”


Panel III: Coming to Legibility Through the Arts
Catherine A Soussloff (University of British Columbia): “Walter Benjamin and the History of Art”
Susan Blood (University at Albany, SUNY): “Benjamin on Proust: The Storyteller in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”
Nicole Zeftel (Graduate Center of CUNY): “Resounding Only as an Echo: The Repetition of Kafka’s Photograph in Benjamin’s Writing”

4:00-4:15 PM



Panel IV: On Thresholds, Retrograde Temporalities, and Glass in Time
David Wills (University at Albany, SUNY): “Whither Benjamin’s Angel?”
Julia Ng (Harvard University): “Rain Checks: On the Other Side of Capitalism as Religion”
Jennifer R. Ballengee (Towson University): “Benjamin, Ruins, Humanities”
Christina Svendsen (Harvard University): “Sight Points: A Topology of Time in the Arcades Project”

Saturday, Sept 29, 2012

Alumni House 


Panel V: Dislocations of Speculative Philosophy
Karl Solibakke (Syracuse University): “Messianic Glück: Walter Benjamin’s Dialectics of Divine Justice and Profane Power”
Min Zhou (Shanghai International Studies University): “From ‘Aura’ to ‘Mediauras’ – A Media-Ecological Reading of Walter Benjamin’s Views of Art”
Mary M. Evans (University at Albany, SUNY): “Transformative Spaces: The Virtual Environment, Language, and Projection of Future Worlds”

10:00-10:15 break

Panel VI Spectacle, Image-Thinking, and Strategies of Vanishing
Colin Devane (University of California at Irvine): “The Progress of Benjamin’s Melancholy: Baudelaire and the Intoxication of Capital”
Anne Sullivan (University of California at Riverside): “Awaking from the
Phantasmagoria: Children’s Books as Revolutionary Media”
Amy S. Carroll (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor): “An Allegory -->Allegorical Transformation? (or, Thinking with Benjamin the ‘Market-Form’)

12:00-1:00 lunch break

Panel VII: Reflections on (and in) Capitalism and Digital Culture
Murray Skees (University of North Florida): “The Dialectic of Digitality:
Rationalization in the Era of Late Capitalism”
Jesse Barker (University at Albany, SUNY): “Dream Interpretation: Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project and Agustín Fernández Mallo’s Nocilla Dream”
Matthew T. Grant (Independent Scholar): “@WalterBenjamin: Twitter,
Cyberflânerie, and the Aestheticization of Politics”

2:30-2:45 break

Panel VIII: Precarious Landscapes, Communities of the the Post-Human
Jason Groves (Yale University): “Downhill: Benjamin’s Notes on a Changing Climate (Ibiza, 1932)”
Erin Obodiac (Cornell University): “M Speculatrix: Walter Benjamin and W. Grey Walter”
Tom Cohen (University at Albany, SUNY): “The word Sturm – which is not one: Benjamin in the Anthropocene, or the last trick of that comic ‘angel’”

4:15-4:30 break

Keynote Address 2: Kevin McLaughlin (Brown University): “Poetic Force: Kant, Benjamin, Hölderlin”

6:00-6:30 Closing Remarks


Contact Information

Ilka Kressner
Humanities 239
Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures

University at Albany, SUNY
1400 Washington Ave
Albany, NY 12222
Phone: (001) 518-334 3990
E-Mail: ikressner[at]


Hotel Reservations

Reservations can be made by calling Marriott Reservations at 800-228-9290 or calling the Fairfield Inn Albany SUNY directly at 518-435-1800, or on line at

Please ask for the “Critical Speculations” group rate.  For the group code, please contact Ilka Kressner (ikressner[at] 

Reservations will need to be made by September 9th, 2012 to receive the group rate of $104.00. Deluxe continental breakfast is included. 

TownePlace Suites by Marriott 
Albany SUNY
1379 Washington Ave.  
Albany, NY 12206

Fairfield Inn by Marriott
Albany SUNY
1383 Washington Ave.
Albany, NY 12206


This conference is made possible thanks to the generous support by:

National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)
English Department
Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures
New York State Writers Institute
Dean’s Office of the College of Arts and Sciences
Research Foundation
Center for Jewish Studies at the University at Albany, SUNY