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Chris Fynsk speaking to the European Graduate School (EGS) about the chef Ferran Adrià of the restaurant El Bulli in Catalonia, Spain and about how the cuisine relates to the thought of Jean Luc Nancy, Heidegger and the question of taste. Fynsk spoke about the Nancy’s idea of gastronomic affirmation as well as the concept of the image of art revealing itself through the distended time of the meal. Referencing Mallarme, Roland Barthes and others, Fynsk attempted to draw a sketch of the “coming forth” of food into a play of revelation and withdrawal. Public open lecture for the students and faculty of the European Graduate School (EGS).
Chris Fynsk has been the Director of the Centre for Modern Thought as well as the head of the School of Language and Literature at the University of Aberdeen since 2005. He also currently holds the Maurice Blanchot Chair for Continental Philosophy at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland. Previously he taught at SUNY Binghamton where he was co-director and founder of the Philosophy, Literature and Theory of Criticism department.
Internationally recognized as a Heidegger scholar and literary theorist, Chris Fynsk has worked extensively with Philipe Lacou-labarthe and Jean Luc Nancy as well as others over the course of his career. In his book Heidegger; Thought and Historicity (1986), Fynsk examined Heidegger’s notions of human finitude and difference, especially through an examination of the role of mitsein in Being and Time. In later works, Fynsk has taken up the idea of language (that there is language) and its relation to being. His book Infant Figures: The Death of the Infans and Other Scenes of Origin (2000) continues this engagement with language. A meditation on death and language using the texts of Jacques Lacan and Maurice Blanchot, as well as the images of Francis Bacon, Infant Figures describes “ an emergent figuration that attends a human subject’s birth to language.”
Amongst Chris Fynsk’s published works are Typography: Mimesis, Philosophy (1989), Heidegger: Thought and Historicity (1986), Politics Language and Relation: …that there is language (1996), Infant Figures: The Death of the Infans and Other Scenes of Origin (2000), The Claim of Language: A Case for the Humanities (2004).
Critic, science fiction writer and noted Net theorist Bruce Sterling speaking on atemporality and the passage of time as reflected in images at the EGS in Saas-Fee, Switzerland in May 2009. Sterling spoke about computer security, post modernity, time, the digital frontier, the nature of the archive. Sterling attempts in his lecture to “get away from words” in order to focus on an atemporal sensibility in order to get the audience to see images in the way he sees them. Using a different approach to a human standpoint of time, Sterling attempts to examine futurity, history and the present from the standpoint of “contemporary temporalism.” Looking at the archive and our relationship to objects from Leonardo Da Vinci to contemporary fetishes, Sterling examines each subject from the standpoint of atemporality. Public open lecture for the students and faculty of the European Graduate School EGS Media and Communication Studies department program Saas-Fee Switzerland.
As well as being a leading science fiction writer, Bruce Sterling has been involved with numerous projects and written several books of futurist theory. He was the founder of the Dead Media Project, an on-line reliquary, or archive, to forgotten, or dead, media technologies. In this way, he looked to the past through the future, anticipating, almost, in the shininess of new media, its utter destruction. He also founded the Viridian Design Movement, an environmental aesthetic movement founded on the ideas of global citizenship, environmental design and techno-progressiveness. His numerous book length essays both question and promote how the future is shaping our concepts of self, time and space. In “Shaping Things” (2005) offer a history of shaped objects, moving from the most rudimentary hand-made artifacts through to the complex machinery which defines our current existence. In “Tomorrow Now; Envisioning the Next Fifty Years” (2002), Sterling examines how today’s technologies will affect our future lives. Written in a wry, intelligent style, Sterling’s book makes bold claims on the future, examining scientists use of medicine to extend our lives while examining at the same time our seemingless bottomless thirst for oil. Sterling’s most acclaimed book, “The Hacker Crackdown; Law and Order on the Electronic Frontier” (1993) is a deep history of the birth of cyberspace, following the periphery of the development of technology from the first telephone hackers to the government’s attack on several prominent hackers in 1990.
Bruce Sterling’s novels incluce Intuition Ocean (1977), The Artifical Kid (1980), Heavy Weather (1994), Zeitgiest (2000), and most recently The Caryatids (2009). His essay collection and non-fiction books include The Hacker Crackdown; Law and Order on the Electronic Frontier (1993), Tomorrow Now; Envisioning the Next Fifty Years (2002), and Shaping Things (2005). He currently blogs at Beyond the Beyond for Wired Magazine.
Giorgio Agamben at the European Graduate School in 2009 speaking about the modern juridical state, its ties to the High Church and the Ufficium, as well as Michel Foucault, Heidegger and contemporary ethics.
Giorgio Agamben speaking to the European Graduate School (EGS) in Saas-Fee, Switzerland in August of 2009. Agamben spoke extensively about the role of the liturgy as well as the etymology and role of the Uficium in the Catholic Church and how those two concepts have carried forth into the contemporary juridical state, most notably in modern ethics and politics.
Giorgio Agamben is perhaps Italy’s most famous contemporary philosopher; as a leading figure in both philosophy and radical political thought, he has been intimately connected, along with Antonio Neri and Paolo Virno to Italy’s post-1968 leftist politics. During his tenure as professor at the Universita di Venizia, he has written widely on philosophy, politics, theology as well as radical critical theory—indeed, there is little in the world of critical theory that he has not at some point touched upon. Working in the wake of such thinkers as Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida, Agamben has become one the most influential thinkers of his generation, concerned primarily with the proper ethical and political task of thought.
With over sixteen titles translated into english so far, Agamben’s work covers fields as diverse as Biblical studies, cinema, classical and medieval literature, juridic philosophy, as well as commentary on world politics, theories of language, friendship, art, aesthetics, poetics and more. Agamben, continuing the work of both Foucault and Derrida, through history and philosophy, seeks to confront and unwind the aporias and gaps which bind us in our mundane existence.
In his most well known book, Homo Sacer, Agamben uses Roman law as a departure point to investigate how, in contemporary politics, the “state of exception”—in which the law is suspended by the sovereign (or the republic)—has become not extraordinary, but in fact commonplace. Tracing the history of the state of exception from Aristotle through to contemporary times, he argues that the sovereign has constantly placed the idea of a state of exception—a state that remains outside (or above) both holy and mundane law—as a foundation for its actions. Turning from the idea of the state to the idea of community, Agamben traces, in his 1990 book The Coming Community, a delicate re-designation of community. Jean Luc Nancy describes it as “a community beyond any conception under this name; not a community of essence…but …a being-together of essences.” In his most recent book, What Is An Apparatus, Giorgio Agamben seeks to expand Foucault’s use of the term apparatus, or dispositif, to include, and implicate, all networks that bind us and and result not in the production of a subject, but a de-subjected subject.
Giorgio Agamben’s translated books include The Coming Community (U Minnesota, 1993); Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (Stanford, 1998); The Open: Man and Animal (Stanford, 2002); State of Exception (U Chicago, 2003). Giorgio Agamben’s most recent book, What Is An Apparatus was published in 2009 by Stanford University Press. He is currently, continuing the work of Michel Foucault, focusing on issues of the liturgy and the church.
What does it mean to live in uncertainty, to live without clearly defined ideas of Truth and it’s dialectical brother, Falsehood? How does it effect our day to day decisions, our ethical concerns and even our entire outlook on life? What does it mean to attempt to act within an uncertain world, to exist without even a firm ground from which to conceive of acting? What happens when the Other disappears after Nietzche’s “death of God”, when all we know or suspect can only be of this world, and not of another metaphysical plane? In essence, what happens when we sense, explosively, in the words of Jean Luc Nancy, that “the world in itself is enough”?
Michael Anker seeks to answer some of these questions in his book The Ethics of Uncertainty by drawing on the works of Jacques Derrida, Nancy, and Wolfgang Schirmacher, among others. Seeking to define, or at least to point to, an ethics which grows out of, or acts from, the acknowledgment that there can be no certain, exclusive permanent state of something which is not already containing within it something else—that is no black without the white— Anker lays out, in breathtakingly concise forms, a materialist continuation of Derrida’s “messianicity without messianism,” invoking Nancy’s “sense of the world” and Schirmacher’s homo generator.
Reducing the thoughts of Heraclitus, Heidegger, and Deleuze, as well as Derrida, Nancy and Schirmacher into a short “summarization” (his words), Anker writes that “as something is coming to be it is always already becoming something other”. Using this idea as a touchstone, Anker explains that to understand the work of the above philosophers—as well as our own condition—it is necessary to remember, on a materialist basis, that all things are subject to “continuous activity [and] simultaneous action” and that there is “no point of origin” nor “future in the sense of horizon”. Anker writes further that all things “exist only in relation” and that “there is only an excess of being.” In this, he attempts to show (for a proof would amount to a certainty) the interconnectedness of all things.
In examining the varied and vast work of Derrida, Anker focuses first on the necessity of the aporia—that is, the blockage or bind—as it relates to the concept of “responsibility”, which as he writes, is “intimately entwined with other notions such as duty, decision, ethics and politics.” (27) The recognition of the aporia is a necessary precondition for an ethical decision for it is only in its recognition that we allow the space for something other to freely exist. It is the the existence of the bind, temporary and constantly yielding to another, and another, and yet another bind (or double bind, in Derrida’s terminology) that allows other things—ideas, concepts, practicalities—to both exist and “to come (a venir).” It is by allowing oneself to remain open, multiple, undefined (except temporarily, momentarily) that one allows the other to come, to be possible. To allow for the possibility of an arrival, one needs to give way to the indeterminate future, embrace the uncertainty over the certain. The moment that is totalized becomes closed, and by extension dead. Freedom, the true “impossible decision” lies, for Derrida, as for Anker, in resisting the totalizing, determining moment, the uncompromising Truth. Anker writes that “totalization, in all its many forms, attempts to close down the future and give nothing other than what is and what is already known. It gives us a world of calculation and pre-existing knowledge in the here and now, but it cannot give us a future which holds the potentiality of an-other, a some-thing other, a thought not yet thought or determined by the present conditions.”(43) It is by remaining open in the fluid aporetic space that we allow other things to become manifest, and by so doing act ethically—and thereby, according to Anker, democratically— by refusing the totalizing structure of (pre)determined knowledge and calculation. “Making decisions here,” Anker writes, “in this space of contextual indeterminacy, is truly to make a decision, for the decision did not come by means of predetermined conditions; it was inventive through and through.” (33) For Derrida then, in Anker’s words, “the moment of decision is always surrounded by a context of indecision.” And it is this “context of indecision”, in which Derrida’s différance, the space between the decisions is allowed to freely disseminate, which allows one to be, or rather to become, constantly and without rest.
It is this multiplicity of being—that is, the constant be-coming of selves—that leads Anker from Derrida to Nancy and then to Schirmacher for, as he writes, “the ego (subject) is not alone even by itself, or in itself; it is always already with itself as multiple selves” and further that this plurality of selves represents not only itself but “a plurality of self with others, and a plurality of other selves with self.”(70-71) We cannot separate the self (or selves) that we call ourselves from other selves. It is instead a constant interaction, a flow of beings becoming, the singular (to use Nancy’s terms) becoming plural. Nancy writes that “being cannot be anything but being-with-one-another, circulating in the with and as the with if this singularly plural coexistence.”(70) The circulating with, or sharing, however, is not simply the result of a rising god-head, the postmodern equivalent of a Vedantic unitary, universal consciousness. It is rather, as Anker writes, “a sharing of singularities—a sharing of the irreducible otherness of each and every singularity itself,” making up, and here Anker quotes Nancy, “the singularly plural and the plurally singular.”
From this be-coming being of Nancy’s existing within and on the margins of Derrida’s différance, and as the traces of the singularly plural merge with plurally singular, so Schirmacher’s homo generator comes to the foreground as a constantly creative, generating force, one living a life of “imperceptible” fulfillment. This is not a fulfillment built upon the certainty of right and wrong, not the arrogant confidence and satisfaction of piety, but instead a quieter, uncertain quality, one taking place “behind our backs,” as Schirmacher notes in a conversation with Jean-François Lyotard, related by Anker. It is a fulfillment which arrives, subtly, easily when in concert with nature and not opposed to it. Anker writes that in “generating and generation, it comes to sense (Nancy) its meaning and thus its possible fulfillment, not in the recognized and determinate domain of thinking, but in a “finite thinking” open to the continuous and uncertain coming of difference and other.” (104) It is the constant generating force which gives force to itself, not the built-already, thought-already edifice of conventional thinking. It is the unattached, ungrasping qualities of an uncertain existence which leads to true creativity, and lends perhaps, in the words of Schirmacher, “the chaotic and seemingly failed life a touch of lightness.”(103)
Ethical decisions are conventionally judged on previous encounters, prior knowledge of right and wrong gleaned from experience. Whether it is a personal decision or a decision made by society, preceding history—precedent—is always viewed with heavy consideration. It is precisely this, however, which leads one to existing and deciding (irresponsibly, according to Derrida) in a pre-determined and therefore closed universe. Instead, Anker writes, “absolute freedom…opens us to a world without absolute measure,” a place of “anxious indeterminacy” where “what we do … makes all the difference in how the world unfolds.”(106) It is only in this unfolded world (constant in its folding and refolding) where the true ethical decision can be made. While there are no clear answers (nor could there ever be in the face of such immense, open possibilities) it is only in this aporetic, uncertain space that true ethical responsibilities can be carried out. Anker writes on the final page of the book that “ethical possibility, or as Derrida would say, a decision worthy of being called a decision (and thus a responsible decision), exists only in this uncertain terrain of contextual becoming—a becoming which be-comes not through the determined path of absolute knowledge or truth, but through the opening (Nancy) in the aporia of being itself.”(106) It is only here then that a true decision can be made, if only for an instant, before the arrival of the “to come”. Aporias, in a world without absolute measure, like that first step beyond the known universe, give us the absolute freedom through absolute uncertainty to make a truly free decision, and to live a life which is truly “ethical.”