ZfL Annual Conference
13 Jul 2023 – 15 Jul 2023

Counterworlds. Intervention and Escapism in Times of Turmoil

Venue: Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Georgenstraße 47, room 0.07 / Dorotheenstraße 24, room 1.101
Research project(s): Counterworlds (2022/23)

The climate catastrophe and its consequences, the spread of populist governments, the war in Ukraine—these developments have thoroughly shaken the certainty of a stable post-war order throughout Europe. In the light of this crisis-ridden present, there is, however, not only a surge of dystopian imaginaries; other kinds of speculative and contrafactual scenarios serve as counterworlds, seizing the future or the past. Even if the time of the grand utopias may be over: the question how a different world could look like arises, particularly in response to postcolonial concerns and ecological questions.

The ZfL’s Annual Conference starts from these observations to systematically analyze the creative forms, the epistemic systems of reference, and the social functions of counterworlds. Our discussion will revolve around the relation of world and counterworld with regard to the opposing poles of escapism and intervention. We will explore the diagnostic potential of creative, discursive, and political concepts of alternative worlds and their inherent models of knowledge. The role of the humanities in this context will be debated in a panel discussion.

With the kind support of the Department of Cultural History and Theory at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.


Fig. above: © Nicola Chodan


Thursday, 13 Jul 2023
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Georgenstraße 47, room 0.07

1.00 pm

  • Eva Axer, Matthias Schwartz, Katrin Trüstedt (all ZfL): Introduction & welcome

1.30 pm
Wissensgeschichtliche und ökotopische Gegenwelten
Chair: Eva Axer (ZfL)

  • Christina Wessely (Leuphana University Lüneburg): “Another World Is Possible.” Ökotopia und die Aufgabe der Geisteswissenschaften
  • Nils Güttler (University of Vienna), Niki Rhyner (ETH Zurich), Max Stadler (Bauhaus-Universität Weimar): Gegenwissen – Konjunkturen eines Begriffs

4.00 pm
Political and Aesthetic Counter-Communities
Chair: Judith Lippelt (ZfL)

  • Oliver Precht (ZfL): Tropische Gegenwelten? Komplikationen in Pindorama (von Hans Staden und Jean de Léry bis Eduardo Viveiros de Castro)
  • Daniel Loick (University of Amsterdam): The Aesthetics of Counter-Communities. Towards an Abolitionist Concept of Beauty

6.30 pm
Panel discussion
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Dorotheenstraße 24, room 1.101
Chair: Katrin Trüstedt (ZfL)


Friday, 14 Jul 2023
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Georgenstraße 47, room 0.07

9.00 am
Vorwärts in die Vergangenheit: Alternativentwürfe
Chair: Hanna Hamel (ZfL)

  • Eva-Maria Konrad (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin): “You can’t change the world”? Zum interventionistischen Potential kontrafaktischer Gegenwelten
  • Alexandra Heimes (ZfL): Next Generation Radar: Spekulation und Realismus in aktuellen Fiktionen der Nahen Zukunft

11.30 am
Fictional Disruptions of Historical Imagination
Chair: Matthias Schwartz (ZfL)

  • Przemysław Czapliński (Adam Mickiewicz University Poznań): How to Get to Counterworld, or the Relationship Between Failure and Utopia
  • Elana Gomel (Tel Aviv University): Multiverse as a Counterworld in Contemporary Speculative Fiction

2.30 pm
Speculative Fiction and Counterhistory I
Chair: Tobias Wilke (ZfL)

  • Amanda Jo Goldstein (University of California, Berkeley): Black Seminole Romance and the Respite Between Worlds
  • Axel Goodbody (University of Bath): Gardeners of the Planet: Alternative Forms of Interaction with Nature in Utopian and Speculative Future Fiction

5.30 pm
Speculative Fiction and Counterhistory II
Chair: Matthias Schwartz (ZfL)

  • John Rieder (University of Hawaii): Truth, Lies, and Speculation

7.30 pm
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Dorotheenstraße 24, room 1.101


Saturday, 15 Jul 2023
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Georgenstraße 47, room 0.07

10.00 am
Virtuelle Inversion und Postapokalypse
Chair: Alexandra Heimes (ZfL)

  • Rupert Gaderer (Ruhr University Bochum): “Umstülpen.” Konnektivität und Interaktionen virtueller Gegenwelten
  • Daniel Illger (European University Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder)): Die Welten danach. Videospiel und Postapokalypse

1.00 pm
Künstlerische Interventionen und Gegenkulturen
Chair: Pola Groß (ZfL)

  • Hanna Hamel (ZfL): Gegenwelten im Literaturbetrieb – bei Balzac und heute

2.30 pm

  • Matthias Meindl (University of Zurich): Vom Sozialismus in der Barbarei
  • Matthias Warstat (Freie Universität Berlin): Als-Ob-Aktivismus. Zu theatralen Dimensionen des Intervenierens