We tend to view human actions in terms of the data that can be gathered about them, and human interactions in terms of their usefulness to both the parties involved and third parties. The notion of an „encounter“ seems to subvert these views. Encounters are often surprising, their meaning remains opaque, their repercussions are varied but inexhaustible.
At a recent conference on encounters, scholars from six countries and representing a whole range of disciplines (literary studies, philosophy, musicology, political science, history, complex systems studies, European area studies) met at the University of Bristol for three days of debates about these issues. Hosted by Margit Dirscherl and myself and partly moderated by Marcel Lepper (DLA Marbach), Ellen O’Gorman, Steffan Davies, and Edith Kreutner (all of the University of Bristol), the conference participants explored theoretical conceptions of encounters, as proposed by Emmanuel Levinas, Wilhelm von Humboldt, Martin Buber, and others; literary explorations of encounters, as developed by Goethe, Flaubert, Hofmannsthal, Kafka, and Christa Wolf; the relevance of media in initialising, facilitating, recording, and reconstructing an encounter; and the urgency of encounters in academic, pedagogical, social, and political pratice.
True to the topic of the conference, each day provided the participants with opportunities to exchange ideas even beyond the allotted question time after each paper. A roundtable discussion at the end of each day drew out larger questions and signalled areas where further research is needed.
Margit and I would like to express our thanks to everyone who participated, first and foremost our wonderful keynote speakers, Robert Eaglestone and Rolf Goebel, as well as all speakers, moderators, and guests, the staff at Clifton Hill House and Goldney Hall, our charming assistant Sina Stuhlert, and of course our sponsors: Marie Curie Actions, The Leverhulme Trust, BIRTHA, and the Institute of Advanced Studies at the University of Bristol. We will be in touch about a follow-up event and about plans for publication.