ZfL Annual Conference
07 Apr 2022 – 08 Apr 2022

Epochal Turns and Epochal Change

Venue: Leibniz-Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung, Schützenstr. 18, 10117 Berlin, Aufgang B, 3. Etage, Trajekteraum
Research project(s): Epochal Turns (2020/21)

Epochs result from techniques of periodization that serve both self- and external description. They divide the constant flow of time into periods of time that are attributed an amount of homogeneity that allows for differentiating them from others. Both the humanities as well as some of the natural sciences (geology, geography, biology) organize their material into such large periods of time. It’s the transitions that are particularly problematic and interesting, the point at which two epochs (or whatever is considered to be one) are to be separated or connected. The shifts that occur during this process are part of the historiographic dynamic and ultimately become part of the historical material themselves. Within the historical-hermeneutic disciplines, the concept of epochs has now been criticized for its homogenizing and Eurocentric tendencies for quite some time. The question is whether  common substitute constructs such as ‘long’ or ‘short’ centuries or the use of the plural as in the established phrase of ‘multiple modernities’ is capable of solving the problems that come with the concept of epoch. The current situation confronts us with an urgent need to do so. Even in strict old-school historicism, the business of ‘epoch-making’ has always also referred to the needs and questions of the present. However, the self-understanding over the own present epoch that is looking for or offering orientation—the epoch consciousness of contemporaneity—continues to make broader claims. This way, we can understand just how quickly the idea of ‘before’ and ‘after’ Covid has established itself throughout the ongoing pandemic. This may have been comparable in earlier similar crises. Now, however, there is also the circumstance that this pandemic is part of the Anthropocene, an epoch that was first named in the year 2000. Also, the differentiation between historical epochs (of mankind) and those of natural and earth history, a differentiation that is particularly important for the humanities since Vico, has become more permeable.

However, in the short time that has passed since this conference has been planned, a war of aggression, this most well-known and worst type of ‘epochal’ event, has changed the conditions by which we analyze epochal change and epochal turns in Europe. Ever since Russia invaded Ukraine, there is not only talk of an epochal turn, but of a ‘turn of eras.’ The topic has caught up to us and maybe even overtaken us in the present. This is something we do not want to and cannot disregard when asking for the function of epochal turns.


Thursday, 7 Apr 2022

  • Zaal Andronikashvili, Eva Geulen, Georg Toepfer (ZfL): Introduction
Section 1: ‘Epochenwende’ als zeitdiagnostisches Instrument im 21. Jahrhundert
Moderation: Eva Geulen

  • Bettina Schlüter (Bonn): Im Novozän: Deepmind’s Epoche
  • Erich Hörl (Lüneburg): Im Epochenlosen der Disruption: Bernard Stieglers Neubestimmung von Epochalität


  • Evening lecture: Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger (Berlin): Kommen wir ohne die Moderne aus? Vorschläge für einen prozeduralen Epochenbegriff


Friday, 8 Apr 2022

Section 2: Epochenwende als Zäsur
Moderation: Zaal Andronikashvili


  • Peter Wagner (Barcelona): Kritik, Krise und Problemverschiebungen. Wie bestimmen sich Transformationen der Moderne?
  • Barbara Picht (ZfL): Epochendeutungen im Systemkonflikt. Perspektiven europäischer Geschichts- und Literaturwissenschaftler auf den Kalten Krieg


  • Lars Koch (Dresden): Chernobyl als Disruption

Section 3: Epochen-Recycling
Moderation: Georg Toepfer


  • Valentin Groebner (Luzern): Retropie: Das Historische als Erlebnispark
  • Maud Meyzaud (ZfL): Die andere Aufklärung in Europa. Al-Andalus und die Folgen

Section 4: Formen und Figuren der Epochengliederung
Moderation: Georg Toepfer


  • Henning Trüper (ZfL): Epochenwenden und Kulturgeschichte des Moralischen

ATTENTION: Unfortunately, Barbara Mittler’s and Ernst Müller’s lectures had to be cancelled.