Biopolitics, Society and Performance was a conference that took place in Trinity College Dublin, hosted by the School of Drama, Film and Music in association with Trinity Long Room Hub and Humanities Research Institute. Details of the speakers and abstracts can be found here. Many thanks to Steve Wilmer and various others that made this conference a great success. Below is a short synopsis of the keynote lectures by Giorgio Agamben and Rossi Braidotti.
Keynote 1: Giorgio Agamben “The Archaeology of the Work of Art”.
‘The work of art has undergone a process of crisis which has led to its disappearance from the sphere of art with the result that today the performance and living praxis of the artist have tended to replace what we were accustomed to consider as a “work”.
What is the work of art if not conceived as consisting an object or work? Agemben’s genealogy of art starts with the ‘work’ of art conceived, in Greece in the 5 century, as the sole container for the meaning and significance of art. The artist is not significant because he/she does not have any ownership over the work of art once it is complete. The finished work of art contains in its entirety, itself and nothing associated with the artists process or life.
Another conception of the ‘work’ of art in Agamben’s talk comes from the avant-garde in 19th century where the work of art is conceived of as ‘liturgical’. In this sense Agamben draws a parallel between the artwork and its meaning through its situation within the museum or institution and meaning within the specific form of worship within the liturgical. Here art, as the liturgical, is inscribed with value or meaning from within a pre-defined institutional framework.
In the third context for the archaeology of the work of art, Agamben locates the work of art in New York in the beginning of the 20th Century with Marcel Duchamp and the production of the ‘work’ of art as readymade. In this context the work of art is transformed from the previous contexts where the triad of the work, the artist and the artistic practice is reformulated as the work of art reconceived as the encapsulated by its ‘idea’.
For Agamben the ‘work’ of art is in a problematic situation with regard to its meanings, both historically and in a contemporary context and must be given new meaning. It is suggested that the work of art can be conceived of as life itself. Art is a practice of life. In this sense the practice of Art is an ethics of life.
Keynote 2: Rosi Braidotti “What is Human about the Humanities today?”
Braidotti’s keynote lecture was of a different style and level of excitement than Agambens talk the previous night. She began by characterising the type of Humanism that she has been fighting against since the beginning of her career. This humanism is based in the human of Vetruvian man, of the hubris of the so-called and self-proclaimed self-reflective modern western human man who has sought to dominate nature in all its forms.
This humanism is still alive and well today in the form of biotechnological capitalism or cognitive capitalism that has opened a space whereby all forms of nature and culture, including all human and non-human biological data is now become a mere form of tradable commodity. While this expansion of anthropos continues in the format of disciplines, so too do the humanities continue to expand into other anti-human or posthuman territories or ‘studies’. Apart from the categorisation of disciplines, which are historical, contingent entities, Bradotti focuses on the proliferation of studies, such as woman’s studies or visual cultural studies, which allow for a multiplicity of variable approach’s to education and research. In short the multiversity over the university. This emerging posthumanism is, says Braidotti, an exhausting enterprise, it is continuing to produce new and diverse alternatives to biotechnological capitalism, but it is always difficult to remain thoroughly anti-human, as humans we are always reverting back into the historical breed of western humanism heralded by ‘the four horseman of the apocalypse of modernity’, Marx, Nietsche, Freud and Darwin. Of these, Braidotti points to Darwin as the key thinker for posthumanism.
There were a number of elements that Braidotti reiterated throughout the talk. As already mentioned, capitalism and its colonization of the biological and the version of the human that those working in the humanities have adopted, but also two other aspects of this world caught my attention. Firstly, the notion of thinking with ‘non-linearity’ – ‘we live non-linear lives, so why not think in a non-linear manner’ and secondly the shift from the anthropocentric to geocentric thinking. I’ll come onto geocentric thinking in more detail later, as this was part of my own paper presented at this conference.
The notion of thinking in a non-linear fashion or thinking in multiple temporalities is fascinating and fundamental if the humanities or the posthumanities are to attempt to conceive of the ‘schizoid circulation of living matter’ in new ways, such as through new materialism. According to Braidotti, if we are to interrogate the reified generalities of the dominant disciplines of the humanities and capitalism, we have to employ a Deleuzeoguattarian non-linear rhizomatic thinking. The multiplicity of temporalities, such as the individual singular lives we live, to the historical memories we carry in our biology and the geological historical trajectories in which we are situated must all be thought in simultaneous networked systems.