OBLIGATORY COURSES (16-19 Aug)
Lee Edelman (Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts, USA):
Queer Theory Teaches Us Nothing: Pedagogy, Philosophy, Psychoanalysis (16-17 Aug)
If meaning-making incorporates subjects into the sociality of the symbolic, it does so at the expense of an unreadable remainder that Lacan describes as an ab-sense impervious to any formalization. Incapable of being represented (like the null set that, as Badiou reminds us, is always included in the set of “what is”), this nothing cannot and must not be taught: cannot because it is not transmissible in the formal sequence of a truth and must not because it threatens pedagogy’s rootedness in sublimation. Queer theory, as I discuss it here, approaches that nothing as the negativity that sublimation enacts in the very effort to overcome it. This version of queer theory will explore what happens when the preservative function of dialectic, with its valorization of Truth as Idea, confronts the insistent unbinding inherent in the Real of the drive. Engaging the contradictory pedagogical imperatives of philosophy and psychoanalysis, these lectures will consider how queerness profoundly disrupts the transmission of values through the pressure of a negativity impossible to realize as a value. Negating first and foremost the sovereign subject of humanist ideology, this negativity opens onto the beyond of that subject’s ostensible freedom: a beyond in which the “nothing” of enjoyment relocates the subject in the drive, thus posing a radical challenge to our understanding of freedom. The first lecture, “Funny/Peculiar/Queer: Michael Haneke’s Aesthetic Education,” takes Funny Games, Haneke’s 1997 film, as an exemplary instance of the negativity that animates philosophy’s conceptualization of freedom through self-reflection. In doing so, it locates the constraint inherent in the thought of freedom: a constraint that produces the queer as the unfreedom of freedom itself. The second lecture, “There is no Freedom to Enjoy,” puts Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl into dialogue with contemporary anti-queer discourses to trouble the link between reason and freedom that informs both our pedagogy and our politics. Taken together, these lectures will suggest that the discourse of freedom remains bound to the hope of freedom from the ab-sense, the pure negativity, or the nothing induced by the queer.
Lynne Huffer (Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA):
Foucault’s Fossils: Life Itself and the Return to Nature in Contemporary Feminist and Queer Thought (18-19 Aug)
This course asks about the return to nature and “life itself” in contemporary feminist and queer theory, from the new materialisms to feminist science studies to environmental ethics and critical animal studies. Unlike traditional naturalisms, the contemporary turn to nature is explicitly posthumanist. Shifting their focus away from anti-essentialist critiques of woman-as-nature, these new feminist and queer philosophies of nature have turned toward nonhuman animals, the cosmos, the climate, and life itself as objects of ethical concern. Drawing on Foucault, my lecture probes the ethical meanings of the term “life itself” invoked in many of these renaturalizing projects. Focusing especially on the archival matter that guides Foucault’s thinking, I suggest that we rethink “life itself” not as a transhistorical substance but as the unstable materiality of history. I then reframe Foucault’s archival, genealogical perspective through the lens of the Anthropocene and geological time. Reconceiving our archive as a fossil record, I suggest that Foucault has much to contribute to environmental challenges to human exceptionalism and the anthropogenic destruction of other species and ourselves.
OPTIONAL COURSES (CHOOSE 1 OUT OF 2 STREAMS) (20-23 Aug)
STREAM 1: QUEER MONSTROSITY: BODIES AND AFFECTS
Elisabeth von Samsonow (Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna, Austria):
Totemic Bodies: Bio-Semiotic Technologies of Difference and Synthetic Invasion (20-21 Aug)
Philo of Alexandra named humans "planting plants“ or „plants breeding plants“. His idea is echoed in the long history of bio-technologies within the framework of agriculture, i.e., selecting, planning, copying/cloning, trafficking seeds and breeding or designing the „domesticated“ species. As for Beatriz Preciado there is a significant relation between synthetic hormons, pornography and capitalism in the 70s, to me is important the parallelism between the attack or grasp on seeds, the standardization of technological fertilization and determination and the implosion of gender – now! The total integration of agriculture into capitalism happening during the last fifty years behind the back of urban elites opens up the horizon of „genetic concurrence“ in the sense of agri- or geo-technoculture, re-introducing the model of the „planting plant“ including the aspect of „the plant planting itself“. The linkage to the Phylum (that makes one of the four elements in Guattari’s schizoanalytical diagram) is constantly revised, reworked, re-interpreted the moment genetic automatisms are read and recognized.
What comes in at that crucial moment is a type of knowledge concerning the body that is unparalleled in history. The „planting plant“ and its technologies refer to deep storage information of highest ecological relevance including all bodies’ structure – as well as the Earth’s body itself. Operating on this level means re-telling and re-engineering on a bio-semiotic trajectory the model of Totemism that had foreseen a „transgender“ ancestor or patron for humans groups: a plant, an animal, an object…The semiotics of Totemism, updated to a level of reality and by this way pushed further (than Foucault had imagined it, he thought that it was forming only a rhetorics/semiotics of social order in a metaphorical sense) turns out to be an effective machine linking humans to transhumans and finally to the Earth itself. The Earth forming the womb of Totemic relations acts as the blue print of any bodily organization within this sphere providing all technologies as “nature“. What is at stake here is to understand the importance of the synchronicity of bodily transformation or modification and the Epiphany of the Earth and its planetary biography. The moment the Earth reappears in the position as an active subject=Totem the bio-historic event of genetic/hormon manipulation/engineering is indexing the co-somatic career of the Earth and the „planting plant“/human. Why is this interesting? And what about capitalist appropriation and exploitation of bio-technologies?? To the degree the Earth and its primal technologies are linked to the bodies in a common biography or ecology the capitalist endeavor to weaken the body’s autonomy in order to implement abstract desires and imperatives of alienated labour is undermined. Capitalism exclusively seeks to maintain the gap between economy and ecology, but the return of Totemic bodies breaks this „obligation“. I like to show in my course how totemic bodies autonomize themselves in gestures of „trans-plantation“.
Boyan Manchev (New Bulgarian University, Sofia, Bulgaria/Berlin University of the Arts, Germany):
The Monsters of Desire: Manifesto for Inhuman Affectivity (22-23 Aug)
In this seminar I will propose further articulation of a constellation of concepts, central to my work in the last decade – disorganization, organology, technique, tekhno-aisthetics, metamorphosis – developed in order to propose an emancipated from organocentrism perspective of thinking the body-subject.
The conceptual experiment will be based on the method of philosophical figurology; the mythical figures of the Sphinx, of Pandora and Arachne, as well as more recent monsters like Frankenstein and Ferat Vampire will be interpreted and conceptually manipulated.
In order to oppose the Freudian reduction of desire in the matrix form of the family romance, as well as the theatrical reduction of the body of desire to staged conflict, one should oppose first of all the Freudian interpretation of the exemplary figure of Greek tragedy: Oedipus. Oedipus became for Freud the privileged allegorical figure of the psychoanalytical romance, because of his supposed ‘complex’. He is the figure of ‘faulty’ desire, he, the incestuous monster. Yet, the careful hermeneutics of the mythical logic would lead us to a conclusion, radically diverging from Freud’s logic. (See the political hermeneutics of Sophocles’ Oedipus King in the first part of my book The Logic of the Political, Sofia: Iztok-Zapad & Human and Social Studies Foundation, 2012 , in Bulgarian). Oedipus enters incest not in order to be punished but because he has to reveal himself as monster. His provenance, his origin, his genos is monstrous: he is descending from the monstrous family of Cadmus, the future dragon; the polymorphous god Dionysus, the god of the bacchantes, is among his ancestors too. The family – the genos – of the monsters interacts with the Theban royal clan, always exposed to and giving place to monstrosity, not fully separated from the chthonian archaic soil, where monsters nest. Before sharing the bed of his mother, Oedipus first encounters, in a mythical love clash, the seducing singer, the monster descending herself from generation of incestuous monsters, one of the female beasts who seduce with their songs, like sirens: the Sphinx.
Therefore, not the incestuous transgressive desire normalized by the machinery of the tragic conflict – punishment and redemption – but the monstrous desire that doesn’t lack anything and which gave the victory to the tragic hero – the victory of a monster – is the obscene placenta of theater.
Not the hero but the Monster has the key for the enigma of Desire.
STREAM 2: FEMINIST POSTHUMANISM: NEW MEDIA, ART, AND ACTIVISM
Jenny Sundén (Södertörn University, Sweden) and Susanna Paasonen (University of Turku, Finland):
Humanist/Posthumanist Feminism (Joint Course, 20 Aug)
This seminar critically investigates the possibilities and limitations of posthumanist feminism for contemporary cultural theory. Bringing in technology as well as nature as principles of corporeal differentiation destabilizes the human subject. Posthumanist theory questions the primacy of human subjectivity, and it tunes in on the relational dimensions in the formation of bodies (human as well as nonhuman), subjects, and politics. Such an opening up of bodies and boundaries is also an opening up of the body to external forms of affective forces and power, to bodies affecting and being affected by other bodies. In certain ways, posthumanist theory picks up where poststructuralist deconstructions of modernist dualisms left off. But whereas feminist deconstructions of the nature/culture coupling involved something of a turn away from nature, as a way of breaking the associative link between woman and nature, posthumanist feminists rather turn away from culture in an attempt do conceptualize nature and materiality differently. In this seminar, we wonder what this turn away from the human, culture, and by extension from humanism does – indeed, what it is more precisely that one is turning away from. We interrogate whether posthumanist knowledge production is willing or unwilling to acknowledge its own limits, and what consequences this has for a posthumanist feminist critique.
Jenny Sundén (Södertörn University, Sweden):
On Glitch, Activism, and Gender as Machinery of Failure (21 Aug)
Building on the posthumanist feminist framework introduced in the introductory seminar, this lecture develops an understanding of gender as something fundamentally technological, and as such broken. It will be argued that the privileged de-stabilizing concept within posthumanist theorizing is nature, making human-animal studies a central, if not the most central field of inquiry. What appears to be an almost forgotten trope within posthumanism is the technological. Scholarly work that blurs the line between human and non-human as increasingly common in, for example, transgender studies, through the introduction of trans- animal studies. This lecture provides a slightly different blurring of the human/non-human boundary in rather approaching the question of (trans)gender from the point of view of the technological. Technologies always implicate their own failures and breakdowns. In understanding gender as machinery, the lecture puts into play a vocabulary of malfunctioning, broken, vulnerable technologies, and in particular uses the term ‘glitch’ to account for machinic failures in gender within the digital domain. Gender glitch is hesitation and anticipation, a loss of binary code, a disruption. The default mode of gender is technological failure, and cis gender, the ‘high fidelity’ of gender, an unobtainable ideal which promises gender as technological transparency. At the same time, glitch holds an intriguing critical, aesthetic, activist potential. In the hands of glitch artists, circuit breakers, gamers, queers, and trans- performers, glitch becomes a celebration of the beauty of malfunction and gender-technological fragility.
Susanna Paasonen (University of Turku, Finland):
On the Affordances of Moving Beyond the Human (22 Aug)
Posthumanism involves fundamental challenges to the separation between humans and other animals, the notion of the rational and autonomous human subject as well the exclusivity of analytical focus on human action in cultural theory. The lines of critique tend to be highly similar in both analyses framed as posthumanist and posthuman. Focusing on the connections and disconnections between posthuman and posthumanist critique as moves ‘beyond the human’ in cultural theory, and building on debates in feminist epistemology, this presentation addresses the boundaries of knowledge production that these critiques involve. While new materialist theory, on which much of feminist posthuman/ist critiques draws, conceptualizes thought as limitless and immanent, it can also be asked whether there could be value in a more humble perspective on thought, knowledge and the human and nonhuman bodies that make up the world? It remains crucial to ask what, and how, can we know about the life-worlds of animals, and how can we understand the ‘liveness’ of data, through the highly species-specific human sensoria, cognition and linguistic practices involved in knowledge production. Rather than posing the issue as one of ‘human exceptionalism’ (as critiqued by Haraway), this presentation explores the ways of putting species-specific embodied human sensoria into productive ethical use in posthumanist critique. Through a discussion of new media art, it addresses investigations of the boundaries of knowledge – the very possibilities and impossibilites to know, to understand, to sense and make sense – as ethically crucial in and for feminist research.
Mirjana Stošić (Singidunum University, Belgrade, Serbia):
Bodily Readings: Body Surface - Skin Deep (23 Aug)
This one-day course is an examination of the proliferative discourses of/on body, and the economy of relations between the self and the other, the human and the posthuman, the flesh and the machine. We will read the body through the skin, assumed to be the bodily envelope, a container of delineated body. In contemporary critical theory, the skin is emerging as counter-scientific phenomena, as the border itself, as an ambiguous interstitial space, being here and there, belonging to the human body and to the “outside“ world. That is, the skin can intervene, break the stability of the closed, structured image of the self. As a border, the skin is an uncanny text to be re-read, touched, re-written, the canvas with the inscriptions of the identificatory logic. In all its forms, the skin is layered within and without, and this course is particularly focused on this aspect of skin, especially regarding Valéry's verse: "Nothing is deeper than the skin." In contemporary artistic and theoretical practices, and political nominalisations, the skin is a relevant and traumatic signifying space, the site of remembering and forgetting, of inscription and erasure, of prosthesis and wound. From racial discourse (Fanon's notion of “racial skin chromatism“), and the notion of skin as “meta-organ“, or “mixing“ (Michel Serres), we would pave our way through the skin, until the skin itself becomes the site of pluralistic encounters (haptic, empathic, cultural, political, sexual, posthuman...), and patchwork of mnemonic marks. In this “economic“ account of the skin, in these dermal investments in culture, politics, education and language, the “human“ subject can only count on its own vulnerability.
We would investigate diversified meanings of scar, bite, wound and hole in the nets of identification, autobiography, language and technology. The scar is the biological, anatomical, structural nod, and the semantic, ideological, symbolic stitched place of absence, separation, and loss. It is a monument manifested on the place of separation, the stitch, and indeed a site of indecision, contamination, of “in-between” gendered skinscape, and a border point of this course.