EVENT Apr 23
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Productive Symbolism: Considering Ernst Cassirer.

Organization: Para-academic
Categories: German, Miscellaneous
Event Date: 2022-04-23 Abstract Due: 2022-03-10
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Productive Symbolism: Considering Ernst Cassirer, is an in person one-day conference which will be held in late April of 2022 in London. It is a para-academic event aimed at bridging the lacuna between historians of art and philosophers by examining the aesthetic philosophy of Ernst Cassirer. Applications are open to senior graduate students and scholars both independent and affiliated. Presentations will be organised thematically on panels of three to five presenters and limited to 20-25 minutes, with an opening keynote presentation.  

The relationship between continental philosophy and the history of art was once much closer than it is today. In more recent years the discipline of art history, like nearly all other disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, has grown increasingly specialized. Scholars have been pushed deeper into their temporal, material, and geographical areas of expertise. In consequence art historians are becoming increasingly parochial and unable to appeal to the interdisciplinary reader, or the general public. There is a tension between the revelatory potential of philosophically driven (generally non-specialised) art history, and the project of knowledge building. Indeed, the specialization and prioritization of physical histories in the recent generation of scholars has made the field’s understanding of our objects irrevocably richer. However, in disavowing the role of the philosopher, or generalist, we lose our grip on how the past can bear on the present, and our ability to speak across departmental borders.

The aim of this conference is to re-examine this tension, and to explore how the imbrication of art history and philosophy can be renegotiated. Ernst Cassirer’s philosophy of human culture sought to unravel the universally symbolic relationship between humans and the external world. Displacing reason and crowning symbolism as our chief faculty for making sense of the world, Cassirer’s hermeneutical study cuts across human culture and lends itself especially well to art history. Cassirer’s mobilization of art history to understand our subject position has become a second order concern in art historical training and scholarship. This philosophical project, and those of his contemporaries, sought to establish human culture as a universal endeavour and protect it from barbarism. As the humanities occupy a marginalized position socially and in the academy today, revisiting these ambitious origins of our field may be a fruitful endeavour.  
Topics of interest  
How should Cassirer’s philosophical system be challenged or updated to contribute to ongoing scholarship. For this we may consider his legacy in Susanne Langer, and beyond.
Materialist readings of Cassirer’s symbolism. This may be framed as an art historical case study.  
Considering the possibility of universal art history, or art history grounded in a universal subject, within our current paradigm.
Important dates
Proposal deadline: 12 am (GMT) March 10, 2022.
Notification of acceptance: March 20, 2022.
Conference: April 23, 2022.
Organising committee
Benjamin Devin (Courtauld Institute of Art)



Benjamin Devin