Collegium Helveticum

Radical Reading


Venue & accessibility info: Meridian Hall, Collegium Helveticum

This is a public event. Participation is free of charge and registration is not required.

The workshop is followed by a small reception.

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.



Opening and welcome remarks

Mario Wimmer
Collegium Helveticum

Henning Trüper
Leibniz Center for Literary and Cultural Research, Berlin, DE


Decarbonizing Kant?

Olivia Custer
The American University of Paris, FR


The Plank of Klimaszewski: On History as Text and Reading

Henning Trüper
Leibniz Center for Literary and Cultural Research, Berlin, DE


Lunch break


Close Reading 

Rahel Villinger
University of Zurich


Speech Hides

Mario Wimmer
Collegium Helveticum


Radical Readings? Sensitivity Reading in Contemporary Literature

Erika Thomalla
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich, DE


Closing remarks

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