Forthcoming From NGC

Issue #132 (Nov 2017): Transatlantic Theory Transfer: Missed Encounters?

Special Issue Editors: Andreas Huyssen and Anson Rabinbach

This special issue focuses on recent and contemporary transatlantic intellectual transfer—not refugees and exiles, but figures from Germany whose reception in the US happened during the so-called theory decades from the 1970s on. We did not want to focus on the big success stories from Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud to the Frankfurt School whose work has been so central to New German Critique and other theory journals in this country. Nor did we want to focus on the failures—authors whose work was translated to an extent, but failed to leave marked traces in the intellectual life of this country. Instead this issue treats the more complicated cases where there was reception, but perhaps not as intense a reception as one might have imagined or hoped for. Thus key figures in this issue are Kracauer, Scholem, Blumenberg, Mitscherlich, Koselleck, Luhmann and Kittler.

This raised broader questions about theory transfer in general, whether from Germany or any other point of origin to the US or vice versa. What is it that makes one theory coming from abroad anschlussfähig and successful while preventing another from having impact? What is the role of academic disciplines, of publishers’ initiatives, of translation projects, of journals in this process of transfer and reception? Translation is a major and often problematic factor in reception. Especially in the German case, it is easy to point to bad translations which have impeded and distorted reception. In some cases, whole books had to be re-translated to begin to make sense in English. But translation is never the only transformation a text undergoes when transplanted. We need to ask more broadly: What transformations does theoretical work developed in one intellectual context undergo when it begins to travel into other constellations? Why is it that some theories have an effect in a specific disciplinary context only and not beyond, even when the times have increasingly privileged inter-disciplinary theorizing in the humanities and social sciences? In what cases does theory transfer cause ruptures and paradigm changes in the receiving context rather than smoothly merging with it? What are the conditions of acceptance or resistance as theories begin to travel abroad? Questions such as these underlie all the contributions to this issue.

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