Language and Violence. On the Nexus of Criticism of Ideology and Image

Natalie Arrowsmith's picture
Call for Papers
September 21, 2022
Subject Fields: 
Art, Art History & Visual Studies, Cultural History / Studies, Philosophy, Social Sciences, Political Science

Transdisciplinary workshop at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max-Planck-Institut, organised by Hana Gründler and Giovanna Targia.

18-19 November 2022

The relationship between violence and logos has frequently been thematised with reference to rhetoric, especially in political theory. While on the one hand a dichotomy between the supposedly rational part of the Enlightenment logos and the intrusion of irrational emotions has been assumed, the manipulative intertwining of logos and emotions has been emphasised on the other. This is nowhere so apparent as in political propaganda. However, it is precisely the figurative character of language, whose realm extends far beyond the logical-discursive, that endows it with a fundamental role in this respect. A reflection on this power of the figurative and aesthetic character of language can be found in poetological discourses, in the philosophy of language as well as in those theories of art and culture that have been addressing the similarities between language and myth as «symbolic forms» and the «power of myth» in political discourse. Logos and violence, we might succinctly put it, are inextricably intertwined through the theme of visibility and making visible. Yet how is this relationship to be more accurately analysed?

Currently, in the course of debates in cognitive science, philosophy, Bildwissenschaft, sociology, and politics, the thematic complex outlined above has once again become topical, not least in terms of thinking on the language of scientific communication. Thus, on the one hand, we can trace how, through the pursuit of a putative scientific objectivity and neutrality, a form of rationalising alienation takes place, in which moments of violence are clearly inscribed, and, on the other hand, we can observe how in many areas a distinctly performative dimension of language emerges.

The fundamental relationship between what is said and what remains unsaid, as conceptualised in Leo Strauss’s 1941 essay Persecution and the Art of Writing, can be seen as an essential component of any discussion of language and violence. The question of whether there is a technique of writing and reading between the lines in order to communicate with a circle of initiates, as well as the distinction between exoteric and esoteric teachings, demands critical interrogation of the use of language and media and the historical-institutional context in which each speech act is embedded. Such contextual analysis can bring to light the intimate connection between language and social hierarchies or hegemonic relations and dynamics, which is at the same time inextricably linked to questions of epistemic violence. As Gaiatri Chakravorty Spivak argues in her seminal essay Can the Subaltern Speak? (1988), knowledge of academic language and language games always implies involvement in, or exclusion from, epistemic discourses, and thus also automatic political visibility and participation.

In this context, among other things, the analysis of translations (and self-translations) is of central concern, be it in drawing attention to a particular publishing policy, in relation to the general field of exile studies, or in conceiving of translation as the potentially «violent» act of an interpreter in Martin Heidegger’s sense. Furthermore, if one also understands the word «translation» in a figurative sense, then the ongoing debate about the concept of «untranslatability» can be extended to the broader realm of aesthetic phenomena. Ludwig Wittgenstein had already sensitised us to the difficulty of translating a work of art into another medium or of adequately grasping it linguistically, which, taken to its logical conclusion, also means that aesthetics in the sense of a logical-discursive theory cannot exist; we have conscious silence or unending description (of language games) at our disposal.

To what extent, then, can the radical thesis of the unspeakability of aesthetic experience be upheld? What is the role of negation, what is the role of denotation? How many conditionalities limit the use of language in image criticism and in scientific writing? Do linguistic limits exist in critical reflections about images of violence? What function does the technique of ekphrasis and the description of art and images have in this context over different epochs? Last but not least, what is the relationship between the potential for violence in language and images of violence? These and other questions as well as the range of related thematic issues will be discussed at the transhistorical and transdisciplinary workshop.

The workshop will take place from 18 to 19 November 2022 online and – if possible – at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max-Planck-Institut.

Contributors are invited to present a short talk of about 20 min (followed by a discussion). We welcome specific case studies as well as methodological-systematic or theoretical investigations. Please send an abstract of max. 2000 characters and a short CV (summarised in a pdf) in German, English or Italian by e-mail to:

We kindly request that the abstract be submitted by 21 September 2022. Feedback on workshop participation will be provided by 7 October 2022.