Politics of Justice

Text, Image, and Practice

We are pleased to announce an upcoming conference that will explore the profound intersections of justice and crisis. Walter Benjamin’s body of work has been consistently concerned with the concept of justice, which figures prominently in his reflections on categories such as law, violence, myth, and more. This conference aims to analyze Benjamin’s multifaceted understanding of justice and its interplay with various other theoretical constructs. In the context of recurring global crises, the conference will explore how Benjamin’s insights on justice remain relevant and essential for addressing contemporary challenges.

The idea of justice has been a fundamental concept in Walter Benjamin’s thought since October 1916, when he wrote his “Notes on a Work on the Category of Justice.” This concept is central not only to his essay “Toward a Critique of Violence,” but also to his key essays on Karl Kraus, Franz Kafka, and Nikolai Lesskov. Justice is a unifying theme that runs through most of Benjamin’s intellectual work, whether explicitly articulated or subtly implied. Such pursuits range from his investigations of Goethe’s essays and his reflections on Trauerspiel, to the vast scope of the Arcades Project. Justice can be perceived as the driving force behind Benjamin’s work, which is set against the recurrent element of mythical oppression. The work itself can be seen as an experimental field that explores various forms of understanding, contextualizing, and practicing justice. Benjamin’s definition of a translator’s task, objectives of literary criticism, proper methodology of historical study, the role of critical art, critical thinking, and philosophy are all located within this field of experimentation.

It should be noted that Benjamin developed his concept of justice in the context of a deep experiential and political crisis of modernity, which he sought to diagnose and analyze in his work. Today, as each new crisis becomes instantly global and overwhelming, the kind of response Benjamin demanded and sought, a reaction that is not merely corrective but truly responsible, committed, and engaged, seems more necessary and relevant than ever since his untimely death.

Justice as a central dimension of Benjamin’s work is therefore the focus of our conference. We welcome all attempts at a systematic analysis of Benjamin’s understandings and reconfigurations of the idea of justice concerning his reflections on such key categories as crisis, critique, law, violence, myth, guilt/debt, life, dialectics, utopia, messianism, sovereignty, state of exception, revolution, poverty, aura, trace, name, allegory, image, medium, constellation, translation, montage, gesture, body, space, time, history, memory, experience, narrative, quotation, and so on. However, we also encourage participants to engage with the possible productive tensions between Benjamin’s and other thinkers’ explorations of justice, as well as to explore the potential applications of Benjamin’s thought in various fields of the humanities, political and artistic activity in general, with particular attention to the three key dimensions of textuality, visuality, and practice.

In other words, we would like to create a space for a fruitful discussion between Benjamin’s understanding of justice and other theoretical approaches, as well as an in-depth analysis of the ways in which his insights and methods can function outside the scope of his oeuvre – all in response to contemporary crises.


Date: September 27–30, 2023

Location: SWPS University in Warsaw / IFiS PAN

Contact: walterbenjamin2023@gmail.com

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