Cite as: Alice von Bieberstein, ‘No Virtue in Erring on This Side of Doubt: Denial of the Armenian Genocide’, talk presented at the conference Possibility Matters, ICI Berlin, 4–5 December 2015, video recording, mp4, 39:20 <>
4 – 5 Dec 2015

No Virtue in Erring on This Side of Doubt

Denial of the Armenian Genocide
By Alice von Bieberstein

Video in English

Format: mp4
Length: 00:39:20
First published on:
Rights: © ICI Berlin

Part of the Conference

Possibility Matters

In the light of the centenary of the Armenian genocide and its ongoing denial, serving once again as a reminder of the inherently ethical and political implications of our work as scholars, this conference proposes to reflect on the status, roles, and registers of fact/uality, real/ity, and possibility within the framework of a productive juxtaposition of two temporal horizons: contested history and uncertain futures.

The 20th century has taught us that mass violence always unfolds in and affects the dimension of thought and knowledge. Within the field of historiography the principle according to which historical findings remain open to revision can be hijacked by a ‘revisionist’ political programme of denial that calls the reality of events as meaningful ensembles of facts into question. It does so by suspending the process of interpretation and, paradoxically, by mobilizing a positivist conception of ‘reality’. It is by pointing to a ‘truth’, out there, on the horizon, yet always out of reach, that any form of reality is unsettled, submitting competing possibilities to an unending play of speculation. At the same time, the speculative rehearsal of different historical scenarios has become an operative principle of the distinct genre of counterfactual history. Singular events or variables are selectively factored in and out of an imaginative analysis that actively plays with an expanded array of possibilities. Yet behind any ‘as if’ might lurk an ‘if only’, which can render service to revisionist politics.

Speculation, yet again, attains an entirely different operational reality and effectiveness within the field of risk and crisis management, where possibilities are being rendered calculable, imagined and realized not in order to think utopia, but to secure a more integrated control of what could come. Whether in anticipation of natural disasters, pandemics, terrorist attacks, or economic crisis, techniques such as scenario-modelling and predictive analyses are employed in order to enhance response capacities against an ever-shifting horizon of uncertainty. New regimes of securitization and reflexive biopolitics thereby conceive of life itself as survival, fostering in their wake affects such as alertness, anxiety, and doubt. In the realm of this speculative governance, the present can be acted upon through the simulation of future realities.

Finally, thinkers drawing on the philosophical traditions of pragmatism and constructivism have proposed forms of speculative thinking and fiction that relate to the world not via criteria of truth or factuality and realization. Instead, they propose to foreground the possible effectiveness of fiction as a mode of knowing that has consequences for the real, thereby favoring a science not of conquest or control, but one that is perplexing and fabulatory-experimental.

Possibility Matters attends to these different fields of knowledge production, power and practice in order to comparatively explore different configurations of fact/uality, real/ality and possibility. A specific focus lies on the creative potentials opened up through the play with possibility, as well as on the dimensions of epistemic and symbolic violence that come to bear on the sense and experience of reality. What kinds of imagination and actions are rendered possible or disabled through speculation or its foreclosure? And might certain (aesthetic, artistic, affective) modes of apprehension and imagination unsettle established frames that police the borders of ‘truth’ and ‘reality’?


ICI Berlin
(Click for further documentation)


Janet Roitman
Alain Denault
Başak Ertür
James Faubion
Carlo Caduff
Cori Hayden
Ralph Buchenhorst
Charles Hirschkind

Organized by

Alice von Bieberstein
Aurélia Kalisky
An ICI Event, in collaboration with the University of Cambridge, the Center for Literary and Cultural Research Berlin (ZFL), and with generous support of Fritz Thyssen Foundation