Contested Legacies
  a program and conference
 
 


Conference

Contested Legacies
Bard College, August 13-15 2002

"Contested Legacies" is the sequel to the "No Happy End" workshop at Bard, February 15-18, 2001, and its design is a product of that experience. The title refers to the claims and counterclaims of the emigrants about the intellectual legacies they brought with them from Hitler's domain. Additionally, "Contested Legacies" is about the debates generated by the emigrés' rich and diverse body of work, continuously contested within the emigré cohort and then among succeeding generations of their followers and detractors. The reconceptualization embodied in the title "Contested Legacies" reflects insights gained at the workshop into the conflictual relations among the intellectual exiles and the arguments about the successive waves of interpretation of that exile. Beyond the intrinsic value of the 1930s case, the investigation is important because it is the simplified interpretations of this emigration that are too often used as paradigms for understanding many different and succeeding cultural emigrations. The emphasis on exile as a site and object of negotiations arose out of the workshop discussions and subsequent communications within the research group.

The "Contested Legacies" panels will be presented before a wider audience of colleagues and the interested public in attendance at the Bard Music Festival on Gustav Mahler. The link between our work and the Bard festival comes about as a result of an invitation from Bard's President, Leon Botstein, who has himself published an important work on the life of the emigrant cohort in Vienna and who is also a well-known conductor and musical scholar of work of this period. The "contested legacies" of prime interest to our work overlap with those to be examined in the music, since many of those who have contributed to the disputed reading of Mahler are also members of the emigrant community to be discussed.

The "Contested Legacies" conference is organized under three headings, each emphasizing a dimension that will inevitably recur in the others as well. The idea of contested classics, the first day's theme, is underpinned by the notion of Bildung that was pervasive but also contested in Weimar, with its constitutive concept of a "classic." In exile, the emigrants were faced not only with the problem of whom to include in the list of classics-especially in the light of National Socialist exploitation of the tradition-but also whether this was still a permissible tool for organizing their thought, a problem further complicated by the exigencies of winning a place in a new environment. On the second day, the transferred and transmuted contests turn on concepts that were no less problematic within the group in Weimar than they were in exile-and after. Here we will look at the distinction between scientists and intellectuals, Jewishness, Socialism, and Art (Kunst). These concepts had already undergone various vicissitudes in the cohort during their Weimar years, and their uncertain status in the places of exile put special and revealing pressures on the emigrés. On the third day, then, we combine four topics that give special prominence to reflexive questions about the successive waves of reception. The legacies at issue are expressly of a different order, examining the multiple ways of encountering the central figures of the emigration. The sessions are organized around four focal points: Hannah Arendt; Theodor Adorno's representative study of Mahler; the collapse of conventional left-right distinctions in cultural interpretation; and the transcendence of ideological categories of the left. As on the previous days, the search is not for comprehensiveness but for the topics that serve best for theoretical clarification. Hannah Arendt has been selected for special attention because her resonance and audiences shifted so dramatically, both during and after her lifetime. Arendt's special ties to Bard College, repository of her ashes and her books, also contribute to the decision to focus on her as a case study of multiple receptions. The other three sessions on the last day raise other questions about the contemporaneity and noncontemporaneity of exile cultural thought.

Our project is not only interdisciplinary but also intergenerational, which means, above all, that we include younger people (for whom the controversial interpretative innovations of the past 25 years are pragmatically diversified instruments rather than alternative professions of faith), as well as older people (for whom key figures in the exile cohort remain active working partners rather than figures relegated to the canon). Next, we are united by our openness to multidimensionality in intellectual life, including the intellectual life of creative individuals, their capacity to tolerate inner tension and be creative by virtue of the often painful management of that condition. The program is skeptical of linear narratives of individual or group "development" (let alone "progress"), and we eschew the concomitant idea of measuring "success," especially by criteria of movement. Another face of multidimensionality is pluralism, contestation, and contention within the class. Certainly, among the exile cohort there were all of these things, including shifting conflicts as well as continuities in their formative experiences. In the final analysis, however, we recognize the importance of reflecting on successive appropriations of the "legacy," including our own appropriation-but always with the aim of returning to the substance and context of the works of the exiles, and thus, ultimately, to the original question of why our affinities for them remain so strong.

August 13-15-2002. Bard College, Annandale, New York