Can open scholarship make science more reliable, responsive, credible and inclusive? What is the significance of anticipatory governance for open science and responsible research and innovation? Discuss these and other questions at a roundtable together with our fellows René von Schomberg and Andoni Ibarra. They have invited experts such as Clare Shelley Egan (Technical University of Denmark), Douglas Robinson (Université Gustave Eiffel), Mario Blok (Wageningen University), Frank Miedema (Utrecht University), Roberto Poli (University of Trento), Paola Zaratin (Italien MS Society), and Marianne Hoerlesberger (Austrian Institute of Technology). Klick here to learn more about the program and to join the discussions, please register with events[at]khk.rwth-aachen.de.
We are excited to welcome soon at c:o/re Karin Knorr Cetina, the O. Borchert Distinguished Service Professor in the Departments of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Chicago. She is a leading researcher in the field of Science and Technology Studies and with her groundbreaking work on Epistemic Cultures and the Making of Knowledge, she is a major influence of the very rationale of our Center. During her stay in Aachen, she will take part in the scholarly debates at c:o/re and will be giving the key note lecture in our inauguration event on July 4th. Lern more about her current research here.
Art’s Realism in the Post-Truth Era
Amanda Boetzkes and Käte Hamburger Kolleg Aachen: Cultures of Research (c:o/re) are hosting this three days Workshop on 21 – 23 June 2022
The last decade has seen a growing preoccupation with philosophies of realism from artists, curators, and theorists. But while the art world benefits from this domain of philosophical inquiry, the reverse is also true: the significance of realism in an era characterized by fake news, post-critical theory, mass extinctions, climate change, and the precarity of existence due to war and other forms of displacement, can only be fully appreciated by attending to the ways that art captures, mediates, and even shapes our understanding of reality. Taking art’s constitutive relationship to realism seriously, this workshop intervenes on contemporary debates about realism after truth by demonstrating that art does not simply illustrate philosophical theories, it requires their redefinition. The contributors will situate realism in relation to the aesthetic dimensions of media imaging, scientific visualization, bodily expression and perceptual enhancement. Bringing together advanced scholars from art history, media studies, philosophy, literature and social theory, the workshop foregrounds the importance of art’s realism in a global ecology.
Organized by Amanda Boetzkes
Raphaelle Occhietti (University of Guelph)
Kyveli Mavrokordopoulou (École des Hautes Études et Sciences Sociales)
Coordination of event
Ana María Guzmán Olmos (c:o/re Aachen, University of Bonn)
Haus Matthéy, Theaterstraße 67, 52062 Aachen
We have a restricted number of seats to attend in person. After we have reached the amount of available seats in person, we invite you to join us online.
Please register with: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Tuesday, June 21, Haus Matthéy
Introduction: Eight Theatrical Rotations Around Art’s Realism
Amanda Boetzkes (c:o/re Aachen, University of Guelph)
In the Thickness of Reality: An Aesthetic of Indifference and Concealment in Eva and Franco Mattes’ The Bots
Maryse Ouellet (University of Bonn)
In 2017, film scholar Erika Balsom wrote a plea for a realist approach in film, namely the observational mode. Her essay argued that the task of vanguard documentary in the posttruth era was to “problematize access to phenomenal reality.” The notion of “access,” however, must be questioned, since it presupposes our separation from reality (Benoist, 2011). In a time when the fabric of reality is stripped from moral standards and lies are allowed to circulate more or less uncensored on social media, the challenge facing art’s realism today is perhaps less a matter of problematizing access to reality than problematizing reality itself, that is to say, to probe the chasm between reality and truth.
In their recent video series, The Bots (2020), artists Eva and Franco Mattes’ have taken on this task, by tracking down former Facebook content moderators who disclosed the psychologically damaging work they used to perform, skimming the illicit and the obscene “digital waste” (Roberts, 2016) like janitors in the shadows of social media. The videos, however, do more than giving access to a hidden dimension of reality: they also merge heterogeneous layers of reality, thereby situating the testimonies in an economy of the visible governed by “radical indifference” (Zuboff, 2019). The testimonies are indeed rendered on screen by six actors who lend their bodies and voices to the anonymized workers, while pretending to deliver makeup tutorials, speaking to their cellphones from their apartment. The disconcerting and humorous channeling of unknown individual predicaments through the widely disseminated and standardized tutorial format takes inspiration from an activist practice ironically consisting in circumventing moderation by sneaking political content into apparently innocent beauty videos or reels (Kuo, 2019). In this workshop, I want to examine The Bots’ aesthetic of equivalence and concealment to reflect on the implications of art’s realism in the post-truth era. How can aesthetic convey the thickness of reality on social media? How to be realist, when reality is deceptive? These are some of the questions I would like to offer for consideration.
Homeless realism (post-metaphysics, post-truth and posterity)
Hilan Bensusan (University of Brasilia)
The realist stance is a combination of two gestures: one that affirms the independence of things from us and another that asserts their permanence, stability and full presence. Both gestures were combined in Plato – and tied together by Aristotle’s reading of Plato’s positions – into what became metaphysics. Around this endeavor, the first gesture – that of independence – was sometimes questioned and abandoned. The second one, nevertheless, proved to be more persistent. Speculative realism, intending to revive the issues around realism, often elaborates new strategies to argue for a package involving the two gestures. The spectral realism gambit, arguably a post-metaphysical one, is to dismiss permanence while keeping independence. In that sense, it discards ousiai as the ultimate commitment somehow required by any form of realism. The rejection of ousiai – substances, presences, homes or perhaps archives that keep something in its proper kernel no matter the concealment happening in what appears – makes room for a realism where what is real is intermittent like what depends on the retrieval from an archive.
Post-metaphysics is contemporary of post-truth. There is a sense in which post-truth is a consequence of the original metaphysical efforts to be able to extract the intelligibility of truth and be able to mimick it by artificially producing its effects. One of the effects of truth is that it generates a network of reliability. Reliability itself has connections with permanence stability and substance. Interestingly, post-truth also reveals the limitations of asserting the full presence of things. Two kinds of responses are then possible: to recoil to a defense of a metaphysical realism or to move somehow forward and explore the impermanence of what is archived – and the ireducible indexical character of whatever is in the past (and can only come back to the fore if rememorated now).
Wednesday, June 22, Haus Matthéy
The Theatre of Operations
Oxana Timofeeva (European University St. Petersburg)
The talk will conceptualize the idea of the theatre of war operations. The theatricality of war, read literally, will be addressed in its specific temporality of repetition, as well as in its spatial characteristics, its architectures and geo-logics – the scene, the battle ground, and the undergrounds of war, from bomb shelters and trenches to mass graves. I will also focus on the unconscious scenarios in the theatre of war, discuss the structure of desire and the scenes of its phantasmatic realization.
Can Waves Write Poems? Immanent Purposiveness and the Matter of Meaning
Jeff Diamanti (University of Amsterdam)
Can matter story itself, and (if so) is its story coherent? It would appear so given the citational record mounting in various branches of environmental and post-humanities. Yet the largely unresolved polemic of the infamous “Against Theory” by Walter Benn Michaels and Stephan Knapp resolves precisely on this question posed from the standpoint of meaning’s hermeneutic envelope. Returning to the formative distinction between form and matter at the heart of Hegel’s philosophy—and more specifically two recent resuscitations of Formtätigkeit (form activity) in the philosophy of Karen Ng and Michael Marder—I attempt to ask and then answer if indeed the nominalization of “storied matter” underwriting much ecocritical theory is an analytic contradiction in terms (and hazard two arguments about what that contradiction might inflect elsewhere in the constellation of materialist criticism).
Thursday, June 23, Haus Matthéy
Art Between Realism and Warnings (via zoom)
Santiago Zabala (ICREA/Pompeu Fabra University)
The ongoing return to realism and order in art, politics, and culture and the increasingly narrow focus of experts have prevented us from taking warnings seriously. Too often these are discarded as useless or insignificant—much like environmentalists, artists, and philosophers—when in fact they are vital to understanding our spiritual predicament. Though philosophers can’t solve the ongoing emergencies—philosophy was never meant to solve anything—we can interpret their signs. Warnings—not to be confused with predictions—are not meant to convince anyone but invite us to reevaluate our priorities for the future. Unlike recent philosophies of animals, plants, or insects, my philosophy of warnings is more than a philosophical elucidation of a global environmental emergency. It is the ontology within which these issues exist. Phenomenologically we could say that these reacting philosophies are regional ontologies whereas ours is the fundamental one that encompasses all of them. Warnings allow us to think transcendentally without losing sight of actual political, social, and technological urgent matters.
“This word Being,” as Martin Heidegger once said, “serves as a warning to us,” a warning that reality is not made merely of beings and that its truth is not exclusively what can be measured or verified. The central argument in favor of a philosophy of warnings is not that what it warns of comes to pass but rather the pressure it exercises against those emergencies hidden and subsumed under the global call to order. This pressure demands that our environmental, political, and technological priorities be reconsidered, revealing the alarming signs of climate crisis, democratic backsliding, and the commodification of our lives by surveillance capitalism. These warnings are also why we should oppose any demand to “return to normalcy” after an emergency, which signals primarily a desire to ignore what caused the emergency in the first place. A philosophy of warnings seeks to alter and interrupt the reality we’ve become accustomed to through stances that are engaged, interested, and respondent to warnings.
Parallel Perspective: A Forgotten Realism
Jens Schröter (University of Bonn)
One of the classical ingredients of the difficult notion of realism, at least in the history of painting, is central perspective. Central perspective (ideally) follows the rules of the propagation of light (at least as seen from the standpoint of geometrical optics) and thereforen mimics the appearance of the real world. It produces thereby (ideally) a coherence of the depicted space and a potential continuity to the space of the beholder. By relating the representation to the viewpoint of an observer (at least in one point-perspective) it moreover
seems to duplicate our experience of watching the real world. But this subjective aspect of perspective also potentially disturbs the alleged realism, since it shows an object or scene from one, contingent standpoint. This leads, on the one hand, to the complicated problems of perspectivalism and the questions of the situatedness of knowledge.
There are a lot of discussions on that (see e.g. Alloa: Partages de la Perspective). On the other hand, there is a much deeper problem for ‘realism’ caused by central perspective: Central perspective distorts the represented scene, relative lengths, angles etc. change. It is for example difficult to reconstruct a machine or a building from a centralperspectival representation – for images that do realistically pre-present structures like machine or buildings forms of parallel perspective are routinely used. These are much more important as a medial infrastructure for modern technical culture as is central perspective. Moreover, digital image generation can use routinely parallel perspective – as different from the optical media like photography. With digital imaging an important representational tradition from drawing and painting is revived (e.g. in Computer Aided Design).
Given this extreme importance it is strange, why parallel perspective does not play a for more central role in discussions of realism. Parallel Perspective is used for a realism of the objects instead of the subject, so to speak. That should also make Parallel Perspective an interesting topic of study for theoretical positions that discuss the properties of the ‘object’ as such. Several aspects of these complicated problems in and around parallel perspective are discussed in my presentation.
Thursday, June 23, c:o/re, Theaterstr. 75 (Statdpalais), lecture hall
Steve Fuller (c:o/re Aachen, University of Warwick)
Closing Remarks and Discussion
An-Archaeology and Spectral Realism with Hilan Bensusan at c:o/re (June 14)
As an introduction to this week’s workshop on Art’s Realism, organized by Amanda Boetzkes at c:o/re, on June 14th at 17:00 Professor Hilan Bensusan gave a lecture on An-archaeology and spectral realism. The manuscript of the talk can be found here.
Hilan Bensusan is Professor of Contemporary Philosophy at the University of Brasilia. He is the author of Indexicalism: Realism and the Metaphysics of Paradox (Edinburgh University Press, 2021) and Being Up for Grabs: On Speculative Anarcheology (Open Humanities Press, 2016). He also published Portuguese: A diáspora da agência – Ensaio sobre o horizonte das monadologias (The diaspora of agency – Essay on the horizon of monadologies) (EdUFBA, 2018), Linhas de animismo futuro (Lines of future animism) (Mil Saberes, 2017), Heráclito – Exercícios de Anarqueologia (Heraclitus – Exercises in anarcheology) (Ideias e Letras, 2012) and Excessos e Exceções (Excesses and exceptions) (Ideias e Letras, 2008).
On May 30th – June 1st, c:o/re hosted the workshop The Use of Networks in the Humanities and Social Sciences, part of the Engineering Practices series and organized by Professor Ana Bazzan together with Phillip H. Roth and Alin Olteanu.
The aim of the workshop was to chart the use of networks in the humanities and social sciences and the consequences of the use of such epistemic tools for the way we understand science, society and the world. As such, the event gathered a variety of perspectives on networks and applications of network analysis, from the mathematics of networks to media analysis, historical research and to tackling questions on technology.
A point of convergence among these varied approaches is that, as models, networks have become a central epistemological tool in many sciences as well as vernacularly, not least because of the mainstreaming of social media and their role in networking communities and academic disciplines across previously established boundaries. A particularly interesting takeaway point of this workshop is that, as models and as representations, networks have become a common analytical tool in many fields of research, thus allowing for multi-perspective discussions on methodology.
Sara Bédard-Goulet published a thorough and insightful review of c:o/re fellow Amanda Boetkes‘ (2019) Plastic Capitalism Contemporary Art and the Drive to Waste in the journal Social Semiotics. The review, titled Art in the Petrotimes: An aesthetics of waste, is here.
Part of the Philosophy of AI: Optimistic and Pessimistic View lecture series, on 25.05.2022 Jakub Szymanik gave a lecture at c:o/re on Reverse–engineering the language of thought, problematising thought and computation by exploring the cognitive scientific notion of language of thought (“mentalese”). This concept, positing that humans think through logical predicates combined through logical operators, originates in Jerry A. Fodor’s celebrated book (1975), explicitly titled Language of thought. In effort to reverse-engineer the language of thought, Jakub Szymanik considered some recent computation theories, such as inspired from Jerome Feldman and neural networks in a fresh manner.
Jakub Szymanik explained that the notion of language of thought is not easy to avoid: it is often the engine underpinning theories of cognitive models, via notions of complexity and simplicity. The investigation leads to a broad variety of theoretical implications and empirical insights, among which there can be many contradictions. However, apparently divergent approaches at play here, such as, for example, symbolism and enactivism are not necessarily and entirely irreconcilable. The way forward is through pragmatically pursuing the epistemological unification of such theories, as guided by empirical insight.
We had a book launch at c:o/re, as Ulrik Langen and Frederik Stjernfelt‘s book The World’s First Full Press Freedom: The Radical Experiment of Denmark-Norway 1770-1773 is being published this week. Frederik Stjernfelt gave a thorough presentation of the book on 25.05.2022. This was a particularly appropriate date for a discussion on press freedom as, on the same day, in Aachen, there took place the ceremony of conferring the International Charlemagne Prize to the leading Belarusian political activists Maria Kalesnikava, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Veronica Tsepkalo, who lead the fight for democracy in Belarus.
This is an adaptation for international audiences of their previous book written in Danish, also together with Henrik Horstbøll, comprising two volumes, Grov Konfækt. Tre vilde år med trykkefrihed, 1770-73. To address an international audience, Ulrik Lange and Frederik Stjernfelt both reduced the size of the initial text and, also, approached some new topics, to do with the international reactions to the episode of the history of Denmark-Norway (The Oldenburg Monarchy) that the book discusses.
The book offers a historical investigation of the interesting episode in the history of Denmark-Norway when Press Freedom was introduced by the German Radical Enlightener J.F. Struensee, who was hired in 1768 to take care of the mental health of King Christian VII. Struensee became the King’s favourite and achieved political power, backed also by a small group of reform-oriented top officers. This allowed Struensee, for a brief 16-months period, to effectively be dictator of Denmark-Norway and, as such, to introduce close to 2000 pieces of new legislation, many of them with Radical Enlightenment inspirations.
In this context, the book zooms in on the implications of and reactions to the law of 14 September 1770 that stated that censorship is abolished in order to facilitate the ”Impartial Investigation of Truth”, to go against ”Fallacies and Prejudices of earlier Times”, and to ”attack Abuse and reveal Prejudices”. This was an Enlightenment ideal. Struensee could not have foreseen, probably, the many types of social implications of absolute press freedom. He was, eventually, ousted and executed by coup-makers in the middle of the Press Freedom period.
Showing simultaneously how press freedom is crucial for democracy and human rights and how it is also dangerous, the exploration of this historically first case of full press freedom is highly relevant for contemporary debates on freedom of expression online and post-truth attitudes. The detailed investigation that the book offers relies on an impressive categorisation of about 1000 pamphlets published during this press freedom period.
As the first book on the matter, in Danish, covers in great detail the events in Denmark-Norway of this historical episode, the new English adaptation also compares the Copenhagen pamphlet storm of 1770 with the pamphlet storms that took place in Vienna in 1781 and in Paris in 1788.
The authors explain that, in all three cases, Enlighteners introducing Press Freedom were disappointed with the result. The population hardly became more moral and enlightened, but rather used freedom to split into warring factions, to print and buy cheap entertainment, libel and obscenities. Also, in all three cases, an immediate explosion of prints waned over a number of years, finally to be restricted again by different means, such as post-print censorship, prohibition of anonymity, signal cases, taxation, licensing requirements, among others. However, very importantly, all three cases made clear the modern consequences of Press Freedom as it would spread in Western democratic constitutions through the 19th Century.
The book draws many relevant conclusions on freedom of speech in general. As particularly relevant for contemporary issues, the book argues that press freedom is not natural, nor automatic. There is always a pretext to curtail it, and every government may find reasons to do so.
Press freedom is unpredictable and cna involve many types of of drawbacks, such as libel, threats, calls for sedition, fake news. To this day, (full) press freedom is contested: there is no agreement about its limits. Press freedom creates a public sphere, drawing people to consider political options and to conceive themselves as political subjects.
Summarising, the book highlights the importance of accepting conflict as part and parcel of the democratic process and the pursuit of human rights. Press freedom is instrumental in this regard, as it connects to a conflictual view of society: there are and always will be different social strata, different political positions, different interest groups, different power centers and their conflict is better waged in the open.
At his talk, part of the Philosophy of AI: Optimistic and Pessimistic Views, Professor Kim Guldstrand Larsen reflected on how far (or near) are we from developing fully autonomous cars. This is a priority challenge for explainable and verifiable machine learning. The question is not easy to answer directly. One certainty, though, is that the answer lies in the cooperation, or lack thereof, between academia and political agents (municipalities). The mediating agent, which, none of these two seem to favour, stems from industry: what can commercial companies deliver to improve traffic? Companies seem to speak both the language of research and of politics. How much will we smartify traffic in the next, say, 10 years? The question translates, as Professor Ana Bazzan asked simply, “What will companies do”?
What companies do, in this regard, will impact not only policy but also academia. Success in delivering smart solutions for traffic is expected to guide curriculum development in computer science programs. For example, the commerical solutions will focus teaching on either neural networks, Bayesian networks or automata based models.
Last semester in our Lecture Series, our Fellow Joffrey Becker gave a talk on Humans, Machines, and Anthropology of Cybernetic Pracitces where he also screened parts of a visual ethnography study that he conducted at a dairy farm. At the upcoming conference “Anthropology, AI and the Future of Human Society”, organized by the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Joffrey will dive deeper into the routines of a robotic dairy farm from an anthropological point of view. Tune in to this virtual event on June, 6th to 10th, 2022 if you want to learn more about what Anthropologists think about the Future of Human-Machine interactions.