28-30/10/2016 Imaginaries of History and the Ambiguity of Violence: Walter Benjamin and the Modern Intellectual Tradition in the Middle East

When: October 28-31, 2016
Where: University of Oslo, Blindern, Eilert Sundts hus and  Kunsthøgskolen i Oslo, Fossveien 24

The Centre for Islamic and Middle East Studies at the University of Oslo and the Academy of Fine Art at Oslo National Academy of the Arts are pleased to present a series of lectures and workshops on the modern intellectual history of the Middle East. Focusing on Walter Benjamin’s reception in the Middle East, this event brings together two keynote speakers, Jens Hanssen and Sami Khatib, who will discuss various imaginaries of history and the ambiguous notion of violence in the work of Benjamin as well as Mahmud Darwish and Hannah Arendt, and others.

These issues are pertinent to the work of the Centre for Islamic and Middle East Studies and the Academy of Fine Art, both of which have a longstanding engagement in the Middle East – the Centre through its ongoing scholarly activity in the field, the Academy through its long-term collaboration with the International Academy of Art Palestine. Gathering students and scholars from both institutions, this event offers a variety of perspectives on the importance of discussing European and Arab modern thought in their interrelation.

















Photo: Courtesy of Walter Benjamin Archive, Berlin


Friday, 28 Oct, 2016

12:15-14:00 Jens Hanssen: Time, Language, Mind and Freedom: The Modern Arab Intellectual Tradition in Four Words

University of Oslo – SIMS Public Lecture Series 
Venue: Blindern, Eilert Sundts hus, aud. 6

15:30-16:15 Sami Khatib: On Violence

Academy Lectures Series
Venue: Kunsthøgskolen i Oslo, Fossveien 24, Seminar Room 4

16:15 Break

16:30-18:30 Close reading of Walter Benjamin’s “Critique of Violence”
Chair: Sami Khatib

Venue: Kunsthøgskolen i Oslo, Fossveien 24, Seminar Room 4

Saturday, 29 Oct, 2016

11:00-12:30 Beyond Violence: Notions of Violence in Benjamin and Arendt
Round table discussion and close reading
Chair: Sami Khatib

Venue: Kunsthøgskolen i Oslo, Fossveien 24, Seminar Room 4

Monday, 31 Nov, 2016

10:15-12:00 Jens Hanssen: In and Out of Palestine with Walter Benjamin

University of Oslo — IAKH Seminar
Venue:  Blindern, PA Munch Bldg, Seminar Room 5


Jens Hanssen:
Time, Language, Mind and Freedom: The modern Arab Intellectual Tradition in Four Words

What is the relationship between thought and practice in the domains of language, literature and politics? Is thought the only standard by which to measure intellectual history? How did Arab intellectuals change and affect political, social, cultural and economic developments from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries? Using Hourani’s Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798-1939 (Cambridge, 1962) as a starting point, this talk explores key trends and concepts in the development of intellectual history in the modern Arab world.

Jens Hanssen:
In and Out of Palestine with Walter Benj​amin

Against the backdrop of my larger research project on German-Jewish eEchoes in 20th century Arab Thought, this seminar evaluates the place of Palestine in Walter Benjamin’s life and work as well as the recent prominence in Palestine Studies of Benjamin. While Benjamin’s popularity in the humanities is a general phenomenon – some gatekeeper scholars even lament the irony that he has become a fetish – the absent presence of Benjamin in and out of Palestine also has its own modes and nodes of circulation. From Edward Said’s  preference for “Adorno [who] is to my mind a much more interesting (because secular) figure than Benjamin” (1985), to the late writings of Mahmud Darwish which were saturated with Benjaminian imageries of history, the Benjamin reception in and out of Palestine indexes intellectual currents in region and globally.

Sami Khatib:
On Violence

In his compelling essay on the “Critique of Violence” (1921), Benjamin dwells on the dialectic of violence, which he calls “mythic violence” consisting of law-preserving and law-constituting violence (in German: “Gewalt”).  Benjamin’s critique does not only analyze these two mutually presupposing forms of violence and their antithetical relation to justice. His analysis invokes the possibility of another kind of violence: “divine” or “pure” violence – a violence that escapes the law and the logic of the state. For Benjamin it was clear that there was something fundamentally “rotten in the law” – be it the law of monarchy, democracy or autocratic regimes. The violence inherent to the law contradicts itself since law enforcement – the police – always blurs the line between law-preserving and law-constituting violence. And vice versa, most attempts to break the law and its supporting powers lead to the establishment of a new law. But how are we to conceive of a realm of revolutionary politics outside and beyond of the law – a sphere of justice and non-legal violence?

Sami Khatib:
Beyond Violence

The workshop discusses the inherent ambiguity of the term ‘violence’ in its theoretical and practical dimension. Relying on Walter Benjamin’s essay “Critique of Violence,” the workshop attempts to elucidate violence in its ‘objective’ (systemic) and ‘subjective’ (individually embodied) dimension. The incompatible perspectives of objective and subjective violence provide the framework to expose the uneven dialectics inherent in the term violence, given its conceptual vagueness vis-à-vis neighboring concepts such as power, force, strength, coercion, terror and authority. The workshop contextualizes Benjamin’s critique of (legal) violence and confronts it with a selection of its contemporary references (Georges Sorel, Max Weber), competing positions (Hannah Arendt), political adversaries (Carl Schmitt), further theorizations (Frantz Fanon) and later readers (Slavoj Žižek, Étienne Balibar, Werner Hamacher, Giorgio Agamben). Is there a nonviolent politics bound to justice that is capable of undoing the dialectics of violence and counterviolence without relying on the depoliticizing ideology of the human rights discourse and the moralizing injunctions of individual consumer ethics?


Jens Hanssen is Associate Professor of Arab Civilization, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean history at the University of Toronto. His present research focuses on the intersections between German, Jewish and Arab intellectual histories and has yielded “Kafka and Arabs”, and “Translating Revolution: Hannah Arendt and Arab Political Culture.” The present talk is taken from his introduction of Arabic Thought Beyond the Liberal Age: Towards an Intellectual History of the Nahda (Cambridge University Press) co-edited with Max Weiss.

Sami Khatib is a visiting professor of art theory at the American University of Beirut. His work spans the fields of aesthetic theory, critical theory, media theory and cultural studies with a special focus on Walter Benjamin, early Frankfurt School, Kant, Nietzsche, Marx, Freud and post-Structuralism. He holds a Ph.D. degree in Media Studies from Freie Universität Berlin. Prior appointments include the Jan van Eyck Academie Maastricht and the Freie Universität Berlin. A selection of his recent publications can be found online at https://fu-berlin.academia.edu/SamiKhatib

Primary Texts

Benjamin, Walter. 1996. “Critique of Violence.” In Selected Writings, ed. Marcus Bullock; Michael W. Jennings. Vol. 1, Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 236–252.
Khatib, Sami. Towards a Politics of ‘Pure Means’: Walter Benjamin and the Question of Violence. For the full text: http://anthropologicalmaterialism.hypotheses.org/1040

Suggested Reading

Arendt, Hannah. 1970. On Violence. Orlando: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Balibar, Étienne. 2009. “Reflections on Gewalt.” Historical Materialism, Vol. 17, 99-125.
Hamacher, Werner. 1994. “Afformative, Strike: Benjamin’s ‘Critique of Violence’”. In Walter Benjamin’s Philosophy: Destruction and Experience, ed. Andrew Benjamin and Peter Osborne, London; New York: Routledge, 110–138.

Please write an email to kunstakademiet@khio.no if you would like access to the reading material.

October 17, 2016
Written by Academy Lectures

Posted in Uncategorized