The graduate students of the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures at the University of Michigan warmly invite proposals for their biannual conference "Embodying Vision/Envisioning Embodiment." The conference will be held October 17-19 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Graduate students working in all fields of German studies and related disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, as well as practicing visual artists, are welcome to submit proposals for papers. Please send abstracts (300 words max.) to by May 31st.


Elizabeth McNeill, Tina Tahir, Lauren Beck, Onyx Henry
Embodying Vision/Envisioning Embodiment Conference Organizers
Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures
University of Michigan

Embodying Vision/Envisioning Embodiment

Graduate Student Conference

Germanic Languages & Literatures at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor

October 17-19, 2019

Keynote Speaker: W. J. T. Mitchell (University of Chicago)

PROVOCATION: “Ich sammle Sehen für ihn,” states Doris, the protagonist in Irmgard Keun’s Das kunstseidene Mädchen (1932), as she traces the visible world for her blind companion. What does it mean to collect—or show—seeing? And how might the physical, embodied standpoint from which one sees (“sehen”) enable different forms of seeing (“Sehen”)?

The embodiedness of vision has been theorized across disciplinary boundaries and historical periods. René Descartes conceptualized vision as an extended form of touch, much as a blind man uses his stick to explore his surroundings. More recently, Donna Haraway has insisted that all vision is embodied, and that the inherent embodiedness of vision extends beyond the organic body into the realm of technological mediation. Haraway also stresses in her essay “The Persistence of Vision” that (embodied) vision is particular and active, and that it trains subjects in ways of seeing and living within hierarchical power relations. With the histories of embodiment and embodied vision from Descartes to Haraway as our point of departure, we understand Embodying Vision/Envisioning Embodiment as a reference to multi-faceted literacies of visuality and the way in which technological modes of seeing and visualizing—of both the visible and invisible, the analog and the digital—are constructed across media, where not only the lines between text and image become blurred, but the mode of vision itself turns into an object of perception. 

Taking as its key problematic the distinction between looking and seeing and the ways in which the object stares back, this conference will provide a timely platform to think about how the modes, media, and sites of seeing construct embodied subjectivities in historically specific ways. We are interested in exploring such questions as: To what extent is social normativity implicit in our visualizing practices and the hierarchies of seeing? How can Embodying Vision/Envisioning Embodiment serve as a framework for studying how the functions of different modes of seeing intersect? How do they corroborate, challenge, or deny the distinction between Visuality (sight as a social construct) and Vision (sight as a physical operation)?

CALL FOR PAPERS: We invite graduate students working in all fields of German studies and related disciplines in the humanities and social sciences to submit proposals for papers. We also warmly welcome practicing visual artists to submit proposals. Possible topics include: 

  • REGIMES OF VISION: What is the role of visual experience in relation to hegemonic power? More broadly, what does it mean to see and be seen in a particular historical moment and space, and what are the power dynamics inherent to these encounters? 
  • SUBJECTIVITY: How does the role of vision change in constructing and embodying various subject positions? How are identities and limits of the self established and maintained through vision?
  • MEDIA/TECHNOLOGY: Through what means can vision be mediated, and what are the ethics of mediated looking: Who gazes at whom, and how? Similarly, how can technology (i.e., cameras, microscopes, protheses, mirrors, etc.) inflect the act of seeing? 
  • THE HUMAN: What does it mean to be human, vis-à-vis vision, and how might a framework of vision reveal the layering of mediation involved in our notion of the human?
  • VISIONS: In what ways are visions (e.g., spectral, clairvoyant, utopian, psychotic) portrayed and interpreted?
  • IN/VISIBILITY: How can an object or structure be rendered unseen, or vice versa? 
  • POWER: How can acts of seeing express physical, social, or political power? Can a look or gaze have a physical impact? What are the gendered consequences of seeing and being seen?
  • PERFORMANCE: How are acts of seeing performed? How does a performer anticipate and react to being seen? How did staged performances of the Other, such as in Völkerschauenalso lead to the distortion or erasure of the subject(s) on display? 
  • COLONIALISM: In what ways was colonialism justified through diverse visual media, such as maps, geographic surveys, advertisements, and photographs? 
  • INSTITUTIONS: What role have museums and other institutions played in shaping ways of seeing (oneself, others, and objects)?
  • BILDUNG: How are education and growth undertaken visually? 

Please send abstracts (300 words max.) to by May 31st. Presentations should not exceed 20 minutes.