Esther Leslie – Transdisciplinary Reflexes, Trans-species Reflexes

Event Date 22 – 23 March 2012
French Institute
17 Queensberry Place
London, SW7 2DT

Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy

Transdisciplinarity and the Humanities: Problems, Methods, Histories, Concepts
2011–2013 (AHRC 914469)

Workshop 2

Case Studies 1 – Transdisciplinary Texts: Dialectic of Enlightenment and Capitalism and Schizophrenia

This two-day Workshop will examine the transdisciplinary dynamics and modes of concept construction of two now-classic transdisciplinary texts from the mid–late twentieth century, one from each of the German and French traditions: Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944; 1947) and Deleuze & Guattari’s two-volume Capitalism and Schizophenia (1972 & 1980). Written at strongly contrasting moments in European history – in the wake of fascism and of May 68, respectively – these two texts are in many ways emblematic of the national philosophical traditions from which they emerged: the one dialectical, the other anti-dialectical. Yet they are also texts that are profoundly ‘infected’ by their philosophical others – various early 20th-century anthropologies in particular – in their constructions of histories of the subject and the subject-function. And they share certain general methodological features in common: programmatic anti-systematicity and the writing practice of dual authorship, for example. They have also both been subjected to an increasingly global reception.

The Workshop aims to concentrate on the mechanisms and modes of generality/universality involved in the disciplinary dynamics of the two texts (their ‘models’ of transdisciplinarity); to consider the limitations associated with their historical formations; and to identify the continuing productivity of their afterlives, associated with their insertion into new geo-political contexts.

Day 1: Anti-systematic Systematicity: Negative Anthropology and Dual Authorship in Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment

Professor Esther Leslie (English & Humanities, Birkbeck, University of London) – Transdisciplinary Reflexes, Trans-species Reflexes
One area in which the influence of Dialectic of Enlightenment is newly and strikingly felt is in questions around animal rights and the relationship between humans and animals. The work has been cited to underpin militant arguments around veganism and specieism. In a politicized German context, the links between the treatment of animals and the treatment of Jews under Nazism has been underlined and even become programmatic. This paper considers Adorno and Horkheimer’s conception of what the animal teaches philosophy – under specific circumstances of unfreedom. The dialectical relation of animal and human – a trans-specieism – pervades the book in a variety of ways, which will be evoked.  At the same time, Adorno and Horkheimer’s transdisciplinary gesture – to know the animal through the human, the human through the animal – is pervasive in the work, such that it is only possible to know philosophy through anthropology, fine art through mass culture, capitalism through ancient myth, and reason through unreason.  It makes for a quivering sense of truth, which resounds in the role of the shudder, shock or twitch, which plays so central a role across, at least, Adorno’s whole conception, if not Horkheimer’s. This deep shudder through animal-human experience is explored here in the light of old and new technologies of representing the animalistic.

Esther Leslie is Professor of Political Aesthetics at Birkbeck, University of London. Her PhD focused on the work of Walter Benjamin and questions of technology and was published as Walter Benjamin: Overpowering Conformism (Pluto, 2000). She has also authored a biography of Benjamin (Reaktion, 2007).  In 2002 she published Hollywood Flatlands: Animation, Critical Theory, and the Avant Garde (Verso), which excavated the historical relationships between critical theory, European intellectuals and animation in its avant garde and commercial varieties. A subsequent book, Synthetic Worlds: Art, Nature and the Chemical Industry (Reaktion, 2005), investigated the industrial manufacture of colour and its impact on conceptions of nature and aesthetics. This straddling of art, science and industry continues to fascinates as she develop a project on the significance of the animated form we call liquid crystal, in its guise as chemical compound and as component of today’s flat screen TVs.




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