Flanking Maneuvers – Das Laterale Denken

Flanking Maneuvers – Das Laterale Denken

Workshop at Cornell University April 13th/14th

“Vertical thinking follows the most likely paths; lateral thinking explores the least likely. […] With lateral thinking, one uses information, not for its own sake but provocatively in order to bring about repatterning.” Edward de Bono



Prevailing practices of organizing knowledge and information are, for the most part, characterized by binary logics that privilege vertical or hierarchical relationships. In recent decades, these epistemological regimes have come under heightened pressure through two antagonistic tendencies. On the one hand, queer, postcolonial, and neo-Marxist intellectual approaches have, since the 1970s, called for the radical deconstruction of reigning epistemological orders. On the other hand, by proliferating so-called alternative systems of truth, contemporary international politics – especially from the right – have striven to at least destabilize traditional notions of authority if not to totally overthrow the structural logic of hegemony and subversion as such. In light of these paradoxically concordant movements, which dismantle conventional positions of authority and expertise, new questions for the Humanities and Social Sciences emerge about the validity, reformulation, and possible restructuring of prevailing vertical epistemological paradigms.

Via the hypernym of the Lateral (lateralis, “of or belonging to the side, flanking,” from latus, “the side or flank”), this conference aims to investigate those figurations of side-switching, adjacency, and horizontality that oppose and problematize vertical and binary orders of knowledge. Which historical paradigms for the ordering of knowledge, hitherto marginalized or concealed, prove compatible with the Lateral? Does such an approach risk to fundamentally undermine intuitions about factuality and its impact on social trust? Could we, then, productively assume the paradigm of the Lateral for the formulation of apposite responses to the volatile epistemological situation we face today?

By means of transdisciplinary perspectives on German Studies, we intend to approach figurations of the Lateral and their literary, poetical and communicative techniques of side-switching, adjacency, bonding, and turning, bringing forward their productive potential, while also examining their hazardous inclinations. We are looking for critical tools and modes of reasoning, reading and “thinking outside the box” which address, perhaps even dissolve, the binds our knowledge systems now encounter.







Cornell University