Marc Berdet – Institute of Social Research versus College of Sociology: An Anthropological Dispute

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

Dr Marc Berdet (Sociology, University of Paris 1) – Institute of Social Research versus College of Sociology: An Anthropological Dispute
‘Do we not have enough taboos?’ That was the way Theodor Adorno reacted to Pierre Klossowski’s presentation, when the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research considered collaborating with the College of Sociology. Adorno wrote to Walter Benjamin (who assisted with the activities of the College with some suspicion) that he was developing a ‘dialectic of the taboo’, against its ‘crypto-fascist’ tendencies. Adorno also deployed this dialectical anthropology with Max Horkheimer in Dialectic of Enlightenment, which starts with a discussion of some of the College’s theses on myth.  This paper will compare concepts of myth from the French College and the Frankfurt Institute, with the examples of Homer, Sade (whom Pierre Klossowski, Georges Bataille and Roger Caillois also analyse), by exploiting these under-rated preparatory discussions. It will thus circumscribe the kernel of this anthropological disagreement as both a political and an epistemological position. The dispute can be resumed in the opposition Adorno sketches between an ambiguous, anthropological materialism, shared by Walter Benjamin, and a progressive, materialist, ‘negative’ anthropology, shaped by Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, and, later, by Ulrich Sonnemann.

The background text related to this talk is Roger Caillois, ‘Festival’, from Denis Hollier, The College of Sociology (1937-1939), Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1988, pp. 279-303 (quoted in Dialectic of Enlightenment).

Marc Berdet is currently a Marie Curie Fellow at the University of Potsdam, Berlin. He is also associate researcher with the Centre d’étude des techniques, des connaissances et des pratiques (CETCOPRA, University of Paris Sorbonne) and the Centre interdisciplinaire d’études et de recherches sur l’Allemagne (CIERA, Paris). He is currently working in two complementary directions: on the one hand, he is trying to shape a new reading of Walter Benjamin from the standpoint of his ‘anthropological’ materialism; on the other hand, with an updating of critical theory, he aims at analysing the aesthetic of our (post)modern world. He is thus writing two books: the former interprets Benjamin along with his critical method; the latter analyses the ‘phantasmagorias’ of capital. He is also the chief-editor of the website, and is preparing a journal of social research, Anthropology + Materialism, of which the second issue will be on myth (the CFP is still open).




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