HTDTWT 2017-2018: Intervention II: (Art and parametric real subsumption or can the self-entrepreneur effect political transformation) from Month to Month

Seminar 6: March 2018

The Stereoscopic Image, Work, and Parametric Spatial Imagination

We have now covered Sellars inspired understandings of freedom, science, and agency through Sellars’ ‘scientific naturalism’ which as Fabio Gironi notes “aims to show how normative conceptual structures are ontologically dependent but logically irreducible to the causal system of nature.”[1] This has helped us assess and reflect on some widely used interventionist positions in art and theory. Now we will draw our attention to questions surrounding and springing from real subsumption’s entanglement with the algorithmic and contemporary financial instruments, how is intervention envisaged under such conditions?  There is no definitive answer to this question, of course, but to begin to map out how we may approach such a question what is required is an understanding of the conditions of possibility for any labour of intervention today. This seminar will be dedicated to understanding what Matthew Poole calls the “parametric workspace”. Taking architectural design as an example for today’s creative labour practices Poole first returns to Lyotard’s thinking around the informational economy. We might recall our early excursion with Lyotard’s differend and the wronged worker or labourer unable to prove his/her subjection to injustice – this is the background for understanding that ‘work’ is bound to exchange in a complex landscape of operations in which it (work) is transformed in the process to become “the very operation of the accumulation, funnelling, and ordering of information.” (Poole, page 140) The automation of the design process is both liberating and confining and to understand how anything interventionist might emerge from such circumstances we must consider both these sides to Parametricism. “Parametric models enable digital designers to create complex structures and environments, as well as new understandings of space, both real and virtual. Whether as tools for democratic action or tyrannical spectacle; self- and community-building capabilities; a post-humanistic subject; or the mediatized politics of our desired futurisms—all these themes are figured and being assembled within the Parametricist discourse.”[2] Parametricism has been theorized as an architectural design process that can translate the complexity of contemporary life processes in the global Post-Fordist networked society. Poole’s text looks at this claim and what that might mean for intervention into this society’s politics by highlighting what happens with and to space in the parametric design discourses and informational economy to which they are bound. Poole’s reading of a “The Politics of Parametricism” and what such politics do with space will be extended to reflect on contemporary theorizations around the notion of space in general and site-specificity in particular.


  • Matthew Poole, Speculation, presumption, and assumption: The ideology of algebraic-to-parametric workspace. In: The Politics of Parametricism: Digital Technologies in Architecture, eds. Matthew Poole and Manuel Shvartzberg, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015
  • Matthew Poole, Specificities of Sitedness: A Speculative Sketch, 2015, In: Robin Mackay (ed.), When Site Lost the Plot. Falmouth: Urbanomic, pp 247–263
  • Robin Mackay, The Barker Topos, In: When Site Lost the Plot. Robin Mackay (Ed.) Published by Urbanomic March 2015

[1] Introduction, In: The Legacy of Kant in Sellars and Meillassoux: Analytic and Continental Kantianism, Routledge, 2018, p.14

[2] From the statement for the two day conference  ‘The Politics of Parametricism’ at CalArts, Los Angeles

Seminar 5: February 2018

Stereoscopic Vision as Method

In this, the last of our seminars strongly related to Wilfrid Sellars’ philosophy we continue from the theme and question of Prometheanism mapped out last month to delve into Sellars’ main concepts by way of a comparative approach utilizing the overlaps between his ideas and those of philosopher Ray Brassier. Recapping the main premises of Sellars’ notion of a synoptic /stereoscopic vision (the manifest and scientific images together-apart), we will look at two positions that are enabled and enhanced by their grounding in Sellars’ realism. First, we will look at how Ray Brassier takes up the Sellarsian worldview to develop a distinctive and complex brand of Nihilism (not to be confused with the Nietzschean kind or Existentialism), one that is Promethean in its ideals and politics. We look at how this is rooted in Sellars’ work and think about it in terms of Images, what kind of image can applying this process of thinking produce? Then we will move on Johanna Seibt and her impressive rehabilitation of the much-maligned notion of ‘dialogue’. Both these positions, although distinct, share an understanding of scientific realism inspired by Sellars’ inferentialism and anti-foundationalism, by outlining this the aim is to look at the possible political and social advantages of adopting such perspectives in our art practices and the making of images in the expanded sense of the term. Additionally, the term Reason will be distinguished from the term Rationalism two terms often muddled up, this will be connected to our previous encounter with the distinction between reasons and causes and will be made sense of through a short foray into a section of a text by Jean-Paul Martinon. Thinking artand sciencetogether poses a particular set of problems, by establishing a preliminary grip on Sellarsmethodology the aim is provide ways of gaining traction on these concerns.


From Last Seminar We Will Stay With:

Geran Wales, 2012. Meaning and (F)act: Ray Brassier’s Speculative Nihilism and its Implications for Dialectics. Res Cogitans Vol. 3,1: Article 12.

And add:

Ray Brassier, 2015. Reason Is Inconsolable and Non-Conciliatory (in conversation with Suhail Malik). In: Christoph Cox, Jenny Jaskey and Suhail Malik (eds.), Realism Materialism Art. New York/Berlin: Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College/Sternberg Press, pp 213–230.

Johanna Seibt, 2015. Intercultural Dialogue and the Processing of Significance: Cognition as Orientation. In: J. Seibt and J. Garsdal (eds.), How Is Global Dialogue Possible? New York: De Gruyter, pp 85–115. [READ THE FIRST THREE PAGES ONLY]

Additional Reading:

Jean-Paul Martinon 2018 “Race, Universality, and the Principle of Non-Contradiction” in Critical Philosophy of Race

Useful YOUTUBE Video:

‘The underappreciated philosophy of Wilfrid Sellars’


Seminar 4: January 2018

On Prometheanism

The main purpose of this seminar is to introduce the notion of Prometheanism, its history, its concerns, its problems, and the problems with ideas that oppose it. Ray Brassier notes that “Prometheanism is simply the claim that there is no reason to assume a predetermined limit to what we can achieve or to the ways in which we can transform ourselves and our world.” Already, such a general definition tells us a lot about how 'Prometheanism' thinks intervention and agency - which we also grappled with during our last seminar. Using the contested notion of Prometheanism as a springboard, we will enter into a discussion around some of Wilfrid Sellars’ key ideas through the work of Brassier.


  • Pages 1 - 33 of Jean Baudrillard’s, 2009, ‘Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared’, Trans. Chris Turner, Seagull Books.
  • Ray Brassier, 2014, Prometheanism and its Critics. In #Accelerate: The Accelerationist ReaderMackay, Robin and Avanessian, Armen (eds.). Falmouth: Urbanomic, 469-487.
  • Geran Wales, 2012, Meaning and (F)act: Ray Brassier’s Speculative Nihilism and its Implications    for Dialectics. Res Cogitans Vol. 3,1: Article 12.
  • Alberto Toscano, 2009, A Plea for Prometheus. Critical Horizons: A Journal of Philosophy and Social Theory Vol. 10, 2: pp 241–56. Acumen Publishing Ltd.
  • Alberto Toscano, The Prejudice Against Prometheus 


Seminar 3: December 2017 

Against Voluntarism: For a Materialist Understanding of Agency and ‘the Self’

In our previous seminar we discussed the question of political (liberal) democracy in relation to art practices and took special interest in Chantal Mouffe’s concept of ‘agonistic pluralism’. Mouffe claims positive intervention by way of radicalizing democracy through an emphasis on the agonistic and conflictual dimension of politics. It was suggested that reasoning (different to Reason in the abstract in that it is bound to a process of intersubjective argumentation) could be seen as a different possibility or model for pluralism. To develop a proper articulation of this -and distinguish it from the deliberative democracy project of Jürgen Habermas - we will delve into the work of Wilfrid Sellars, Ray Brassier, Johanna Seibt, and James Trafford (and others). This will be articulated in our February and March seminars. To pave the way for this, it is first necessary to briefly explore the problem of voluntarism in politics and how many practices invested in political discourse are hinged on forms of voluntaristic thinking. Voluntarism is, broadly speaking, the theory that considers (the) ‘will’ to be the most fundamental agency ascribing to it a freedom to act not constrained by precedent causes, such as natural or materialistic ones.

To investigate voluntarism and establish its incorrectness is necessary for a rethinking of questions around agency in art which is to ask in which way can we really claim that we are capable of intervening, intervention (under current conditions of neo-liberalism) being the prime question these seminars aim to discuss. What if there is no such thing as a self in the first place? And, in turn no such thing as a will in the sense we usually describe it? What does that mean for political action, for artistic intervention, and for agency in general? This seminar will take a look at a host of texts and through them investigate questions around voluntarism, freedom and agency that remain central to current debates around science, technology, complex systems, and the human. Our entry point will be neuroscience and how it opens up a debate around such questions. For some, neuroscientific research may change our views about free will, agency, and responsibility for the worse through its tendency to explain how our brains cause behaviour. This is a seemingly old story boosted by new discoveries and exploited in art, film, and literature. It has also been augmented by its attachment to areas of research related to AI and the automation of the economy. The underlying worry, or even horror, seems to be that societal frameworks will begin to collapse (or have already) if, through establishing consciousness as a matter of neural correlates, people are encouraged to believe that freedom is an illusion, and with it, responsibility and agency. This horror has been expressed as ‘the semantic apocalypse’ in Scott Bakker’s novel Neuropath (2009). To understand such concerns, we will briefly look into the work of Thomas Metzinger and his ‘Self-Model Theory of Subjectivity’ and then suggest how such concerns might be misplaced. It will be argued that contrary to this it is necessary to articulate a proper materialist and scientific image of what subjectivity actually is in order to develop a constructive political life with others, understand ones agency and how to formulate it in language and image.

To this end, we will focus on Metzinger’s work which will be complimented with a foray into Scott Bakker’s novel and some points from another Neuroscience Philosopher by the name of Adina Roskies. From there we will look into a text by Gegen Sich Kollective that explores Noise as a form of political-artistic intervention through an understanding of Metzinger (and Brassier). We will also use a text by Ray Brassier titled ‘Wandering Abstraction’ to connect this excursion into Neuro-scientific understanding back to questions on Voluntarism and ‘real abstraction’. Finally, we will watch a video work by artist Amanda Beech (Covenant Transport, 2015) and discuss how this work can in part be read as working in line with the themes and questions explored in this seminar.


  • Thomas Metzinger, 2009, The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self. New York: Basic Books, Introduction pages 1 – 12.
  • Thomas Metzinger, 2011, The No-Self-Alternative. In: Shaun Gallagher (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of the Self. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, pp 279-296.
  • Gegen Sich Kollektiv, 2012, Anti-self: experience-less noise. In: Michael Goddard,Benjamin Halligan, and Paul Hegarty (eds.), Reverberations: The Philosophy, Aesthetics and Politics of Noise. London/New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, pp 193–206.
  • Adina Roskies, 2006, Neuroscientific Challenges to Free Will and Responsibility. Trends in Cognitive Sciences Vol. 10, 9: pp 419-23. Elsevier Ltd.
  • Ray Brassier, 2014, Wandering Abstraction. Mute. Online, First Published 13 February 2014.


Seminar 2: November 2017 

The ‘Art and Democracy’ Debate: Agonistic Pluralism and its Interventionist Promise

Politics demands coming to terms with the plurality of opinions and worldviews that constitute the social spectrum, that is to say, the acceptance of antagonism as a prominent characteristic of thinking and doing politics. Chantal Mouffe emphasizes this dimension and prescribes it as constitutive of politics proper. ‘It is only when division and antagonism are recognized as being ineradicable that it is possible to think in a properly political way.’ The ineradicability of antagonism is also at work in Jean-François Lyotard’s concept of the differend, a concept that can be said to not only have strong residues in Mouffe’s formulation of ‘agonism’ but actually differentiates and sets apart her version of agonism from previous notions of agonism in the history of theory. In October we discussed the concept of Real Abstraction which proposes the hierarchy of the exchange value over the use value and is instrumental in what Marx identified as the ‘real subsumption’ of labour. We talked about how that latter concept informs thinking about intervention in Lyotard’s differend. In a sense, the differend is an early prototype for agonism.

Following on from that, this seminar will be dedicated to exploring agonism, how this concept proposes intervention, how it thinks politics, and what its objectives are. We will ask if these objectives work and what their downsides and consequences might be and also look into the concept’s relation to Real Abstraction which is not clearly recognizable on first reading. As an interventionist concept agonism has been a very influential in contemporary practice but in relation to the current divisive political climate should it really be our go to methodology within the field? Not stopping at this, we will look at how the question of democracy or the ‘democratic promise’ has been tackled by contemporary art and a host of thinkers connected to the field and beyond.


  • Sheldon Wolin, Fugitive Democracy In: Sheldon Wolin, Fugitive Democracy and Other Essays, ed. by Nicholas Xenos (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016)
  • Anthony Gardner, De-Idealizing Democracy: On Thomas Hirschhorn's Postsocialist Projects, ARTMargins, Volume 1, Issue 1, February 2012, p.29-61


Seminar 1: October 2017 

Introduction: Preliminary Sketch of Real Abstraction and Financialisation

Our trajectory we will start with an emphasis on the concept of ‘real abstraction’ and its importance in shaping notions of intervention. The major thinker elaborating this concept was Alfred Sohn-Rethel, thus we will look into how his conceptualization of ‘real abstraction’ - in which social acts of exchange through the universal equivalent of money are articulated as prior to abstract concepts and intellectual labour, and thus condition them at the level of the unconscious – provides a key to understanding how concepts of intervention from the late 60s onwards (i.e. the emergence of neoliberalism as a global force) are structured and how they operate. One such concept is a quintessential one, Jean-Francois Lyotard’s notion of ‘the differend’, which continues to play major role in contemporary art. Fast forward to post-financial-crash debates and we can begin to carve out a basic relation between the urgency of intervention and how contemporary Financialisation (general definitions: here , here , and here ) is basically real abstraction on steroids. Differends “are conflicts of interest between parties that cannot be resolved, but must be acknowledged and kept in view at all times” (Grant, 2001). And, the interventionist strategies generated by such a concept push for perpetual negation, never-ending critique of representation and radical dissensus as solutions to the hegemony of real subsumption and neoliberalism over life. But with the growing complexification of real abstraction are these adequate strategies any longer? To understand how real abstraction is exemplified by different modes of Financialisation and its instruments and what the concerns are within the wider field of artistic practice we will be taking a close look at Melanie Gilligans text ‘Derivative Days’ and discussing how her work grapples with these questions.


  • Rey Chow, 2010, The Elusive Material, What the Dog Doesn't Understand. In: New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics, Duke University Press, pp. 220-233
  • Mark Abel, 2014, Groove: an aesthetic of measured time. Leiden, NL: Brill, pp. 206-218
  • Alberto Toscano, 2008, The Culture of Abstraction. Theory, Culture & Society Vol. 25, 4: pp. 57-75. SAGE
  • Alfred Sohn-Rethel, 1978, Intellectual and Manual Labor: A Critique of Epistemology. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press.
  • Melanie Gilligan, 2013, Derivative Days: Notes on Art, Finance, and the Unproductive Forces, pp. 72-83. In: It's the Political Economy, Stupid: The Global Financial Crisis in Art and Theory (Eds. Gregory Sholette and Oliver Ressler). Pluto Press.
  • Jean-Francois Lyotard, 1984, The Differend, the Referent, and the Proper Name. Diacritics, special issue on Lyotard, Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota.