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Kent Summer School in Critical Theory

“It exceeded my expectations. I expected to be challenged, but I found that I learned more, and was able to contribute more, than I expected. … The two-week duration meant that we could get really immersed in the material.”

Participants take part in just one of the seminars for the duration of the school, working with its teacher and fellow attendees in a collaborative exchange. Read more about this year’s seminars below.

Most of us are familiar with the Anthropocene hypothesis. Humankind, powered by the engines of the fossil economy, has altered the Earth in ways that are rivalling if not surpassing the agency of the geomorphological forces that have shaped the Earth for millennia. Oceanic and atmospheric markers of climate change, evidence of the large-scale extinction of species, the displacement of land masses, the fabrication of urban agglomerations, all of these manifest an agency that has emerged only in the Earth’s very recent history. Human action no longer scratches the surface of the planet; it has fashioned a sphere – the technosphere – that perturbs the other spheres of the Earth with potentially catastrophic effects. In this seminar, I shall explore how the Anthropocene hypothesis – which by now has become a set of sometimes conflicting hypotheses – engages or challenges some basic premises of contemporary law and legal thinking. Examples of such premises would be the legal or legal theoretical understanding of the ‘ecological’ relation between norms and nature, of the definition of the community within which norms take effect, of time or temporality. The Anthropocene immediately raises questions of justice of responsibility – between localities and between generations – which ultimately have to do with appropriation. So the seminar will focus on appropriation as the central theme for the exploration of the question of responsibility. The  suggestion is that the Anthropocene hypothesis prompts or enables one to develop a very different account of appropriation as a foundational legal and social technique.

Indicative Reading List

  • Christophe Bonneuil & Jean-Baptiste Fressoz: The Shock of the Anthropocene (2016)
  • Donna Haraway Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (2016)
  • Bruno Latour: Facing Gaia: Eight Lectures on the New Climatic Regime (2017)
  • Bruno Latour: Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime (2018)
  • Andreas MalmFossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming (2016)

We are increasingly surrounded by images. Innumerable pictures circling through the globalized net mediate not just scenes from distant sites of war and violence, but also emotions such as hate, envy, and pity; and they often unleash violence anew. Expanding digital imaging techniques penetrate more and more territories of the a-visible world: they even promise to read our emotions and to make our mind visible. This growing image-world calls urgently for a critical mode of reading of pictures/presentations that does not operate within the register of representation. The seminar proceeds from the theses that this critical capacity may best be evolved by an image theory that is informed by pictures from the history of religion, and that the advancing technical character of images ‘beyond art’ is accompanied by the return of pictorial practices prior to ‘art’s’ emergence.

The focus of the seminar is the observation that the ‘new images’ share many aspects with pre-modern and ancient image practices that present super-natural figures or a-visible, transcendental ideas: that is to say, images from religion or cult. In both cases, images are invented and produced in place of the lacking or impossible evidence of what they seemingly depict. Both try to negotiate the problem of the vera icon, i.e. to generate a picture from material traces or remains of something that is absent or even non-existent. Today, the problem of the vera icon, the ‘true image’, appears in science labs and media: in pictures of phenomena inaccessible to the human eye and optical instruments.

The seminar will investigate correspondences and exchanges between the two image worlds that, in terms of history, are poles apart: between images from the history of religion and contemporary image policy in research, politics, and media, i.e. between images before and after ‘art’. We will examine how traces and data are transformed into iconic images, pictures, and narratives; how resentments are mediated by pictures; how ideas, values and intelligible notions get translated in the visual register; and the role images play in recognition.

Representative topics include: imaging the corporeal “inner”, the facial features as vera icon; the two bodies of caricature; effigies and doubles; photography, testimony and the index question; traces and lines, diagrams and the méthode graphique; cult images; the host and the empty grave; imaging the transcendental and the angel as symptom of the image question.

Indicative Reading List

  • Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologiae. 1265-74 (Questiones 50-74)
  • Moshe Barasch: Imago hominis. Studies in the Language of Art. 1991.
  • Walter Benjamin: The Arcades-Project.1930s/1982
  • Walter Benjamin: “The Work of Art in the Age of Technological Reproducibility”. 1935-1939
  • Hans Blumenberg: “The telescope and the impuissance of truth” (essay on Galileo’s Sidereus Nuncius). 2002
  • Jacques Derrida: Of Grammatology. 1967
  • Jacques Derrida: Memoirs of the Blind. The Self-portrait and Other Ruins. 1991.
  • F. W: Hegel: Lectures on the Philosophy of History. 1822-31/1837 (IV, II, II: The Crusades)
  • Georges Didi-Huberman: Images in Spite of All. Four Photographs from Auschwitz. 2003
  • Georges Didi-Huberman: “Near and distant: The Face, Its Imprint, and its Place of Appearance”. 2012
  • Ernst Kantorowicz: The King’s Two Bodies. A Study in Mediaeval Political TheologyPrinceton 1957
  • Ernst Kris: “The Psychology of Caricature”. 1934
  • Jean-Pierre Vernant: “Figuration of the Invisible and the psychological category of the double: The colossus”. 1994.