Dr. Ruben Pfizenmaier


For centuries, storing and remembering knowledge was a problem. In the western world of the 21st century, however, forgetting is becoming increasingly urgent.

We generally understand forgetting negatively - as the absence of information, experience or ability. However, it is clear that only that which was previously remembered can be forgotten and that where something is remembered, something else disappears in the background of forgetting. In the context of a phenomenology of forgetting, however, I understand forgetting as a threshold phenomenon that is neither anonymous nor innocent: what we forget is not too coincidental. What is more, forgetting is often a multiple of techniques and practices: Mnemonics from antiquity to the Renaissance discuss ways of deliberately forgetting; psychoanalysis can also be understood as a procedure to make what was previously repressed well forgotten. Based on a (practice-theoretically informed) phenomenology of forgetting, the project turns to selected figurations of forgetting that emphasize different focal points of the phenomenon in order to be able to present a comprehensive account of the phenomenon:

Unlearning and forgetting. Based on a formulation by Gayatri Spivak from 1995, the idea of "unlearning" has become widespread in the context of gender and decolonial studies in particular. How can the traces of power in our bodies and in our thinking be found, addressed and processed? At the same time, a continuing enthusiasm for forms of unlearning and improvisation can be identified in organizational theory, with which the hope of sovereignty is associated in a time that is described as a VUCA world (the acronym stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity, was originally developed by the US military to describe the global situation after the fall of the Iron Curtain and has been present in management and organizational theory for years).

Aesthetics of forgetting. The artist's not-knowing is a central topos of modern aesthetic practice. A moment of forgetting in the sense of an accomplished not-knowing seems to characterize aesthetic practice in general. What layers between conscious knowledge, tacit knowing and incorporated knowledge, the unconscious and unconscious not-knowing can be fanned out here? Here too, forgetting is linked to countless practices.

Forgetting, intercultural. Varieties of forgetting are widespread and explored in Asian traditions, especially in Chinese Daoism and Buddhism. The position of ignorance, nothingness and emptiness has been researched many times. However, an intercultural study of forgetting does not yet exist.

Digital forgetting. In the dialog Phaedrus, Plato formulates the accusation that the medium of writing, although linked to the promise of increasing memory, "would rather instil forgetfulness" (Phaidr. 274e-275b). The sale of memory, the transfer to foreign signs, ultimately weakens one's own ability to remember. In this light, how can and must the almost unlimited storability of information be described in the face of comprehensive digitalization in the 21st century? How will human forgetting (and remembering) change in view of the increasing blurring of boundaries between conscious archiving, automatic system-controlled storage and the often unnoticed collection of user data?

The project starts with individual forgetting, but does not lose sight of the collective dimension of remembering and forgetting and in this respect also sees itself as a contribution to the discourse on the culture of remembrance.



Dr. phil. Ruben Pfizenmaier studied Philosophy-Arts-Media with a minor in Creative Writing / Cultural Journalism in Hildesheim, Philosophy and Literature at University College Cork (Ireland) and Philosophy and Cultural Studies at Humboldt Universität zu Berlin and Freie Universität Berlin. He was awarded his doctorate in 2023 at Justus Liebig University Giessen with the thesis "Übungsformationen. The Practice of Ancient Rhetoric as a Practice of Subjectivation". From 2017 to 2022, he was a fellow of the International Graduate Center for the Study of Culture (GCSC).

He has also worked in various roles in the publishing world, including as head of sales at Büchergilde Gutenberg, as founder and operational director of Fruehwerk Verlag and most recently as head of Concadora Verlag. He has been a postdoc at the DFG Research Training Group "Aesthetic Practice" since January 2024.