Martin Buber's Philosophy of Communication (2021)

Martin Buber's dialogical philosophy contains a fundamental reflection on the nature of human relations and how they can be participated in, interpreted, and studied. In this seminar we will examine Buber's main writings, focusing on his claim that the dialogical I-Thou relation differs fundamentally from social relations, that it can only be understood on its own terms, that it exists in communicative speech (even though not always words are exchanged in concrete I-Thou instances) and that it resists all attempts at objectification. We will bring this claim into conversation with other approaches to understanding human relations and the nature of the social, e.g. Marxism, feminism, phenomenology, psychoanalysis, communication theory and contemporary social philosophy. We will ask how the interhuman and the social are related. Could a future-oriented, utopian horizon to human relationality emerge as the mediation between the interhuman and the social? How might this inform a contemporary assessment of Buber’s work? We’ll work with primary texts by Buber and others, as well as with literary and first-person accounts of relationality and dialogue.

Convenors: Johan Siebers (Bloch Centre/Middlesex University) and Vic Seidler (Goldsmiths/Leo Baeck College)

Guest Speakers:
Paul Mendes-Flohr (Chicago): 'Dialogue and the Phenomenology of Trust' (16 November 2020)
Patricia Meindl (Copenhagen): 'Buber, Levinas and the I-Thou Relation' (8 February 2021)
Henry Abramovitch (Tel Aviv/Israel Institute of Jungian Psychology) (22 February 2021)
Deidre Butler (Ottawa): 'I and Thou? Listening to Stories of Jewish Divorce with Buber' (8 March 2021)
Michael Benedikt (Texas) and Artemis Ignatidou (London) (22 March 2021)

Recordings of the seminars can be found on the Bloch Centre Podcast Page

Heidegger's Late Philosophy of Language (Autumn 2018)

In Unterwegs zur Sprache (On the Way to Language, 1959) Heidegger develops his understanding of language as a complement to the thinking of being by which he sought to overcome metaphysics and metaphysical notions of the subject. In the course of the book he comes to reflect on the nature of sagen (saying), on poetry, technology and the reign of methodology. He writes: ‘A speaking about language turns language almost inevitably into an object. (...) A speaking of language could only be a dialogue’ (‘Ein Sprechen von der Sprache könnte nur ein Gespräch sein’). What, if anything, have Heidegger's reflections on language to say to us today? Can we enter into the kind of dialogue he is speaking of? What is required to do so, and what happens if we do? Who would be the ones im Gespräch in such a dialogue? Is the extensive work of critique, which is overly familiar as far as Heidegger is concerned, final, or can we read, and respond to, this text afresh? In the seminar we will close-read Unterwegs zur Sprache to gain some insight into these questions and ask ourselves what it means to be on the way to language, what it means to be a speaking being, and what it means to speak with, and listen to, one another. Is Heidegger's late philosophy of language a psychotic formation, brought about by the absence of the Gods? Or is the late Heidegger to be compared to Joyce, a Sinthome, having overcome Aquinas’ doctrine of the inner word, verbum interior? Or are we here, in Jameson's phrase borrowed by Žižek 'in the ‘torture-house of language’? Or are neither of these perspectives adequate to the text? What, finally, drives our speech and how can we speak in the vicinity of this question?

Convenor: Johan Siebers (Bloch Centre/Middlesex University)

Recordings of the seminars can be found on the Bloch Centre Podcast Page

Biological Thought and the German Left (Spring 2019)

When the new science of biology emerged around 1800 it transformed the way people saw the world. Biology challenged religious ideas by providing a scientific understanding of life for the first time. But almost as soon as it was founded the science became a worldview. Thinkers across the politics spectrum invoked biological ideas – cell theory, evolution, genetics, organicism, metabolism – to explain social and political phenomena. Thinkers across the political spectrum invoked biological ideas – cell theory, evolution, genetics, organicism, metabolism – to explain social and political phenomena. From the mid-19th century, right-wing thinkers like Arthur de Gobineau and Houston Stewart Chamberlain used biological arguments to naturalise social, sexual, and racial inequality. The convenient simplicity of such ideas leant them a widespread appeal, particularly in times of crisis. As Europe struggled to recover after the First World War, fascists used biological concepts of race to explain real and perceived social ills. These ideas were institutionalised with the foundation of the Nazi biological state in 1933.

As a result of this legacy, the political reception of biological thought has traditionally been viewed almost exclusively through the lens of its influence on the right, but biological ideas have also had a profound and widespread influence on left-wing intellectual traditions and movements. This term the German Philosophy Seminar examines the impact of biological ideas on the German left in the period from biology’s foundation as a science around 1800 until the rise of the Nazi biological state in 1933. Reading texts by liberal, socialist, communist, anarchist, and feminist writers influenced by biological theories and concepts, the seminar aims to reconstruct the history of biology’s reception among left-wing thinkers in Germany in the 19th and early 20th centuries in order to transform our understanding of both the history of the scientific discipline of biology, and of German social and political thought.

Guest Convenor: Cat Moir (Sydney/Bloch Centre)

Recordings of the seminars can be found on the Bloch Centre Podcast Page

Music and Marxism (2017-18)

The seminar series explores critical encounters between music history and historical materialism in an interdisciplinary way. As such, it asks what musicology could still learn from the central insights of Marx and Marxism and to what extent music and historical materialism can even be ‘thought together’. The focus will be on Western music history of the 19th and 20th centuries with respect to its complex relations to industrial capitalism, bourgeois liberalism and modernity. Ernst Bloch said that music is the utopian art form par excellence; by considering what may be called the allegorical dream-images of Marxist criticism, the series aims to suggest and explore a latent tradition of radical music criticism as it were ‘from the ground up’ via a reading of theoretical and philosophical texts in new, sometimes provocative juxtaposition with music history sources and secondary musicological literature. This may allow us to re-evaluate the social and material significance of the music of the past and to explore new, vigorous approaches to music criticism and philosophy of music today. Each seminar will discuss at least two texts, usually one philosophy/theory and the other musicology. The themes, texts, musicological and philosophical debates will be introduced briefly, after which the focus of the seminars will be on discussion.

Convenors: Johan Siebers (Bloch Centre/Middlesex University) and Jeremy Coleman (Aberdeen)

Recordings of the seminars can be found on the Bloch Centre Podcast Page

Process Philosophy (2016-17)

This seminar investigates the relation between thought, spontaneity and movement - in short, living thought, or thought thinking experience. Spontaneity and movement are nothing fixed, and so it seems that a philosophical understanding of them must also itself be, at least to some extent, a fluid, moving or spontaneous understanding. What is required, it seems, is an unprincipled, an-archic form of thought: '"life" cannot be a defining characteristic. It is a name for originality, and not for tradition' (Whitehead). Perhaps we are moving outside of the realm of conceptual, discursive reason when we try to think spontaneous movement: 'process cannot be directly thought due to the static, form-endowing character of reason, anymore than permanence can be directly felt, due to the dynamic, form-excluding character of intuition' (David Hall). It could be that the awareness of movement leads us to draw quite specific limitations to what philosophical understanding can achieve and to open our minds to other forms of thought, or else it may lead us to review our understanding of philosophical thinking itself. The relation between the moving character of experience and the static nature of conceptual thinking has been at the basis of the development of philosophy since the Presocratics. It is central to the thought of Plato and Aristotle, and determines much of Hegel's conception of the dialectic. In process philosophy we find another, distinctive, way of thinking through this relation. 

'In Hegel, as in the landscape of process, things change incessantly (...) so it becomes above all important to learn that concepts are fluid here' (Bloch). Or is there a possibility for non-conceptual thought, or even for a non-verbal philosophical practice referring more to seeing than saying, such as for example the therapeutic character of philosophy in the later Wittgenstein, or aspects of Zen practice. 

What, finally, are the implications of the questions process philosophy addresses for our own lives? The seminar will explore the following themes: Intuition and reason, concept and experience; What is creativity?; Music, spontaneity and enslavement: Adorno and the dialectics of Jazz; The language of process; Process metaphysics and the farewell to metaphysics; Process east and west.

Convenor: Johan Siebers (Bloch Centre/Middlesex University)

Recordings of the seminars can be found on the Bloch Centre Podcast Page