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Possibility Matters

Dec 4-5, 2015

In the light of the centenary of the Armenian genocide and its ongoing denial, serving once again as a reminder of the inherently ethical and political implications of our work as scholars, this conference proposes to reflect on the status, roles, and registers of fact/uality, real/ity, and possibility within the framework of a productive juxtaposition of two temporal horizons: contested history and uncertain futures.

The 20th century has taught us that mass violence always unfolds in and affects the dimension of thought and knowledge. Within the field of historiography the principle according to which historical findings remain open to revision can be hijacked by a ‘revisionist’ political programme of denial that calls the reality of events as meaningful ensembles of facts into question. It does so by suspending the process of interpretation and, paradoxically, by mobilizing a positivist conception of ‘reality’. It is by pointing to a ‘truth’, out there, on the horizon, yet always out of reach, that any form of reality is unsettled, submitting competing possibilities to an unending play of speculation. At the same time, the speculative rehearsal of different historical scenarios has become an operative principle of the distinct genre of counterfactual history. Singular events or variables are selectively factored in and out of an imaginative analysis that actively plays with an expanded array of possibilities. Yet behind any ‘as if’ might lurk an ‘if only’, which can render service to revisionist politics.

Speculation, yet again, attains an entirely different operational reality and effectiveness within the field of risk and crisis management, where possibilities are being rendered calculable, imagined and realized not in order to think utopia, but to secure a more integrated control of what could come. Whether in anticipation of natural disasters, pandemics, terrorist attacks, or economic crisis, techniques such as scenario-modelling and predictive analyses are employed in order to enhance response capacities against an ever-shifting horizon of uncertainty. New regimes of securitization and reflexive biopolitics thereby conceive of life itself as survival, fostering in their wake affects such as alertness, anxiety, and doubt. In the realm of this speculative governance, the present can be acted upon through the simulation of future realities.

Finally, thinkers drawing on the philosophical traditions of pragmatism and constructivism have proposed forms of speculative thinking and fiction that relate to the world not via criteria of truth or factuality and realization. Instead, they propose to foreground the possible effectiveness of fiction as a mode of knowing that has consequences for the real, thereby favoring a science not of conquest or control, but one that is perplexing and fabulatory-experimental.

Possibility Matters attends to these different fields of knowledge production, power and practice in order to comparatively explore different configurations of fact/uality, real/ality and possibility. A specific focus lies on the creative potentials opened up through the play with possibility, as well as on the dimensions of epistemic and symbolic violence that come to bear on the sense and experience of reality. What kinds of imagination and actions are rendered possible or disabled through speculation or its foreclosure? And might certain (aesthetic, artistic, affective) modes of apprehension and imagination unsettle established frames that police the borders of ‘truth’ and ‘reality’?

Programm (PDF)


Friday, 4 December 2015

9:30 Morning Coffee

10:00 Welcome and Introduction:
Alice von Bieberstein and Aurélia Kalisky

10:15-12:30 Thresholds of Time (Chair: Arnd Wedemeyer)

Janet Roitman
Aurélia Kalisky
Normal Men Don't Know That Everything Is Possible: On the Law of Evidence
Alain Denault
The Denial of Massive Crime Using the Obfuscation of Legal and Financial Technicalities

Discussion and Q&A

12:30-14:00 Lunch Break

14:00-16:15 The (Unfulfilled) Promise of Closure (Chair: Rosa Barotsi)

Başak Ertür

On Closure: The Judge and the Historian Revisited
Alice von Bieberstein
No Virtue in Erring on This Side of Doubt: Denial of the Armenian Genocide
Maria José de Abreu
The Invasion of the Martians: Radio Drama, Panic and the Third Secret of Fatima

Discussion and Q&A

16:15-16:45 Coffee Break

16:45-19:00 The Promise of Science and Its Other(s) (Chair: Maria José de Abreu)

James Faubion
From Possibility to Plausibility: On the Epistemics of Scenario Planning
Carlo Caduff
Pandemic Possibilities
Cori Hayden
Pharmaceutical Equivalences, Commodity Dreams

Discussion and Q&A

Saturday, 5 Dec 2015

9:30 Morning Coffee

10:00-12:30 Aesthetics of Alter(n)ity (Chair: Banu Karaca)

Ralph Buchenhorst

Generation of Evidence vs. Negation of Evidence: History and Futureof the Representation of Genocides Based on Shoah Remembrance
Charles Hirschkind
Reflections from Granada on the Place of Islam in Europe
Matthias Schwartz
Alternative Histories of Fascination:The Case of East European Popular Fiction

Discussion and Q&A

12:30-14:00 Lunch Break

14:00-15:30 Enacting Possible Realities (Chair: Preciosa de Joya)

Aline Wiame
Ecologizing Thought: Latour's Theatre of Negotiations and Speculative (Pre)Enactments
Katrin Solhdju
When Effects are the Criteria of Truth: Pragmatism and History

Discussion and Q&A

15:30-16:00 Coffee Break

16:00-17:30 Potentiality of Evidentiary Truth (Chair: James Burton)

Erna Rijsdijk
Does a Poststructuralist Ethics of Researching War Lead us to Fiction?
Shela Sheikh
Performing the Politics of Memory: Grupa Spomenik, the Bosnian Genocide and the Articulation of Justice

Discussion and Q&A

4-5 Dec, 2015
ICI Berlin
In English and

Organized by Alice von Bieberstein and Aurélia Kalisky
Contact: Alice von Bieberstein and Aurélia Kalisky

An ICI Event in collaboration with the University of Cambridge, the Center for Literary and Cultural Research Berlin (ZFL), and with generous support of Fritz Thyssen Foundation.

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