cultures of obsolescence in north america


International Conference:

Cultures of Obsolescence in North America: Aesthetics, Materiality, History

The conference, hosted by the English Department and the Lichtenberg Kolleg, with generous support from the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, the German Association of American Studies (DGfA), and the Universitätsbund Göttingen, will be held in the Historic Observatory from 27-29 June, 2013.

We will consider a wide array of phenomena and questions regarding the aesthetics and historical dynamics of obsolescence in North America: consumerism and commodity culture, object culture and theories of materiality and trash, architecture and urban culture, literature and the book market, technological development and media history, as well as the accelerated living conditions and short-lived e-technologies in the age of the digital. We consider obsolescence a governing principle of production and consumption that developed under modern capitalism and characterizes not only economic developments but cultural dynamics and values as well.

Our conference flyer is now available for download.

Thursday, June 27
18:00 Conference Opening, Greetings
Keynote Lecture
Bill Brown (University of Chicago): The Obsolescence of the Human
Introduction: Baerbel Tischleder (University of Goettingen)

Friday, June 28
Session I: History, Object Culture, and the Ephemeral City
Chair: Michaela Hampf (Free University of Berlin)
9:30 Susan Strasser (University of Delaware): Rags, Bones, and Plastic Bags: Trash in Industrial America
10:30 Daniel Abramson (Tufts University): Architectures of Obsolescence: Lessons for History
11:45 Sarah Wasserman (Princeton University): Fun with the Future-Past: Amusement and Obsolescence in 1930s New York

Session II: Images of the Obsolete: Painting, Photography and the Modern Text
Chair: Emily Petermann (University of Goettingen)
14:30 Miriam Strube (University of Paderborn): Recycling and Surviving: Screening Junk in Beasts of the Southern Wild
15:30 Jani Scandura (University of Minnesota): Barely There: Remnants of Hiroshima
17:00 MaryAnn Snyder-Körber (Free University of Berlin): American Modernism Before Nostalgia, After the Avant-Garde

Saturday, June 29
Session III: Textual Materialism and Literary Practice
Chair: Brigitte Glaser (University of Goettingen)
9:30 Kathleen Fitzpatrick (Modern Language Association, New York): Social Networks and Literary Circuits
10:30 Alexander Starre (University of Goettingen): Wove Paper, Deckle Edges, Gorilla Glass: Tethering Literature to Material Production Cycles
11:45 Hanjo Berressem (University of Cologne): ‘Zero History:’ The Poetics of Patination in the Work of William Gibson

Session IV: Old and New Media: Historical Dynamics in the Digital Age
Chair: t.b.a.
14:30 John Durham Peters (University of Iowa): Proliferation and Obsolescence of the Historical Record in the Digital Era
15:45 William Uricchio (M.I.T./ University of Utrecht): Replacement vs. Displacement: Obsolescence and the Redefinition of Media Practices

Final Panel Discussion: Following the Obsolete
Chair: Baerbel Tischleder
17:30 Speakers: Bill Brown, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, John Durham Peters, and Jani Scandura
19:00 Concluding Remarks

Prof. Dr. Baerbel Tischleder and Dr. des. Emily Petermann, North American Studies, English Department, University of Goettingen

For more information or to register for the conference please contact Emily Petermann at emily.petermann(a) A conference fee of 30€, payable upon arrival, will include the costs of the opening reception and two lunches.