Benjamin & Leibniz: On Expression

A conference at Goldsmiths, University of London on 27th and 28th June 2017.

Hosted by the Walter Benjamin London Research Network and the Centre for Philosophy and Critical Thought, Goldsmiths. Supported by the London Graduate School and the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy, Kingston University.

***Free and open to all, but please register here.***

Keynote Speaker (via Skype): Professor Peter Fenves, Northwestern University

‘The idea is a monad—that means briefly: every idea contains the image of the world’, writes Walter Benjamin in The Origin of the German Mourning Play. ‘Expression’, in the writing of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, denotes an isomorphic relation between the universe and its components, or monads. Every monad contains an image, or reflection of the universe; ‘each simple substance has relations which express all the others, and (…) consequently it is a perpetual living mirror of the universe (§56, Monadology). This conference seeks to reanimate Benjamin’s encounter with Leibniz, and considers, particularly, the manner in which Leibniz’s concept of expression informs Benjamin’s thought.

As Gilles Deleuze writes in Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza, the concept of expression, rediscovered by Spinoza and Leibniz, ‘already had behind it a long philosophical history, but a rather hidden, and a rather forbidden history’. Walter Benjamin’s engagement with Leibniz’s philosophy was an enduring one as well. Explicit references to Leibniz’s philosophy may be found from Benjamin’s doctoral dissertation on early German romanticism to his final text, the ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’. Yet the Leibniz-Benjamin encounter might be considered a hidden one too, and—from the dearth of critical commentary on the subject—the scope of Leibniz’s influence on Benjamin may appear equally forbidding. Whence the furtive nature of those themes appropriated from Leibniz in Benjamin’s writing, and to what extent might ‘expression’ be the sign under which less visible dimensions of such themes can, paradoxically, be made legible?

Both the concept of expression—as a point of convergence between the philosophy of Leibniz and Benjamin—and its bearing upon their philosophy more generally, have gone underinvestigated. This conference will bring together researchers working on different aspects of expression in Benjamin and Leibniz’s philosophy, and will investigate the role played by the themes of expression and monadology in and between disciplines in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Organized by Noa Levin (CRMEP, Kingston University) and Christopher Law (Goldsmiths, University of London)

 

(image credit: Stephen Wolfram’s blog, http://blog.stephenwolfram.com/2013/05/dropping-in-on-gottfried-leibniz/)

 

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