Participants & Abstracts

Emmanuel Alloa
Pauline Chasseray-Peraldi
Michael Cuntz
Lorenz Engell
Elena Esposito
Alexander R. Galloway
Nicole C. Karafyllis
Adam Knowles
Ulrich Meurer
Wolfgang Schäffner
Bernard Stiegler
Christina Vagt
Alexander Waszynski

Emmanuel Alloa
The Invisible Hand. On the Political Theology of Cybernetic Management

Within management studies, the ‘human factor’ has shifted from the status of a hindrance to that of a central resource in an age of flexible productivity. While for early Fordism, the point was to rationalize and minimize the human factor, in the phase of liquid capitalism, it becomes the object of all investments, capsizing as it were Nietzsche’s observation on the Human all too human. From now on, the watchword will be: Human, ever more human. The talk elicits the theological background of the project of ‘humanization’ of work, showing how the biopolitical analysis of market behaviour didn’t emerge against, but was rather perfectly in line with the idea of a divine oikonomia, from Linné’s animal economy through Adam Smith’s invisible hand all the way through contemporary models of cybernetic managing. Immanence is not anti-theological per se, but might represent, in a certain respect, the most efficacious form of managerial thinking.

Emmanuel Alloa is Professor for Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. Recipient of various scientific distinctions, among which the Aby Warburg Wissenschaftspreis 2019, his publications include: Resistance of the Sensible World, New York: Fordham 2017 and Das durchscheinende Bild, Berlin: Diaphanes 2018.

Pauline Chasseray-Peraldi
Recording and reacting: coexistence of perceptions in digital media

Dwelling from environmental ethic theory (Rolston: 2018), media theory (Marin: 1994, Davallon: 1999, Jeanneret: 2014, Mersch: 2018), and the sensory turn in visual studies (Ingold: 2000, Pink: 2011), I focus on specific relations between natural things and optical technologies, between the observer and his environment.
In a recent article, I explored how specific recorded scenes are ontologically related to optical devices, and the importance of motion in a semiotic approach of visual materials. This study was based on an analysis of a series of pictures from Google Street View (GSV) by Jon Rafman and Michael Wolf, representing people addressing a finger towards the GSV Car. The vehicle itself is cause and part of the landscape and the social phenomenon isolated by those artists, because of its significance, its movement, and mission in this environment.
I offer to extend my current research to a specific pair of operations: recording and reacting. I propose to explore this couple through an empirical field based on case studies where the animal encounters the optical machine. From spectacular accidents between animals and GSV Car, pronghorn antelope trying to escape a harassing drone, to fearless birds attacking drones, this paper will focus on the different regimes of animacy and conflicts of affects in such visual materials. This material addresses a paradigm of objectivity and neutrality contained in such optical devices, strengthened by discourses valorizing huge archive programs lead by technological companies such as Google, as a way to record the world.
Following the theory developed by Gibson (1986), this study aims to give a specific consideration to movement to think the idea of event and consequently the role played by animate objects such as a drone or a GSV Car in the environment. The idea of awareness of a surrounding is a key point in that development around the tension between recording and reacting.
Those cases emphasize a specific relation to alterity and point out the necessity to think optical devices as a part of the environment, and to develop an open ecology of technological artefacts.

Pauline Chasseray-Peraldi is completing her PhD in Media and Communication studies at GRIPIC Sorbonne University (CELSA) on Epiphanic Devices of the web. In the cracks of spectacular processes of significance. Her publications include : “Everywhere and nowhere. The body in absentia in epiphanic devices”, co-written with Yves Jeanneret, CNRS édition, 2017. “Processing the territory. From taking a picture, to online archiving”, Questions de Communication, 2019.
She also collaborates in different collectives and editorial projects such as Librarioli, Silo, and Arcade Majeur.

Michael Cuntz
On, off, between: A modest proposal to add some more propositions to the practical grammar of switching by taking a look at terraforming (not only) on Mars

Giving its due attention to the fact that not only single entities but also entire worlds are produced or fabricated, requires to also think its negative opposite: Once the existence of objects, beings and worlds are not taken for granted as mere givens, one may not only inquire into what keeps them in existence, but also wonder what is transformed and adapted and what is made to disappear. One might ask: Why is there x or y’ instead of y, where there was a y before x and y’ took its place? When and where does turning on something involve turning on somebody? These are important questions asked e.g. by Boaventura de Sousa Santos’ sociology of absence, but also by Isabelle Stenger’s Cosmopolitics or Bruno Latour’s critique of the ontology moderns and the postulation of a pluriverse. The flip side of switching on can be switching off entities, their underlying ontologies and the cultures that brought them about.
The dialectics of the poles of switching on/switching off with a dark zone in between where a lot of switching between and adapting to (umschalten) takes place are especially prominent in discourses about Mars and its terraforming. In this context, one could discuss not only current projects of mars colonization, but also and especially Philip K. Dick’s Martian-Time Slip (and The three stigmata of Palmer Eldritch) and Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy. Inventing the Bleekmen, a Martian species modelled after the Australian Aborigines, Dick not only parallels the time-slip itself, the temporal mode of existence departing from Terran temporality to the Aborigines’ way of moving in space and time. He also links the colonization of Mars to the colonization of Australia, thus raising the question according to whose rule are defined the standards of humane-ness of the environment in terraforming. This allows us to see that terraforming as euro-forming has been practiced on Earth itself with often catastrophic consequences, as e.g. Jared Diamond has pointed out. As for Robinson’s trilogy, it raises the question of the ontology of a lifeless planet: Is terraforming Mars an exemplary utopian beginning, a pure switching on of life as a gift (mainly via the propagation of modified organisms) or is there a mode of existence of the inanimate that has to be respected regardless of human needs?

Michael Cuntz is Professor for Media Philosophy at Bauhaus University Weimar. His publications include: The Wire - Analysen zur Kulturdiagnostik populärer Medien, Wiesbaden: Springer 2014 (together with Jörn Ahrens, Lars Koch, Marcus Krause und Philipp Schulte); Der göttliche Autor. Apologie, Prophetie und Simulation in Texten Pascals, Stuttgart: Steiner 2004; translation of Gilbert Simondon: Die Existenzweise technischer Objekte, Berlin: Diaphanes 2012.

Lorenz Engell
The Switch Image

My contribution states that with the emergence of television, the image became switchable. It shifted from image ontology to a specific type of operative ontology which I access as "ontography". Further, through its epoch making evolution, the TV image itself switched from being switchable to being a switch. Hereby, it implemented into its world the move towards 'Operative Ontologies'.

Lorenz Engell is Film and Television Scholar, Professor of Media Philosophy at the Bauhaus University Weimar; Director (together with Bernhard Siegert) of the Internationales Kolleg für Kulturtechnikforschung und Medienphilosophie (Käte Hamburger Kolleg, IKKM) since 2008; Founding Dean of the Media Faculty of the Bauhaus University 1996-2000 and Prorector 2004-2007; 2013/14 Visiting Professor at the Université Paris 2; 2015/16 Senior Fellow at the Freie Universität Berlin.
Recent Publications: Körper des Denkens. Neue Positionen der Medienphilosophie (ed. with Frank Hartmann, Christiane Voss), Munich: Fink 2015; Agentur, in: Essays zur Filmphilosophie, with Oliver Fahle, Vinzenz Hediger, Christiane Voss, Munich: Fink 2015; Mediale Anthropologie (ed. with Christiane Voss), Munich: Fink 2016; Die Fernsehserie als Agent des Wandels (with Benjamin Beil and others), Münster: Lit 2016, Thinking Through Television, Amsterdam University Press 2019 (in print).

Elena Esposito
Predicting and Explaining

Algorithmic prediction departs from our standard notion of forecast. It does not address averages and general trends but wants to give precise indications about the future of a single event or individual. On the bases of patterns and correlation, algorithmic forecast promises to predict future developments, even if one cannot necessarily explain them. Predictive modeling differs from explanatory modeling. This approach, very different from the approach of mainstream statistics, relies on the performative aspect of the use of algorithms, that directly intervene in the world they are meant to predict. This is the source of the power and of the specific liabilities of algorithmic prediction, which will be presented and discussed in the paper.

Elena Esposito is Professor of Sociology at the University Bielefeld and the University of Bologna in Italy. She published many works on the theory of social systems, media theory, memory theory and sociology of financial markets. Her current research on algorithmic prediction is supported by a five-year Advanced Grant from the European Research Council.

Alexander R. Galloway
Media and Mathematics

Euclid is remembered as a geometer, when he is remembered at all. But Euclid's Elements was an omnibus compendium of all mathematical knowledge known to him at the time, beginning with the first mathematics, geometry, then addressing ratio and proportion--that is, logos and analogos--and ultimately arithmetic, irrationality, and other topics. Via reference to philosophy and mathematics, this talk will propose general formula for the digital and the analog, the former defined as the ratio of discrete terms (a/b), the latter defined as an equation of ratios (a/b = c/d). With these general formula in hand we will be able to explore two of the most common operative ontologies (digitality and analogicity), while also revealing an ontological scenario in which neither pertains.
Alexander R. Galloway is Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University. His publications include: Protocol: How Control Exists After Cecentralization, Cambridge: MIT 2004; The Interface Effect, Cambridge: Polity 2012; Excommunication: Three Inquiries in Media and Mediation, Chicago: University of Chicago Press 2013 (together with: Eugene Thacker and McKenzie Wark).

Nicole C. Karafyllis and Alexander Waszynski
Reoccupations in Collecting Living Beings – from Isolating/Cultivating towards Digitizing/Synthesizing

The discipline of microbiology has developed from heterogeneous fields of study (such as botany, medicine, agricultural sciences, food technology, chemistry) and came, after its hightimes at the end of the 19 th century, to a second peak in the 1950s and 60s. Due to its new self-conception as a “general microbiology” and because of a biotechnological shift due to government-sponsored research programs, smaller and merely unsystematically aggregated microbial collections were transformed into benchmarks of national research strategies, and materially into what today is known as microbial Biological Resource Centers (mBRCs). The presentation exemplifies this development with the history of the German microbial collection, Leibniz Institute DSMZ-German Collection of Microorganisms and Cell Cultures, founded around 1970, and relates it to Hans Blumenberg’s concept of “reoccupation" With regard to the practices and technologies involved in collecting microbes the presentation reconstructs a significant shift in how microbiology is approaching its “objects”. After all, a microbe only is a microbe when it is made visible. A further and even more complicated step is to make the microbial sample an identical strain that allows for linking microbial research to the scientific criterion of reproducibility. Hence a microbe that is not ‘stored’ in a living collection does not exist. However, while it has always been essential to continuously improve methods to isolate and cultivate—with all the efforts in play to make organisms grow in the first place (in terms of the right temperature, light conditions, composition of nutrient media etc.)—, chemotaxomical techniques and, moreover, the possibility of big data DNA-analysis have made it possible to genetically modify and engineer microorganisms for the purposes of biotechnological and pharmaceutical applications (following the ideal of a “synthetic biology”). These days, we are facing the technological shift from DNAread to DNAwrite on the genomic level.
Once it is understood how the “code” can be fully read, it is, as Hans Blumenberg has stated in 1981, only one step further to attempt to write it. His concept of “reoccupation” (“Umbesetzung”), which was introduced to describe epochal thresholds in the history of ideas, helps to understand crucial transition points: from a generalization reaching out for the oldest life forms on Earth to a genuinely calculated diversity and, ultimately, to a reversion of the direction of study: not from microbes to technology, but from technology to microbes. Last but not least, this affects the “readability of the world” (Blumenberg).

Nicole C. Karafyllis is Professor of Philosophy at Technische Universität Braunschweig. She is principal investigator of the project “Contamination and Legibility of the World: Articulating Microbes in Collections (MIKROBIB)”, funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research. Her publications include: Willy Moog (1888-1935): Ein Philosophenleben. Freiburg: Karl Alber 2015; International Science and Technology Education: Exploring Culture, Economy and Social Perceptions. Routledge 2015 (edited with: Ortwin Renn, Nicole C. Karafyllis, Alexander Hohlt, Dorothea Taube).

Alexander Waszynski is Researcher and Lecturer at Technische Universität Braunschweig and works within the project “Contamination and Legibility of the World: Articulating Microbes in Collections (MIKROBIB)”, funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research. His publications include: Nachträge zu einer Theorie der Theorie. Hans Blumenbergs 'Glossen zu Fontane', in: Sprachkunst. Beiträge zur Literaturwissenschaft 2019/1 (forthcoming); Berührbarkeit. Krisen der Distanznahme bei Hans Blumenberg und Jacob Burckhardt, in: Komparatistik Online, 2019/1, pp. 56–78.

Adam Knowles
Flipping Heidegger’s Switches: Force, Violence and the Administration of Thinking

In his 1929-30 lecture course The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics Martin Heidegger announced the arrival of a new fundamental term in his thinking: Walten. Bearing a multiplicity of meanings such as to reign, hold power over, and prevail, Walten and its many cognate terms signaled a new focus on a form of ontological force (Gewalt) in Heidegger’s thinking. Walten for Heidegger characterized the fundamental struggle between being and beings. This phase of Heidegger’s thinking centered on a fundamental tension which Heidegger heightened in the 1930s, a tension between scattering and gathering, between a henological thinking of sameness and of absolute difference. In this era—the era of National Socialism—Heidegger’s thinking sways within the space of a paradoxical tension without any possibility of resolution.
As Germany entered the period of Gleichschaltung and Heidegger led the administration (Verwaltung) of Freiburg University as Rector, Walten took on concrete dimensions. In this thinking, which always cast itself as primarily ontological, the existence of actual violence and domination was diminished in the name of a supposedly originary ontological violence. If being is at war with itself, Heidegger seems to ask, then what does it matter that beings are?
Heidegger’s Black Notebooks offer insight into the way his thinking switches between terms. Heidegger begins to “switch off” Walten by tuning his thinking towards serenity and mindfulness (Gelassenheit) as denazification approaches. Readers seeking to either condemn or rescue Heidegger have often selectively attended to one of these moments in order to present a thinking essentially concerned with either sameness or originary difference. In this paper, I will attend to the currents in Heidegger’s thinking, to the movements of switching on and off—movements which were always conveniently attuned to the political exigencies of his time.

Adam Knowles is Assistant Teaching Professor of Philosophy at the College of Arts and Sciences at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 2019-2020 he will be a postdoctoral fellow at the German Literature Archives in Marbach sponsored by the Volkswagen-Stiftung and Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. His publications include: Heidegger’s Fascist Affinities: A Politics of Silence, Stanford: Stanford University Press 2019; “Hospitality’s Downfall: Kant, Cosmopolitanism and Refugees,” Journal of Speculative Philosophy, 31:3 (2017), 347-357. “Towards a Critique of Walten: Heidegger, Derrida and Henological Difference,” Journal of Speculative Philosophy, 27:3 (2013), 265-276. He is currently translating Heidegger’s Black Notebooks 1942-8 for Indiana University Press.

Ulrich Meurer
Invading/Inviting. From Surveillance to Byzantium

As they register what is supposedly already ‘there’, technologies of surveillance seem integral to the realm of representation. However, their techno-images pursue the production of a geopolitical reality that can be explored solely through the respective medium; and by generating distinctions between types of ‘life’ (e.g., sorting refugees in categories of bios or zoē) they are involved in creating the very concept of ‘being’ human.
Meanwhile, Richard Mosse’ video installation Incoming (Barbican Centre London, 2017) aims at their ‘appropriative reversion’ (EntWendung) to challenge their ontological operations with a political counter-image: Incoming follows the main refugee routes from the Middle East and Maghreb across the Mediterranean into Europe, recording the migrants’ border crossings and camps with a high- performance thermal imaging system that is designed for military reconnaissance and detects human bodies from over thirty kilometers. But regardless of this apparatus’s programmed monocular world/view, Mosse’ strangely gleaming video footage and monumental stills seem to implement traits of a ‘Byzantine’ visuality and, with it, a quite different model of being.
As a figure of thought, ‘Byzantium’ not only provides a conceptual basis for describing the installation in terms of non-perspective, luminous, mosaic or tactile structures. Its formal properties also invoke late antique notions of mediation which define the icon as ritual ‘switch’ between an absent (divine) prototype and His actual presence or being in the world: the icon’s “tabular space” (Didi-Huberman) does not show or monitor, but acts as a contact device. By adopting a Byzantine mode of vision, Mosse passes from onto-mediality that produces and invades the foreign, to an alternative one that invites the Other.

Ulrich Meurer is Visiting Professor at the Visual Studies Platform, Central European University CEU, Vienna, and an Adjunct Professor of Film and Media Studies, at the Department of Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Dusseldorf. His publications include: Topographien. Raumkonzepte in Literatur und Film der Postmoderne, Munich: Fink 2007; The Shards of Zadar: A (Meta-)Archaeology of Cinema, in: Pantelis Michelakis (ed.): Media and Classics. Oxford: Oxford University Press 2019.

Wolfgang Schäffner
Symbolic Material Operations: Towards the re-invention of analog code

My talk will focus on operations as symbolic-material processes, which exist in nature itself and which we can only now - against the background of media-technical digital operationalization - recognize as material operations and, not at least, analog code.
The historical development of technology over the last 150 years is mainly based on a decision for electrical energy and the corresponding passive materials, which allowed their reliable processing. This meant that the fundamental basis for natural as well as technical operations, i.e. of ruling (Walten) and switching (Schalten), grounded on the intrinsic interplay of matter, energy and information, was focused on electrical energy. Thus, other alternatives such as chemical or mechanical energy, which play a major role in nature, were marginalized. As a result, electronic and digital technology emerged in the field of information, the symbolic control operations of which were separated from the mechanical operations of working machinery in its classical cybernetic manner.
In view of this operationalization on the basis of digital technology, an interdisciplinary approach of engineering, materials research and media sciences to organic materials in recent years has produced a peculiar finding: Biological material appears as machines that also control information processes through the hardware of their geometric-mechanical structure. This material itself is active and combines symbolic, mechanical and actually material operations in an integrative way. This also corresponds to what was classically called the Analog.
My talk is about this fundamental reversal: To look at the Walten and Schalten of natural and technical operations from the Walten of biological materials, which can be regarded as active structures and materials that process operations not electrically but above all mechanically, through mechanical energy, analog information and a corresponding active material basis. The thesis is that this newly discovered Analog represents a form of material operations that open up completely new dimensions of an operative ontology beyond the alphanumeric code. In doing so, the Analogue also draws on old, not least ancient constellations of active materialism and operative geometry.

Wolfgang Schäffner is Professor of the Cultural History of Knowledge at the Department of History and Theory of Culture at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and Director of the Hermann von Helmholtz Center for Cultural Technique, Berlin. Since 2019 he is also director of the Cluster of Excellence “Matters of Activity”. His publications include: Friedman, M; Schäffner, W. (eds.) On Folding: Towards a new field of interdisciplinary research. Bielefeld: transcript 2016; Neuer Strukturalismus. Eine Geistes- und Materialwissenschaft/ New Structuralism. A Human and Materials Science. Graz Architecture Magazine 12 (2016): Structural Affaires, pp. 10-31; New Structuralism. Immateriality of Materials, in: Doll, Nikola/Bredekamp, Horst/Schäffner, Wolfgang (ed.): +ultra. knowledge & gestaltung. Exhibition.-Cat. Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, Leipzig 2017, p. 23–31.

CANCELED Bernard Stiegler The Différance of a Future to Come as an Operative Bifurcation in Becoming

In this lecture, I will try to explain why the issue of operativity is less an ontology than a processuality – such as for example Simondon thought it as allagmatic.
Being was first conceived in ancient Greek philosophy in opposition to becoming. However, after thermodynamics and the theories of entropy, and with Schrödinger in particular, the relevant pair (forming not an opposition, but a transductive relation) is not being / but to becoming / future (to come, avenir).
From this point of view, I will introduce the elements of a theory of operativity as a process of exosomatization that results from what Lotka called “exosomatic evolution”.

Bernard Stiegler is a Philosopher and head of the Institut de recherche e d’innovation (IRI) at the Centre Georges-Pompidou in Paris. His publications include: Technics and Time, Stanford: Stanford University Press 1998-2010; The Neganthropocene, London: Open Humanities Press 2018; Qu’appelle-t-on panser? 1. L’immense régression, Paris: Les liens qui libèrent 2018; The Age of Disruption: Technology and Madness in Computational Capitalism, Cambridge: Polity Press 2019.

Christina Vagt
Predicting and Shaping. Rhetoric, Technologies, and Social Networks of Behavioral Design

When the large scale models of system dynamics proved to be unable to predict the behavior of global systems in the late 1970s, engineers and designers shifted their focus: Rather than trying to predict the behavior of existing systems, they moved on towards shaping them and their behavior. The talk will revisit rhetoric, technologies, and social networks that took part in this behavioral design shift.

Christina Vagt is Assistant Professor of European Media Studies at the Department of Germanic & Slavic Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her publications include: Geschickte Sprünge. Physik und Medium bei Martin Heidegger, Berlin: Diaphanes 2012; Verhaltensdesign: Technologische und ästhetische Programme der 1960er und 1970er Jahre, Bielefeld: transcript 2018 (Edition Kulturwissenschaft, Bd. 167, edited with Jeannie Moser).