The London German Philosophy Seminar is convened by Johan Siebers, at the Institute of Modern Languages Research (previously known as the IGRS – Institute of Germanic and Romance Studies) at the School of Advanced Study, University of London. Podcasts of the seminar sessions are available on the website of the School of Advanced Study.
The seminar has been running continuously since 2008. It is a space for unchained thought. On the basis of a sustained close-reading of seminal texts in the history of German philosophy, but also more widely, the seminar develops as a co-creation of its participants.
Bert Brecht wrote: “Etwas fehlt. Das treibt.” (“Something’s missing. That drives us.”) I view German philosophy since Kant as revolving around this idea. From it we can understand the central place desire and materiality (understood as regulative idea, thing-in-itself, absolute idea, subject, species-being, superman, the unconscious, event or the not-yet) occupy in the history of German thought of the last 200 years. From this perspective the dialogue with other traditions of thought becomes possible. The perspective of an emerging world philosophy is becoming more and more important in the development of the seminar.
Zizek once said that German idealism and its long influence in continental thought (which includes psychoanalysis) is a ‘privileged instrument’ by which to understand the contemporary cultural and political constellation. The seminar takes up this idea, develops it from the point where we realise that something’s missing.
What it is that is missing, and how what is missing plays into our lives, is the central question the seminar aims to explore: its interest is therefore resolutely contemporary, not historical. It looks for the future in the past of thought, for those aspects of the past of thought that still point forwards. Out of its explorations the contours of a critical theory for our times are emerging, based on the three nodal points of the Blochian Not-Yet, the Freudian Unconscious and the Marxian Critique of Ideology.
The first of these concerns us centrally, for it enables us to advance critical theory to the point where it can become a liberating, transformative force in contemporary thought and praxis once again: charting the territories of hope, futurity and a militant optimism ‘with a mourning wreath’, as Bloch said – in the political, cultural, social, environmental and existential constellations at the end of capitalism. The second and the third nodal points are transformed by exposing them to the idea of the not-yet, while the idea of the not-yet is deepened and qualified by being exposed to them.