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Conference

Irritation, uncertainty, disbelief; distrust, skepticism, wariness – the spectrum of doubt is rich and diverse. But traditionally, philosophy and humanistic scholars tend to turn their back on it. Doubt is usually conceived in purely negative terms: It is seen as a mere lack of knowledge, as an unavoidable step towards clarity, at best as a token of our finitude. The rational ideal of ‘pure knowledge’ tries to eliminate doubt in favor of clarity and distinctness. Doubt, in this perspective, is just a necessary evil. 

The international conference “The Pleasure of Doubt in Art, Aesthetics, and Everyday Life” wants to examine and further approaches which liberate doubt from its traditional subordinate position. It seeks to lay bare the generative, positive aspects of doubt. In doing this, it follows the lead of artists and scholars who, like the American Pragmatists, both emphasize and embrace the stimulating and transformative facets of doubt. In fact, moments of doubt may well be acknowledged as valuable opportunities for a creative transgression of one’s intellectual and experiential horizon: Doubt opens up the chance to loosen the grip of stiffened patterns of thought; it invites to take a second look, to form a new perspective, and to initiate a change of aspect. 

In order to capture this transformative power, one has to look beyond purely intellectual changes – which is what our conference wants to do. Doubt can only exert its force because it engages the doubting subject as a whole: not just on the level of concepts and beliefs, but also on the aesthetic level of feeling and perception. The starting point of doubt is emotional, taking hold not only of the mind, but also of the feeling and perceiving body. Doubt, in short, is not just a state of mind: it is a complex experience with irreducible aesthetic dimensions. 

Departing from that diagnosis, the conference wants to shed light on (a) the aesthetic quality and scope of doubt, (b) the status of doubt in artistic practices, and (c) the idea of cultivating doubt as the centerpiece of an aesthetics of existence. Against this background, it draws on three preliminary considerations that all raise various questions which shall be discussed at length in the course of the conference: 



1. THE AESTHETICS OF DOUBT

If we concur with the nowadays quite common idea that one of the main objectives of art consists in questioning the familiar and conventional, one might speculate whether doubt may – or even should – be understood as an essential linchpin of aesthetic theorizing. This holds in particular given the overall aesthetic and experiential dimension of doubting. Can we thus regard doubt as an indispensable component or vital prerequisite of aesthetic experience? Is doubt even on a par with traditional aesthetic key concepts (such as the sublime, beauty, or force)? Does one of art’s most distinctive contributions amount to its capacity to advance a creative cultivation of doubt? Also, is doubt a basic requirement for artistic originality and creativity? 



2. THE ART OF DOUBT-MAKING

Of course, it is not as if the arts were not aware of the importance of doubt. Ever since the avant-garde’s radical challenge of long-established aesthetic formulas, doubt has become an integral element within artistic practices. On a conceptual level, especially performance artists effectively cast doubt on traditional canons of art appreciation. At the same time, the “re-enchantment of the world” (Erika Fischer-Lichte) induced by performances, happenings, and other contemporary forms of art made doubt a striking component within the lived experience of aesthetic phenomena. Doubt has thus gained significance on a phenomenological, or experiential, level as well. This section wants to explore these artistic practices and articulations of doubt. According to Arthur C. Danto, 20th century art has developed an almost philosophical standard of reflexivity. Does this observation also apply to artistic evocations of doubt? Can art both evoke situations of doubt and reflect on its fundamental conditions and generative possibilities? How exactly does doubt turn into a subject-matter of artistic practices in the first place? What kind of status does doubt have in the production and reception of art? And how has doubt been discussed in the history of art? 



3. THE CULTIVATION OF DOUBT IN EVERYDAY LIFE

Following Nietzsche’s profound progressivism, scholars like Richard Rorty or Michel Foucault argued for an aesthetically inspired ethics of continuous creative self-transformation that shuns the conservative repetition of the conventional and familiar. However problematic such a radical intermingling of ethics and aesthetics may be, the question of how to stay sensitive for those moments of instability that might lead to novel ways of thought and perception still remains highly relevant. It surely goes without saying that the production of doubt in the arts may lay the ground for enriching experiences of diversity and heterogeneity. But how can the production and experience of doubt, as it were, be institutionalized? How can one demand from modern subjects to actively seek and even enjoy states of doubt? What seems debatable, in addition, is whether the arts should serve as a role model for such an aesthetically shaped progressivism in everyday life. Can the aesthetic cultivation of doubt really become a standard for our ordinary lives? Does the cultivation of doubt offer a promising link between art and life? Why should doubt be cultivated beyond the sphere of the art world anyway?

Program

Venue:

ICI Berlin Institute for Cultural Inquiry
Christinenstraße 18/19, Haus 8, D – 10119 Berlin
Tel: +49 (0)30 473 7291 – 10, U – Bhf. Senefelder Platz (U2)


THURSDAY

19.00 
Dieter Mersch
Doubt, Skepticism, and Desperation 
The Arrows of Paradox


21.00 
Reception



FRIDAY

10.00–11.00 
Erika Fischer-Lichte 
The Theatricality of Doubting


11.15–12.15 
Heidi Salaverría
Critique of Aesthetic Doubts


CANCELLED 
Christiane Voss 
Suspension von Zweifel als Form ästhetischer Gewissheit


12.15–14.00 
Lunch Break


14.00–15.00 
Andrew Norris  
What is a Doubtful Situation?


15.15–16.15 
Mathijs Pelkmans
Catching Doubt in Mid-Air? 
Reflections on the (Im)possibilities 
of the Empirical Study of Doubt

SATURDAY

10.00–11.00 
Richard Shiff 
As it Feels


11.15–12.15 
Miriam Strube
Moments of Sudden Rightness 
On the Fragility of Truth in Wallace Stevens’ Poetry


13.15–14.15 
Uwe Wirth 
Think Today – Finish Tomorrow 
Strategic Dilettantism and the Question
of Knowledge in the Arts


14.30–15.30 
Michelle Zerba
Reflections on Skepticism in Homer's Odyssey and the Poetry of C.P. Cavafy


Speakers

Erika Fischer-Lichte

Dieter Mersch

Andrew Norris

Mathijs Pelkmans

Heidi Salaverría

Richard Shiff

Miriam Strube

Uwe Wirth

Michelle Zerba




Contact

Concept and Organisation:

Mark Halawa-Sarholz
Jörg Volbers



Venue:

the ICI Berlin Institute for Cultural Inquiry
Christinenstraße 18/19, Haus 8, D – 10119 Berlin
Tel: +49 (0)30 473 7291 – 10, U – Bhf. Senefelder Platz (U2)


A conference conducted by
the International Research Training Group »Interart« (FU Berlin) in cooperation with 
the ICI Berlin Institute for Cultural Inquiry

http://www.pleasure-of-doubt.com/