Towards a Contemporary Imaginary of Publication

Lecture by Lionel Ruffel, as part of Aesthetic seminar series

2017.08.25 | Geoff Cox

Date Thu 21 Sep
Time 14:15 16:00
Location Aarhus University, Kasernen, Langelandsgade 139, Building 1584, Room 124

A tale haunts Western modernity: The tale of a literary public sphere. It places literary communication via the book as the idealized model for a democratic society on the march towards rationality. Moreover, it seems that there is a metonymic link between this literary imaginary and the very notion of modernity itself. Our contemporaneity disrupts this imaginary, especially the very notion of publication, which has again become central during the digital era, which is also an era of hyper-visibility. Publication has returned to its original sense of making public; it no longer denotes a private expression aimed at precise correspondents, but rather one aimed at more and more diverse publics. The whole of human communications is producing a publishing sphere, thanks to the democratization of tools formerly limited to privileged authorities, notably the publishers. If it is true that the imaginary of modern literature is constitutive of the fantasy of a “good” public sphere of democracy then we must find out what kind of societies are emerging from the publishing sphere. And if it is true that the literature embodied in the book is merely the modern actualization of the literary cultures, then how could we define contemporary literary cultures, superimposing practices in and outside of the book (performances, public readings, sound and visual work, fieldwork, literary residencies and festivals, salons, groups, diverse digital spaces, creative writing courses)? These are the main lines of inquiries this talk will follow, after a theoretical introduction based on Lionel Ruffel’s last book, Brouhaha – Worlds of the Contemporary (Minnesota Press, 2017), which is a global investigation of the meaning of the word “contemporary”. Ruffel will try to argue that literature has been one of the key concepts of modernity, just as publication is in the process of becoming one of the key concepts of the contemporary.

Lionel Ruffel is Head of Department and Professor of Comparative Literature at Université Paris 8 where he has founded and is still running the program in creative writing. He has been the incumbent of an interdisciplinary Research Chair ‘Archaeology of the Contemporary’ held at the Institut Universitaire de France (2011-2016). Lionel Ruffel is involved in French and international literary and artistic life as a publisher and curator. Among his lastest projects, he has convened (together with the artist Kader Attia) “Theory Now” at La Colonie in Paris, “The Publishing Sphere” at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (Berlin) and “Radio Brouhaha” at Pompidou Center, Paris. He is the founding director of the online literary journal “chaoïd”, and of the subsequent series “chaoïd” at Verdier publishing house. He’s the author of three monographs: Le Dénouement (2005); Volodine post-exotique (2007); Brouhaha – Worlds of the Contemporary (2016 French, 2017, English), and more than 40 book chapters and articles, published in five languages. His research thread (covering literary theory, cultural studies, contemporary arts and literatures) is a global investigation of the meaning of the word “contemporary” and why the term has imposed itself within the field of representations and practices. Lionel Ruffel has held visiting positions at the University of St-Andrews, Boston University, Moscow State University, Bern University of the Arts and has been a Humboldt Fellow at the Peter Szondi Institute (Freie Universität/Berlin).