Dissolving the Subject: History and Philosophy of Flow



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CLS Graduate Student Conference 2006: Arresting the Flow

Paper Abstracts and Biographies of Speakers


FRIDAY, April 14

12:15

Dissolving the Subject: History and Philosophy of Flow

1) Flux and Becoming: Deleuze's Return to Heraclitus

--Ella Brians, Philosophy, New School University


The question of flow takes us to the origins of western philosophy: Plato’s rejection of Heraclitean flux. In the central books of the Republic, Plato mocks and rejects Heraclitus in order to argue that if we accept flux as a first principle, then there can be no logos, no truth, and no legitimate identity claims. It is here, that Plato definitively sets being against becoming, the ideal against the material, and the eternal against temporal flux. There is no question that Plato’s rejection of Heraclitus set the standard for western philosophy, a standard that very few have dared to question.

Gilles Deleuze, champion of flux and becoming, is one of the few. In this paper, I argue that we can best understand Deleuze’s championing of flux as a return to the originary debate between Heraclitus and Plato. Deleuze’s rejection of Platonic being in favor of Heraclitean flux takes us to the limits of the conditions of both sense and identity. Strikingly, many contemporary commentators have made the same arguments against Deleuze that Plato makes against Heraclitus: the embrace of flux leads to nonsensical contradictions and the impossibility of discourse. Against these critics, I argue that Deleuze’s work provides resources not only for accepting flux as a first principle, but also for accounting for the ways in which flux is arrested. Against many of Deleuze’s own readers, I claim that he considered moderations, partial arrest, and pause of the flow to be integral to the creative process. The result is a rich philosophy that acknowledges flux as the basic reality, in which sense and meaning are emergent, rather than pre-given and eternal, and identities—formed of a complex network of relations—are contingent, rather than essential. What is at stake is no less than our conception of what it means to be a subject in the world, and consequently, the boundaries between subject and object, self and world.


Ella Brians is a M.A. candidate in Philosophy at the New School University. Ms. Brians’ focus is on 18th-20th century continental philosophy, with a specialization in 20th century French thought. She is currently completing her M.A. thesis, which examines the aesthetic dimensions of Gilles Deleuze’s ethical concepts.
2) Rationalism's Containment of the Mesmeric Fluid: Kant, Fichte, and Scholarly Discourse

--Sean Franzel, Germanic Studies, Cornell University


In this paper, I examine attempts by Kant and Fichte to challenge non-rationalist accounts of interpersonal interaction based on the fundamentality of the medium of electrified or magnetized universal fluid, as proposed by Franz Anton Mesmer. Kant and Fichte both perceive their cognitivist accounts of intersubjectivity to be under threat by varying breeds of vitalism that draw on increasingly prevalent scientific and pseudo-scientific experimentation with electricity and magnetism. Furthermore, both thinkers react in and from the institution of the university as they try to combat materialism by re-inscribing the rational foundation of scholarly communication. In this way, the mesmerist ‘fluidic’ foundation of interpersonal interaction becomes for Kant and Fichte an anxiety-ridden symbol of communication outside of and unrestricted by the institutional practices of the university scholar.

Kant’s and Fichte’s reactions to models of ‘fluidic’ intersubjectivity illuminate their substantially different notions of paradigmatic scholarly communication. Kant sees the propagation of trendy accounts of magnetic healing and paranormal phenomena as a result of a “reading mania” that cannot differentiate scientific from non-scientific reading matter. Consequently, his observations on Sömmering’s “Organ of the Soul” call for the reassertion of the division between the physiological medicinal faculty and the rationalist philosophical faculty. In other words, the Kantian philosopher/writer needs to renew his publication of treatises critical of this mistaken encroachment upon philosophical reason, in order to “magnetize and disorganize the animal magnetiseur.” Fichte, in contrast, approaches Mesmerism as a university lecturer. An experience of the heteronymous control of the magnetiseur over the magnetized patient occasions the comparison of this control to his own control of his student’s attention in the lecture hall: “The phenomenon that my listeners understand me in my presences, but no longer outside of the auditorium, is of the same variety.” Fichte understands the curious and threatening phenomenon of the magnetiseur’s manipulation of the universal fluid as a direct counter-model to his rationally grounded pedagogy of oral presentation.


Sean Franzel is a fourth year graduate student in German Studies at Cornell University, focusing on 18th and 19th Century intellectual history, aesthetics, and literature, with particular interest in Rousseau, German Idealism, Classicism, and Romanticism. His dissertation tracks the shifting function and status of the lecture as a form of public communication in German literary and scholarly culture around 1800. He illustrates how this model of public speech runs into problems not faced by traditional conceptions of rhetoric: this conference paper adapts a chapter that argues that communicative model of awakening autonomy by a heteronymous force (put forth most forcefully by Fichte in his lecture practice) does not encounter Mesmerist non-rationalist accounts of intersubjectivity and emerge unscathed.
3) Surface in Flow: The Cutaneous and the Canvas in Francis Bacon's Work

--Marcel Finke, Art History, University of Leipzig


As Freud and others have stressed, the conscious Ego should be regarded as a mental pro-jection of the surface of the body. In painting this surface coincides with the picture plane, and thus, problematizes the relation between representational modes and the construction of identity. Therefore, the disintegration of bodily forms and the melting away of a stable visual referent is usually associated with a loss of self. The works of Francis Bacon have traditionally been interpreted from this perspective, particularly after Gilles Deleuze’s “The Logic of Sensation” was published. In this essay Deleuze reads Bacon’s paintings through his own concept of the body without organs. This approach claims that the distorted bodies articulate a radical reduction of the Ego and thereby neglects that there is not “less” represented. On the contrary, Bacon’s bodies are always charged with something “more” because they interfere in different ways with the attempts to arrest the flow.

In my presentation I argue that the search for artistic means to fix fluidity without stopping the flux is one of Bacons main concerns. The canvas and the surface of the body become the locus of the painter’s various contemplations on the fluidity of meaning, sexual desire, and identity. Just as the blurred borders between the figures question the notion of a selfsame self, so does the unbounded surface of the painted body pronounce the fluidity of bodily parameters in general. Furthermore, this undoing of the topography of the body’s surface leads to questions about the medium and the representational modes applied in those self-referential visual statements. I will examine how the skin as a metaphor for the self and the canvas as a metaphor for the pictorial practice are in a permanent exchange. An understanding of this exchange as a fluid process itself helps further developing ideas of the performativity of the self and the picture. In the case of Francis Bacon Arresting the Flow then means to thematize the materiality of the paint and the body on a surface that virtually starts to flow.


Marcel Finke—1998-2005 Art History, Cultural Studies and German Literature at Leipzig University (Germany) and University College Dublin (Ireland) –– since 2004 Assistant to the project “Diversity-Gender-Power” at the Intitute of Art History at Leipzig University –– since 2005 working on doctoral thesis: “Die komplexe Organisiertheit des Bildes. Körperkonzeptionen und Identitätskon-struktionen in der Malerei Francis Bacons” (The Organization’s Complexity of the Image: Concepts of the Body and Constructions of Identity in the Work of Francis Bacon) –– Main fields of research: Picture and Art Theory, Scientific Photography, Painting and Performance in the 20th Century, Gender Studies and Psychoanalysis –– Publications on: the body in the work of Eadweard Muybridge and Francis Bacon; performativity in Muybridge and Butler; Muybridge, gender and productive crisis etc.
4) The Earth and the Human Subject: Environmental Fluidity in Kingsolver and Irigaray

--Christine Battista, English, Binghamton University


By her failure to be defined or predicated, [woman] serves as an in(de)finite basis for the ontological promotion of each living thing -- Luce Irigaray
In this paper, I explore the relationship between Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer and Irigaray’s Speculum of the Other Woman in order to argue that human beings yield a unique, singular access to the earth — an access that allows for unlimited possibilities for existence. For Irigaray, human subjectivity is thought from its indissoluble relation to the land. The extent to which the land is treated, then, has a significant impact upon the development and construction of those subject-constituents that occupy the land. Developing Irigaray’s argument in conjunction with Barbara Kingsolver’s novel Prodigal Summer, I argue that the present ontology of imperial environmental domination violently constricts not only the inherently fluid process of identity-formation (the human), but the earth (the non-human) and human re-presentations of the earth as well (re-presentations designed to support metaphysical imperialism, capitalism, disinterested scientific ecological inquiry, etc.). Irigaray illustrates that the ontology in place reduces the potential for growth and deprives the body of expansion and possibility. Developing this insight in terms of the imperial representations mentioned above, I show how Kingsolver’s novel reveals the violence of this ontology and the restrictions it places upon the human subject and its connection to the earth.

In Prodigal Summer, Kingsolver reveals the narratives of three women who each locate an enabling means through which to reconstruct their beings. The ground plan (in Heidegger’s sense of the term) into which each is born, though it furnishes a deceptively constrictive criterion for the possibilities of being, is nevertheless disintegrated as each woman counteracts the conditions that have been put into place by the existing ontology. I argue that Kingsolver, in focalizing her narrative on the magnanimous possibilities that are consistently unveiled between woman’s relation to the earth, reveals that woman need not be a subjected subject but rather she can have legitimate critical agency in and through her unique access to the natural planet.

This paper — taken from a research project that explores an ontological critique of the American capitalist machine and its repressively parasitic effects on the environment — explores the potential for a deconstructive analysis of the current age of violent environmental degradation. What I hope to illuminate through my investigation of Kingsolver’s eco-critical novel is that the present ontology of land politics can be rethought. As she reveals in her novel, in order to locate an active means through which to counteract the repressive forces of the corporate-industrial imperial machine, one must rethink the way in which the land is treated. I argue that the earth, in this sense, is not to be thought of as a space to be mastered or instrumentally pinned down for the sake of man’s dominating endeavors. Rather, it should be thought of as an enabling space that consistently opens up multiple ways of being and flows through an indissoluble connection between the non-human and the human. Though woman’s space is, according to Irigaray, systematically mapped out from the onset, Kingsolver reveals that this imperial process nevertheless can be actively counteracted.


Christine Battista is a PhD candidate in the Department of English at Binghamton University. She is currently working on the present global ontology of environmental onslaught in relation to the development of the human subject. Using Heidegger’s “The Age of the World Picture” as a lens through which to illustrate her research, the purpose of her investigation is to unveil the extent to which the present age of imperial environmental degradation yields a violently oppressive influence on the multitudinous possibilities for being. In this respect, her interests currently combine an eco-critical approach to literature with a postcolonial perspective that intersects the ontology of colonial domination with imperial land development.

2:30

Containers: Spatial Restraint, Tension, Vibration

5) verwahrs: verse-vase

--Ena Jung, German, Princeton University
My paper focuses on tropes of containment and overflowing in Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duineser Elegien, a series of ten elegies composed in sporadic spurts of writing interspersed with long tormenting dry-spells over a period of ten years. These poems, I argue, are about the process of their own writing.

Concentrating on the experiences of the lover and the angel, both of whom Rilke identifies as ideal figures for the poet himself, the paper traces the use of the word Strom and its related variants (e.g., entströmte, Strömung) in order to delineate what kind of overflowing experience is necessary to the process of writing poetry. Throughout these elegies, poetic inspiration is figured as an experience of the overflowing of temporal and spatial borders and the overflooding of distinctions among and between beings in a fluid economy (tears, blood, and alcohol) of pain (Schmerz) and suffering (Leid). Against this streaming, the poet, who in this role is also figured as a hero (Held), must hold (hält), however fluidly, this experience in writing. Through a close reading of the topography of the streams and related scrapes of land (riverbed, Flußbett, and source, Ursprung) occupying the scene of writing in these Elegies, I discuss how the poet must capture this movement of restraint within the flow that is becoming writing. Searching for a “strip of fruit-bearing land between stream and stone” (“Streifen Fruchtlands zwischen Strom und Gestein,” II. Elegie), Rilke’s poet struggles to contain his fluid experiences that exceed the boundaries between self and beloved, man and God, the living and the dead, by shaping the verse-vase that preserves (verwahrs, V. Elegie) their otherwise inherent flowing formlessness.


Ena Jung received her M.A. in Comparative Literature from the Johann Wolfgang Goethe Universität (Frankfurt/M.) and her B.A. in English from Williams College. Currently a Ph.D. student at Princeton, she is writing a book entitled “Dashing Gaps—Edgar Allan Poe’s Dupin Mysteries” on their dashing use of the dash as both punctuation and word—in all its various senses—which is representative of the modus operandi of the telling and “D—cipher[ing]” of these detective stories, but moreover of the way in which all linguistic markers function. She is writing a dissertation on love, desire, death and their relation to inspiration in poetry and film.
6) The Slow Object of Contemporary Art: Matthew Barney's Filmic Installation

--Jessica Santone, Art History, McGill University


Matthew Barney’s “The Order,” part of his five-film Cremaster Cycle (1994-2002) brings together four artistic media that merge into one another. The artist is engaged in an endurance-testing body performance. His performance occurs on a series of stages, each comprising a unique installation. On the final stage, minimalist artist Richard Serra constructs a Vaseline sculpture that sets the clock for the sequence. Each of these parts of the work is related in the documentation of Barney’s performance – the 30 minute sequence, “The Order,” part of the film Cremaster 3.

My paper will address how installation, performance, sculpture, and film relate in this contemporary artwork. Specifically, I will look at the figure of the Vaseline sculpture as exemplary of how the moment of these media merging produces a stasis, drawing attention to their intersections. This sculpture is created by heating Vaseline, throwing it against a metal prop, and allowing the hot jelly to drip and ooze slowly along the base of the Guggenheim Museum ramp until we can imagine that it both reaches the bottom of the ramp and hardens again to form a solid. In a similar way, the film becomes a complex time-based sculptural object. As the events in the film, the performative actions of the protagonist, and the endlessly-present installations slow down almost completely, they nearly freeze into a single, long, slow moment.

At stake in this discussion is the relationship between differently mediated elements of a single contemporary artwork. Consequently, I argue that time-based and spatial media combine to form a temporal knot – one that fixes the work of art as a slow object. And I will draw conclusions about the effects of the contemporary slow object on art viewers – its demands for enduring concentration and contemplation, and its passive resistance to objecthood.
Jessica Santone is a Ph.D. student in Art History and Communication Studies at McGill University. Her research focuses on the history and documentation of performance art (especially Fluxus and Happenings), but she is also interested in the relationship between art and technology in twentieth century art (especially in projects concerning the body), relations between artistic media in contemporary art, and theories of archiving and documentation. She earned a B.A. in History from the University of Maryland in 2002 and an M.A. in Humanities from the University of Chicago in 2003.
7) A Cinema Without Organs: Musical Values and Fields of Vibrations in Horror Film

--Kelly Kirshtner, Visual Studies, University of California (Irvine)


In the cinematic context, sound is a nomadic presence that “belongs” to neither screen nor theater; it is rather a deterritorializing force amplified through its effects on bodies within these spaces. Its flow easily exceeds the lines of projected and architectural space just as it does the line described by the ear, its presence enacting a series of disturbing intimacies within the already rhythmic system of the body.

One might think of film sound not only in terms of ‘occurrences’, but of multiple fields of vibration – ‘becomings’ – events of exchange within and between porous assemblages. However, one might also speak of musical values, which are distinct from the music or soundtrack of the film: as I am conceiving of it here, musical values are those sonic or visual elements which focus the fields of vibration towards specific bodies or parts of bodies within and outside of the film. This takes an even more literal connotation in context with the horror film; the horrified body’s breathing, shivering, gasping, thrashing, squelching, screaming, and even silence constitute a sonic machine for producing another level of resonance – corresponding to the vibrations of the cinematic flow as well as extending its effect outward into the world.

With these ideas in mind, this essay explores both of these components—the fields and the values—the auditory forces of articulation and deterritorialization as they are manifested in horror cinema, especially in relation to their effects on bodies within the apparently separate spaces of screen and theater. More specifically, it takes into consideration various cinematic acts of sonic and stratic transmission—the becomings inspired by oscillating vectors of force and sensation (vibration) that threaten to violate the limits of the body on-screen, as much as they already do the extradiegetic viewer, inviting both to give themselves up to pure sensation.

Through a close analysis of a brief series of events in Gore Verbinski’s film The Ring (2002), the paper attempts to illustrate the tensions between established patterns and their destratification – between noise and music, between silence and the body, between death and escape. By following these flows, one might temporarily map the vibration that signifies the disorderly manifestation (or dismantling) of the body in relation to horror.


Kelly Kirshtner is a doctoral candidate in the Visual Studies Program at the University of California, Irvine, where she is co-editor of Octopus: A Visual Studies Journal. Her work focuses on sound, music, video, experimental and surrealist cinema, and intersections of film, science, and critical theory. She received a Master’s degree in Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
4:00

Keynote address


Bernhard Siegert

“Floating Signifiers on the Mississippi: Herman Melville’s Confidence Man.”


Response


Peter Fenves
SATURDAY, April 15

10:00

Bodies and Circulation: The Economy of Flow

8) From Goethe's 'Pflanze' to Ford's 'Plant': The Comparison of Two Cultural Symbols

--Christian Weber, German and History & Philosophy of Science, Indiana University


In my paper I present a contrastive reading of two texts that might seem incomparable at first sight: Goethe’s essay “Versuch die Metamorphose der Pflanzen zu erklären” (in connection with his later poem “Die Metamorphose der Pflanzen”) and Henry Ford’s autobiography “My Life and Work”, in which he recapitulates the construction of the assembly line at his plant in Dearborn. I consider both ‘models’ – i.e. the discovery of metamorphosis and the invention of the assembly line – eminent cultural symbols: whereas Goethe’s primal principle of nature belongs to an essentially organic conception of culture, Ford’s technological revolution has shaped the mechanistically operating mass and consumer culture of post-modernity.

Both models, however, share some common features, and their promoters, it seems, agree in particular about one crucial and fundamental aspect – they are both proponents of a philosophy of flux. Goethe’s version of it is encapsulated in a verse of the “Metamorphose der Pflanzen”, which also comprises a poetic (pre)-conception of the Bildungsroman: “Bildsam ändre der Mensch selbst die bestimmte Gestalt”. In Ford’s autobiography this sounds similar but a bit less poetic: “Life, as I see it, is not a location, but a journey. […] Everything is in flux, and was meant to be. Life flows.” However, it is also a matter of agency, and herein – as well as in other aspects – Goethe and Ford depart. In fact, the Fließband of Ford’s plant is ultimately an inversion and revision of Goethe’s concept of the metamorphosis of plants.

I conclude my presentation with a flighty glance at some texts from the vast amount of German travel literature of the 1920s, in which both conservative and socialist authors of diametrically different political stances agree on their rejection of the Ford plant and thus confirm their own cultural bias.
Christian Weber is a PhD candidate in Germanic Studies and the History and Philosophy of Science at Indiana University, Bloomington. He is writing his dissertation on “Goethe’s Critique of Imagination” (working title). Other interests include: Literature and Philosophy of the Enlightenment (esp. Lessing, Herder, and Kant), Romanticism & Early Modernism (esp. Kleist, Kafka), ‘Realism’ in Literature (Johnson), Fordism, ‘Americanism’ and ‘Anti-Americanism’ in Europe, Philosophy of Biology.
9) Liquid Agencies in Thomas Heywood's 'Fair Maid of the West'

--Hillary Eklund, English, Duke University


“Liquid Agencies” reads the first part of Thomas Heywood’s Fair Maid of the West to show how circulatory systems of the early modern Atlantic – from the alimentary canal to transnational trade networks – are modeled on Renaissance ideas of flow. According to early modern medical (Galenic) understanding, the body’s entrances and exits must be carefully monitored to achieve balance between, on the one hand, optimal conversion and circulation of nutrients into blood, and on the other hand, the ideal stasis of a healthy body. In Heywood’s play an English barmaid, Bess Bridges, demonstrates acuity in beer drawing, moneymaking, and seafaring in pursuit of her lover, Spencer. Bess’s fluid manipulation of signs of gender, race and class enables her to play multiple roles and secure the service of would-be antagonists, while her business acumen keeps her in a state of productive financial liquidity. This model of flow – echoed in the play’s relentlessly aqueous metaphors – both riffs and critiques the agency demonstrated by that other “English Bess,” Elizabeth I. That Bess’s ship and her virtue are both “tight,” despite the norms she violates and her protracted displacement from her home, suggests a post-Elizabethan response to the geographical and economic containment of the queen’s reign. Furthermore, by blending land-based business ventures with privateering (ad)ventures, Bess makes available a model of flow that is consistent both with England’s moral claims and its colonial aims. I suggest that this play not only draws England out of its insular economy (so much so that the play ends in the court of the king of Fez) into an emergent mercantile state, but also sets up a model of transnational flow that interrupts the dangerous overflow of Indian gold into Spain, reorganizing the Atlantic as a “stomach” capable of nourishing its constitutive members.
Hillary Eklund is a fourth-year doctoral candidate in the Department of English at Duke University. She is beginning a dissertation called “The Atlantic Kitchen,” which posits the early modern Atlantic literally and metaphorically as the alimentary center of the Western humoral world. The project considers texts primarily in English and Spanish that use food – including its manufacture, circulation, and consumption – as a language to express ideas about what it means to live in and around the Atlantic in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
10) The Life Aquatic in the Bourgeois Interior

--Isabel Kranz, Media of History-History of Media Graduiertenkolleg, Bauhaus University Weimar


One of the main goals of this paper is to investigate the role of the aquarium in the bourgeois interior. The world’s first public aquarium opened in London in 1853, one year after the Crystal Pallace Exhibition. Most of the following, increasingly fashionable universal exhibitions presented a new aquarium in which a hitherto unknown world was unveiled to the public eye, and interest in the mysteries of marine life heightened. Whereas the development of such public aquariums is well documented, the history of private aquariums remains to be written.

This history is intimately related to the retreat into private space that took place in the 19th century: While life in the metropolis became an endless flux of people and commodities, the home promised a safe haven from the bewildering mosaic of the street. Here, the bourgeois citizen could relax from the strains of keeping up his public persona. At home, stability was cherished, whereas commercial life required continuous progress.

How does the aquarium in the bourgeois drawing room fit into this picture of neatly separated spheres? What dreams were attached to these installations? What visions were manifested in confining the movement of living creatures for the purpose of display? Should we consider these aquariums merely as decorative artworks or as precursors to cinema and television screens? What concepts of nature and culture are rendered by domesticating sea life?

Analyzing mostly popular French magazines of the time, the purpose of this paper is to provide some theses on the relationship between the bourgeois fascination with marine life and the desire to control exotic worlds by incorporating them into the private home. By doing so, I hope to come to a better understanding of the concept of the bourgeois interior as hinted at in Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project.


Isabel Kranz studied Comparative Literature, North American Studies and Teaching German as a Foreign Language at Augsburg University, Université Charles–de–Gaulle Lille III (France) and the Free University of Berlin. After earning her M.A. degree in August 2003, she spent an academic year as a visiting scholar at Yale University. Since January 2005, Ms. Kranz has been a member of the interdisciplinary research group »Media of History — History of Media« at the Bauhaus University in Weimar (Germany). Awarded a doctoral scholarship by the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft), she is currently writing her dissertation on Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project at Erfurt University (Germany).
11) Counter-Flow: Censorship and Digital Media Appropriations

--Abigail Derecho, Comparative Literary Studies, Northwestern University


In 1973, British media studies scholar Raymond Williams characterized the television viewing experience as “flow”: the witnessing of constant transitions between texts (TV shows or televised movies) or from texts to paratexts (commercials, station identifications, previews of other programs, etc.). The digital age has dramatically expanded the types of paratexts that contribute to media flows. Today, in addition to watching “traditional” paratexts such as ads and previews on TV or in movie theaters, or listening to them during radio broadcasts, many media consumers go online and seek out digitally created and distributed paratexts, such as remixes of pop songs, fan fiction or fan films that revise or expand upon film and television narratives, and even forms of high art (such as hypertext works) that incorporate elements of mass media.

These new paratexts are appropriations of existing media works. They are consumer productions, made possible by increasingly affordable and accessible digital media. However, these recent additions to the flows of media have not gone unchecked by corporate media producers. Rather, consumers who appropriate media texts have operated for the last two decades in a climate of censorship. In this paper, I will trace the history of legislative and legal battles, beginning in the mid-1980s, surrounding the question of whether and how media audiences should be allowed to transform existing texts. I will discuss how a discourse of “theft vs. art” has informed these debates, and will investigate the philosophical underpinnings and assumptions of the theft vs. art opposition, drawing upon Derrida’s idea of the “archontic” as both a drive to archive (gather together) and limit (determine what gets to be in the archive, and what must be kept out of the archive).


Abigail Derecho is a fourth-year Ph.D. student in Comparative Literary Studies, with a home department in Radio/Television/Film. She compares texts across media rather than across national traditions, with a focus on digital media appropriations, or how artists (amateur or professional) transform media texts (fan films and video game “mods” are examples of this type of art) using digital production and distribution technologies.
1:30

Keynote address


Jules Law

Title [TBA]


Roundtable discussion


With Bernhard Siegert and Peter Fenves
3:00

The Rhythm and Regulation of Flow

12) The Flow of Traffic: Adorno on Poetic Language in Late Capitalism

--Heather Fielding, English, Brown University
For Adorno, “flow” is a useful metaphor for the poetic dimension of language, which resists the reifying logic of instrumental reason. In this respect, flow implies constant movement, as opposed to the discrete teleological motion of an instrument, or static homogeneous invariability. This paper examines Adorno’s essay “Punctuation Marks,” which complicates this concept of poetic flow by describing it with a technological metaphor.

Adorno usually relies on inorganic but non-technological metaphors to describe poetic language. Rustling leaves and constellations are his prominent figures for describing language that cannot be reduced either to a technological tool or to an aspect of a human subject who uses it. Adorno argues that punctuation marks function poetically, because they cannot be fully assimilated to the semantic and open up a single written text to a multiplicity of oral readings. But instead of choosing a figure of a river, or a planet’s orbit, to describe this function, Adorno figures the punctuation mark as a traffic light regulating the flow of language in a text. The poetic dimension of language turns out to be precisely technological.

In this metaphor, the poetic traffic signal makes a text heterogeneous, since it transforms immobile written signs into a moving flow of traffic. But this kind of heterogeneity is not opposed to the instrumental mode of thought Adorno associates with late capitalism, since traffic lights are instruments that calm, contain, and regulate an overflow of cars. Traffic lights, that is, seem to replace an uncontrolled heterogeneity with a totally reified, efficient homogeneity. However, Adorno theorizes that instrumental technology as a kind of poetic heterogeneity, a flow that must necessarily be arrested, managed, and controlled. In late capitalism, Adorno suggests, the flow of the poetic must always already be instrumental; the poetic’s ability to resist reification comes from the interior of reification itself.
Heather Fielding is a PhD candidate in the English department at Brown University. She is at work on a dissertation entitled "The Noise of Modernism: Literature, Technology, and Reification." Using critical approaches from media theory and Marxist theory, she argues that as a contradictory response to the objectifying imperatives of reification, modernism models literature on technology and imagines the literary text as a device with automatically moving parts. She is the organizer of a Mellon Workshop and lecture series, "Critical Approaches to Modernity," and has presented papers at the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts and at the Technisierung/Ästhetisierung conference sponsored by the Technical University, Darmstadt, Germany.
13) Time/Frame: Flows of Duration in Hiroshi Sugimoto's 'Theaters' Series

--Tina Gregory, Art History, The Graduate Center (CUNY)


Self-avowed “nineteenth century photographer” Hiroshi Sugimoto has been photographing the quiet, empty interiors of ornate cinema palaces around America since 1978. Exposed using only the flickering light from the running film itself, the resulting images reveal extraordinary detail, and seem to glow from within. Commercially successful due to their subtle, formal beauty, the photographs themselves (as well as the contemporary, yet historic and archetypal process involved in their creation) have yet to be critically analyzed in terms of their attempt to frame and encode multiple passages of time.

This discussion touches on historical attempts to “frame and encode” the temporal in artistic theory and practice, including Walter Benjamin’s concept of the aura and its reliance on concepts of flow, and Etienne Jules-Marey’s nineteenth-century attempts to interrupt and examine the flow of bodily movement through photography. Primarily, it argues for a reading of Sugimoto’s contemporary practice in light of Gilles Deleuze’s second volume on cinema, The Time Image. Focusing on Deleuze’s reworking of Bergson’s concept of durée, it positions the formal and conceptual practice of timing and framing present in Sugimoto’s photographs as conversant with Deleuzian spatio-temporal demarcations, and analyses their relationship to (and reliance on) the concept of temporal flow as a continuous, indivisible entity. For this particular moment in Deleuze’s analysis, and for Sugimoto’s meticulous photographic practice, temporal flow is not interrupted, but analysed; not arrested, but harnessed. Overall, this paper seeks to provide a critical model for discussing cinematic concepts of spatio-temporal flow into the ongoing debates on photographic representation.


Tina Gregory is a fourth-year doctoral candidate in the department of Art History at the Graduate Center. Her specialization is in modern and contemporary photography and new media, and her work to date has focused on issues of documentary history and post-documentary theory, with a recent interest in historical concepts of temporality, duration, and the photographic index. As a Curatorial Fellow with the Whitney Museum’s Independent Study Program, She is currently organizing an exhibition on strategies of media appropriation in recent art. Based primarily on reproduced and remixed images of political conflict, it also investigates imagery emulative of, and isolated from, the media’s incessant flow.
14) The Melody and Rhythm of Flow: Husserl and Benveniste

--Robert G. Ryder, Comparative Literary Studies, Northwestern University


In his fifth Logical Investigation, Husserl accounts for the temporality of consciousness by turning to the idea of temporal objects. A melody, he claims, is the perfect temporal object, since every moment of a melody involves remembering every other moment that occurred before it. This is not the same as memory recall, but rather becomes the basis of what Husserl calls primary retention, a kind of memory wholly founded in perception wherein the Now retains an originary association with the “just now passed.” Bernard Stiegler writes that the “phenomenon of this temporal object is a flow [un écoulement].”

But if a melody is one kind of flow, rhythm is another: while also using the metaphor of music, Émile Benveniste writes that “one can be lead to understand that rhythmos, significantly, [is] literally ‘a particular manner of flow’ [manière particulière de fluer].” By looking closely at the musical examples in these two contexts, this paper is concerned with the difference between Husserl’s melodic flow and Benveniste’s rhythmic one. Why, for instance, would Husserl’s use of the melody to exemplify a specific temporal object preclude a discussion of the melody’s rhythm? Is it even possible to separate melody from rhythm? In Stiegler’s final chapter of La désorientation, where he also discusses Husserl’s primary retention as a melodic flow, there is no mention of rhythm. This paper argues that rhythm, as its own “particular manner of flow,” is an essential element when considering Husserl’s notions of the temporal object (and therefore of the temporality of consciousness in general), and offers possibilities for how rhythm is to be implemented.


Robert G. Ryder is a doctoral candidate in Comparative Literature and German at Northwestern University. His research interests include music and literature, German critical thought and early German film. Presently he is working on the spatial and temporal ramifications of Walter Benjamin’s notion of Schwelle, and the extent to which it might affect or reflect theoretical problems of acoustics and sound theory from Deleuze’s refrain to Michel Chion‚s acousmetre. His dissertation will focus on acoustics and the uncanny in early twentieth-century German literature and film.

4:30

The Pandemic: Fluid Communities

15) The Pen and the Syringe: Autoimmunity and the (Un)readability of Flowing Blood

--Neal DeRoo, Philosophy, Boston College
This paper will examine Derrida’s critique of the “autoimmunity” of Western “tele-technoscientific” culture. It is by way of this “autoimmunity” that Western culture (with its fetishes for telecommunication, technology, and science) attempts to purify itself from all that would pollute what it considers “sacred.” To illustrate this “autoimmunity,” I will examine language in this “tele-technoscientific” culture, and show how it seeks to “purify” itself from the living body by abstracting, universalizing, and symbolizing the body in discourse. By so doing, it purifies itself of the flowing blood of the living body, and sanitizes the body into little more than symbols.

Next, I will show how Derrida challenges this conception of language. In “Circumfession,” Derrida attempts to re-introduce the living body into Western language by equating writing with flowing blood (that of his own circumcision and of his mother’s bed sores). By so doing, he shows the dual inadequacy of Western language to systematize the body: first, by attempting to systematize it in a form that excludes the flowing of blood in the actual living body (i.e. a phallocentric, or a phallogocentric systematization); second, by making writing/flowing blood, that is, writing as a flowing of blood and the flow of writing as/in one’s own blood, “unreadable.” Indeed, it is precisely because the (male) body is abstracted, universalized, and symbolized in discourse that the actual, living, bleeding body cannot be read there. This “unreadability” of flowing blood emphasizes the exclusion of the living body from Western discourse. This exclusion, in turn, is emblematic of a deeper exclusion that lies at the heart of Western “tele-technoscientific” culture and necessitates a search for community (from the Latin com-munitio, “common defense”) that lies at the heart of Western autoimmunity.


Neal DeRoo is currently in the Philosophy PhD program at Boston College. Previously, he received a Master’s of Arts degree from the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. His Master’s thesis, entitled “Confluent Confessions: The Flowing Together of Deconstruction and/as Religious Confession,” examined Derrida’s critique of religious confessions, situating it within a larger Derridean critique of a particular type of exclusion that was connected to patriarchy and, in Derrida’s words, to the “tele-technoscientific” culture of the “globo-latinzed” world. He has participated in conferences on topics ranging from Augustine to Merleau-Ponty to the recent theological movement known as “Radical Orthodoxy.” His undergraduate work was done at Calvin College, in Grand Rapids, MI.
16) How the Bird Flew: Analyzing Discourses of National Accountability and Global Responsibility in Response to the Threat of a Global Avian Flu Pandemic

--Nick Muntean, Radio-Television-Film, University of Texas-Austin


Over the past year, American media outlets have devoted ever-increasing attention to the "bird flu" (aka "avian flu", "H5N1 virus") and its potential ability to mutate from a an isolated Eurasian environmental issue into a global health crisis. While much of this discourse has centered around the possibility of the virus' ability to mutate from an avian strain into one that can be passed amongst humans, considerable focus has also been paid to the ways in which various countries have (or haven't) applied energy and resources to preventing and/or containing flu outbreaks within their respective national boundaries.

The manner in which these national responses to a fluid, migratory, trans-national problem have been portrayed in American media outlets allows for several points of analysis, particularly, the processes through which the potentially global nature of this health problem have been localized to the accountability (and, in some cases, culpability) of individual nations. Furthermore, by examining the ways in which these discourses are constructed and presented in the national American press, it is possible to analyze how notions of "first-world" and "third-world" nations are contemporaneously constructed in binary opposition to one another while serving to re-entrench conceptions of globalization and the "global village" as a foregone conclusion.

The primary sources of analysis for this project are American print media outlets, such as Time, Newsweek, and The New York Times. Much of the theory informing this analysis comes from Arjun Appadurai's work on globalization, particularly his notions of ideoscapes, mediascapes, and technoscapes. By analyzing the ways this fluid threat is conceptualized in national and international terms, it is possible to come to a greater understanding of the processes through which we construct notions of national and international responsibility in light of pre-existing notions of the developmental status of particular nations.
Nick Muntean completed his Bachelor's degree at Johns Hopkins University, earning a double degree in Philosophy and Film & Media Studies. He is now pursuing his Master's degree in the Media Studies Program of the Radio-Television-Film department at University of Texas - Austin. Primary fields of interest are the ways in which new technologies remediate society and cultural practices, the consolidation of media ownership and its effects on popular conceptions of the idea of "authority", and the notion of a "final draft" in news stories on corporate media websites.
17) Clouds at Speed: Swarm Dynamics and Flexible Topologies

--Sebastian Vehlken, Media of History-History of Media Graduiertenkolleg, Bauhaus University Weimar


The term swarm seems to have become a paradigmatic mode of representing collectivities whose complexity and internal dynamics exceed the conceptual framework of what might be called network science. In contrast to the basically static topology of networks which highlight the spatial organization of a network over its dynamic development in time, swarms challenge this notion of space and time, and thus undermine the ideas of the Cartesian geometry. Since communication and movement amalgamate, the swarm additionally evokes an information theory without channels – a concept of networks without nodes and edges.

Not unlike clouds, swarms are fuzzy phenomenons. They paradoxically put themselves in a concrete form by an ‘indifferencialization’ of single elements into a dynamic, heterogenous multiplicity. Swarms therefore represent a constant flow, fluctuation, and morphology that is not representable in logics of cause and effect or by other rational measures.



I would like to examine two approaches that nevertheless made an effort to arrest the dynamics of swarms, and in the same instant indicate an epistemological transformation in the know-ledge of swarm behavior. On the one hand an early biological and ethologic approach (around 1900), that tried to understand the superorganisms of social animals such as bees or fish. On the other hand a later cybernetic knowledge of those swarms, which modelled animal group behavior in terms of mathematical information theory (as early as in the Macy Conferences around 1950) and, as an outcome, prepared the field for a later biologically inspired computer science. But while the earlier approach quickly began to serve as an (ideological) blueprint for a ‘State of nature’ (Eugene Thacker), the latter neutralized these political metaphors, replacing them with technological notions. This liberation seems, from my point of view, to be the initial condition for today’s euphorical and interdisciplinary use of the dispositive (Michel Foucault) of the swarm – from anti-hegemonial smart mobs to a swarming in military affairs.
Sebastian Vehlken is a scholarship holder of the Graduate School Mediale Historiographien (Media of History - History of Media) of Bauhaus-University Weimar, University of Erfurt and Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena. He works on a PhD project entitled Swarms. Medialities and Policies of Fuzziness. He studied Film- and Television Studies, Publicity and Communication Studies, and Economics at Ruhr-University Bochum and Media Studies at Edith Cowan University, Perth, Australia. In 2004, Mr Vehlken graduated with a M.A. thesis on Stafford Beer's Cybersyn network and Operations Room in Chile during the era of Salvador Allende. He is especially interested in the (techno-) history of the computer, cybernetics, and recently in mobile networks, processes of self-coordination, emergent behavior in complex systems, and animate architecture.


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