Graduate School of the Arts and Humanities Blog

Titelbild TransHumanities 2020

Monatsarchiv für July 2021

Summer School 2021 – Abstracts Morning Lectures

Materiality is the Name of a Problem

Prof. Dr. Caroline van Eck

Two major developments have shaped the humanities since the 1980s: the material turn and the renewal of interest in human-thing entanglement. The latter had been a central issue, under the various headings of persuasion, fetishism or Einfühlung, in many disciplines that study human culture, from rhetoric to anthropology, and from aesthetics to psychology, but the emergence of formalism and iconography as dominating paradigms in art history, and behaviourism in psychology, in the early 20th century had driven human-thing entanglement out of academia and into popular culture or psychopathology. In the context of the material turn human-thing entanglement is now often considered a feature of the materiality of objects: of their power to act on humans, their capacity to exercise agency.

These developments have led to a complete rethinking of the study of human culture, both artefactual and visual. But they also raise at least two pressing questions: how to theorize what happens between humans and objects in situations of human-thing entanglement; and how to contextualize it, historically and culturally?

Coming to these questions as an art historian makes it possible on one side to draw on a very old and rich tradition of thought on what makes human viewers become entangled with art works as if they are the living beings they represent, both in terms of design or style and by way of theorizing: the complex tradition of Einfühlung/empathy is a case in point. On the other side, one of the challenges posed by the arrival of the material turn, with its concepts and methods taken largely from the social sciences and archaeology, is how to calibrate historical views and theories with the insights of present-day anthropology or psychology; and conversely, how to historicize these present-day theories and concepts of agency, materiality, or human-thing entanglement.

In my lecture I will consider, starting from Alfred’s Gell’s Art and Agency, various historical theories developed to account for what we now call human-thing entanglement, to investigate the historical and methodological challenges outlined here. The historical focus will be on the rich source material provided by accounts of sculpture-viewing and restoration in Paris and Rome c. 1800.


Mandatory reading (available here):

  • Gell, Alfred. “The Problem Defined: The Need For an Anthropology of Art.” In Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory, 1–11. Oxford/New York: Clarendon Press, 1998.
  • Eck, Caroline van, Miguel John Versluys, and Pieter ter Keurs. “The Biography of Cultures: Style, Objects and Agency: Proposal for an Interdisciplinary Approach.” Les Cahiers de l’École Du Louvre, no. 7 (October 1, 2015).
  • Eck, Caroline van. “‘Du lebst und thust mir nichts’!: Fear, Empathy and Protection.” In Aby Warburg und die Natur Epistemik, Ästhetik, Kulturtheorie, edited by Frank Fehrenbach and Cornelia Zumbusch, 91–102. Berlin/Boston: Walter de Gruyter, 2018.

Summer School 2021 – Abstracts Morning Lectures

New Materialism and/as Political Theory

Prof. Dr. Christian J. Emden

The lecture will probe the relationship between “new materialism” and political theory, asking whether new materialism can justifiably be regarded as political theory.

While the current “material turn” in the humanities and some of the social sciences can take many forms in different disciplines, from literary theory and gender studies to sociology and law, the theoretical framework of this “material turn” rests on a number of ontological claims about matter, objecthood, life, agency, and the status of the non-human that are central to what is commonly described as “new materialism.” These ontological claims—as they come to the fore in “agential realism,” “speculative realism,” “object-oriented ontology,” “posthumanism,” or “vital materialism”—almost always entail specific ethical or substantive political commitments to egalitarian principles of justice, to radical democracy, and to a strong environmentalism. The emergence of new materialism, then, is also a direct response to some of the most obvious political and social issues of the present from social inequality and political disenfranchisement to racism and climate change. Although new materialism, broadly speaking, is not a homogeneous theoretical movement, the work of Bruno Latour, Timothy Morton, Karen Barad, Rosi Braidotti, or Jane Bennett, among others, provide obvious examples for these ethical and political commitments. The latter seek to correct the primacy of the human, and of normative reason, as it has been central to modern political thought since the Enlightenment by extending the “social” to include non-human actors and actants. New materialism’s attempt to de-emphasize the human, and thus human subjectivity, paradoxically includes an emancipatory project for the human world that surprisingly overlaps with central positions in contemporary critical theory (e.g. Rainer Forst, Axel Honneth, Nancy Fraser).

On the one hand, contemporary political theory, rooted in a specific understanding of human subjectivity and reason, will do well in reflecting on the material conditions for the possibility of justice, power, equality, and democracy, for instance, by extending its conception of the social. On the other hand, new materialism’s emphasis on the non-human is grounded in a flat ontology that resists the ethical and political positions it ostensibly seeks to advance. It is precisely because of this flat ontology that new materialism cannot show why, or how, its ethical and political demands should be more normatively binding, or more legitimate, than any other ethical or political claims. Perhaps, then, new materialism fails as political theory, even though it is able to enrich the perspective of political theory.


Mandatory reading (available here):

  • Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010.
  • Coole, Diana, and Samantha Frost. “Introducing the New Materialisms.” In New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics, edited by Diana Coole and Samantha Frost, 1–43. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013.
  • Emden, Christian J. “Normativity Matters: Philosophical Naturalism  and Political Theory.” In The New Politics of Materialism: History, Philosophy, Science, edited by Sarah Ellenzweig and John H. Zammito, 270–300. London/New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group, 2017.

Summer School 2021 – Abstracts Morning Lectures

Formal Material and the Feel of Violence

Prof. Dr. Eugenie Brinkema

How does the material of aesthetic form relate to the things, objects, and vibrant matter at the heart of the various material turns at work in the contemporary humanities? If the latter was an effort to move past the “all structure and no stuff” attributed to the linguistic turn, how might a resolutely radical conception of form reintroduce the problem of materiality in dialogue with formalism instead of opposed to it? This talk departs from the premise that both titular terms of the summer school—materiality and subjectivity—are best reapproached through a reading strategy that regards both as, principally, questions of form. This is illustrated by putting the materiality of the body and the limits of subjectivity to the test at an extreme site: an occasion of great violence. A reading of the 2007 French horror film À l’intérieur in relation to its navigation of seemingly disparate realms—the formal material of tempo, pacing, and rhythm, and a critical interest in the disenfranchised subjects of the Parisian banlieues—will suggest how the material of form opens up novel questions of subjective life under conditions of exclusion and restraint, questions that do not return us to a naive view of subjectivity but that expose subject positions as themselves basic formal material for the state.


Mandatory reading (available here):

  • Balibar, Étienne. “Uprisings in the Banlieues.” Constellations 14, no. 1 (2007): 47–71.
  • Brinkema, Eugenie.“Form.” In A Concise Companion to Visual Culture, edited by A. Joan Saab, Aubrey Anable and Catherine Zuromskis, 259–75. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 2020.

Recommended reading (available here):

  • Brinkema, Eugenie. “(Nearly) Nothing to Express: Horror: Some Tread: A Toroid.” In How to Do Things with Affects: Affective Triggers in Aesthetic Forms and Cultural Practices, edited by Ernst van Alphen and Tomáš Jirsa, 82–99. Thamyris, Intersecting, volume 34. Leiden/Boston: Brill Rodopi, 2019.

Summer School 2021 – Guest Lecturers

eugenie-brinkema_bv24 (2)Eugenie Brinkema is Associate Professor of Contemporary Literature and Media at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her research focuses on violence, affect, sexuality, aesthetics, and ethics in texts ranging from the horror film to gonzo pornography, from structuralist film to the visual and temporal forms of terrorism. Her articles have appeared in the journals AngelakiCamera ObscuraCriticismdifferencesDiscoursefilm-philosophy, The Journal of Speculative Philosophyqui parle, and World Picture. Her first book, The Forms of the Affects, was published with Duke University Press in 2014. Her second book, Life-Destroying Diagrams, explores radical formalism’s relationship to horror and love, and will be coming out in November of this year (2021), also with Duke. More information about the new book is available here.


Regarding the topic of the Summer School 2021, her areas of expertise include contemporary art and literature, critical theory and psychoanalysis, cultural studies, embodiment and affect, literary theory, popular culture, film theory, continental philosophy, formalist reading, visual culture and iconography, gender and sexuality studies.




Emden, ChristianChristian J. Emden is the Frances Moody Newman Professor and professor of German intellectual history and political thought at Rice University. He is the founding director of Rice’s Program in Politics, Law & Social Thought and currently serves as chair of the Department of Modern and Classical Literatures and Cultures.

Emden’s current work is mainly concerned with varieties of political realism, especially as they focus on the relationship between active political citizenship and the constitutional demands of the modern state. A second line of inquiry is concerned with the emergence of normativity and the conditions of normative order. This approach links discussions in philosophical naturalism and new materialism to central issues in political theory and the history of political thought.

He is currently finishing a longer book project on philosophical nihilism in modern European political thought from the eighteenth century to the present, In a Meaningless World: Philosophical Nihilism and Political Thought, 1750-1960. A second book project, Hannah Arendt, Political Theory, and American Empire, is focused on the writings of Hannah Arendt as a public intellectual in the context of American political life during the 1950s and 1960s.

Emden is one of the chief editors of the journal Nietzsche-Studien and he is also on the editorial board of the Journal of Nietzsche Studies. Previously, he was on the editorial boards of the Zeitschrift für Kulturphilosophie and Modern Intellectual History.


Regarding the topic of the Summer School 2021, his areas of expertise include modern intellectual history, history of life sciences, history of scientific materialism and positivism, European philosophy since 1750, new materialism (critical gaze), genealogy of philosophical naturalism and political realism, theories of subjectivity.





Caroline van Eck studied art history at the Ecole du Louvre in Paris, and classics and philosophy at Leiden University. In 1994 she obtained her PhD in aesthetics (cum laude) at the University of Amsterdam. She has taught at the Universities of Amsterdam, Groningen and Leiden, where she was appointed Professor of Art and Architectural History in 2006. She has been a Visiting Fellow at the Warburg Institute and the Paul Mellon Centre for British Art at Yale University, and a Visiting Professor in Ghent, Yale and York. In September 2016 she took up her appointment as Professor of Art History at Cambridge, and in 2017 she gave the Slade Lectures in Oxford on Piranesi’s late candelabra: ‘The Material Presence of Absent Antiquities: Collecting Excessive Objects and the Revival of the Past’.

Her main research interests are art and architectural history and theory of the eighteenth century and early nineteenth century; classical reception; the anthropology of art; Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Gottfried Semper and Aby Warburg.

Recent publications include Classical Rhetoric and the Arts in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007); Art, Agency and Living Presence. From the Animated Image to the Excessive Object (Munich and Leiden: Walter De Gruyter/Leiden University Press, 2015); ‘Art Works that Refuse to Behave: Agency, Excess and Material Presence in Canova and Manet’, New Literary History, 46 (2015), pp. 409-34; ‘The Hôtel de Beauharnais in Paris: Egypt, Rome, and the dynamics of cultural transformation’, in: K. von Stackelberg and E. Macaulay-Lewis (eds.), Housing the Romans (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016);’The Primal Scene of Architecture: Gottfried Semper and Alfred Gell on the Origins of Art, Style and Agency’, Revue Germanique Internationale 26 (2017), and  Restoring Antiquity in a Globalizing World: Piranesi’s Late Work and the Genesis of the Empire Style (Munich: DKV, 2019).

In 2014 she received the Prix Descartes-Huygens, awarded by the Académie des Sciences, the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres in France and the Dutch Royal Academy of Sciences; in 2015 she was made a Chevalier of the Ordre National du Mérite, and in the same year she received the Grand Prix du Rayonnement de la Littérature et Culture Françaises, awarded by the Académie Française. In 2016 she received a honorary doctorate from the University of Neuchâtel. She was elected a Fellow of the Academia Europaea in 2019, and a Fellow of the British Academy in 2020.

Funded by the Cambridge-Paris Sciences Lettres Strategic Partnership Van Eck directs, together with Prof. Isabelle Kalinowski (Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris) the program ‘Entangled Histories: Archaeology, Interiors and Design 1750-1900. Van Eck and Kalinowski als convene a graduate online seminar, organized together with the Labo Translitterae at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris: KUNST. German Theoretical Approaches to Art (1750-2000).


Regarding the topic of the Summer School 2021, her areas of expertise include art and architectural history (mainly 18th and 19th Century), anthropology of art, organicism in artistic theory and practice, agency, excess and material presence of art works, entangled history.




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