Sam Dolbear holds a PhD in critical theory from Birkbeck College, University of London. Since then he was a Martin Miller and Hannah Norbert-Miller Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Modern Language Research at the School of Advanced Study, University of London and a postdoctoral fellow at the ICI Berlin, where he worked largely on the radio producer and composer Ernst Schoen (1894–1960) and the hand reader and sexologist Charlotte Wolff (1897–1986).

He has written widely, for Radical Philosophy, Flash Art, ArtForum and Art Monthly, and has taught at various institutions, including Birkbeck College, the University of Lisbon and UC Berkeley. He is a founding member of the audio-radio collective MayDay Radio and sits on the board of the archive-exhibition space Agit, Berlin. He currently teaches at Bard College Berlin, and continues his research as a Visiting Fellow at the ICI Berlin with support from the Leverhulme Trust.

The Lines Between Their Names: A Generational Investigation around Walter Benjamin 
Visiting Project 2022-24

This project begins with a diagram of friendship and generation, constructed by Walter Benjamin in 1932. Within a spider-web of lines, Benjamin scribbled 48 names, those he named as ‘Urbekanntschaften’ (primal acquaintances), people largely born in the last two decades of the nineteenth century. Among them are poets (Fritz Heinle), palm readers (Lotte Wolff), and hat models (Doris v. Schonthan); youth movement activists (Grete Radt), librarians (Escha Scholem), and typesetters (François Bernouard); dream diarists (Ignaz Ježower), photographic journalists (Simon Guttmann), and puppeteers (Emmy Hennings).

This project reconstructs a history of this generation through the fragments of their lives, within and beyond the constellations set out by Benjamin. It seeks to transpose the diagram into other forms, from astral maps to charts of chemical affinities, to explore questions of generation and friendship from within a historical and political frame.

Cosmic Reductions: Palms, Fate, Body, Character
ICI Project 2020-22

This project begins with the work of the physician, sexologist, and palmist Charlotte Wolff (1897–1986). Wolff improvised a method for reading hands over a number of years, given she lost the ability to practice as a medical doctor once in Paris, after fleeing Berlin in 1933. Her method oscillates between two distinct modes: a ‘scientific’ mode, where the hand becomes a ledger of pathology, character, and constitution and an ‘esoteric’ mode, where the entire cosmos is reduced to the lines that can be traced upon the palm.

In this project, Dolbear will read Wolff’s work panoramically: to uncover a history of hand-reading cultures of the time, its relation to marginality, modernism, and medicalism; to interrogate the history of hand printing in relation to surveillance, forensics, and the law as well as questions of ‘singularity’ and ‘authorship’; to develop a critical ‘historiography’ through various fortune-telling methods of the time – from tasseography to numerology – thinking too of esoteric modes of historical encounter; to consider how Wolff’s later work on gesture, gender, and sexuality can be understood historically; and to think how the body becomes the ledger for cosmic movements, past and future, reduced to the language of fate and character, prediction and constitution.