Bassam el Baroni / How To Do Things With Theory: seminar 2013-2014

Participants: Aziza Harmel, Hanan Benammar, Maria Mercedes Salgado, Aarti Sunder, Celia Shomal, Monique Hendriksen, Constanza Puente, Ben Burtenshaw, Jan Adriaans, Malina Suliman, Kaste Seskeviciute and Laila Torres Mendieta


Agitation is the word that Immanuel Kant gave to the activity of the brain that exercises judgement precisely when one attempts to determine something that has not been determined before. Times of increased agitation are those in which individuals, groups, or professional fields etc. attempt to determine and pass judgement on something that is in a fluctuating and indefinable state. In art, politics, and the media-sphere, agitationism is on the rise as we sense an urge to judge the current moment of heightened political unrest and increased social demands as well as speculate on the possibilities of a different future. However, the language, the vocabulary, and the imagination that can turn these demands, feelings of being wronged, injustices, and hopes into something more than a continuous series of dissatisfactions, and into a valid structured alternative, is not yet there, not yet possible. In between this impossibility and the attempt to determine a shape and an outlook for this moment of unrest and heightened politics, there is a strong sense of agitationism in life, in art, and in theory. The seminars will draw on this notion of agitationism capturing the struggle between an intellectual desire for alternate futures and the realistic temperament that identifies an eternal sameness. Tracing the apprehension, the agitation, the relentlessness that is produced by the urge to determine something and label it while its characteristics are always fluctuating and undecided, the seminars will look at dissatisfaction as a motor for imagining the political, culture, education, justice, and art otherwise.

Featuring a wide range of texts by, among others: Jean-François Lyotard, Antonio Negri, Ray Brassier, Michel Henry, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Adi Ophir, Arthur Schopenhauer, Maurice Blanchot, Avital Ronell, Luis Camnitzer, Walid Sadek, Liam Gillick, Mark Fisher, Suhail Malik, David Joselit, Jalal Toufic ...

From DAI-week to DAI-week

Theory Seminar, 16 May 10.00 - 13.00, continued 17 May

In this seminar we continue a trail started in the previous seminar with Jean-François Lyotard’s essay ‘Can thought go on without a body?’ This trail attempts to unravel the possibilities of subtracting thought from its connection to our bodies in order to capture thought in its infinity. The text we will be reading is Ray Brassier’s ‘Solar Catastrophe: Lyotard, Freud, and the Death-Drive’. In this text Brassier uses Lyotard’s essay as a launch pad from which to think of a question that brings Lyotard’s initial question into more recent spheres of debate regarding the acceleration of neo-liberal capital on the one hand and the persistence of humanist thought on the other. For Brassier, the more vital question to be addressed is can thought go on without a horizon? Brassier states that for philosophers as widely diverse as Husserl, Heidegger and Deleuze, there was always a horizon that thought enacted a relationship to, the name for that horizon is "Earth." In this essay he sees his aim as proving “that this horizon too needs to be wiped away.” Thus, the erasure of thought’s age old connection with being on the planet, that we still until today live on, is the stated ambition of the text. We will discuss the implications of this ambition and the questions it brings up, the functions it aims to achieve and echoes of what this ambition might suggest in the practice of contemporary art.

Reading: Ray Brassier "Solar catastrophe: Lyotard, Freud and the death-drive",
P.421 – 430, Philosophy Today, winter 2003

Theory Seminar,  11 April  12.00 - 12.30

Due to his activities as the curator of EVA International, Ireland's Biennial, that opens on April 12th, Bassam El Baroni will not be present 'in the flesh' this week. In May he will catch up with an extended seminar on Friday and Saturday. Today he proposed us to screen " In This House" a film by Akram Zaatari, mentioned last month by Walid Sadek in his lecture Beirut, Open City

In This House
Akram Zaatari
2005 | 00:30:00 | Lebanon | Arabic | Color | Mono

Following the Israeli withdrawal from Ain el Mir in 1985, the village became the frontline. The Dagher family was displaced from their home, which was occupied by a radical resistance group for seven years. When the war ended in 1991, Ali Hashisho, a member of the Lebanese resistance stationed in the Dagher family house, wrote a letter to them justifying his occupation there, and welcoming them back home. He placed the letter inside the empty case of a B-10, 82mm mortar, and buried it in the garden. In November 2002, Akram Zaatari headed to Ain el Mir to excavate Ali's letter.

Akram Zaatari is a video artist and curator who lives and works in Beirut. Author of more than 30 videos, and video installations, Zaatari has been exploring issues pertinent to Lebanese postwar condition, particularly the mediation of territorial conflicts and wars through television, and the logic of religious and national resistance such as in his documentary "All is Well on the Border" (1997), the circulation and production of images in the context of a geographical division of the Middle East, such as in his feature length "This Day" (2003) and "In This House" (2005). Zaatari has also been exploring representations of male sexuality particularly in "crazy of you" (1997), and later in "How I love you" (2001).

Co-founder of the Arab Image Foundation (Beirut), he based his work on collecting, studying, and archiving the photographic history of the Middle East notably studying the work of Lebanese photographer Hashem el Madani, as a register of social relationships and of photographic practices. His ongoing research was the basis for a series of exhibitions and publications such as "Hashem El Madani: Studio Practices" (with Lisa Lefeuvre) "Mapping Sitting" (collaboration with Walid Raad).

He has text contributions in scholarly journals such as Third Text, Bomb, Framework, Transition, and Parachute. He is a regular contributor, writing on video, in Zawaya.

Theory Seminar, 14 March 10:00-13:00

In approximately five billion years, the sun will exhaust its fuels, and the resulting nuclear reactions emanating from its death will destroy planet earth. Unless humans can plan a safe exodus from earth and a strategy for survival under conditions elsewhere in the cosmos, the death of the sun will be the end.  In his seminal essay, Can thought go on without a body? Lyotard promotes the idea that this problem - in the distant future - is nonetheless the most important and pressing one facing us today, and that it is what sets in motion processes of “development.” For Lyotard, Recent breakthroughs in the sciences and in technology are all aimed at preparing us for life on planets that are anti-human. But, what happens to thought when the earth dies? Can it survive the solar disaster? How should we even approach thinking about philosophy, and art, in the aftermath of an earth-centric universe? In this text, Lyotard practices what he calls ‘paralogy’, the production of new ideas by going against established norms, making new moves in language games - what he would later describe as making new phrases by creating new linkages. Stretching our imagination into a time that will already be very different than what our imaginations can project, is a paralogy that is useful for creating debate around some problems, realities, and concerns that inhabit our daily lives. Reading and discussing Lyotard’s text and understanding the concept of ‘paralogy’, we will then look into popular culture for echoes of Lyotard’s text, preparing us for the forthcoming seminar in which we will read and discuss texts by contemporary thinkers who have taken Lyotard’s question “Can thought go on without a body?” further and brought it up to date.

Reading: Jean-François Lyotard, Can thought go on without a body? p. 8 - 23 from the Inhuman – Refelections on Time, Polity Press, 1991 (first published in French 1988)

Theory Seminar, 14 February 10:00-13:00

 As a, perhaps less abstract, continuation of Ray Brassier’s text The Thanatosis of Enlightenment (2007) which we started during the previous DAI week, during this seminar we will turn to a text by theoretician and artist Amanda Beech. In Curatorial futures with the image: Overcoming scepticism and unbinding the relational (2010) Beech analyzes the most popular approach to the image in contemporary artistic and curatorial practice, curation having become “an attitude to art”. Beech dissects what she sees as the contradictory relationship with the image that this “curatorial turn” produces. What we have become accustomed to in exhibitions practicing the methodology of this turn is the idea that in order for the image to remain potent “it must escape its own nature – it must wrest itself away from its potential to become the thing that it mediates“. This, as understood from Brassier’s text, was Adorno’s methodology in dealing with the negativities of emancipation and enlightenment. But, what this fear of instrumentalization leads to is the purchase of a politics of the image at the cost of the meaning of the image itself because one has to practice scepticism towards the image, the image must doubt itself in order to have a cause to exist within the framework of the curatorial turn. This is because, in this popular methodology, the world is viewed as language, and the image as a resistant object within this order, the problem is that the scepticism which is presumed to guard the image against cooption by the language of power ends up preventing any mediation of meaning by this language producing a continuous thread of criticality for criticality’s sake. Using Quentin Meillassoux’s ideas on correlationism and contingency expressed at the peak of the Speculative Realist philosophical moment in his book After Finitude (2006), Beech suggests that we take a materialist, literal approach to language, which instead of treating the image as something that needs to have a cause to exist envisions the image as a reason of existence. Wanting to solidify Beech’s ideas we will view Beech’s video Final Machine (2013, originally a three channel video installation), having its script at hand, and discuss how Beech’s ideas on the image are an integral part of her practice as an artist.

Reading: Amanda Beech, Curatorial futures with the image: Overcoming scepticism and unbinding the relational, 2010, Journal of Visual Art Practice, Volume 9 Number 2, pp. 139–151

Take Notice : November 30 EXTENDED seminar Bassam el Baroni