Department of Philosophy
 
The Contemporary Condition of Philosophy: Abstraction, Production, Politics  

15th-17th April 2010

Auditorium A, West Hall, AUB

Gilles Deleuze credited Kant’s Critique of reason with introducing time into thought, forcing philosophy to take stock of its temporal conditioning. Recent Continental philosophy has sought to radicalize this understanding of philosophy’s temporal conditioning via the notion of ‘event’, understood as the incalculable upsurge of contingency through which philosophy is compelled to acknowledge its imbrication within the historical conjuncture from which it emerges. By placing its own thinking under the condition of contingency, philosophy is obliged to think through its own relation to the present, and in doing so, to acknowledge its connection to a certain political conjuncture. Moreover, by subjecting its own conceptual practice to the constraint of contingency, philosophy strives to think the difference between the present and the possible, or the actual and the virtual. In doing so, it confronts the present by re-conceiving the nature of possibility in terms of a futurity beyond the confines of actuality.

We have invited ten distinguished scholars from Europe and North-America who will try to gauge the contemporaneity of recent Continental philosophy by taking-stock of its complex determination by past, present, and future conditions; conditions which are at once economic, political, and conceptual.

[We regret that due to unforeseeable circumstances, John Protevi and Frederika Spindler have had to withdraw.]

Conference Programme

Thursday 15 April
West Hall, Auditorium A
 
 6.00-7.30pm  Peter Hallward (Middlesex University) 
Self-Emancipation between Hegel and Marx
This talk will try to distinguish two conceptions of universal emancipation: one that proceeds (with Hegel) as the self-realisation of freedom as such, mediated by state representation and historical development, and another that proceeds (with Marx) as the self-liberation of the oppressed themselves, against the grain of historical time. I will illustrate the distinction with brief reference to the Haitian Revolution and the Paris Commune.
Friday 16 April
West Hall, Auditorium A
 
 9.30-11.00am  Alberto Toscano (Goldsmiths College) 
The Coinage of Thought: Capitalism, Abstraction and the Origins of Philosophy
What is the relationship between the impersonal, abstract and universal concepts of philosophy and the social reality of abstraction, as manifest in topical ideas like 'financialization', 'digitalization' and 'simulation'? This talk will consider how contemporary debates about philosophy's relation to capitalism can be illuminated of a set of inquiries into the conditioning of philosophy's Greek inception by the "real abstractions" of economic practice. I will assess the diverse schemas proposed by a number of Marxian authors (George Thomson, Alfred Sohn-Rethel, Maurice Godelier, Richard Seaford) to account for the origination of philosophy in different facets of economic practice (exchange, labour, coinage, etc.). It will then contrast these historical-materialist derivations of metaphysical thought with the narrative of philosophy's affinity with, and hostility to, capitalist abstraction which emerges from the writings of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. As the talk will show, how we articulate the 'originary' relationship between philosophical and economic abstraction can shed much light on philosophy's current relationship to capitalism. 
 11.00-11.30am  Coffee Break
 11.30-1.00pm  Nina Power (Roehampton University)
Feuerbach for the 21st Century
Ludwig Feuerbach is much overlooked; we should, without doubt, return to the problems he raises. However, by suggesting that Feuerbach deserves to be remembered a hundred and fifty years after his work briefly lit up Europe before mostly being forgotten, I am by no means straightforwardly suggesting that we should return uncritically to his ideas; on the contrary, I wish to present Feuerbach and the shifts within his position as precisely something to be wary of, as a constellation of temptations to understand in order to avoid repeating them in the same way. There is, at the same time, however, something important that persists in Feuerbach’s idiosyncratic combination of rationalism and empiricism, his emphasis on the universality and infinity of human consciousness and his proposal for a philosophy of the future that would at the same time be a non-philosophy. In this paper, I will argue that Feuerbach’s influence, however underplayed, remains central in some contemporary political theorists. In particular, the work of Paolo Virno, and indeed much of what gets called post-Operaismo, cannot but return to certain Feuerbachian themes, given the post-Marxist repositioning of the centrality of the subjectivity of labour rather than capital. By reading Feuerbach’s positions diagnostically we can start to map out the repetitions of his positions (and the problems with them) onto today’s political thinkers.
 1.30-2.30pm  Lunch Break
 3.00-4.30pm  Darrell Moore (De Paul University)
Deleuze: Cinema/Politics
In Cinéma I: L’image mouvement and Cinéma 2: L’image temps Deleuze argues that cinema evolves in its responding to a technical problem – one of discovering its own most proper task and of creating the art most appropriate to its new technology. Beyond representations of narrative, he argues that montage presents the pure mobility at the heart of cinematic processes. The indiscernability of task and response guides the steps of the development of the cinema as it seeks, in the same gesture, both to pose and resolve questions about the ways and means of art. Life is, according to Deleuze, restored to the image, but in a displaced realm. And, in the move that constitutes the essence of film’s artistic possibilities, montage shows the profound complicity between movement – the body that moves through space, takes up different positions, views different objects, and creates a meaning that captures the sense of this movement – and the processes of disengaging singularities from the whole – of establishing points of view, of simulating the complicity between the body and the camera that moves as if it were strapped to a human body, of determining individual points from out of the indiscernability of the pure movement that subtends the real. “Deleuze: Cinema/Politics” will consider Deleuze’s claims about the cinematic apparatus and gesture toward the implications of reading it with and against Foucault’s bio-politics.
 4.30-5.00pm  Coffee Break
 5.00-6.30pm Jonathan Dronsfield (University of Reading) 
Wandering, Writing, Deterritorialisation
Beckett as resister, opposer, because he rejects language in favour of 'new images of thought' (Deleuze, Desert Islands, 141)? This paper will draw out what is meant here by 'image of thought', through an examination of Beckett's work, in particular the walks and the figure of the wanderer found there. Walking as the de-territorialisation of the materiality of the word, forcing speech to become image (Deleuze, 'The exhausted', passim), precisely by writing the image. Walking as writing. Wandering as not simply one possibility of such. Beckett's writings as "archives of wandering" (Badiou, On Beckett, 66), where wandering 'vanishes' the support of words, giving them to be encountered. But this is not 'not language'. The point here will be to say that the objectless journey ('The exhausted', 12) necessitates an encounter, even if that should take the form of the non-encounter, in order then to become objectless, and such an encounter, a discovery of immanent limit, is not possible without the word, albeit the word made image, but written image. Or in other words, perhaps there is a false and hierarchised opposition at work in Deleuze: image over language. Finally, of what significance to Deleuze's account of 'language III' in Beckett is it that Beckett himself, in 1982, retracted his 'Letter of 1937', so important for Deleuze in the appeal "As we cannot eliminate language all at once, we should at least leave nothing undone that might contribute to its falling into disrepute" (Beckett, Disjecta, 172)?
Saturday 17 April
West Hall, Auditorium A
 
 9.30-11.00am  Joe Hughes (University of Minnesota) 
Renewing the Infinite Conversation: From Blanchot to Meillassoux
In After Finitude, Quentin Meillassoux suggested that it may be the case that “contemporary philosophers have lost the great outdoors, the absolute outside of pre-critical thinkers.”  In this paper I outline the approach to the absolute in the work of Maurice Blanchot and Gilles Deleuze. Neither, I argue, lost the great outdoors, and neither reduced it to a correlate of thought—although both took thought as their starting point. My point, however, is not to say Meillassoux was misguided or wrong. He anticipated their particular approaches and articulated a third route to the absolute. Reading these three together puts the respective projects of each in sharp relief and clarifies, I hope, one of the contemporary conditions of philosophy.
 11.00-11.30am  Coffee Break
 11.30-1.00pm  Dan Smith (Purdue University) 
On the Nature of Concepts
In What is Philosophy?, Deleuze and Guattari define philosophy, famously, as an activity that consists in “forming, inventing, and fabricating concepts.” (What Is Philosophy?, p. 2). This definition of philosophy poses two specific problems. First, it implies that concepts, from a Deleuzian perspective, have no identity but only a becoming. Even Deleuze’s best known concepts—such as ‘intensity,’ ‘multiplicity,’ ‘affect,’ and even ‘becoming’ itself—do not remain the same, even within Deleuze’s own writings. They undergo internal modifications and mutations, which raises obvious problems for interpreters of Deleuze. As Deleuze says of concepts, “it is not a matter of bringing things together under one and the same concept [universals], but rather of relating each concept to the variables that determine its mutations [singularities] (Negotiations, p. 31). How then are we to understand the ‘becoming’ of concepts? The second problem is this: What is the process that constitutes the real genesis of concepts, or that lies at the real origin of thinking. Deleuze suggests that “the concept is a system of singularities extracted [prélevé] from a thought flow” (seminar of 15 April 1980). But if the normal structure of the flow of thought is what Deleuze calls ‘stupidity’ [bêtise], what are the conditions under which singularities can be extracted from this flow in a genuine act of creation? Taken together, these two problems seem to me to lie at the core of what we might call Deleuze’s “analytic of concepts.”
 1.30-2.30pm  Lunch Break
 3.00-4.30pm  Martin Hägglund (Harvard University)
Of Chronolibido: The Time of Desire
This paper outlines the logic of what I call chronolibido. The logic of chronolibido seeks to demonstrate that temporal finitude is not a lack of being that we desire to overcome. Rather, temporal finitude is the condition for both the desirable and the undesirable. I conceptualize this double bind in terms of a constitutive entanglement between chronophilia and chronophobia. The fear of time (chronophobia) does not stem from a metaphysical desire to transcend time. On the contrary, it is generated by the investment in keeping a life that may be lost. It is because one desires a temporal being (chronophilia) that one fears losing it (chronophobia). I distinguish this logic of chronolibido from both a transcendent conception of desire that I trace from Plato to Lacan and an immanent conception of desire that I trace from Epicurus to Deleuze. The former fails to think the chronophilia at the heart of chronophobia and the latter fails to think the chronophobia at the heart of chronophilia. By articulating the co-implication of chronophilia and chronophobia, the logic of chronolibido challenges both the transcendence and the immanence paradigm, thereby opening a new way of reading the fundamental drama of desire.

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