The Pregnant Oyster – Doubts on Universalism
Exhibition of the ERC Minor Universality Residency Programme at Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin
An exhibition (Thu, Jun 30 - Sun, Jul 3) that asks how it is possible to think of world, humanity and justice despite the internal paradoxes of Western Universalism – and how to do so beyond relativism and identity fragmentation.
When the free-floating modernist roof of the Congress Hall collapsed in 1980, a Western symbol of freedom crumbled. The exhibition The Pregnant Oyster – Doubts on Universalism traces cracks and constructions of minor narratives of world after Western Universalism. Taking inspiration from the ambivalent nickname that Berliners gave the building that is the home of HKW since 1989 due to its form, it asks how horizons of a shared world are born out of concrete, incorporated, situated narratives. The oyster as a queering animal that changes its gender at will, occasionally producing precious surprises, fragile and valuable, is a metaphor for this meandering search. This exhibition, conversations and workshops are the result of the research and residency project Minor Universality, which brings together positions across the visual arts, writing and the sonic. The propositions in the exhibition derive from situated forms of doubt and engagements of the dominant through the minor and share an urgency to work with the birth of a world within the ruins of the former West.
With contributions by: Filipa César, Emeka Ogboh, SAVVYZAAR (Lynhan Balatbat-Helbock, Kelly Krugman) and SAVVY.doc (Sagal Farah), Adania Shibli, Camille de Toledo
ERC Minor Universality in Tunis
The ERC project Minor Universality led by Prof. Markus Messling organised a week of international conferences in cooperation with Prof. Mohamed Kerrou (Université de Tunis El-Manar) and Dr. Leyla Dakhli (CNRS/Centre Marc Bloch) at the Académie tunisienne des sciences, des lettres et des arts (Beït al-Hikma) on the topic of Universalismes, hégémonies et identités and at the Centre des arts vivants de Radès on the topic of Universalisme et Incertitudes; with the participation of Giovanni Levi, Mondher Kilani, Jellal Abdelkafi, Vincenzo Chicchelli, Franck Hofmann, Essedik Jeddi, Faouzi Mahfoudh, Imed Melliti, Sylvie Octobre.
In the meetings, workshops and talks in Tunis, the ERC project involved numerous partners as well as artists from the Artists-in-Residence programme (Lynhan Balatbat-Helbock, Kelly Krugmann, Adania Shibli) for joint reflections and discussions with Tunisian artists (Hichem Ben Ammar, Mohamed-Ali Berhouma, Aïcha Filali, Slim Gomri, Nadia Jelassi, Mohamed Ben Soltane).
Universalism & narration
A Conversation with Adania Shibli (Palestine)
For our sixth conversation in the series “Universalism & … “, the Minor Universality research team speaks with writer and researcher Adania Shibli (Palestine).
Our conversation traces writing, in Shibli’s work, as an experience of learning to live as well as of approaching the unwritten, the stammered, the stuttered. We speak about the modern 19th century novel as a form through and against which to find other, minor, gestures and methods to enter writing as a non-hierarchal, anti-authoritarian form. How can writing be designed by fear, loss, and the unwritten? If literature has been complicit in nation-building and modern formations of identity, can writing also engender a different form of engagement with and for others? If so, what forms will it take?
Universalism & the partisan position
A Conversation with Arjun Appadurai (New York / Berlin)
In this fifth episode of our series, the Minor Universality research team is in conversation with the anthropologist Arjun Appadurai, professor at the Bard Graduate Centre, New York, and at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, where he is associated with the Department of European Ethnology. This conversation traverses thinking about globalisation and cosmopolitanism, but asking what happens to understandings of the nation state in an era of its reinstatement. Has the idea of a global life and consciousness been rendered illusory by its increasing challenge from identitarian movements and populist politics? Traversing his own biographical trajectory as a public intellectual, with movements from India to the US and Europe, we discuss the relation of theories of transnationalism with the real experience of émigré intellectual politics. We also discuss the legacy of Arjun Appadurai's own archive and its reinstatement as a local research library, asking what happens to the aftermath of the social life of things, once they move from academic to artistic spheres of valuation. After all, as we notice in a time of increasing standstill and questioning of flows of people and things, and diseases that render frontiers absurd, we also ask what role institutions like the academy or museums play in acting as facilitators or perhaps as immobilisers of such movements. The conversation ends with a fervent plea for a partisan position, a push to act, as academics and public intellectuals, as "mediators, facilitators, and promoters of the ethics of possibility against the ethics of probability”.
Restitution, Reparations, Reparation – Towards a New Global Society? International Summer School│ Call for Participation
The Cluster for European Research (CEUS) of Saarland University and Villa Vigoni - German-Italian Centre for European Dialogue are organising an international summer school on questions of the reparation and/or irreparability of subjectivity, history, and nature from September 9-13, 2021 at Villa Vigoni. Interested PhD students from the humanities and social sciences as well as graduate students holding a Master’s degree that are about to start their doctoral studies can apply by 1st July 2021.
Universalism & multilateralism
A conversation with Souleymane Bachir Diagne (Columbia, New York)
For the fourth episode of its series, the Minor Universality research team spoke with the philosopher Souleymane Bachir Diagne, Professor of French and Philosophy at Columbia University (New York), where he also directs the Institute for African Studies. This conversation reflects on how to engage universality from a decolonial perspective. Reflecting on the inequalities and injustice that persist in the contemporary world, how can communities that find themselves in a struggle for emancipation think the universal and humanity? Can we conceive of a universal that is not exclusive or imperial? Drawing on a philosophy of decolonial thought and translation, Souleymane Bachir Diagne shows how we can rethink the universal from the lateralism induced by translation, as opposed to a "vertical universal", a universal self-proclaimed from a dominant language/culture. So how can we think today about a politics of a humanity in the making; an ethics of human rights that would take into account its own limits without falling into relativism? The demand for reparations, whether symbolic or financial, for the violence and ills inflicted by slavery and colonialism is long-standing. Finally, beyond the possibility of "repairing" or "compensating", should we not start by "addressing the irreparable" as the only starting point for a new common humanity? And what is Europe's place in a world that must learn to build itself and have a common vision?
Lecture series “Narration and community”
The lecture series on "Narration and community" features three lectures with subsequent discussion by Carla Seemann (Saarland University), Adania Shibli (HKW Berlin/Bir Zeit University) and Laurent Demanze (Université Grenoble Alpes).
Universalism & knowledge(s)
A conversation with Gisèle Sapiro (EHESS, Paris)
For the third episode of our series, the Minor Universality research team spoke with sociologist Gisèle Sapiro. This conversation reflects on the political relevance of a sociological quest for objectivity and rationality in an era of alternative facts and identity politics. Building on the Bourdieuian sociological tradition, she surveys the pervasive impact of a thinking across the threshold of a subject-object distinction. Can the habitus operate a cross-cultural analytic for interrogating fields for the concrete production of a minor universality? The emphasis on processes for the production of knowledge leads, eventually, to the relation between Pierre Bourdieu and Jacques Derrida, who were close to one another since the Algerian war. Do we have to defend Derrida and deconstruction against the accusation of rendering impossible any notion of truth?
Launch of ERC & HKW Residency Programme
We are excited to have launched our residency programme in collaboration with the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) in Berlin with a first digital meeting. Over the course of 2021, the six invited artists will develop idiosyncratic perspectives on narration, curation, and minor universality, leading to an exhibition in Berlin in 2022. For more information on the residency and the fellows, please visit the dedicated project website.
Universalism & concrete (hi)stories
An Encounter with Giovanni Levi (Università Ca’ Foscari di Venezia)
Historian Giovanni Levi is in conversation with the Minor Universality research team about the tradition of the microstoria, which he co-founded in Italy in the 1970s. The historiographic approach of the microstoria, which found a resounding echo first in Europe, and then later in the United States, responded at the time to a crisis of the discipline by proposing to abandon the study of masses and structures, and to place individual actors and concrete narratives at the centre of its inquiry. Looking at ordinary worlds through a microscope, as it were, produced the kind of shift that changed our understanding of History. For this reason, the microstoria has for years been debated within the framework of a global history. What resources does the microstoria offer to rethink universalism?
New book series: Beyond Universalism. Studies on the Contemporary / Partager l’universel. Études sur le contemporain
The first volume 1769-1989: The Epoch of Universalism / L’époque de l’universalisme, ed. by Franck Hofmann & Markus Messling, has just been published.
2019 witnessed the 30th anniversary of the German reunification. But the remembrance of the fall of the Berlin Wall coincided with another event of global importance that caught much less attention: the 250th anniversary of Napoleon Bonaparte’s birth. There is an undeniable historical and philosophical dimension to this coincidence. Napoleon’s appearance on the scene of world history seems to embody European universalism (soon thereafter in the form of a ‘modern’ imperial project); whilst scholars such as Francis Fukuyama saw in the events of 1989 its historical fulfilment. Today, we see more clearly that the fall of the Berlin Wall stands for an epistemic earthquake, which generated a world that can no longer be grasped through universal concepts. Here, we deal with the idea of Europe and of its relation to the world itself. Picking up on this contingency of world history with an ironic wink, the volume analyses in retrospect the epoch of European universalism. It focusses on its dialectics, polemically addressing and remembering both 1769 and 1989.
Histoire / histoires
Le concret et l’universel dans les SHS
Konkretheit und Universalität in den Kultur- und Sozialwissenschaften
Atelier de recherche à la Villa Vigoni, 2-6 septembre 2020
Internationaler Workshop in der Villa Vigoni, 2.-6. September 2020
ERC Minor Universality en coopération avec/in Kooperation mit:
Villa Vigoni – German-Italian Center for the European Dialogue
Der internationale Workshop des ERC-Projekts „Minor Universality“ widmet sich einer zentralen Frage der gegenwärtigen Kultur- und Sozialwissenschaften: Wie kann Universalität nach der notwendigen epistemischen und ethischen Kritik am westlichen Universalismus (noch) gedacht werden? Ausgehend von Konzepten wie Konkretheit und Situiertheit, Erzählung und Übersetzung, Erinnerung und Geschichte, lädt die Tagung NachwuchswissenschaftlerInnen aus den Kultur- und Sozialwissenschaften ein, Fallstudien zur Erforschung von Situiertheit und Universalität aus verschiedenen disziplinären und wissenschaftskulturellen Perspektiven zu diskutieren. Von einem methodenkritischen Standpunkt aus möchte das „Minor Universality“-Forschungsprojekt neue Impulse zur Erforschung von Universalisierungsprozessen setzen, wie sie aus Spannungen zwischen Lokalem und Allgemeinem, Verkörperung und Bewusstsein, Empirie und Theorie auftreten. Eine wesentliche Grundlage der Diskussion wird die Microstoria darstellen.
L’atelier de recherche du projet de recherche ERC « Minor Universality » sera dédié à une question fondamentale des sciences humaines et sociales contemporaines : comment aborder l’universel après la nécessaire critique épistémique et éthique de l’universalisme occidental ? En s’appuyant sur des concepts tels que la matérialité et la réparation, la narration et la traduction, l’atelier de recherche invite de jeunes chercheur_e_s à répondre à la question de savoir comment des pratiques culturelles et sociales contemporaines produisent, à partir de contextes concrets, des expériences, des réflexions et des agentivités qui contribuent à faire émerger une humanité partagée. Mettant l’accent sur les défis méthodologiques de l’étude du concret et de l’universel, le projet de recherche vise à réfléchir sur les processus d’universalisation générés par des tensions entre le local et l’universel, l’incorporation et la conscience, l’empirisme et la théorie. Une source importante d’inspiration sera la micro-histoire.
Keynote und/et interview mit/avec Giovanni Levi (Università Ca’ Foscari di Venezia)
Leitung/Sous la direction de Markus Messling (ERC Minor Universality, Universität des Saarlandes)
Universalism & Revolution
An Encounter with Leyla Dakhli
The Minor Universality research team interviews the historian Leyla Dakhli about universalism and the recent revolutions in the Arab Mediterranean region. Can we understand the revolutionary events of the contemporary world based on models of the French Revolution of 1789? Which claims to universality are at stake in revolutions and their interpretations?
A conversation about revolution and world history, transregional perspectives and multilingualism, events and the quotidian, materiality and archives, as well as the Mediterranean as a space for the negotiation of a new common world-society, which cannot be thought without taking into account colonial violence. These aspects connect to the core question of the Minor Universality research project, which addresses the potential of micro-perspectives to narrate universality anew.
Leyla Dakhli is a historian and a specialist in the intellectual and social history of the contemporary Arab world. She is researcher at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the Centre Marc Bloch in Berlin.
You can watch the edited conversation on the Minor Universality YouTube channel.
Universalisme & Révolution
Entretien avec Leyla Dakhli
L’historienne Leyla Dakhli répond aux questions de l’équipe de recherche Minor Universality sur l’universalisme et les récentes révolutions de la Méditerranée arabe. Peut-on rendre compte des événements révolutionnaires du monde contemporain à partir du modèle de la Révolution Française de 1789 ? Quelle universalité les révolutions – et les lectures qui en sont faites – font-elles valoir ?
L’entretien porte sur la révolution et l’histoire mondiale et interroge les rapports entre approche transrégionale et plurilinguisme, événementialité et vie quotidienne, matérialité et archives. Envisager la Méditerranée comme un espace où se négocie une nouvelle société mondiale commune, c’est penser celle-ci à partir de l’histoire de la violence coloniale. Tous ces aspects renvoient à une question centrale du projet Minor Universality concernant le potentiel de la micro-perspective pour appréhender l’universalité autrement.
Leyla Dakhli est spécialiste de l’histoire sociale et intellectuelle du monde arabe contemporain. Elle est chargée de recherche au Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) et rattachée au Centre Marc Bloch à Berlin.
L’entretien sera disponible sur la chaîne YouTube du groupe Minor Universality à partir du 14 juillet.
1769 - 1989 - THE EPOCH OF UNIVERSALISM
A first conference was organized at Villa Europa Saarbrücken in September 2019, bringing together many project partners:
The current year will be characterized by the 30th anniversary of the German unification. But the remembrance of the fall of the Berlin Wall coincides with another event of worldwide importance that finds much less attention: Napoléon Bonaparte’s 250th anniversary. However, the historical-philosophical dimension of the coexistence of these two circumstances cannot be neglected: Napoléon’s appearance on the scene of world history marks the victory of European Universalism (very soon in the form of a ‘modern’ Imperial project); and some intellectuals, as Francis Fukuyama, thought that 1989 would have signified its historical fulfilment. Today, we see more clearly that the fall of the Wall stands for an epistemic earthquake which the Parisian philosopher Lionel Ruffel has called the “brouhaha” of a world that can be grasped no more through universal concepts. Here we deal with the idea of Europe and of its relation to the world itself. Picking up this contingency of world history with an ironic wink, the symposium seeks to analyse in the aftermath the epoch of European Universalism, focussing on its dialectics which are polemically addressed together remembering 1769/1989.