CFP: The Nonhuman Turn

Honeycomb image

This promises to be a great event at the Center for 21st Century Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, with an excellent lineup of speakers:

May 4-5, 2012
The Nonhuman Turn in 21st Century Studies

This conference takes up the “nonhuman turn” that has been emerging in the arts, humanities, and social sciences over the past few decades. Intensifying in the 21st century, this nonhuman turn can be traced to a variety of different intellectual and theoretical developments from the last decades of the 20th century:

actor-network theory, particularly Bruno Latour’s career-long project to articulate technical mediation, nonhuman agency, and the politics of things

affect theory, both in its philosophical and psychological manifestations and as it has been mobilized by queer theory

animal studies, as developed in the work of Donna Haraway, projects for animal rights, and a more general critique of speciesism

the assemblage theory of Gilles Deleuze, Manuel DeLanda, Latour, and others

new brain sciences like neuroscience, cognitive science, and artificial intelligence

new media theory, especially as it has paid close attention to technical networks, material interfaces, and computational analysis

the new materialism in feminism, philosophy, and marxism

varieties of speculative realism like object-oriented philosophy, vitalism, and panpsychism

and systems theory in its social, technical, and ecological manifestations

Such varied analytical and theoretical formations obviously diverge and disagree in many of their aims, objects, and methodologies. But they are all of a piece in taking up aspects of the nonhuman as critical to the future of 21st century studies in the arts, humanities, and social sciences.

Running roughly parallel to this nonhuman turn in the past few decades has been the“posthuman turn” articulated by such important theoretical works as Katherine Hayles’ How We Became Posthuman and Cary Wolfe’s What Is Posthumanism? Thinking beyond the human, as posthumanism is sometimes characterized, clearly provides one compelling model for 21st century studies. But the relation between posthumanism and humanism, like that of postmodernism to modernism, can sometimes seem as much like a repetition of the same as the emergence of something different.

Thus, one of the questions that this conference is meant to take up is the relation between posthumanism and the nonhuman turn, especially the ways in which taking the nonhuman as a matter of critical, artistic, and scholarly concern might differ from, as well as overlap with, the aims of posthumanism. In pursuing answers to such questions, the conference is meant to address the future of 21st century studies by exploring how the nonhuman turn might provide a way forward for the arts, humanities, and social sciences in light of the difficult challenges of the 21st century.

Invited speakers (to date) include:

Jane Bennett (Political Science, Johns Hopkins)

Ian Bogost (Literature, Communication, Culture, Georgia Tech)

Bill Brown (English, Chicago)

Wendy Chun (Media and Modern Culture, Brown)

Mark Hansen (Literature, Duke)

Erin Manning (Philosophy/Dance, Concordia University, Montreal)

Brian Massumi (Philosophy, University of Montreal)

Tim Morton (English, UC-Davis)

In addition to the invited speakers, the conference will hold several breakout sessions for additional participants to present their work. Please refer to this Call for Papers for details and deadlines.

Ian Bogost: Seeing Things

Seeing Things – OOOIII from Ian Bogost on Vimeo.

Videogame researcher and developer Ian Bogost posted this video he made on the photography of Garry Winogrand, looked at through the lens of object-oriented ontology–a philosophical approach he shares with Graham Harman, Levi Bryant, and Timothy Morton. While my own metaphysical orientation is closer to the process-relational metaphysics put forward by people like Steven Shaviro and Adrian Ivakhiv (and following people like Whitehead and Deleuze), I agree with Adrian Ivakhiv that a significant middle ground can be found between the two positions. This is something that has been debated time and again in the speculative realism blogosphere, and I don’t want to get into that debate here; above all, I don’t want to suggest that there is no difference between these “schools” of thought, only that for some purposes these differences may be less important than the commonalities–above all, the common opposition to what Quentin Meillassoux has identified as “correlationism,” or the view that subjects and objects, humans and things, phenomenal appearances and substratal reality are always and inextricably tied to one another, that there can be no access to a realm outside human thought, and that there is no interaction that would breach this correlation. One can certainly question the claim that all of post-Kantian Western philosophy up until the advent of speculative realism (itself a contentious term that collects positions so various as to be outright opposed to one another) was beholden to the spell of correlationism, but whatever one decides about that, Meillassoux’s identification of this tendency is surely not without heuristic value. And thus speculative realisms, object-oriented ontologies, and process-relational philosophies can be seen to make common cause with posthumanistic positions that aim to decenter human perspectives and anthropocentrisms of all sorts. In my own work, I have tried to triangulate such philosophical efforts with a theory of media as (in Mark Hansen’s words) “the environment for life” or, as I prefer, media as the environment for agency (both living and nonliving). Anyway, this is all just a long way of saying that I recommend watching Ian Bogost’s nicely made video, which offers a thought-provoking contribution to this effort to think media beyond the frame of human intentionality, instrumentality, and sentimentality.

Adrian Ivakhiv’s ecocritical film-philosophy

Adrian Ivakhiv, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Vermont, maintains the excellent blog immanence, where he posts regularly on “the Form, Flesh, and Flow of the World : Ecoculture, Geophilosophy, Mediapolitics” (as he puts it in the blog’s byline).

Recently, he linked to a new article of his in the open-access online journal Film-Philosophy (published by the great Open Humanities Press), in a special issue on “Phenomenology and Psychoanalysis.” Here is the abstract of Ivakhiv’s paper, which is certainly worth reading in full:

The Anthrobiogeomorphic Machine: Stalking the Zone of Cinema

This article proposes an ecophilosophy of the cinema. It builds on Martin Heidegger’s articulation of art as ‘world-disclosing,’ and on a Whiteheadian and Deleuzian understanding of the universe as a lively and eventful place in which subjects and objects are persistently coming into being, jointly constituted in the process of their becoming. Accordingly, it proposes that cinema be considered a machine that produces or discloses worlds. These worlds are, at once, anthropomorphic, geomorphic, and biomorphic, with each of these registers mapping onto the ‘three ecologies,’ in Felix Guattari’s terms, that make up the relational ontology of the world: the social, the material, and the mental or perceptual. Through an analysis of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979), I suggest that cinema ‘stalks’ the world, and that our appreciation of its potentials should similarly involve a kind of ‘stalking’ of its effects in the material, social, and perceptual dimensions of the world from which cinema emerges and to which it returns.


Film theory; film-worlds; ecocriticism; ecologies; Tarkovsky

Beyond this paper, Ivakhiv is working on a book called Ecologies of the Moving Image, which I very much anticipate reading. Indeed, in many respects, Ivakhiv seems a kindred spirit of sorts in his process-relational philosophical orientation and his endeavor to formulate a non-anthropocentric philosophy of film. With his notion that the cinema is one of the places “in which subjects and objects are persistently coming into being, jointly constituted in the process of their becoming,” Ivakhiv’s views seem largely apposite with my own film-theoretical project, which, as I summarized (in German) recently, seeks a “rapprochement between the conflicting human and nonhuman agencies inhabiting [Frankenstein] films” and the cinema in general. As I outline it in Postnaturalism: Frankenstein, Film, and the Anthropotechnical Interface, this “rapprochement […] consists […] of a recognition of the mutual articulation of experience by human and nonhuman technical agencies, whereby the affective and embodied experience of anthropotechnical transitionality is not arrested and subjugated to human dominance, but approached experimentally as a joint production of our postnatural future” (24). Ivakhiv’s proposal “that cinema be considered a machine that produces or discloses worlds” seems, in my opinion, to point in the same – experimental and postphenomenological – direction.