A Workshop Without Work

The Tradition of the Oppressed

20/06/2015, 11AM @ MaMa

As the proverb has it, “tradition is not to preserve the ashes but to pass on the flame.” This flame, however, has mostly been interpreted in a culturalist, humanist or conservative way. In his influential essay “Socialism: Utopian and Scientific,” Frederick Engels (1892) deemed tradition “a great retarding force,” “the vis inertiae of history.” This negative view became the dominant version of historical materialism’s take on tradition until today. Whereas the concept of tradition is often associated with continuity (derived from the Latin verb tradere: to hand down, to pass on, to transmit), this workshop takes its cue from Walter Benjamin’s notion of the “Tradition of the Oppressed,” which imparts collective experiences of political struggle, lost, and defeat. In his “Theses On the Concept of History” (1940), Benjamin argues that unlike bourgeois historiographies, the tradition of the oppressed is based on the idea of the discontinuum of historical experiences and memories. In other words, the idea of heritage and commemoration as a something that can be transmitted from the past to the present and handed over to future generations has to be radically modified if not abandoned. Following Benjamin’s reflections on the “problem of tradition,” this panel seeks to challenge our notions of heritage, political legacy, and historical consciousness. How can the experience and tradition of the oppressed be narrated without relying on narratives? What is the fragmentary medium of this transmittability and how can we rethink the concept of heritage if the latter is not limited to official historiography of those who have been and are in power? Who are the oppressed today? Is there a non-space, a utopos, which can articulate the discontinuous tradition of the oppressed?



Session 1, 11:00 – 13:00

Cooper Francis: Awakening to the Past: Walter Benjamin’s Fairytale

Amanda Holmes: “Where we send black things”: Museums of Natural History and Les Statues Meurent Aussi

Damiano Roberi: Ecological Jetztzeit: Benjamin’s natural tradition of the oppressed

Session 2: 14:30 – 16:30

Spyros Marchetos: Greek Anarchism and the Tradition of the Oppressed

Emin Eminagic: Traversing the Three by Counting to Four: War Jokes as the Commons of the Oppressed in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Tihana Pupovac: Whose Heritage? On the Actuality of Yugoslav Partisan Memorials

Session 3: 17:00 – 18:30

Sami Khatib: The Medium of the “Tradition of the Oppressed”

Jana Tsoneva: Labor theory of penury: Wo Arbeit war, soll Kommunismus werden

18:30 Drinks, pub reception

More soon on: anthropologicalmaterialism.hypotheses.org