Call for Papers:
FINAL ISSUES: Endings in Modern Intellectual History

Workshop, October 10–11, 2024
EXC 2020 Temporal Communities (FU Berlin) / Leibniz-Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung (ZfL)

Organisation: Yvonne Albers (FU Berlin), Moritz Neuffer (ZfL)

Venue: Leibniz-Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung, Ilse-Zimmermann-Saal, Pariser Str. 1, 10719 Berlin

Histories of political, intellectual, literary and aesthetic movements are often told through documents of their beginnings: Manifestos, declarations, and programs testify to what groups, avant-gardes or collectives stand for, what they want to achieve, and what they oppose. The importance of ‘beginnings’ and the practices and narratives they entail have been emphasized in cultural theory and historiography alike: “A beginning not only creates but is its own method because it has intention,” Edward Said wrote in his study Beginnings: Intention and Method in 1975, in which he theorized forms of beginnings in modern literature.

Yet, in contrast to the clarity of beginnings, endings seem much harder to grasp. This is not least due to the fact that the late and final stages of political-intellectual projects are often underdocumented, as many avant-gardes and collectives in history disperse, fade out, or lose their social and intellectual coherence gradually. Studies on endings, understood as a set of intentional practices, politics, or—with Said—“methods,” are thus rare to find. One example has been given by French sociologist René Lourau, who in 1980 collected final documents from a variety of groups for his book on the Autodissolution des avant-gardes: from Dada to the Situationists, from the Sex Pistols to numerous journals and magazines, Lourau tried to show how and to what purpose endings were narrated, justified, and communicated. For the sociologist, manifestations of self-dissolution always combine analytical and performative dimensions, describing and enacting endings at the same time.

Starting from such observations, the workshop focuses on concrete textual and medial representations of endings in modern cultural and intellectual history. Our working hypothesis is that materialized representations of endings give expression to temporal experiences of individuals and collectives, shedding light on the self-given interpretations of their own past, present, or future afterlives. Hence, the workshop aims to transfer Edward Said’s questions on beginning—on what is special about beginning as an activity or a moment or a place—to its opposite, asking how we can reconstruct endings, theorize them and read them as interventions into the present.

We invite case studies from the fields of intellectual history, literature, arts, media studies or the history of social movements. The workshop aims at a transregional perspective on the subject matter and considers the practice of ending in its relationship to various conceptualizations of modernity within global intellectual history. Especially welcome are contributions that focus on concrete medial representations of endings such as final issues of journals and magazines, manifestos, interviews, public speeches, or other textual, visual, or audio-visual documents. Contributions may focus on, but are not narrowly confined to the following questions:

  • Which forms of endings can we discern? How are endings justified, which strategies and narratives of legitimation can be observed? What forms of resistance to endings occur?
  • Which imaginations of present and future are at work in endings, which closures of futures once conceived as open do they express?
  • How have endings been discussed in the afterlife of movements or groups, e.g. in memoirs of former protagonists?
  • In which ways do individual manifestations of endings, such as the last issue of a journal, symbolize, depict or represent endings of a larger historical and social scale?
  • How do (materialized) endings work as communicative interventions into their present, how are they disseminated and received?
  • How do media practices and manifestations of self-dissolution create narratives of belonging ex post?
  • To what extent do communities compete for interpretations at the moment of their ‘farewell’ and, with regard to the representation of their own history, even beyond?
  • And how do we deal with the numerous examples of uncommented disappearances, those endings that never materialized or were documented as such?

The workshop is convened by Yvonne Albers (EXC 2020) and Moritz Neuffer (ZfL) and co-organized by the Cluster of Excellence 2020 “Temporal Communities: Doing Literature in a Global Perspective”  at Freie Universität Berlin and the Leibniz-Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung (ZfL) in Berlin. The conference language will be English. Proposals should include a short CV, a provisional title and an abstract of no more than 300 words. Please send these documents in one PDF file to Yvonne Albers (yvonne.albers@fu-berlin.de) and Moritz Neuffer (neuffer@zfl-berlin.org) by March 1, 2024. Contributions are intended for publication in 2025.