Seminar: The Body and its Systems: Phenomenology, Technology and Modernity

The purpose of this seminar is to explore phenomenological accounts of technology as they pertain to the body. In doing so it will interrogate the way in which bodies are situated within, and extend throughout, systems of potential, meaning and intentionality. Participants will explore the ways in which the body is historically configured and mediated; in other words how the body is framed and understood according to the historically specific technologies and systems of meaning within which it is embedded.
Suggested readings include (but are not limited to): 

M. Heidegger, ‘The Question Concerning Technology’
M. McCluhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man
G. Harman, Tool Being
M. Hansen, New Philosophy for New Media
D. Ihde, Technology and the Lifeworld
A. Feenberg, Alternative Modernity: The Technical Turn in Philosophy and Social Theory
G. Deleuze, Cinema 1 and 2
Petitot, Varela et al, Naturalizing Phenomenology

1st session: 30th Sept. 2010 in the Gradcam Seminar room (time TBA). Sessions will be every three weeks.

For more details on the gradcam seminars see:

Details will be posted here during the duration of the seminar, including primary and secondary readings. This will also provide the opportunity for online discussions.

For further details or to join the discussion contact the seminar leader Francis Halsall:

Posted By: Francis Halsall (  Date: 09/06/2010 11:47 am Status: Open Category: Philosophy
Comments below were imported from the previous ACW website, where this was originally created.

Francis Halsall 09/06/10 12:16 PM
[+] Here is something I wrote recently that might be of relevance. Its on the phenomenological reduction and aesthetics, and considers the parallel bewteen Merleau Pontys use of the pathological body and works of art as examples.
Tina K 09/09/10 12:01 PM
[+] Thanks for posting this paper Francis. So far I have only read about a third of it but was taken by your statement “Merleau-Ponty argues that the phenomenological reduction is never fully achievable, and clearly states that “the most important lesson which the reduction teaches us is the impossibility of a complete reduction,” he never gives up its importance as a means by which to realize the goal of phenomenology, namely, as in Husserl’s famous formulation, to go back to things themselves.
Mark Keane 09/14/10 1:50 PM
[+] Thanks for the post Francis and Tina’s reference to Levinas is apt.
Francis Halsall 09/28/10 8:45 AM
The 1st session will be at 5:30pm on Thurs 30th Sept in the Gradcam building, just off Thomas Street, near NCAD
Lu 09/29/10 12:28 PM
[+] Hi all,
Gini Tevendale 09/30/10 10:01 AM
[+] A thought on Mark Keanes assertion that Merleau Pontys embodied mediation is an abstraction of times past.. and following on from Lu s point that Kants aesthetics leads us to opening of the mind to an immense realm (that I would suggest originates pre-reflectively…) In Phenomenology of Perception M.P. suggests that internal spaces as they are perceived and experienced can never fully speak. For example spatialising experience within his analysis of space, he shows that human experience is, ultimately, irreducible. Reduction of the experience of space into an empirical knowledge is never fully achieved, his epoche as methodologically open to experience leaves many uncertainties and unspoken inferences where much is left unsaid and ambiguous , space cannot be bracketed; his interpretations of space emerge from descriptions of geometry of space into the imaginative and the poetic. His epoche moves through a limited reduction to the formation of an environment within which the pre-conscious possession of the world can be analysed within the pre-reflective cogito… whilst MP s references art of times past the pre-reflective cogito is surely timeless ?
Lu 10/01/10 2:36 PM
[+] Some thing for the weekend? Heidegger un-earthed
Mark Keane 10/03/10 1:59 PM
[+] When I place the aesthetic experience in parenthesis it makes sense cognitively? If we assume Luhmann’s logical manoeuvre of distinction and twin it with Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological reduction, we have a method which marks out the white cube as the space of the good/better/best aesthetic engagement. Where the subject, in contemplation of the art object overcomes the subject/object binary and by extension directly experiences ‘Form’ and so ‘Being’ and so the ‘Ethical Ground’ of ‘Being’ is revealed?
Gini Tevendale 10/04/10 12:27 PM
[+] Mark ,I think your point is pertinent there is a tendency to bracket aesthetic experience.. the question is why ? Perhaps the value of phenomenology as a means of experiencing the world may lie as much in what it cannot say as in what it can ?. … it is a methodology that as Merleau Ponty acknowledges can only go so far… he would be likely to suggest that lived experience cannot be re-lived through reduction or within aesthetic experience …certainly the white cube would be a limited space in which to attempt do so.
Francis Halsall 10/05/10 3:10 PM
[+] I’ll try to respond soon. In the meantime this might be relevant, its certainly interesting:
Francis Halsall 10/05/10 3:16 PM
[+] The reading agreed for the next session is Heidegger, ‘The Question Concerning Technology’. There are a few versions of this online which are quite easy to find.
Tina K 10/05/10 3:59 PM
[+] Thanks for posting the unbuildingproject piece Francis. Levinas is relevant to this debate but as is pointed out in this piece of criticism, the opacity of his writing makes his texts quite inscrutable at times. I would suggest that this is deliberate on his behalf as his texts are self-consciously performative. That may be why Derrida (to go back to Lu) is so indebted to Levinas. In my opinion Levinas is always disturbing a presumed literality in the text. A project to which Derrida is the rightful heir.
Francis Halsall 10/11/10 10:10 AM
[+] The Heidegger text for the next session is here:
Francis Halsall 10/28/10 5:28 PM
[+] Thanks to you all for a great session last time. I think it would be good to keep a record of our discussions. Did anyone take notes? I’ll post soon regarding what I remember was said.
Mark Keane 11/06/10 9:44 AM
[+] Firstly, it was good to meet everyone.
Francis Halsall 11/11/10 11:11 AM
The next session will be at 5pm, Thur 18th Nov. in the Gradcam seminar room.
Francis Halsall 11/19/10 11:16 AM
[+] Thanks to you all for another great session. And thanks to Mark in advance to agreeing to put up some notes on what was said. I’ll also endeavour to put up some notes on the Technology discussion too soon.
Francis Halsall 11/19/10 11:21 AM
[+] The following is also relevant as it gives some further contextual information concerning Speculative Realism:
Francis Halsall 11/19/10 11:25 AM
[+] And the Coombs and Harman’s response in the Speculations journal here:
Mark Keane 11/20/10 11:00 AM
[+] Good to see you all again – I didn’t do the ‘mindmap’ as I promised because I was too busy talking.
Tina K 11/21/10 11:47 AM
[+] Thanks very much Mark for posting your summary and comments. I have a few initial observations to make and will return to some of your other points later in the week.
Tina K 11/21/10 12:27 PM
[+] And if DASEIN is a construct, what does this mean in relation to Heidegger and the notion of “disclosure”? DASEIN is in The World, in relation to “things” in The World, in relation to the instrumentality (i.e. the ‘usability’ of things in The World) of “things” in The World) and these “things” exist within a series of “enframings” or contexts. The hermeneutic circle discloses these “enframings” but are these “enframings” contingent (i.e. upon DASEIN’s situation – temporal, cultural, historical) and perhaps this is why full “disclosure” can never be completed and why “disclosure” can only ever be an ongoing “lighting up” which can never reach complete reduction but which continues to “light up” DASEIN?
Gini Tevendale 11/22/10 1:59 PM
good luck with your stupid project Mark !
Lu 11/23/10 9:34 AM
I support Ginny on this. It makes for a very good case to take everything else Mark says with a pinch of something; not yet quite sure what. Pinning it down would only be asking for it. Anyway, just to say, now that Francis has gone off air, except on here re Systems seminar chat (hi Francis!) I have got hold of Harman which looks really exciting (ie totally stupid) and once I have re-read the Heidegger bit, I will be up for discussing which sections of Harman we will start with?
Lu 11/23/10 9:35 AM
Whoops, just seen that FH suggests chapter one. Wilco.
Francis Halsall 12/01/10 6:34 PM
Francis Halsall 01/11/11 11:41 AM
[+] The systems seminar restarts on Thurs 20th January, with the reading of Chapter 1 from Graham Harman’s Tool Being. I can get people a copy of this should they need it, so email.
Francis Halsall 01/22/11 12:20 PM
[+] Thanks again for another great discussion. As agreed we’ll look at Latour for the next session, and I’ll post details here soon. In the meantime, Edias suggested text of Harmans punchy discussion of the Ferris Wheel in the Zero Books ‘Circus Philosophicus’ can be read online via google books here and perhaps Edia might post here on her thinking on the text??:
Francis Halsall 02/02/11 6:13 PM
[+] Hi all, there are a bunch of apologies due here. Sorry.
Francis Halsall 02/03/11 11:22 AM
Hi all, I’m going to go for wed. 9th. I know this doesn’t suit all, so apologies for that. We’ll meet at 5.15 in Gradcam. We’ll discuss Latour’s “We have never been Modern”. I’m just reading this now and will suggest a more specific section to discuss in the next day or so. Or perhaps someone else knows the text and can suggest a specific bit?
Francis Halsall 02/12/11 12:21 PM
Next reading is Agamben, ‘what is an apparatus’ and we’ll use this to continue to continue the discussion we began on Latour. Dates and further details to follow.
Mark Keane 02/13/11 10:51 AM
Latour’s recent critique of social science is the best critique of Heidegger and Harman. However, Latour has to then concede to extreme relativism because there is nowhere else to go. The truth is that there are limits to the logic of language. Deconstruction cleverly highlighted the prejudices in linguistic logic and by extension the logic of power in culture, gender, race and class. For that we should be grateful but the question then begs: So what, now what? The truth is Alan Sokal’s critique has never been adequately answered because we, as in, we post modern philosophers and artists have no answer because we fear admitting to our stupidity. Science, as in natural science, uses mathematical theories that can both penetrate and predict what we understand the metaphysical world to be or what we understadn as reality. Through testable theories natural science can build a testable epistemology. Critical theory or social science in general cannot do this intellectual work. Art has been hijacked by the critical theorists because they have nowhere else to go. Art would be better served exposing the ‘stupid’ for what it is – fantastic non sense. Embrace the stupid today and blow a raspberry at Ranciere 🙂
Francis Halsall 02/16/11 4:22 PM
[+] Lovecraft’s opening from Call of Cthulu seems to harness that occult dread in acknowledging stupidness, and the peril in grasping that whilst language may be the limit to OUR world, it is not the limit to the THE world. “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”
Mark Keane 02/17/11 12:12 PM
I do know that reason whether it be inductive or deductive logic has never enlightened us to what constitutes reality or consciousness but we cling to it in the vain hope that it might. While we have much to learn about reality and the mind I do know the speculative constructs of philosophy are simply that – fictions as to what it might be – and as such are no better or no worse than the stories we find in the old testament. What is interesting to me is that we gravitate to the performative as if on a path of intellectual evolution. Latour is right in one sense the fictions we create may well have utility. However, I fear this is the refuge of a thinker who has reached a cul de sac in his thought. The good news is that Art is a ‘performative’ exercise and as such the current celebration of relativist constructs enables the artist to be a political actor in ways that are very exciting. I would advocate that the artist need not fear the spell of the philosopher – it is simply another fiction among a host of fictions no better and no worse.
Mark Keane 02/18/11 3:17 PM
Just read some Gabriel Catren – I found the work impenetrable – which might mean one of two things – I’m stupid or it is – humility would suggest the former – see you soon 🙂
Francis Halsall 02/21/11 4:06 PM
[+] Here is a paper where I begin to discuss Transcendental Philosophy. The position of object orientated philosophy and speculative realism would seem to throw a spanner (or some other type of object) into the workings of such philosophical systems:
Mark Keane 02/22/11 9:05 AM
It a great paper Francis. Thanks for sharing. The final footnote provides for the aesthetic bracketing and I would agree that Harman and speculative realism is problematic for your body postioned aesthetic. However yours is as good as theirs. The key for me is the method. The logical movement of getting to the fundamental ground. The reductionism of the epoche. These reductive logical movements can be found in Descartes, Hume and Kant and in all three we witness the fundamaental performance of modern philosphy. Each are the speculations of reason. What fascinates me is the logical consistency in the variations philosophy. What amazes me is the fantastic imagination of these thinkers. However, they are limited by their imaginations. The telescope and microscope would reveal more fantastic worlds than their reason could ever conjure up. 80% of the universe is made up of dark matter and dark energy and we don’t know what either are. At the quantum level we know reality is made up mostly of empty space and the bits we do know would appear to be a function of us looking for them. Neuroscience suggests we are guided by pattern recognition. Gestalt suggests we like to complete things even if they are not complete themselves. All of this would suggest that in the absence of acientific knowledge we make things up; in otherwords we create fictions about the world, ourselves and the things we like to call objects. If this is the case then we have a series of choices – Do we create ethical fictions? Playful fictions? Fictions of equality? Fictions of hate? It seems to me that the first fiction ( there I go again doing that reductive move to first principles that philosophers love to do) is the fiction of desire. What is it I desire? I would suggest if we ask ourselves that question we may well know the ending of the story before we begin.
Lu 02/28/11 12:39 PM
[+] Hi has anyone else not got the Eugene Thacker text Cliona dropped in the drop box? or am I being stoopid?
Lu 02/28/11 12:40 PM
[+] Hi cant find Cliona’s text in drop box. Am I being stoopid?
Ciara McM 03/19/11 5:09 PM
[+] Hi folks, being out of the loop am wondering if the next seminar is this week coming. In the case of an affirmative what, may I ask is the reading?
Francis Halsall 06/09/11 12:40 PM
[+] As per the last email exchanges, the last systems session of this academic year will be on thur 16th June at 5 in Gradcam.