Spring Programme, 2012: InC – Research Group In Continental Philosophy

InC: Research Group In Continental Philosophy
Goldsmiths College, London.
Spring Programme, 2012.

InC aims to foster an interdisciplinary interest and approach to Continental Philosophy, enhancing the study of the subject through engagement with a diverse range of research directions and initiatives, to allow the creation of a lasting platform of discussion in London and internationally. InC acts as a point of reference between different practitioners and research frameworks in order to establish a common and cooperative space of dialogue devoted to Continental Philosophy.

The group is formed of a diverse membership from across Goldsmiths’ Academic Departments, with events organised by representatives from Art, Cultural Studies, History, and Visual Cultures Departments.  In the last three years the group has become the primary meeting point for philosophical discussion at Goldsmiths, holding more than 100 seminars, lectures, screenings and conversations.

Guest speakers have included Jean-Luc Nancy, Alain Badiou, Catherine Malabou, Ernesto Laclau, Bernard Stiegler, Gilbert Adair and Tom McCarthy. In the past year InC has established external working partnerships with the Institute of Contemporary Arts and Verso Books.

‘FIVE COMMUNES’: (Film series) January/February 2012, curated by Manuel Ramos.

This programme of screenings and discussions brings together films that commemorate and/or seek to re-activate the events of the Paris Commune (1871) and its political lessons.

The events of the Paris Commune, the first workers’ power in history, have inspired a century of revolutionary thought (from Bakunin to Luxemburg, from Marx, Lenin, Mao to Badiou). Its constitution and its obliteration have been at the core of the main political debates of the Left throughout the XXth century. In the 1960s the Commune became the historical event privileged by militant thinkers opposing the conventions of the established Left and its fixed theories about the right revolution. For the Situationists to study the Paris Commune meant ‘to contribute to a radical critique of Stalinism and, more generally, of the bureaucratic phenomenon’. Since then, a myriad of thinkers and activists have repeatedly recuperated the Paris Commune against the absolute privilege of the Russian model of ‘successful revolution’ and for the articulation of a politics of emancipation different from Left party traditions. Since May 68, and again since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Paris Commune has become not so much the model but the key historical event for different analyses and practices re-thinking and experimenting a politics-without-Party. In a word, the lessons of the Commune have been re-interpreted in order to to re-invent the sense(s) of the political.

The cinema has been largely absent from these debates. The Commune has in fact very rarely been addressed by the cinema, it has proven a particularly complex and colossal subject with various failed projects throughout the XXth century (most notably Jean Grémillon’s). This programme brings together a few exceptions that reconstruct, evoke or address in very different socio-political circumstances what happened in Paris in the spring of 1871. These different approaches (an early French militant film, a poetical experiment, a Soviet film, a cinematic semi-comic revue and a theatrical re-enactment) develop different viewpoints and techniques, putting forward different interpretations of the episodes they address. But also, they make visible different capacities of the cinema to approach a historical event, different ways of articulating its function of preservation (a question of memory) and its powers of re-activation (a political question). The intention of these screenings is to discuss again the events of the Paris Commune in relation to our present and to contribute to re-think the capacities of the cinema to intervene in it.



La Commune (dir. by Armand Guerra, 1914, 20 min.) and Toute Révolution Est un Coup de Dés (dir. by Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, 1977, 11 min.)

Guest speaker: Louis Henderson, filmmaker

The film is a reconstruction of the episode that triggered the Paris insurrection in 1871. The film was produced by the Cinéma du Peuple, a film production worker’s cooperative which heralded the development of militant cinema initiatives later incarnated by the Groupe Octobre of the 30s and the leftist cinematic groups at the end of the 60s and 70s. The film includes exceptional documentary shots showing former communards, and ends with a flag bearing the inscription ‘Long live the Commune’.

Toute Révolution Est un Coup de Dés (dir. by Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, 1977, 11 min.)

The film offers a recitation of Stéphane Mallarmé’s homonymous poem and proposes a cinematic equivalent for the author’s original experiment with typography and layout by assigning the words to nine different speakers, separating each speaker from the other as she or he speaks, and using slight pauses to correspond with white spaces on the original page. The film is shot near the wall of the Père Lachaise cemetery where 147 Commune fighters were shot and buried in May 28 1871 during the violent repression of the Commune.


Novvy Babylon [New Babylon] (dir. Leonid Trauberg and Grigori Kozintsev, 1929, 75 min.)

Guest speaker: Dr. Adrian Rifkin

The film inspired by the Paris Commune marks the climax of Grigori Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg’s experimentations with the conventions of the Soviet silent cinema. As Prof. Adrian Rifkin has remarked: ‘its polar images of bourgeois department stor and crumbling workers’ slum are the site of a class struggle to the death that represents the poor of Zola’s Paris as the heroic bedrock of Russia’s future. It re-enacts this classic episode in the history of revolutionary Paris at the inception of the first Societ five-year plan. The defeat of the Commune (.) warns against the dire conseuqences of failing to achieve the worker-peasant alliance in Russia’.


1871 (dir. Ken McMullen, 1990, 100 min.)

Guest speaker: Ken McMullen, filmmaker

Paris, capital of the nineteenth century, is the subject of Ken McMullen’s portrait of an age in which the world itself has become spectacle. Its players, real and imagined, world historical and anonymous, are brought together through the Theatre du Ramborde, which becomes a setting for the revolutionary action of 1871 itself.  And all the while the famous thesis of the Eighteenth Brumaire casts its shadow across the lives and events we encounter: ‘Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please.  They do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past.’


La Commune (Paris, 1871) (dir. Peter Watkins, 2000, 300 min.)

Guest speaker: Dr. Ros Gray

Peter Watkins explains the recuperation of the Paris Commune for a film in the year 2000 as follows: ‘We are now moving through a very bleak period in human history – where the conjunction of postmodernist cynicism (eliminating humanistic and critical thinking in the education system), sheer greed engendered by the consumer society sweeping many people under its wing, human, economic and environmental catastrophe in the form of globalization, massively increased suffering and exploitation of the people of the so-called Third World, as well as the mind-numbing conformity and standardization caused by the systematic audiovisualization of the planet have synergistically created a world where commitment is considered old fashioned. Where excess and economic exploitation have become the norm – to be taught even to children. In such a world as this, what happened in Paris in the spring of 1871 represented (and still represents) the idea of commitment to a struggle for a better world, and of the need for some form of collective social Utopia – which WE now need as desperately as dying people need plasma. The notion of a film showing this commitment was thus born.’


THE FUTURE: PHILOSOPHY BETWEEN UTOPIA AND END-TIME PROPHECY (Seminar series) February/March 2012, Curated by Sebastian Truskolaski.

21/02 NAB 305: Mark Kelly (Middlesex): ‘Foucault against prophecy and utopia’

Michel Foucault refuses two forms of thinking about the future: prophecy and utopia. Expanding on Foucault’s rejection, I argue that claims to know what the future either can or will hold for society are epistemically unjustifiable and politically dangerous, because we cannot know the real consequences such thinking will have. Such thinking hence ought to be abandoned, though it may be politically useful if understood as merely speculative fiction that serves to open up the space of thinking.

I then argue for the extension of these insights to ethics, suggesting that the same considerations also apply against either prophetic or utopian thinking in the horizon of our personal lives. I will argue that Foucault’s refusal to think the future in a definite or utopian way can be extended to desire itself, with certain forms of desire in personal life being utopian, and carrying with themselves similar dangers to political utopianism, though rejecting Foucault’s valorisation of pleasure in favour of a focus on immediate desires. I consider this point in relation to the Lacanian problematic of fantasy and desire, with a view to countering the objcetion that utopianism is inevitable as a form of fantasy about the future. Though fantasy and desire are indeed ineluctable aspects of human subjectivity, I conclude, following Lacan himself and Yannis Stavrakakis, that we nevertheless ought to do without either prophetic or utopian content for these, since, from a Lacanian perspective, such aspirations hold out an impossible hope of a final healing of the dehissance at the heart of subjectivity, and an attempt to finally tame the real.

28/02 NAB 305: Hammam Aldouri (CREMP, Kingston): ‘The ‘End of History’ and the Beginning of Philosophy’

This talk will examine the relationship between the so-called ‘end of history’ thesis in Hegel’s philosophical system and the beginning of the philosophical system as the encapsulation of the formal structure of the result of philosophy itself. The talk will attempt to demonstrate that according to Hegel, the end of history is conceptually corroborated with the end of philosophy. To advance a ‘speculative proposition’, it is argued that the end of philosophy is the end of history. This talk will investigation the nature and limits of the copula by returning to the question of the beginning of the philosophical system, especially when the beginning in Hegelian philosophy at once confirms and violates the end of history thesis; confirms it since the beginning is the end according to the circularity of actuality, and yet the beginning of philosophy is never in truth the beginning but rather a restricted standpoint that can not incorporate the Absolute (the end of history as the end of philosophy). From this the following claim can be advanced: the beginning of philosophy contains within it the embryonic form of the future of philosophical thinking. But this futural dimension of the beginning does not come about through a passive phenomenal knowledge, but rather is constructed by the philosophical consciousness.

06/03 NAB 305: Phil Homburg (Sussex): ‘Can a materialist dream? Marx and Benjamin on Fourier’s Utopianism’

Both Benjamin and Marx defend Fourier as an exemplary figure among the so-called Utopian Socialists, while, at the same time, criticizing Fourier on a number of grounds, particularly his hypostatization of labour and his adherence to certain mechanical materialist principles. Fourier’s radicalism, however, stands in stark contrast other Utopian Socialists. As Marx claims, Fourier differs from Proudhon-whom Marx called a petty-bourgeois utopian-in that his utopianism lies in anticipation and imagination of a new world, rather than ultimately siding with already existing social reality.

Despite this radicalism, however, it is necessary to examine the limits of Fourier thought, particularly his hypostatization of labour. Benjamin writings on Fourier demonstrate that his utopian construct-the phalanstère-is a unique synthesis of utopianism and mechanical materialism. Underlying this, however, is an antithesis between a utopian impulse and the inability to see beyond a subject and world governed by mechanical laws. Thus, while Fourier treats social reality as something that can be altered, the subject-an ahistorical physiological construct of natural impulses and passions- is treated as ontologically prior. As with his conception of labour, Fourier does not account for the historical specificity of his account. This paper aims to bring together the Marxian and Benjaminian criticisms of Fourier through a shared conception of the problem of natural history. Fourier’s account, despite its radical break with the existing social order, remains one-sided as long as it does not take into account the formation of the subject and the reciprocal relationship between that account and the critique of social reality.

Phillip Homburg is a DPhil candidate at the Centre for Social and Political Thought at Sussex University. His research is on Walter Benjamin’s materialism and his critique of neo-Kantian epistemology.

13/03 NAB 305: Jon Shaw (Goldsmiths): ‘Editorial Futurology: Fernando Pessoa and Tharg the Mighty’

In his Handbook of Inaesthetics, Alain Badiou turns to the ‘case’ of poet Fernando Pessoa to set out a (if not the) task for contemporary philosophy. If, as Badiou asserts, ‘modern’ philosophy (covering all of those tendential axes we might associate with the proper names Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Deleuze) shares in an anti-Platonism, where is the thought which can resolve, or overcome the disjunction of Platonic and modern thought? It can be found, he tells us, in the heteronymic practices of Fernando Pessoa – the constellation of poems signed by Álvaro de Campos, Ricardo Reis, Alberto Caeiro and Pessoa-in-person.

This problem is a long-standing one for Badiou, evident even as the driving force in his monograph on Deleuze, The Clamor of Being. His argument is compelling, yet he fails to attend to a facet of his chosen case
which would bolster it yet further and even offer a praxis for the fulfilment of the task: No matter what degree of credence we give to the ‘reality’ of the hetronyms, and to Pessoa’s relation to them, the vulcan and restless machinations of explosive multiplicity reduced to common source (only to be re-fractured) is resolutely clarified by the fact that Pessoa undertook relentless editorial activity on behalf of all of these poets – including, or course, himself. The editorial procedure treats the work of each and all of the
heteronyms with a levelling impersonality.

This strange machination is mirrored and inverted in the case of Tharg the Mighty, the (‘fictional’) editor of British weekly sci-fi comics anthology 2000 AD, who also appears as a character within its pages (most notably, for us, in the series of Futureshocks penned by Alan Moore in the early 1980s). The succession of editors of the comic’s 24 year history have written Tharg stories, and themselves appeared as ‘editor droids’ subject to the Mighty’s draconian inconstancy, which is also, of course, their own – the Tharg stories also offer other writers on the comic to criticise their editor.

Exploring and combining these strains of editorial machination in line with Badiou’s defined philosophical task, we shall test the possibility of a thought which does not choose anti-Platonism over its regressive reinstatement, and come to ask what the possibilities might be for a contemporary philosophy capable of looking to comics with a reverence and insight previously reserved for poetry. The particular knotting of visual and textual elements which comics are (uniquely) capable of may point toward a combination of discursive and non-discursive thought which may well serve the kind of overcoming which Badiou’s Pessoatask demands.

20/03 Sebastian Truskolaski (Goldsmiths): ‘Bilderverbot: Adorno, Benjamin and the ban on images of the future’

In this paper I aim to expound Theodor Adorno’s notion of an imageless materialism, as it appears in his ‘Negative Dialectics’ (1966). I will contend that Adorno’s idea is forged in response to a polemic with Walter Benjamin concerning the notion of the image, evinced in a series of letters from the 1930’s. I will begin by asking what role the image plays in Benjamin’s early work (particularly the ‘Origin of German Tragic Drama’ [1928]) and what development it undergoes in the notes informing his unfinished ‘Arcades Project’ (1927-1940). That is: what role do images play in Benjamin’s conception of a materialist philosophy of history and which aspects of this construction does Adorno attack? It will be my aim to prove that, on Adorno’s self-understanding, his critique of Benjamin amounts, not only to a defence of his friends’ early insights against their subsequent revision, but, rather, to an intensification of their theological impulse. That is, by referring to the biblical Bilderverbot: the ban on the positive schematization of utopia, Adorno seeks to redeem Benjamin’s project from the crossroads of magic and positivism by articulating the notion of an imageless materialism. I hope that this confrontation of Adorno’s and Benjamin’s works will illuminate the character of the image under the aspect of a materialist philosophy of history, and -despite (or, indeed, because of) their differences- ultimately serve to unpack something of the theologically inflected Marxism that is common to both their positions.

Associated Film Screenings

24/02 RHB137A: Metropolis – with a discussion with John London

02/03 RHB137A: The Tenth Victim – with a discussion with Alberto Toscano

09/03 RHB137A: World on a Wire – with a discussion with Alex Duttmann

16/03 RHB137A: Quatermass, Enemy from space – with a discussion with Iain Sinclair

This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 25th, 2012 at 12:53 am
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