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Oliver Simons (Columbia University)

Oliver Simons

Oliver Simons
Image Credit: Private

Fellow in Research Area 4: “Literary Currencies”

July 2023

Things Outside the Text: The Manifesto in Current Theory

Since Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels first published their Communist Manifesto in 1848, the genre has been regularly appropriated and modified as a form of writing, from war declarations such as Emperor Franz Joseph’s 1914 “Manifesto” to oppositional texts by revolutionary parties. Beginning with the European avant-garde movements of Futurism, Dada and Surrealism, the manifesto has become associated with proclamations of new modes of writing, novel aesthetic programmes and agonistic interventions. It is noteworthy that in recent decades theoretical positions have also increasingly been propagated in the form of manifestos. Alan Badiou, for example, has not only treated the Communist Manifesto extensively but also written his own philosophical manifestos. Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto, controversial when it was first published as a feminist critique in 1985, has been adopted in many different contexts, just like Bruno Latour’s “An Attempt at a ‘Compositionist Manifesto’” from 2010. Book series such as Blackwell Manifestos have begun publishing programmatic texts such as Rita Felski’s Uses of Literature to mark “timely interventions” and to “engage and challenge the broadest range of readers”. Manifestos do not just seek to publicly declare new positions or programmes, their unique purpose is also to inaugurate and circulate new forms of thinking. The project aims to analyse the use of this uniquely polemical genre in current theory. Not coincidentally, this project argues, recent trends such as New Materialism and the notorious declarations of the end (and future) of theory are often propagated in manifestos as new forms of writing and as a publishing and dissemination strategy.


Oliver Simons is professor of Germanic Languages at Columbia University. He studied German literature, cultural studies and philosophy at Humboldt University in Berlin, where he received his Dr. phil. in 2005. His teaching and research interests focus on literature and science, post-colonial studies, the “end” around 1800 and literary theories. His first book, a comparative study on spatial concepts in philosophy, empirical psychology, art history and literature around 1900, appeared in 2007: Raumgeschichten: Topographien der Moderne in Philosophie, Wissenschaft und Literatur (Wilhelm Fink Verlag). His second monograph, a book on literary theories, was published in 2009 (Literaturtheorien zur Einführung. Junius Verlag). He has co-edited volumes on German colonialism (Francke Verlag 2002), Kafkas Institutionen (Transcript 2007), Ingeborg Bachmann and the media (Vorwerk 2008) and The Oxford Handbook of Carl Schmitt. His most recent book, Literary Conclusions: The Poetics of Ending in Lessing, Goethe, and Kleist (Northwestern UP, 2022) examines how textual endings around 1800 correspond with theories of causality and conclusion. Oliver is also the editor of the peer-reviewed journal The Germanic Review: Literature, Culture, Theory.