2016 - 2017 HTDTWT seminar Bassam El Baroni: Intervention ~ from month to month

Seminar 7: Image as Site of Reasoning, May 23rd 2017 

In our previous seminar we looked at how Sellars’ Synoptic Realism enabled a scope of positions, we emphasised Ray Brassier’s version of Prometheanism. This time we will briefly continue with an exploration of other positions mentioned fleetingly in the previous seminar before dedicating the rest of our time to discussing the image as a site for and of reasoning based on the type of realism we have been attempting to argue for throughout this year’s programme. Building on the short essay ‘Specificities of Sitedness: A Speculative Sketch’ (2015) by Matthew Poole in which he criticises the very concept of site-specific art projects, we will look at how the image itself can be constructed as a site in itself for reasoning. According to Poole an art work must be
“… a hypothesis; it is the happening of the ‘setting down’ of itself as its own site under, or at the base of, a given subject’s presumed location; in the shape of a speculative proposition …”
Returning to the question of ‘intervention’ to round up our journey we ask if intervention can be understood as the ‘setting down’ of image-sites where such sites are constructed as models coherent with reality. Conscious life - as artist and theorist Amanda Beech suggests in her essay ‘Culture without Mirrors’ (2016) – is a production ‘across the terrain of images’. Thus, for her, both in her art practice and in theory “we need to propose a role for images that is coherent with this reality and which projects reality as a model that includes us, but cannot be about us.” This takes us back to the idea mentioned in April’s seminar that a ‘realism proper’ in the sense of a Sellarsian scientific realism “does not need to deny the significance of our evident psychological need for narrative”. This narrative is where our current politics are mostly situated, it is the manifest image and a “useful fiction” thus as Sellars states not a “mere fiction”. It is perhaps by better grasping the mechanisms of this form of bi-dimensional realism that we can think intervention anew in distinction from the Nitzchean-Deleuzian ‘powers of the false’ and the Lacanian impossibility of the real dominating our political spectrum. This subtle switch of allegiance to the stereoscopic real is an attempt to reset our understanding of intervention, rethinking it as an ongoing enterprise based on constant revision and open to what James Trafford calls ‘Transformative Understanding’.
-       Amanda Beech, Culture without Mirrors, 2016, available at: http://www.glass-bead.org/article/culture-without-mirrors-restructuring-creative-cognitive-power/?lang=enview
-       Matthew Poole, Specificities of Sitedness: A Speculative Sketch, 2015, In: Robin Mackay (ed.), When Site Lost the Plot. Falmouth: Urbanomic, pp 247–263
Reading Continued from Previous Seminar:
-        James.Trafford, Reasoning Through Difference: Structural Implication, Shared Perspectives, and Constructing Collective Practices of Freedom. 2016 (unpublished paper)

Seminar 6: Synoptic Realism, Dialogue, and Reasoning (Sketching Out How Art Practices Can Embody the Latter Principles), April 25th 2017

We will start this seminar with a recap, going over the main premises of Sellars’ synoptic /stereoscopic real, picking up on what was presented in last month’s seminar. Following on from this, we will look at three positions that are enabled and enhanced by their grounding in Sellars’ realist naturalism. First we briefly look at how Ray Brassier takes up the Sellarsian worldview to develop a distinctive and complex brand of Nihilism, one that is Promethean in its ideals and politics. Then we move on Johanna Seibt and her impressive rehabilitation of the much-maligned notion of ‘dialogue’, and finally we will discuss James Trafford’s recent articulation of the meaning of ‘transformative understanding’. These three positions, although distinct, share an understanding of scientific realism inspired by Sellars’ inferentialism and anti-foundationalism (both concepts will be explained), by outlining this the aim is to set the tone for our final seminar in May which will look at the possible political advantages of adopting such perspectives in our art practices and the making of images.
-          Wales, Geran (2012) Meaning and (F)act: Ray Brassier’s Speculative Nihilism and its Implications for Dialectics. Res Cogitans Vol. 3,1: Article 12.
-          Seibt, Johanna. (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.
-          Trafford, James. (2016) Reasoning Through Difference: Structural Implication, Shared Perspectives, and Constructing Collective Practices of Freedom. (unpublished paper)

Seminar 5: Science, Freedom, and the Philosophy of Wilfrid Sellars, March 13th 2017

Building on last seminar’s reading of Deleuze and Guattari’s realism and how it has influenced our thinking and practices as artists this Seminar will attempt to lay down some foundations for a different brand of realism, one that is based on the work of Wilfrid Sellars. At the core of this investigation are questions of freedom and agency that remain central to current debates around science, technology, complex systems, and the human. Our entry point is 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. Neuroscience explains the causes for our behaviour and should be taken seriously; freedom, agency etc. are concepts which have developed through reasoning between agents across histories, locations, and cultures. The distinction between causes and reasons is central to what Wilfrid Sellars called ‘stereoscopic vision’ which can be defined as: the process of working towards an eventual fusion of the scientific image (the natural space of causes) and the manifest image (the logical space of reasons) in which the manifest image is not overwhelmed in the synthesis. This seminar will briefly explain Sellars’ framework laying down the foundations for our upcoming seminars that will take this framework to the realm of images and art practice.

Required Reading:

Richard Rorty.(1997) Introduction to Wilfrid Sellars’ Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind. Cambridge, MA. - London: Harvard University Press, pp 1-12.

Thomas Metzinger. (2009) The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self. New York: Basic Books [Introduction 1 - 12].

Some References that may be mentioned during this seminar and/or the following one (these are for the person interested in looking further into the questions and topics we will discuss, they are not required reading):

Wilfrid Sellars. (1963) Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man. In: Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, pp 1-40.

Adina Roskies. (2006) Neuroscientific Challenges to Free Will and Responsibility. Trends in Cognitive Sciences Vol. 10, 9: pp 419-23. Elsevier Ltd.

Scott Bakker. (2009) Neuropath. New York: Tor Books by Tom Doherty Associates.             X                                                                                                                                                         X                                                                                                                                  X

Seminar 4: The Artificial Real: Deleuze-Guattari and the Politics of Intervention, February 14th 2017

Quite literally, much political theory (and in turn the way it affects how agency is thought in art) is a matter of embodying or voicing the version of the ‘real’ that it has adopted. Thus mapping the ‘surfaces of emergence’[1] of political theory – in the sense of grasping ‘the real’ that pushes these theories forward – seems important for a number of reasons: it helps situate our art practices in relation to a kind of genealogy of ‘the real’, and it identifies the historical discursive contexts from which these constructs of ‘the real’ have emerged and thus exposes what their limitations and affordances might be. The argument that we are attempting to construct in this year’s HTDTWT is that the specific understanding of ‘the real’ we begin from, when thinking and developing models for politicization and their application in art practices, ends up directly delimiting and conditioning our political objectives and how we think intervention. We ended our last session by touching upon the Lacanian ‘impossible real’ and how it forms the basis for Chantal Mouffe’s agonistic pluralism. In this session we will pick up from where we left to quickly further clarify the impossible real and then move on to another real developed by Guattari-Deleuze, this is the ‘artificial real’. This will return us briefly to the concept of ‘real abstraction’ and how it forms the ‘political unconscious’ of this particular version of the real. An unconscious that as Guattari explains faces the future not antiquity, a future “whose screen would be none other than the possible itself, the possible as hypersensitive to language, but also the possible hypersensitive to touch, hypersensitive to the socius, hypersensitive to the cosmos”[2]. Here we can see how it differs from the Lacanian real and thus we will look at two aspects/questions how this particular version of the real deals with the relation between art and science and what it engenders in political theory and the affects of this in art practices.


Guattari, Félix. (2011) The Machinic Unconscious. Essays in Schizoanalysis, translated by Taylor Adkins. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e) Foreign Agents.

Alliez, Éric. (2011) Conclusion: The Guattari-Deleuze Effect. In: Éric Alliez and Andrew Goffey (eds.), The Guattari Effect. London: Continuum. pp 260-274. 

Hallward, Peter. (2003) Everything is Real: Gilles Deleuze and Creative Univocity. New Formations, 14 (49). pp. 61-74. 

Chandler, David. (2014) The Onto-Politics of Assemblages. In: Michele and Simon Curtis (eds.), Reassembling International Theory: Assemblage Thinking and International Relations. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp 99–105.

Note: Please focus on the first one for this seminar and, if possible, the last one. However, I highly recommended reading the rest in the period between this seminar and the next since this will definitely help make the issues and concerns discussed clearer.                 

[1] The metaphor is Foucault’s from his ‘Archaeology of Knowledge’, ‘surfaces of emergence’ can be described as the “specific discursive and institutional sites in which objects first emerge or are re-configured”, this clear definition is due to Hannah in ‘Formations of 'Foucault' in Anglo American Geography: An Archaeological Sketch, 2007.’

[2] F. Guattari (2011) The Machinic Unconscious. Essays in Schizoanalysis. p. 10.


Seminar 3: Agonism Part 2, Tuesday January 17th, 2017

 In the previous seminar we established a general overview of Chantal Mouffe’s agonism. We primarily discussed its incommensurability hypothesis (what we called its intent on ‘institutionalizing incommensurability’) and its political realism, this session will discuss a number of further dimensions in Mouffian agonistics. We will analyze the idea of ‘conflictual consensus’ and how Mouffe develops her theory of agonistic pluralism against Jürgen Habermas’ 'rational consensus' and his concept of a ‘deliberative democracy’. Mouffe suggests that ‘discarding rationalism’ is essential for ‘radicalizing democracy’ while insisting that the mobilization of passions is key to the latter. Thinking through these points by way of indicating the main concerns around, and critiques of Habermas’ ideal model of democracy, it will become noticeable that these two outlooks share much common ground as well as some major differences. We will then look at the type of subjectivity implied in agonistics and explore how it views ‘individualism’ in relation to the collective subject. Furthermore, we will think through Mouffe’s end-goal of ‘radicalizing democracy’ as a specific project with a particular heritage rooted in Lacanian psychoanalysis, why she thinks this radicalization is necessary, it’s possible advantages, disadvantages, and whether there may be alternatives to it as an outlook on democracy. The intention is to show how this theory of democracy has influenced art practices seeking ‘intervention’, unpacking what we might gain and what we might stand to lose when we adopt it as a methodology or outlook in thinking the political.  
Required Reading for Agonism Part 2: 
Please continue with or refresh your memories by reading ‘Agonistics’ and the other texts by Mouffe listed for the previous seminar as alternatives. In addition, please read the following text:
Sheik, Simon. (2004) Public Spheres and the Functions of Progressive Art Institutions. Online at http://eipcp.net/transversal/0504/sheikh/en
Suggested Wider Reading [Note: this is a long list of some texts/books I have found useful in developing my own argument I share them here for those of you who may be interested in digging deeper into the topic ]:
Thomson, Alex. (2009) Polemos and Agon. In: Andrew Schapp (ed.), Law and Agonistic Politics. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Ltd., pp 105-118.
Gilbert, Jeremy. (2013) Common Ground: Democracy and Collectivity in an Age of Individualism. London: Pluto Press.
Rustin, Michael. (1988)  Absolute Voluntarism: Critique of a Post-Marxist Concept of Hegemony. New German Critique No. 43, Winter: pp. 146-173.
Ince, Murat. (2016) A Critique of Agonistic Politics. International Journal of Žižek Studies Vol. 10, 1.
Erman, Eva. (2009) What is wrong with agonistic pluralism? Philosophy & Social Criticism Vol. 35, 9: pp 1039–1062. Sage Publications, Inc.
Dryzek, John S. (2005) Deliberative Democracy in Divided Societies. Alternatives to Agonism and Analgesia. Political Theory Vol. 33, 2: pp 218-242, Sage Publications, Inc.
Rekret, Paul and Choat, Simon. (2016) From Political Topographies to Political Logics: Post-Marxism and Historicity. Constellations Vol. 23, 2: pp 281 – 291.
Laclau, Ernesto & Mouffe Chantal. (1985) Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics. London: Verso Books.
Laclau, Ernesto. (2000) Identity and Hegemony. In: Contingency, Hegemony, Universality Contemporary Dialogues on the Left (Judith Butler, Ernesto Laclau and Slavoj Zizek), pp 48 – 89, London – New York: Verso.
Khan, Gulshan. (2013) Critical republicanism: Jürgen Habermas and Chantal Mouffe.  Contemporary Political Theory Vol. 12, 4: pp 318–337. London: Palgrave.
Boucher, Geoff. (2008) The Charmed Circle of Ideology: A Critique of Laclau & Mouffe, Butler & Žižek. Melbourne, Australia: re.press.
Balibar, Étienne. (2015) Citizenship. Cambridge: Polity.

Seminar 2: Agonism Part 1, Tuesday December 13th, 2016

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 an ostensible 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 and next 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 political climate, it seems problematic, why? This is what we will try to find out over the course of two sessions.
Required Reading for Agonism Part 1: 
Chantal Mouffe. (2013) Agonistics: Thinking the World Politically. London, New York: Verso
Shorter Texts if Short on Time: 
- Chantal Mouffe. (2007) Artistic Activism and Agonistic Spaces. Downloadable here:
- Chantal Mouffe. (2008) Art and Democracy Art as an Agnostic Intervention in Public Space. Downloadable here:https://readingpublicimage.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/mouffe_open14_p6-151.pdf
Suggested Wider Reading on the Topic:
- Chantal Mouffe. (1996) Deconstruction, Pragmatism and the Politics of Democracy. In: Chantal Mouffe (ed.), Deconstruction and Pragmatism. London: Routledge, pp. 1 – 12.
- Chantal Mouffe.(2000) The Democratic Paradox, London/New York: Verso
- Chantal Mouffe. (2010) Democracy Revisited (In Conversation with Markus Miessen). In: Markus Miessen, The Nightmare of Participation.  New York / Berlin: Sternberg Press, pp. 105 - 160

Seminar 1: Introduction (On Real Abstraction and the Differend), Tuesday October 25th, 2016

Required Reading #1: 

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

Through this text we will introduce ourselves to the concept of ‘Real Abstraction’, a concept that places exchange (the exchange of money within society) at the centre of the debate about how to intervene socially through intellectual i.e. conceptually or artistically driven formations.

Suggested Wider Reading on the Topic of ‘Real Abstraction’:

- 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.


Required Reading  #2:

Jean-Francois Lyotard, 1984, The Differend, the Referent, and the Proper Name. Diacritics, special issue on Lyotard, Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota.


This text is basically a summary of Lyotard’s influential book ‘The Differend Phrases in Dispute’, we will look at a dimension in this text that few emphasise, namely the way that it thinks about intervention and how this thinking is constituted by what it considers the hegemony of exchange over life.

Suggested Wider Reading on the Topic of Lyotard’s ‘the differend’:

- The entry on the differend pp. 51-53  in The Lyotard Dictionary, edited by Stuart Sim (2011), Edinburgh University Press

- The Routledge Critical Guide to Lyotard by Simon Malpas (2003), section on the differend, pp. 51-68