CFP: Aby Warburg and Nature (Hamburg, 15-16 Jan 15)

Workshop, University of Hamburg, Warburg-Haus, 15 – 16 January 2015
Deadline: 31 August 2014

Organizers: Frank Fehrenbach and Cornelia Zumbusch (University of Hamburg)

WarburgAby Warburg’s references to enlivenment, life forces, and the afterlife of images are evidence for the paradigmatic meaning of the natural for his conceptualization of the emergence and re-emergence of pictorial formulas. From wind and the bewegtes Beiwerk (‘accessory in motion’) in his dissertation on Botticelli, to stars in his studies on astrology, to lightning in his lecture on snake rituals, nature surfaces again and again in his work as an image-generating entity. Warburg himself systematically addressed the connections between art and nature; it is thus all the more surprising that this aspect of Warburg’s work has been the subject of so little research. Warburg’s ‘pathos formulas’ anchor images to motor functions and the kinetics of the human body. His studies of expression, as well as his notion of a collective pictorial memory that nourished the visual arts from antiquity through the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period, are clearly oriented towards anthropological, physiological and psychological models of human nature. Warburg thus identifies the basis of human image-making as an attempt to grasp the ‘moved life’ of the natural, against the background of conceptions and descriptive means drawn from natural magic, natural philosophy, and the natural sciences.

Warburg’s basic project to link the study of the visual arts with cultural studies is itself strongly related to natural scientific models of his time. This can be seen in his idiosyncratic, often tentative adoptions of such terms and contaminations as mneme (mnemonic traces that operate in the life of images); Erbgut and Erbmasse (‘inheritance’; ‘hereditary mass’); kinetic and potential energy; dynamogram (a kind of ‘energetic sign’); engram (‘energetic’ mnemonic traces); and Energiekonserve (‘canned energy’). It is to these areas that our workshop wishes to apply itself – not simply to plumb the capacity and range of Warburg’s vocabulary, but rather to take a closer look at his intersecting of cultural studies and the natural sciences. What methodological status do genetics, evolutionary biology, social psychology, affect psychology, or even physics or mathematics have for Warburg’s understanding of images? What role do Warburg’s own systems of record, his sketches and formulas, play in all this? Is the importing of abstract concepts and models from the natural sciences just a matter of ‘nice analogies’, as Saxl would have us believe – or can we lay bare an epistemology of transfer between cultural studies and the natural sciences which could also be illuminating for current fluctuations between the two?

Please submit your proposal of no more than 300 words and a short CV to by August 31, 2014.


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