Mimicry, or: the biology of non-Euclidean space
Since the studies of biologist Henry Walter Bates, the term mimicry denotes the particular ability of certain species to imitate the characteristics of other species. Some animals and plants simulate the appearance of another species by copying its aesthetics and its behaviour. Others, like the chameleon or the Walking Leaf, merge with the background or their surroundings and become invisible – they practice mimeses. These creatures seem to it into account that they are being observed, similarity becomes an inherent part of their bodies. The talk will try to adumbrate the contours of a different biology on the basis of mimicry.
World milieu. The Expo '67 as a vision of global regulation
In the history of Canada, no other event is perceived as being as implicitly positive as is the world fair 1967 in Montreal. The unpredicted onrush of visitors turned the man-made exhibition site, which was erected next to the Saint Lawrence River, into the venue of a gigantic happening, where staggering installations of sound, light, and film would give a foretaste of tomorrow’s multi-media world. Exactly this Expo had taken up the cause of not creating an artificial paradise of commodities, it rather wanted to act as a world laboratory with regard to future threats like hunger, overpopulation, environmental disasters, and nuclear death. In the smallness of the exhibit and the ambience of the Expo, the big world-coherences were to be visualised, for its ambitious goals of design and planning were to be a model of global doability. Here, exactly the (unplanned) realisation as a dionysian reality seems to be the precise visualisation of this planning phantasm of a virtualised world.
Border mechanisms of the living. From environmental sciences to cultural anthropology
The starting point of the talk is the epistemic change that took place in biology between 1880 and 1930. As a result, organisms were increasingly observed with regard to their environmental conditions: you no longer ask for the psychological features of ants, but how they orient themselves under natural conditions. Thus, since about 1900, the organism – as a living body within a space it created itself, in control of all the regulating and control mechanisms – becomes the focus of a perspective which is determined by the metaphor of the circle, be it a circle of functioning, of life, of regulation, of form, of culture. This talk is going to present various conceptions of this space along the lines of Jakob von Uexküll’s environmental science and its reception in philosophical anthropology. What’s crucial here is the question of the ‘ambience’ of man: while Uexküll still sees it as an environment, philosophical anthropologists will discover nothing else but culture in it. Therefore, at least in its vanishing point, this talk also deals with today’s cultural theories, in which the relations between system and environment are reversed, though.
Parlor oceans, crystal prisons: The aquarium as show room of bourgeois self-conception
In the middle of the 19th century, the modern aquarium was invented in England. There are two variant forms, the public deep sea aquarium and the private fresh water aquarium and soon they also became a huge success in Germany. The formerly unknown underwater life attracted the interest of large circles of professional researchers, scientifically educated amateurs, and sightseeing visitors. Now they were able to engage themselves with the aquatic environment and its regularities at close quarters. People owning and building aquariums were especially concerned with the creation of a quasi-natural habitat for the newly discovered underwater life. Finding the right balance between certain species of fish as well as between fauna and flora in an aquarium was of vital importance to ensure life in this artificial environment. Yet, the discussions about fish tanks are not only interesting with regard to the animals: isn’t the aquarium a perfect model, with regard to the social backgrounds at the time, of the very stabilisation and control techniques, which were discussed and even already implemented? And what do these parlor oceans and crystal prisons tell us about their visitors’ and their owners’ yearnings (for a glimpse)?
Not according to reports. Pictures of space and concepts of life in Siegfried Kracauer’s cinema-as-theory of history
The talk deals with some facets of the relationship between the cinema and bio-politics from the theoretical perspectives (and in space-thought-pictures) as presented by Siegfried Kracauer. For one thing, Kracauer observes the modulation of sensual perception by means of the cinema in structural analogy to the formation of everyday life in rationalised work processes. He does this long before this view becomes canonical and one-dimensional under the title ‘cultural industry’; and he does it in a way which also results in the bringing forth of a utopian moment in the culturally and economically enforced, bio-political exposure and cultivation of the (social and bodily) masses. The utopian element of an extract of subject forms of individuality as well as of universal validity, up to the emphasis of the ‘stream of life’ in Kracauer’s late works, is to be found with messianic theoreticians of today who attribute ‘ethical’ meaning to the term bio-politics. For reasons of delimitation of such figures of thought where politics are understood as the epiphany of mere and sheer life, the following, once more along the lines of Kracauer (and following Adorno’s and Schlüpmann’s reading of Kracauer) should be taken into account: a connexion between the cinema, historicity, and life in which the latter – like the ‘irrecognisable life of things’ – means disruptions in the flow, incongruous figures of space and time, contentious affiliations and the perpetual tiltability of the balance of power(lessness). Then it is not about life becoming distinct, but about indistinct life and about cinema as a theory to diagnose it.
The ornament of class. Diagrams in literature and pedagogy around 1900
In Robert Walser’s novel Jakob von Gunten, the pedagogical programme of the ominous ‘Benjamenta Institue’ is targeted at pupils as a moulding of their lives by drilling their behaviour. The aim is not to educate and cultivate the individual but the alignment of the bodies of the class in order to form physiognomic and ornamental lines, to create a ‘drawing which serves as the single proof of the regulations of the institute’. Within Walser’s institution, which is only justifiable as a drawing, you can make out the dynamics of informal powers, a diagram in which, with Deleuze, the controlling power organises its access to life. And this diagram cannot only be applied to Walser’s poetics of the novel, but also to the font he learnt later on, a font for children just starting school named Sütterlin, the ornamental form of which was meant to incentivise pupils to explicitly non-organic movements and which thus follows a pedagogical concept according to which, since Wilhelm Preyer, sanguinely developing form can only be thought as machines of a pedagogical network. Thus, in the literature around 1900, the novel becomes a poetical form of non-organic life, generated by a pedagogy and a writing method.
Sound from up close. On the theory of action and cognition of the domestic
Closeness is a difficult matter of cognition. The environment in which we stay most of the time, our homes, the domestic area seems to be too humble a subject. Too unspectacular our rooms and little spaces, too inglorious our work spaces, sitting accommodations, couches. Sounds, odours, sentiments, constantly surrounding us. Talking about big and distant things, the sublime monumentalised contents of the archives: this is easy for us. For it enables us to desist from ourselves. For it smells and sounds random (a fallacy). But the things that are close, the close sounds and odours and sentiments, they lack an official language, one that is not a cliché; one that does not in turn equivocate on what’s close by using alienated formulas and phrases of intimacy – without feeling or sense. The talk will try to explore our domestic and personal space as an intimate room of senses – especially along the lines of its smells, its sounds, and its sentiments. To describe and to find words: how can we comprehend the life of sentiments that surround us from close by? How do we act in the next spaces of feeling, reaching, and sensing, in the sound and odour spaces around us? Praise for the domestic.
Interest as a strategy of cognition. A look at ethological practices
A bio-sociologist will not see the same thing as a behaviourist will not see the same thing as an ethologist, even if they are observing the same people or animals. Do they see different things simply because they take different views, ask different questions, and ignore everything that is not directly related to this perspective? Or do they each create very specific situations which make the object of research appear boring to one of them and highly interesting to another one? Maybe people, animals, and other beings become interesting when an adequate ambience enables them to articulate their own interests? But what role does the interest of the object play in the context of its own scientific exploration? This gets clearer when we take the Latin origin inter-esse literally, as being in-between, and therefore determining the closeness or distance between two things and at the same time enables an exchange between the two. By giving some examples from ethology, the talk will try to explain what we mean by interested experimenting with as opposed to experimenting on things, and also ask how a conception of knowledge would have to look like in order to be adequate for such practices conducted by interest.
At the stadium. Heidegger’s media of topology
In 1950, the first international match of a German football team after the Second World War takes place at the Neckar-Stadium in Stuttgart. There are riots in the galleries, resulting in hundreds of people injured. At the field, Germany beats Switzerland 1:0. One year later, Heidegger becomes professor emeritus and is allowed to teach again. People now are called ‘the mortals’. Talking about life is only possible any more in a stadium of forgetting, for where man is called a living creature he is, according to Heidegger, merely present and predictable. ‘Life’ now has entirely become a subject matter of statistics and logics. Heidegger delineates a topology of being along the lines of distinguished places or rather along the lines of things which ‘admit’ and ‘bring about’ spaces. He contraposes life – which is now only perceived as being a mass and the object of the quantifying politics of knowledge - with a theory and practice of ‘habitation’, which is supposed to guarantee, even throughout the deepest of depression, a residency, a living with things. Now you don’t get there via cabin and house but via the surrounding landscape, passing bridges and stadiums, power plants and airports, the very habitations which, according to Heidegger, architectonically formulate the relationship between man and space and which ‘house the residence of man’. At the stadium the logistics of the masses of spectators meet the topology of the football game, which is clearly adumbrated but configures itself only in the movement between the players and the ball. Here, framework and event thinking share a place which can be counted among the ‘other’ spaces of Foucault, but only as an historised interspace conceived along the lines of the medium, which bears witness to the letterpress as well as to the games of antiquity.