DARK POWERS. Conspiracies in History and Fiction

International Conference
University of Konstanz, Germany


Prof. Dr. Eva Horn, Dept. of German, Universität Basel
Prof. Anson Rabinbach, Dept. of History, Princeton
In Zusammenarbeit mit der Forschungsstelle Kulturtheorie

Forschungsstelle Literaturtheorie und Theorie des politischen Imaginären
Universität Konstanz
Prof. Dr. Albrecht Koschorke
PD Dr. Susanne Lüdemann
Alexander Schmitz

12. – 14.05.2006

Universität Konstanz
Raum V1001

Introduction [pdf ] by Eva Horn (Basel)


"If we are on the outside, we assume a conspiracy is the perfect working of a scheme. Silent nameless men with unadorned hearts. A conspiracy is everything that ordinary life is not. It's the inside game, cold, sure, undistracted, forever closed off to us. We are the flawed ones, the innocents, trying to make some rough sense of the daily jostle. Conspirators have a logic and a daring beyond our reach. All conspiracies are the same taut story of men who find coherence in some criminal act." (Don DeLillo: Libra)

Conspiracies have haunted our political and historical imagination since Antiquity. In them we find a secret dimension of politics with unpredictable alliances, invisible networks, hidden agents, and dark subversive powers. Conspiracies – both real and mere phantasms - open up questions on what constitutes the mechanisms for the preservation or usurpation of power. How do conspiracies "work"? What defines their logic, their coherent forms, and how do they preserve their secrecy? What are the conditions for their success? Operating in the dark, conspiracies also pose a substantial problem to historiography. This raises the question of how secret political operations can be reconstructed, if it is impossible to adopt the "insider" position and if the "outsider" position is defined by the very lack of information and documents. What can one ultimately call a "successful conspiracy" if this success necessarily implies a breach of secrecy? The mere possibility of conspiracies thereby also opens up a world of interpretation and exploration, one commonly known as 'conspiracy theory'.
Instead of dismissing conspiracy theory as a merely paranoid form of ideological extremism or “style” (Hofstadter), this conference will analyse their historical and epistemological structure. What types of knowledge do conspiracy theories involve and how do they (re)organize knowledge? What are their social and political functions? Why and under which circumstances have conspiracy theories been successful? The conference will focus not only on questions of conspiratorial structures in history, but also on the conspiratorial imaginary in literature, film and popular culture. We will address questions about the fundamentally 'fictional' elements in historiography, as well as the historical impact of fictional elements in conspiracy theory and literature. In particular, we will ask to what extend any narrative about the secret side of politics and culture - whether historical or literary - inevitably employs elements of conspiracy theory.


Prof. Dr. Jakob Tanner, Dept. History, Zurich
Dr. Henry Taylor, Film History, Zurich
Dr. Ralf Klausnitzer, Dept. German, Humboldt-Universität, Berlin
Prof. Michèle Lowrie, Dept. of Classics, New York University
Prof. Steven Zipperstein, Dept. of Jewish History and Culture, Stanford
Prof. Peter Knight, Dept. of English and American Studies, Manchester
Prof. Victoria Emma Pagán, Dept. of Classics, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Dr. Thorsten Hahn, Forschungszentrum Medientheorie, Universität Köln
Prof. Timothey D. Melley, Dept. of English, Miami University of Ohio
Prof. Stefan Andriopoulos, Dept. of German, Columbia University, New York
Prof. Marc Sageman, Dept. of Psychiatry, Harvard
Dr. Ruth Groh, History of Ideas, Heidelberg
Prof. Dr. em. Dieter Groh, History, Heidelberg
Prof. James DerDerian, Watson Institute of International Relations, Providence