Announcing Critical Vitalisms | 2016-17 Working Group Series

At present, there’s really no shortage of critical attention to “life.” Or, restated, attention around life, studies built upon life, taking a concept of life somewhat as given, more or less common, and workable. Perhaps, in our era of biopolitics, bare and precarious lives, we’re far enough along with life to be due for a critical refresher: what is this “life” of which we speak?  Given the premises of the last two Critical Theory working groups, moving from biopolitics to animal futures, we propose to examine genealogies of the concept of life itself, that which underpins both bios and anima. We believe this may allow us to trace what critical potential or problems a rethinking of life may hold for the present moment in politics, science, and philosophy, and also a framework to engage across disciplinary boundaries with a concept that seemingly knows none.

In recent works, Frédéric Worms (ENS Paris) has sought to reconsider the occulted lineage of vitalist thought, deserted in the shadows of the Second World War due to its volatile inclusion within Nazi ideology. Worms calls for a revisionist “Critical Vitalism,” which would trace the source of “life” through a confluence of relations and tensions, rather than in a transcendental arche or all-pervasive energy. Our three events will begin with a discussion with Worms of this Critical Vitalism, followed by a cross-disciplinary meeting on concepts of emergence and milieu between UC Berkeley Professors Terrence Deacon and Suzanne Guerlac, and closing with a consideration of forthcoming work on life and the war on terror by Berkeley’s Keith Feldman. Papers by each speaker will be circulated in the weeks preceding each event.

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Organized by Critical Theory D.E. students Patrick Lyons and Mathew Evans through the Critical Theory Program.