21.11.2023 – 22.11.2023

Radical Reading

Ort: Collegium Helveticum, Schmelzbergstrasse 25, ETH Zürich, STW, 3006 Zürich
Organisiert von Henning Trüper (ZfL), Mario Wimmer (Collegium Helveticum)

Today, reading faces increasingly complex circumstances. There are more texts and readers than ever. Textual genres and their material carriers are continuously changing, with short and minimal forms and digital media gaining more and more currency. And as machines themselves are becoming more skilled at reading, the will to devote human time and attention to the act of reading appears to decrease. These novel technologies also seem to confirm old suspicions that reading is nothing more than an exercise of combining and recombining signs without much promise of learning anything new. However, there is a radicalism connected with reading—both in terms of a scholarly and a political practice. This radicalism involves both hopes and fears. On the one hand, there is hope that reading can lead to significant changes in thinking and, eventually, to action. On the other hand, there is a fear that reading culture may be eradicated. These two sides are interrelated, since texts cannot change the world if nobody reads them.

Reading is one of the core practices in the humanities. As a humanist practice it can exert an explosive force. However, scholars read with different kinds of motivation. Their intent may be to gain knowledge from and about texts, to systematize their meaning, to read texts as symptomatic of underlying, tacit structures, or to contribute to critical discourse. And while some assume that texts have meaning primarily by virtue of referring to the world around them, others maintain that reading is mostly self-referential and that there is no meaning beyond the given symbolic order. What is more, texts are both material and symbolic in form.

There are, therefore, many questions that arise from the current state of the art of reading. What is left of this core competence of humanist scholarship? What are the prospects of humanist knowledge in a cultural environment where the practice of reading is adrift? What does radical reading mean in a digital age? This workshop thus seeks to bring together scholars devoted to exploring the radical potential of reading today.


detailed program

Tuesday, 21 Nov 2023
Meridian Hall


  • Radical Reading
    Hans-Jörg Rheinberger (Max-Planck-Institute for the History of Science, Berlin) in conversation with Mario Wimmer (Collegium Helveticum)


Wednesday, 22 Nov 2023
Rudolf Wolf Room


  • Mario Wimmer (Collegium Helveticum), Henning Trüper (ZfL): Opening and welcome remarks
  • Olivia Custer (Department of Comparative Literature and English, The American University of Paris): Decarbonizing Kant?


  • Henning Trüper (ZfL): The Plank of Klimaszewski: On History as Text and Reading


  • Rahel Villinger (Comparative Literature, University of Zurich): Close Reading


  • Mario Wimmer (Collegium Helveticum): Speech Hides
  • Erika Thomalla (Center for Book Studies, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich): Radical Readings? Sensitivity Reading in Contemporary Literature