04 Nov 2021 – 06 Nov 2021

Hope – Rethinking with Benjamin

Venue: Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Berlin
Organized by Maria Teresa Costa (MPIWG), Pola Groß (ZfL), Ursula Marx (Walter Benjamin Archiv, AdK), Daniel Weidner (Universität Halle)
Contact: Pola Groß

A collaboration of the International Walter Benjamin Society, the Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Berlin, the Akademie der Künste, Berlin and the ZfL

According to Walter Benjamin, there is no moment which cannot be revolutionary, i.e. which could not be understood as “a chance for a completely new solution to a completely new problem.” Here, we can take Revolution as not only a rupture in the continuity between past and present, but also as an arising possibility for a (different) future. Revolution, for Benjamin, presents radical new challenges, and yet, it is also permanent, omnipresent, and miniscule in aspiration and effect. Revolution does not only manifest itself in a radical break, as any solution or response—and truly any moment—can take on a revolutionary character.

This wording challenges our familiar image of Benjamin as a melancholic and skeptical thinker; it shows him as a pragmatic and practical writer, constantly on the lookout for new ways and means of intervention. His radicality, then, is less the product of an apocalyptic vision of the future, but can rather be attributed to a clear-sighted engagement with the here and now. Benjamin’s source of hope is not grounded in an unspecified time to come, but in a critical energy aimed at the “completely new problem.”

When viewed from this perspective, Benjamin’s works allow us to think about hope—even and especially today, in the face of challenges that were impossible to foresee. The concept of hope raises several questions: What is hope, and where is it situated? With whom or what is it associated? How can we think of hope, and when thinking it with Benjamin, what can we hope to achieve? To what extent does Benjamin’s notion of hope diverge from both the models of gradual development and from those of radical rupture or caesura? What are the political, epistemological, or moral implications of moments of crisis which cannot be understood in the context of the grand narratives of progress or revolution? And finally, how can Benjamin’s “rescuing impulse” open up new modes of thinking and acting? What new ways of thinking about time—about pasts, presents, and futures—does the “rescuing impulse” introduce? However, Benjamin’s notion of “the new”—of new challenges and solutions—does not only refer to the present, the future, or an extratemporal utopia. It also manifests itself as the revolutionary power of the current moment to unlock “a quite distinct chamber of the past, one which, up to this point, has been closed and locked.” Such a process recalls Benjamin’s historical work, where he hopes to “fan the spark of hope contained within the past.” By reflecting on these and other related thoughts in Benjamin’s writing, this conference will read his texts anew—true to Benjamin’s own dictum that opening up the (present) moment towards its inherent possibilities.

Registration is required by November 2nd to the following email address: The access data will be sent to you before the event.

Fig. above: Walter Benjamin, detail from Berliner Kindheit um neunzehnhundert. AdK, Berlin, WBA 363/12
© Hamburger Stiftung zur Förderung von Wissenschaft und Kultur


Thursday, 4 Nov 2021


  • Jürgen Renn, Director of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (Berlin): Welcome
  • Sigrid Weigel, Honorary President of the IWBS: Greetings
  • Maria Teresa Costa (Berlin), Pola Groß (Berlin), Ursula Marx (Berlin), Daniel Weidner (Halle): Welcome and presentation of the sections

10.30–12.00 Parallel sessions

Rescuing Critique / Rettende Kritik (Chair: Pola Groß, Berlin; Falko Schmieder, Berlin)

  • Bernhard Stricker (Dresden): Geistesgegenwart. Benjamin liest Hebel
  • Yanik Avila (Erfurt/Berlin): Das Mysterium der Hoffnung. Erzähltheorien in Benjamins Wahlverwandtschaften-Aufsatz und in Thomas Manns Joseph-Romanen

Re-Reading / Relektüren (Chair: Ursula Marx, Berlin; Martin Mettin, Berlin)

  • Antje-Kathrin Mettin (Leipzig): Von der messianischen Kraft des Erzählens
  • Jaime Cuenca Amigo (Bilbao): Self-Quotations and Pseudonyms. Invisible Traces in The Author as Producer
  • Troels Andersen (Berlin): Philosophie der Jugend

13.30–15.00 Parallel sessions

Utopia and Messianism / Utopie und Messianismus (Chair: Ilit Ferber, Tel Aviv; Gabriele Guerra, Rom)

  • Clemens-Carl Härle (Siena): Hoffen auf, hoffen für
  • Charlotte Trottier (Leipzig): Benjamins Begriff der Hoffnung und eine messianische Philosophie der Zeitlichkeit
  • Monika Tokarzewska (Toruń): “Dann sind wir auf der Erde erwartet worden.” Hoffnung als Anspruch bei Walter Benjamin

Re-Reading / Relektüren

  • Holger Brohm (Berlin): Die Legende vom Maler, der in seinem Bild verschwindet. Ein Kapitel zu Walter Benjamins Konzeption des Mimetischen
  • Erdmut Wizisla (Berlin): Vom Widersinn des Hoffens. ‘Hoffnung’ im Kafka-Essay
  • Jeanne Marie Gagnebin (São Paulo): Hoffnung: klein

15.30–17.00 Parallel sessions

Utopia and Messianism / Utopie und Messianismus

  • Caroline Sauter (Frankfurt a.M.): “Hope Passed Like a Falling Star”: Death and Love in Benjamin’s Goethe’s Elective Affinities and Rosenzweig’s Star of Redemption
  • John Vanderheide (Ontario): The Allegory of Apokatastasis, or Benjamin’s Heresy of Hope
  • Freddie Rokem (Jerusalem / Chicago): The Beggar’s Wish

Rescuing Critique / Rettende Kritik

  • Christine Blättler (Kiel): Wider die Rechtfertigung der Siegergeschichte. Zu Benjamins rettender Kritik des Fortschrittsbegriffs
  • Francisco Naishtat (Buenos Aires): Revisiting the Benjaminian Figure of “Hope in the Past” through the Constellation between Natural History (Naturgeschichte) and History (Geschichte)
  • Frank Voigt (Atlanta): Keine Historisierung? Benjamins ‘Rettende Kritik’ und ihr Verhältnis zur Geschichte

17.15–18.30 Membership Meeting of the International Walter Benjamin Society


Friday, 5 Nov 2021

10.00–11.00 Keynote

  • Andrew Benjamin (Sydney / Melbourne): Hopes: Place Making and Space Creating in Walter Benjamin

11.30–13.00 Parallel sessions

Utopia and Messianism / Utopie und Messianismus

  • Johannes Waßmer (Osaka): ‘Phantasie’ und ‘Entstaltung.’ Zum Verhältnis von Ästhetik, Messianismus und Hoffnung im Denken Walter Benjamins
  • Javier Toscano (Berlin): Awakening: a Politico-Existential Understanding of Messianism. On Walter Benjamin’s Project for a New Mankind
  • Hyun Höchsmann (Shanghai): ‘Comme l’Espérance est violante’ – Hope and Utopia in Benjamin, Bloch, and Adorno

Architecture, Environment, Natural History / Architektur, Umwelt, Naturgeschichte (Chair: Maria Teresa Costa, Berlin; Toni Hildebrandt, Bern)

  • Maria Filomena Molder (Lisbon): Spes and Natural History
  • Giovanbattista Tusa (Lisbon): A Cosmic Experience. Walter Benjamin in the Anthropocene
  • Benjamin Fellmann (Hamburg): Die straßenerprobte Dialektik des Blicks. Porosität, Aura und Museumsreflexion in Paris bei Walter Benjamin und Georges Salles, 1937, 1939, 1940

14.30–16.00 Parallel sessions

Construction / Konstruktion (Chair: Carolin Duttlinger, Oxford; Daniel Weidner, Halle)

  • Gerhard Richter (Providence): Modes of Survival: Mourning – World – Artwork
  • Michael Powers (St. Paul, Minnesota): Esperanto: Scheerbart’s Stellar Language and Utopian Thought
  • Young-Ryong Kim (Seoul): ‘Der Gesang der Karyatiden’ – Die Heterotopie der Hoffnung und die Loggia Walter Benjamins

Rescuing Critique / Rettende Kritik

  • Simon Godart (Berlin): Hoffnung und Telescopage
  • Manuela Sampaio de Mattos (Porto Alegre): Could Walter Benjamin’s Unconscious of the Collective be Read as Postcolonial?

16.30–18.00 Parallel sessions

Interventionist Thinking / Eingreifendes Denken (Chair: Jörg Kreienbrock, Evanston; Nassima Sahraoui, Frankfurt)

  • Marina Montanelli (Florence): Das Jetzt der Wiederholbarkeit
  • Dirk Brauner (Frankfurt (Oder)): Windrose des Erfolges: Idiosynkrasien bei Walter Benjamin
  • Rose Gurski, Cláudia Perrone, Miriam Rosa Debieux (São Paulo): Benjamin, Freud, Politics and Dreams: Oniropolitics as a Form of Hope

Architecture, Environment, Natural History / Architektur, Umwelt, Naturgeschichte

  • Gerhard Wolf (Florence): Drei, vier Stühle: Benjamin und die Schwelle der Bilder
  • M. Ty (Madison): Species Abolition
  • Noa Levin (Berlin): Environmental Eros: Un-Paving Benjamin’s One-Way Street

19.00–20.30 Evening event

  • Lecture by Emanuele Coccia: Planetary Home Theory. Domestic Space and the Anthropocene
    Chair: Jürgen Renn
    Welcome: Erdmut Wizisla


Saturday 6 Nov 2021

10.00–11.00 Keynote

  • Eva Geulen (Berlin): Hope and the Lessons of Experience

11.30–13.00 Parallel sessions

Construction / Konstruktion

  • Federica Murè (London): Konstruktion als Komposition: Walter Benjamin`s “Thoroughly-Composed” Gesture
  • Jean-Baptiste Ghins (Paris): Walter Benjamin and Le Corbusier. Is there Something like a Benjaminian Technological Utopia?
  • Mariana Pinto dos Santos (Lisbon): The Fugitive Symptom of Civilization: the Implications of “Primitivism” in Benjamin’s Modernity

Interventionist Thinking / Eingreifendes Denken

  • Sabine Schiller-Lerg (Münster): Hoffnungsträger Rundfunk. Walter Benjamins Konzept für eine populäre Wissenschaft
  • Antonio Roselli (Magdeburg): Von der Glaskonstruktion zum Kinosaal: Über die räumlichen Bedingungen einer kollektiven (Selbst-)Wahrnehmung des Kollektivs
  • Ori Rotlevy (Tel Aviv): The Text as Barricade? On Mimetic Relations Between Theory and Praxis

14.00–15.30 Parallel sessions

Interventionist Thinking / Eingreifendes Denken

  • Sebastian Kugler (Wien): Eine Ahnung von Revolution. Benjamin und Trotzki
  • Robert Krause (Freiburg): Hoffnung auf Muße. Benjamin und Fourier als Vordenker des Bedingungslosen Grundeinkommens
  • Anna Migliorini (Florence): Critique and Task: Towards the “Real State of Exception”

Architecture, Environment, Natural History / Architektur, Umwelt, Naturgeschichte

  • Milena Massalongo (Mantova): Wetten auf radikale Exposition. Benjamins “Ausstellungswert”
  • Peter J. Schneemann (Bern): Spuren einer vergangenen Zukunft. Temporalitäten der zeitgenössischen Kunst in der Auseinandersetzung mit der Umwelt
  • Film screening and Artist talk: Chantal Benjamin, Lais Benjamin Campos, Aura Rosenberg, and Frances Scholz discuss with Maria Teresa Costa and Toni Hildebrandt

16.00–17.30 Parallel sessions

Construction / Konstruktion

  • Sophia Buck (Oxford): The Hope for New (De)Colonial Politics of the Visible. Walter Benjamin between the French and the (Soviet)Russian Practices of Imperialism
  • Sophia Ebert (Mainz): Benjamin als Mitarbeiter

Re-Reading / Relektüren

  • Ghilad H. Shenhav (Tel Aviv/Potsdam): On Language as such and the Language of Eve: Benjamin’s Interpretation of Genesis 2-3 Reconsidered
  • Theo Machado Fellows (Manaus): Die Hoffnung und das Ausdruckslose: Die paradoxale Erscheinung des Göttlichen
  • Christopher Johnson (Tempe, Arizona): ‘Ursprung’ and ‘Umschwung’: Benjamin’s Critical Paradigm

17.30 Final remarks

18.00–19.00 Evening event

  • Piano concert: Samuel Draper (London)


see here for final changes in the program

further information on the panels

Media Response

07 Nov 2021
Passagen der Hoffnung

Review by Hans von Seggern, in: Tagesspiegel, 7 Nov 2021