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Winter Semester 2020/2021


History and Presence of a political affect

Anger, as similar emotions like wrath, outrage and hate, has become, in word and deed, a driving force of political wrangling. Well known in history, it points to a particular escalation of emotions, ground-breaking in political affairs. Art, religion, anthropology and the law have addressed its particular nature. ‘Anger’ is the very first word of Homer’s “Illiad”, and thus it marks the beginning of European literary history. Time and again Sophocles and Shakespeare in drama, Kleist and Melville in their narratives have explored the connection and the synergetic effects of expression and affect, of sign and emotion. ‘Anger’, is it an affect of divine nature?  And why and when does it turn over into metaphysical hatred, into fundamental hostility, or nothing more than resentment, a need of revenge? This significant scaling of affect and passion has been, until today, a prominent issue in the history of religion, in ethnology and social psychology. More recently this feeling, collectively exalted in the reactions of so called ‘angry citizens’ (‘Wutbürger’), has been recognized as a symptom of crisis of the representative democracy, a strong factor in the political game.

 Against this background the Mosse-Lectures will explore what is at the core of thymós as a habit of political conduct and action, tracing its tradition and public interest, its recent populist drive, termed “anger marketing” (“Zorngeschäft”) by Peter Sloterdijk. As a part of the arcanain the classical art of governing, the ruling class well calculated emotional control rather than a control system for possible public anger. It is only in modernity that an ambivalent attitude to the political affect of anger and its collective force emerged: spreading horror images of a raging mob on the one hand, deliberately mobilizing the masses on the other. This seems to be even more true these days as it remains debatable what shape of the affect may serve what kind of political concept. Wrath and rage also breakthrough in the established middle class. Is this a resentment of the privileged, militantly self-centered, aggressively self-righteous? And how about Stéphane Hessel’s claim, that anger, the outrage of those obviously underprivileged (the subalterns, the disadvantaged) has to be considered as a more honest, justified and therefore more legitimate kind of protest and resistance? 

Jenny Holzer: “Red Yellow Looming”, 2004. 13 electronic signs with red and amber diodes. © VG Bild-Kunst, Courtesy: Jenny Holzer

Preview: Theories of Conspiracy

Due to the Corona-Crisis, the program of the summer semester 2020 had to be postponed to 2021, the dates will be announced in time.

In times of uncertainty and looming threats changes, conspiracy theories have become extremely popular again, in life stories as well as in political propaganda. In times of crisis and catastrophe an urgent need to reduce complexities to simple meanings gains attention, thus producing psychotic and collective dynamics by projecting personal fears and privations onto unknown forces and secret powers. Conspirative thinking and feel-ing transforms causalities and contingencies into an asserted coherence. Conspirative discourse thus invents its own logic, careless of facts and consistent in itself, fascinating for many as an amalgamate of well-known elements of experience and knowledge abruptly brought together: a creative and inspirational panoply of phantasies, presump-tions and suspicions, facts and fiction. Emotionally charged with an uncertain feeling of one’s own real or suggested inferiority, a hostile superior force is imagined, which acts mysteriously and is in total control. An evil empire appears in manifold shapes: the subversive energy of secret societies, the Jewish or communist world conspiracy, the economic phantasm of the invisible hand of the market, and all kinds of conspirative strategies of agents and systems. Since theories of conspiracy draw their potential of identification from real or presumably real activities and happenings they are part of innumerable every day social and political conflicts and conflict managements, including even scientific research and technical solutions. Ultimately, of course, the agenda of conspiracy theory might become conspirative itself. Faced with the rise of a »paranoid style« of conspiracy, which is gaining the upper hand in internet fake news and cyberspace activities in national and world politics, this series of Mosse-Lectures intends to take a second look at the power and impact of conspiracy theories both in history and in our own time. We focus on the fictional conspirative plots of Umberto Eco, Thomas Pynchon, and other recent narratives, on an analysis und critique of populist strategies and the complicity of information politics and media entertainment, on the political effects of conspiracy theories in post-Soviet Russia and the Arabic world, and, last but not least, on the psychiatric evidence of the conspirative syndrome itself in everyday life and in public relations.


Eva Horn

»Das Gespenst der Arcana. Eine sehr kurze Literaturgeschichte der Verschwörung«

With Stefan Willer

Clemens Setz

»Unified Bond Theory. Überlegungen zur Verschwörungsfähigkeit der eigenen Biografie«

With Lothar Müller

Michael Hagemeister

»Das Dritte Rom gegen den Dritten Tempel. Zum Mythos der Weltverschwörung im postsowjetische Russland«

With Manfred Sapper

Didier Fassin

»Conspiracy Theories As Crises and Critique«

With Joseph Vogl



The MOSSE-LECTURES at the Humboldt University in Berlin are a cooperation of: