HUMA 888S/ 4-AA

Doctoral Seminar in Interdisciplinary Studies I

Critical Studies of Media Arts and Sciences: Subjectification, Process, and Performance

Prof. Sha Xin Wei

  Winter 2009, Wednesday afternoons, 2:00-5:00 pm

Tentatively LB 612, Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture

(Alternative: EV 7-725, EV 5-615)


This is a seminar about experimental practices in philosophy, art, and technoscience.  This year's course critically introduces some vital interdisciplinary discourses in the humanities and arts concerning subjectification, process, and performance by threading a narrative from the modern crisis of representation to materialist notions of distributed agency and affect.   The seminar supports and is informed by creation-research approaching these questions sensitive to conditions framing ethico-aesthetics.

We begin with Guattari's turn from psychotherapy to a speculative mode of art, and Wittgenstein's more caustic critique of theories of language, logic, and representation.  We then discuss the broader 20c turn from representation to performance and embodiment, reading for example, Artaud's challenge to theater as "dramatic literature," and Maturana and Varela's extension from the living to the autopoietic.    These implicate critiques of technology and science which we examine in the context of media art and experimental performance.  In the latter part of the course, we discuss alternative approaches to subjectivity and experience, introducing phenomenology, philosophies of process (Heraclitus, Stengers, Whitehead, Laozi, Zhuangzi), and material topological dynamical systems.

The seminar will be centered on close readings and discussions of selected texts, with opportunities for presenting installation or performative work. Students will prepare an in-class presentation during the term, and a 15 page paper at the end of the semester.




1. Critical studies of media arts and sciences

What are art practice, art research, art as vehicle, and creation research?

Reading: Guattari, Chaosmosis, ch. 1-2. In French: ch. 1, ch. 2.


2. Production of subjectivity

What could be alternative conditions for the production of subjectivity?

Reading: Guattari, Chaosmosis, ch. 6-7, In French: ch. 6, ch. 7. (Christoph, Nasrin)


3. Representation

Meaning vs. information vs. semiotics. What's (not) a representation?   What's an object and predicate? What's alphabet, grammar, syntax; graph? algebraic

Reading: Wittgenstein: Philosophical Investigations aphorisms annotated 1-100, 192-212, selections from 1-309. (Myriam, Kelly notes)


4. The Study of Experience.  Phenomenology contra psychology.

Problems with psychologism, biological reductionism, and category.   A material phenomenology, tacit knowledge and substrates of experience.

Reading: Kusch: Husserl's critique of Brentano's psychologism; David Woodruff Smith on Husserl's method of transcendental reduction, Gendlin on felt meaning.

(February 11) Alternative Readings: William James, Essays on Radical Empiricism. "How Two Minds Can Know One Thing," p. 123-137. (Ioanna,Valerie)

6. Process and Transformation

Figures and philosophies of process.


Maturana and Varela. Autopoiesis, The Organizatrion of the Living, pp. 59 to 143.

February 18, Chapters 1-3 ( Catherine, Nadia notes)

March 4, Chapters 4 -5, Appendix (Marie-Pier, Giselle)


Alternative readings: Lefebvre Rhythmanalysis; Prigogine, Stengers; Whitehead Process and Reality; Heraclitis, (March 5) Laozi (Tao) and Chuangzi.


5.  Material Topology

From body without organs to materiality without objects (things). Continuity, open / closed sets, limit, topological spaces, homeomorphism; the qualitative and the anexact sans metric, sans number.

Reading: Janich, introduction to topology.

Optional: Badiou: mathematics is ontology; Stengers on mathematics as poetic ontology.


7. Material Phenomenology

What's the virtual, actual, tangible, physical, real, impossible, imaginary?

Consciousness, intentionality, the problem of intersubjectivity.

Reading: Husserl Ideen ¤27-40 from the chapters on bracketing and epoche, and on intentional consciousness.

Optional: Heidegger, "What Is a Thing?"   Petitot, "Morphological Eidetics for Phenomenology of Perception."


8.  Performance

Experimental performance vs. spectacle.  Art as vehicle.  Everyday, unmarked vs marked gesture.

Reading: Debord (ch 1);

Artaud: ch. 8: Theater of Cruelty; ch 9: The Theater of Cruelty, Second Manifesto;

Derrida: "La parole soufflŽe" and "The Theater of Cruelty and the Closure of Representation";

Grotowski pp. 0-59 , pp. 116-125, pp. 254-262; Sponge ECART; Barbara Formis

Optional: Badiou on event.


9.  Subjectification and art

What  makes something "live," or interactive, vs responsive? concurrent?  What is art research?  Why should artists make things of common concern?

Reading: Case Study: Latour and Weibel: Making Things Public ZKM 2005; Guattari, last chapter.


10.  Implications

What is humanities in a field, plenist, processual mode? Physics, ecology, architecture, economics, narrative, ethics.

Reading: (Leibniz) Damiris, Wild, and Franchi; Stengers "Conversation," "Sixth Day"; A. Bilgrami



Class notes, grazie a Jhave:

Will evolve depending on seminar participants' interests.


Artaud, Antonin. The Theatre and Its Double: Essays. London: Calder & Boyars, 1970.

Badiou, Alain, Ray Brassier, and Alberto Toscano. Theoretical Writings. London, New York: Continuum, 2004. Derrida, Jacques. Margins of Philosophy. 1982.                                                                        

Debord, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. New York: Zone Books, 1994.Guattari, Felix; translators: Paul Bains, Julian Pefanis. Chaosmosis : An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995.

Gendlin, Eugene T. Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning : A Philosophical and Psychological Approach to the Subjective. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1997.

Grotowski, Jerzy, and Eugenio Barba. Towards a Poor Theatre. 1st Routledge ed. New York: Routledge, 2002.Heidegger, Martin. Poetry, Language, Thought. HarperCollins Canada / Harper Trade, 2001.

Guattari, Felix. Chaosmosis : An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995.

Heidegger, Martin. Poetry, Language, Thought. HarperCollins Canada / Harper Trade, 2001.

Heraclitus, tr. T. M. Robinson. Fragments. Toronto ; Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1987.

Husserl, Edmund. Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy: First Book, General Introduction to a Pure Phenomenology. Trans. F. Kersten. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1982 (1913).

JŠnich, Klaus. Topology. Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 1980, 1984.

Lefebvre, Henri, Rhythmanalysis : space, time, and everyday life, London ; New York, Continuum, 2004.

Petitot, Jean. Naturalizing Phenomenology: Issues in Contemporary Phenomenology and Cognitive Science. Writing Science. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1999.

Stengers, Isabelle. "Beyond Conversation: The Risks of Peace." Process and Difference: Between Cosmological and Poststructuralist Postmodernisms. Eds. Anne Daniell, Catherine Keller, New York: SUNY, 2002.

---. "A Constructivist Reading of Process and Reality." (2004).

Lao-Tzu. Tao Te Ching. Translated with an Introd. By D.C. Lau. The Penguin Classics. Vol. L131. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1963.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Lectures on the Foundations of Mathematics, Cambridge, 1939. Ed. Cora Diamond, 1975, 1976.

Whitehead, Alfred North. Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology. Eds. David Ray Griffin and Donald W. Sherburne. Corrected ed. New York: The Free Press, 1978.



Faculty Info

Sha Xin Wei, Ph.D.

Canada Research Chair, Media Arts and Sciences

Associate Professor „ Fine Arts „ Concordia University

EV06-769, 1515 Ste-Catherine West „ MontrŽal, QuŽbec „ H3G 2W1 „ CANADA

Director, Topological Media Lab „  „

Notes by Jhave Johnston Fall 2007

See also HUMA 889/2-AA, Theories of Public Culture, Prof. Robert Danisch, Fall 2008.