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The Nachtigall Convolute: Metempsychotic Figuration and the Matter of Lost Objects


Harvard Art Museums
32 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA

At this compelling performance-lecture, members of the ESTAR (SER) research consortium will explore the group of mysterious documents known as the “Nachtigall Convolute”—ambiguous but remarkable materials that appear to detail the strange activities of an intimate sodality of scholars, artists, and intellectuals based in Istanbul in the early 1940s. Willing attendees will have an opportunity to experiment with the techniques of “figuration” that seem to be at issue in these puzzling sources.

A bundle of 22 sheets rolled into a tube and tied with twine, the Nachtigall Convolute derives its name from a shared saliency of the documents thusly cylindricated: the majority allude conspicuously to an unnamed personage by means of a fetching cryptonym—to wit, “Nachtigall” (the German term for that familiar and musical bird known in English as the nightingale). Do these materials bear on the historicity of the Order of the Third Bird? It seems likely. Did this cosmopolitan cohort engage in ritualized practices of sustained attention to made things? There is evidence they did. And is it possible that their activities included the hitherto unattested effort to attend to an object not actually present—which is to say, a “missing” or “lost” object? Here is where things become urgent.

ESTAR (SER) is an established body of private, independent scholars who work collectively to recover, scrutinize, and (where relevant) draw attention to the historicity of the Order of the Third Bird. The “Nachtigall Convolute Working Group” for this occasion consists of D. Graham Burnett (Princeton University), Jeff Dolven (Princeton University), Catherine Hansen (American University of Beirut), Yasemin Nur (an Istanbul-based artist), and Sal Randolph (a Brooklyn-based artist).

This program is presented in conjunction with the Harvard Art Museums’ forthcoming special exhibition From the Philosophy Chamber: Harvard’s Lost Collection, 1766–1820.

The event will take place in Menschel Hall, Lower Level.

Free admission. Please enter the museums via the entrance on Broadway.

Complimentary parking available in the Broadway Garage, 7 Felton Street, Cambridge.

Support for the lecture is provided by the M. Victor Leventritt Fund, which was established through the generosity of the wife, children, and friends of the late M. Victor Leventritt, Harvard Class of 1935. The purpose of the fund is to present outstanding scholars of the history and theory of art to the Harvard and Greater Boston communities. Support for this program is also provided by the Richard L. Menschel Endowment Fund.