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Ruins of Modernity: "Triumphs and Laments or Ruins of Empire" with Julia Hell



Julia Hell (University of Michigan)


Tuesday, May 10, 2022 - 12:00pm - 1:30pm






Ruins of Modernity: "Triumphs and Laments or Ruins of Empire" with Julia Hell

**NOTE: This event has been canceled. We hope to welcome Prof. Hell back to campus in Autumn 2022
Ruins of Modernity presents: 
"Triumphs and Laments or Ruins of Empire: Peter Weiss's Pergamon Altar and William Kentridge's Tiber Mural."
This paper will focus on the opening section of Peter Weiss’s modern epic, The Aesthetics of Resistance (1975-1981) and William Kentridge’s wall frieze, Triumphs and Laments (2016). Relying on my analysis of Europe’s formal empires as neo-Roman formations, I propose to read Weiss’s ekphrastic rendering of the Pergamon Altar (set in Berlin in 1937) and Kentridge’s slowly fading procession in the context of this long history of imitation centered on Rome’s ruined stage. Drawing on and working against the discursive orders and mimetic practices of European empires, Weiss’s ekphrastic experiment and Kentridge’s shadowy figures enter the neo-Roman zone at specific moments: Weiss begins researching his novel around 1970, deeply immersed in contemporary debates about decolonization. Kentridge starts his Tiber project at the end of the 20th century, a moment when it seemed that the history of formal empires had come to an end. Both artists create their moment as a densely layered palimpsest, opening vast temporal and spatial horizons. Their works transcend the temporal division between antiquity and modernity and the spatial division between the European and non-European worlds. Yet the temporalities they inscribe in their works and they ways in which they engage their readers/spectators differ.
Julia Hell is Professor of German in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures at the University of Michigan. She has published extensively on the topic of post-fascist East and West German literature and visual arts, and German culture after 1989 (with articles on Peter Weiss, Uwe Johnson, Janina Bauman, W.G. Sebald, Neo Rauch...) and has pursued her interest in the intersection of politics and the arts in the field of ruin studies. Her last book, The Conquest of Ruins: The Third Reich and the Fall of Rome (University of Chicago Press, 2019) reconstructs the history of European imperialism around the problematic of post-Roman mimesis and the specter of Rome's fall, tracing the obsessive production of what Hell calls scopic scenarios of imperial ruin gazing that visualize imperial time and power relations. 
This talk will be hosted on Zoom. 
RSVP here. Access the readings here while signed into your Stanford account.
In preparation for the talk, Prof. Hell has suggested reading the following excerpts: William Kentridge's "In Praise of Shadows" and sels. from Peter Weiss's The Aesthetics of Resistance (1975-1981). In preparation for the talk, if you have time, Prof. Hell has suggested to read the following excerpts (here): William Kentridge’s brief essay “In Praise of Shadows” (October issue, pp. 69-76) and short selections from Peter Weiss’s The Aesthetics of Resistance (1975-1981) which include the opening pages, the ekphrastic evocation of the altar and a passage at the end of Volume III when the narrator, whom we just learnt to be the novel’s author, returns to the altar in 1945. 
For more information, please contact Prof. Resina or Laura Menéndez at: or
*Image: William Kentridge, Triumphs and Laments (2016)
**NOTE: This event has been canceled. We hope to welcome Prof. Hell back to campus in Autumn 2022