Arendt and Critical Theory Today

2nd Istanbul Critical Theory Conference at the Carl von Ossietzky University, Oldenburg*

* Note: This conference is a follow-up to the first one on “Adorno and Politics” organized in Istanbul at Boğaziçi University in June 2016. Owing to the political atmosphere currently reigning in Turkey, we are obliged to displace it to Oldenburg, as a “critical theory conference in exile” of sorts.

Topic:

"Hannah Arendt’s political thought has been a source of controversy as much as it has inspired scholarly work in numerous directions. Some of the controversy is sparked by Arendt’s ambiguous relation to Frankfurt School thinkers. Her personal friendship with Walter Benjamin does not lead to an indiscriminate acceptance of Benjamin’s theses; her personal dislike of Theodor W. Adorno does not drive an unbridgeable gap between certain aspects of their theories. It would not be wrong to assume, that Arendt’s entire oeuvre springs from the urge to understand total domination, a feat that inevitably crosses her path with that of the first generation of Critical Theorists, although the latter refrained from using the term “totalitarian” to qualify both Nazism and Stalinism. Similarities and differences in Arendt's and the first generation of Critical Theorists’ understanding of fascism are further reflected in their observations and research on authoritarianism and the banality of evil. Despite her polemic against Marx, Arendt insistently pursues Marxist topoi such as imperialism, revolution, and laboring society. And despite her fascination with the American Revolution, she is fiercely critical of the state as an administrative apparatus and of law as a pre-political instance that tends to supplant collective action. In short, Arendt’s uneasy relationship to Kant, Nietzsche, Marx, Freud and Heidegger hint at how some of her reflections might overlap with those of the Frankfurt School.

Recent developments across the globe leave progressive circles rather baffled. Humanitarian ideals do not seem to resist the onslaught of nationalism, racism, antisemitism, mediocracy, and fear. A century after the collapse of Europe’s representative systems in the wake of World War I, authoritarianisms and fascisms are once again on the rise as surrogate revolutionary movements. Is this the dialectics of Enlightenment being played out anew? What do Arendt and Critical Theory have to offer in view of coming to terms with our predicament, as well as of ways to overcome it?

This conference aims to go beyond conventional approaches to Arendt’s political thought in view of extracting, from her unwritten dialogue with the Frankfurt School, the possibility of understanding the world we live in today. Beyond scholastic exercises focusing on the particularities of each thinker, we hope to generate a debate on the significance of this encounter for grasping the “burden of our time.”

Keynote Speakers: 

Jay M. Bernstein (The New School for Social Research), Zeynep Gambetti (Boğaziçi University Istanbul), Lars Rensmann (University of Groningen)

Organizing Chairs: 

Philip Hogh (Carl von Ossietzky University, Oldenburg), Zeynep  Gambetti, (Boğaziçi University Istanbul), Volkan Cidam (Boğaziçi University, Istanbul), Gaye İlhan-Demiryol (Bahçeşehir University, Istanbul), Julia König (Goethe University, Frankfurt)

This conference is organized with support by the Hannah Arendt Center and the Adorno Research Center at Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg.

Registration at: criticaltheoryistanbul(at)gmail(dot)com

Further information and programm