CFP: Making Sense of Experience: Analyses of Sensation after Mach

Submission deadline: February 1, 2024

Conference date(s):
April 12, 2024 - April 13, 2024

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Conference Venue:

German, Yale University
New Haven, United States

Topic areas


In “Die Analyse der Empfindungen” (1886), Ernst Mach introduces sensation [Empfindung] as the fundamental condition of possibility for experience [Erfahrung]. Exceeding conventional understandings of external sense experience as opposed to internal reflective experiences, sources of sensation include not only colors, tones, pressures but also pain and pleasure, spaces and times [Räume, Zeiten]. These sensations, also referred to as elements, combine in different ways to construct our experience of the world. 

Mach’s proposal is “sensational” in more ways than one, for it renders untenable the conventional divide between the physical and the psychical. Bodies are beyond grasp, the ego unsalvageable, and the moment of contact between mind and body is the event that withdraws the possibility of either entity existing as an eternal, independent given – with constitutive element-, i.e. sensation-complexes taking their place. While Mach’s insight has frequently been tied with both an evolving Neo-Kantian philosophical tradition and literary modernism’s “dissolution of the subject,” less attention has been paid to the peculiar nature of, and connections among, sensations – which Mach himself identified as the ultimate aim of intellectual inquiry. Nevertheless, over the next 50 years, writers and thinkers, picking up where Mach left off, probed a newly expanded range of possibilities for theorizing and representing the interrelation of thinking, sensing, and experiencing. 

To investigate the scope of these contributions, this conference invites proposals for 25-30 minute presentations that treat such attempts to make the “sense” of experience. How do philosophical, theoretical, and scientific investigations into “Erlebnis” and “Erfahrung” (including, but not limited to Benjamin, Brentano, Buber, Cassirer, Cohen, Dilthey, Freud, Haeckel, Husserl, Wittgenstein) develop different understandings of “sense” or “sensation”? In what ways do literary, aesthetic, and cultural practices coincide with, depart from, or otherwise respond to, these reconfigurations of sensation and experience? What do these increased engagements with sensation – and monism in general – suggest about the unarticulated desires, anxieties, or ideological commitments characterizing the years ~ 1880-1933, and what can they tell us about our current global moment, one which has seen increasing attempts to rethink the relationship between humans and their environment through theories of entanglement? 

While our inquiries stem primarily from the German-speaking tradition around the fin-de-siècle and interwar years, we also invite considerations of theoretical precursors and afterlives, as well as other comparative, interdisciplinary, and extra-disciplinary approaches. In addition to the topics mentioned above, other potential avenues of exploration include (but are not limited to):

  • Formal and thematic overlaps between literary and scientific-philosophical texts
  • Narrative experiments and theories of narrative
  • Theories of sensation and Erlebnis in expressionist and symbolist poetry
  • Renegotiations of the (non-)representation of the subject on the stage
  • Sensation and evolving technologies and media (film, photography, radio, telephone)
  • Marxist reflections on the “revolutionary experience”
  • Sensations and experiences of crowds, masses, collectives
  • Aesthetic experiences of mathematical concepts and operations

This graduate student conference will take place at Yale University, in person, April 12-13, 2024. Please submit abstracts (250–300 words) and a brief biographical statement by February 1, 2024 to: Aida Feng ([email protected]), Léa Jouannais Weiler ([email protected]), and Maxwell Phillips ([email protected]). Selected participants will be notified by mid-February.

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Custom tags:

#German Studies, #Austrian Studies, #Literature and Philosophy