Simposia Conjuncture

Conjuncture is an ongoing series of symposia on 21st century philosophy, politics, and aesthetics. Program coordinators are Nathan Brown (Concordia University / Centre for Expanded Poetics) and Petar Milat.


21st Century Materialism | To Have Done With Life – Vitalism and Antivitalism in Contemporary Philosophy | The Art of The Concept | Modernity, The Bitter End | Sophistry: The Powers of the False | Poiesis


21st Century Materialism (20-21 June 2009)

A century ago, in his Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, Lenin attempted to address the supposed “disappearance of matter” from theoretical physics by developing a materialist philosophy. In his intervention, Lenin investigated some of the philospohical questions at the time: Is being prior to reasoning / cognition? Can we establish the connection between cognition and perception with material objects appart from cognition and perception? Can the operation of cognition/thinking/ be reduced to material processess? And is a “mater” philosophical or scientific term? What is the connection between materialist philosophy and political practice?

Lecturers were: Miran Božovič, Graham Harman, Peter Hallward and Martin Hägglund.


To Have Done With Life – Vitalism and Antivitalism in Contemporary Philosophy (17-19 June 2011)

“Life” is the site of a formidable lacuna. There is no firmly established scientific account of its constitutive properties or the process of its genesis. There is no broad philosophical consensus concerning the determination or extension of its concept. At once the soul of self-evidence and the default of reason, the apparently immeasurable disjunction between the life we live and the life we do not know continues to pose intractable problems for experiment and reflection alike.

While one result of these difficulties has been a number of recent efforts to locate and delineate their scientific and theoretical consequences, another has been a tendency to take the conceptual underdetermination of “life” as an opportunity for its conceptual overextension. Varieties of “vital materialism” prone to describing physical forces in terms of an inherent “life of things” have done little to clarify the problematic nature of the concept, and insofar as “life” functions as an empty signifier concealing an absence of theoretical coherence we might be better to have done with it.

The effort of this three-day symposium will be to think through the problem of “life” and the engagement with relations between science and philosophy such thinking demands. What resources, if any, does the tradition of philosophical vitalism still have to offer in addressing this problem? If “life” is in fact a non-concept, what theoretical determinations might displace it? What are the stakes of the role this signifier has played within the critique of political economy, and how can its conceptual determination within the latter be sharpened? In what sense is “life” an aesthetic problem, and how might art or literature condition our understanding of its parameters?

Between science, philosophy, art, and politics, what remains of the life we do not know what it means to live?

Lecturers were: Stephanie Wakefield, Jason Smith, Nathan Brown, Alexi Kukuljevic, Evan Calder Williams, Benjamin Noys, Martin Hägglund, Ray Brassier, Adrian Johnston, & Catherine Malabou


The Art of The Concept (15-17 June 2012)

What is the relation between art and the concept?

In What is Philosophy?, Deleuze and Guattari define the practice of philosophy as the creation of concepts and that of art as the composition of percepts and affects — blocs of sensation. “Abstract art and conceptual art are two recent attempts to bring art and philosophy together,” they write, “but they do not substitute the concept for the sensation; rather, they create sensations and not concepts.” Abstract art refines sensation, while conceptual art generalizes it — and this latter practice, according to Deleuze and Guattari, tends toward an engagement with “information” rather than concepts. Conceptual art, one might claim, was never properly an art of the concept insofar as it was preoccupied with the art-concept itself, its distinction from information and its reflexive constitution via the judgment of a perceiver. From this perspective, one could say that conceptual art does not create concepts but rather interrogates the concept which already grounds it (“art”). In this respect conceptual art might be taken as akin to certain traditions of analytic philosophy with which it often aligns itself.

On the other hand, we might consider aesthetics as an effort to draw together art and philosophy. As “the science of the sensible,” aesthetics draws art into philosophy by attempting to construct and determine those concepts fundamental to understanding the experience of art. In aesthetics, then, the construction of concepts proceeds in relation to the composition of percepts. But if we consider art as a practice which produces concepts, then aesthetics, qua science of the sensible, finds its object of study evading its purview. The study of art, in this case, would come to require not a science of the sensible but a science of the concept — just as would a meta-philosophical study of philosophy.

Lecturers were: Markus Popp, Alexi Kukuljevic, Robert Lehman, Amanda Beech, Vera Bühlmann, Audrey Wasser, Nathan Brown, Martin Hägglund, Michel Chion, Alexander Garcia-Düttmann, & Evan Calder Williams

The publication you can get here.


Modernity, The Bitter End (22-23 June 2013)

The most prominent accounts of modernity’s relation to recent history have described it as either a bygone epoch (Jameson) or an unfinished project (Habermas). The disjunction between these accounts has often led historical materialists to pit Jameson’s purportedly Marxist concept of postmodernity against liberal, sociological frameworks that fail to adequately foreground the structural determinations of capital as constitutive of modernity’s history.

But what if it is precisely the termination of modernity, as the epoch of social relations concurrent with capitalism, that remains an unfinished project? Consider the contradictions of Jameson’s account, which holds both that capitalism and modernity are interchangeable categories and that postmodernity is that period of social and political history corresponding with late capitalism. For Jameson, it seems that modernity has ended though capitalism continues, even as he must also hold that the category of modernity is defined by its structural identity with capitalism.

If we simply replace the category of postmodernity with that of late modernity, we obviate the incoherence into which Jameson’s account falls through the misalignment of the after and the late which it has always involved. What this terminological shift opens up is a new historical perspective, within which the end of modernity is not a structural fait accompli but rather a revolutionary task, insofar as the history of modernity is the history of capital, and vice-versa—a history that must end but has not yet.

The field of problems opened through a reconsideration of modernity that only now may begin to approach its terminus in the twenty-first century: that was the terrain of our symposium. What does it mean to situate ourselves at the bitter end of modernity as a period of historical determination that is not yet over, but which lurches toward an uncertain conclusion even now?

Lecturers were: Peter Hallward, Alexi Kukuljevic, Evan Calder Williams & Victoria Brooks and Nathan Brown.


Sophistry: The Powers of the False (27-29 June 2014)

Since Plato, the conflict between philosophy and sophistry has been a primary schema for distributing the relation between the true and the false. Sophism, writes Barbara Cassin, haunts philosophy—and like a ghost, a revenant, it continues to return in new guises. From Pyrrhonian skepticism to modern empiricism, historical materialism, Nietzschean genealogy, psychoanalysis, the linguistic turn, deconstruction, and non-philosophy, the inheritance of sophistry is the undercurrent of philosophical authenticity, the shadow cast by the light of truth, the tain of the mirror of nature.

If sophistry is one among the names assigned to the powers of the false, then its operations and traditions are also an important locus for addressing those powers as co-constitutive of the true. To approach sophistry from this perspective is not to indulge relativism. It is simply to think the field of resistance within which the true is produced and the discursive entanglements through which the true and the false function precisely as powers. To think through sophistry today is not only to grapple with the difficult discursive demands always confronting philosophical rationality, but also to account for the polis in which those are situated—to account for the politics and the political economy of the philosophical reflection.

Participants were Barbara Cassin, Ray Brassier, Alexander García Düttmann, Alberto Toscano, Julie Beth Napolin, Sami Khatib, Alexi Kukuljevic, Tzuchien Tho.


Poiesis (12-14 June, 2015)

Poiesis means making. But what does this mean?

It means, for one thing, that poetics is not only proper to the province of literature. Where there is making, there we find poetics: theory of the formal practice of production. If, when the first volume of Das Kapital descends into “the hidden abode of production,” we descend also into the realm of poiesis, that is because making is not only a private enterprise of the author. What gets made, and how, depends upon configurations of social and technical forces, and this puts every practice of artistic making—film, sculpture, painting, architecture, performance, poetry, etc.—on the common, uneven ground of historical determination. Poetics can be, in one register, the thinking of this historical codetermination of the arts—as in Fredric Jameson’s ongoing project, The Poetics of Social Forms. The theory and practice of making, poiesis, traverses different art forms, drawing the methods and materials of discrepant productive practices into relation, articulating their common conceptual, formal, and ideological problems across boundaries between specific media, institutional contexts, and disciplinary protocols. More →

Sudjelovali su: Oleg Tcherny, Aaron Schuster, Marie Gil, Goran Sergej Pristaš, Angela Rawlings, Amanda Holmes, David Wills, Jed Rasula, Branka Arsić, Thomas Schestag, Marjana Krajač, David Grubbs, Andrea Belfi

Soon more details!