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Seminar on Walter Benjamin and Media Theory

Walter Benjamin and Media Theory: Images, Optics, Modernity

Walter Benjamin

A one-week interdisciplinary seminar for graduate students will be offered at Northwestern University, July 19-23, 2010.  The University will provide partial travel support (up to $250.00), lodging, and most meals for student participants.  The seminar, directed by Professors Dilip Gaonkar and Robert Hariman, will consist of five days of presentations and discussions led by leading scholars on the work of Walter Benjamin. In this year’s seminar, we will pay particular attention to Benjamin’s work on visual media and modern society. The faculty will include Michael Jennings (Princeton), Gerhard Richter (UC Davis) and Peter Fenves (Northwestern).  Sessions consist of morning seminar discussions of selected readings assigned in advance, afternoon lectures by the faculty, and group lunches and dinners throughout the week.  There also may be some opportunities for student presentations. The format enables participants to develop extended scholarly conversations that can continue well beyond the formal conclusion of the institute.

Although Benjamin is a standard citation within the literature on visual culture, there is need for more sustained attention to the character and critical potential of his work.  More than any other cultural theorist, Benjamin made visual experience the key to understanding modern life, and subjected not only media technologies and social practices but also fundamental conceptions of critical thought to reexamination on those terms.  This seminar will discuss Benjamin’s work on visual media, environments, and practices while also addressing questions of history, theory, and critical method.

Selection for funded participation is selective.  Students from all disciplines are welcome to apply by June 1, 2010.  Applicants should send a letter of nomination from an academic advisor, along with a one-page rationale for their participation, to Jesse Baldwin-Philippi (  Inquiries can be directed there as well.

Klee Angelus Novus

The seminar is sponsored by the Center for Global Culture and Communication and the program in Rhetoric and Public Culture in the Department of Communication Studies at Northwestern University.

Photograph of Walter Benjamin in the Bibliothèque Nationale, 1937, by Gisèle Freud; reproduced in Momme Brodersen, Walter Benjamin: A Biography (Verso, 1996), p. 234.  Photograph of Angelus Novus by Paul Klee, India ink, colored chalk, and brown wash on paper, 1920 (The Israel Museum, Jerusalem).


Seminar on Walter Benjamin and Media Theory


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