Seminar – Ontologies of the Present

Ontologies of the Present: Dialectics and Genealogy from Hegel to Agamben

OSL Seminar directed by Bram Ieven en Geertjan de Vugt

When Foucault famously declared Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason the last book of the 19th century the bell for the burial of Hegelian historicism was tolled. Foucault’s turn to Nietzsche and his revitalization of genealogy as critique can only be understood in opposition to the Hegelian dialectic. While the dialectic provides a method in which the singularity of thought is recuperated and placed within a larger ‘whole’ (Hegel) or process of unification (Sartre), genealogy shows us how the origin of certain modes of thinking and discourses are not recuperable within a bigger whole (Foucault) and are in fact shot through by a multiplicity that does not let itself become part of any straightforward process of unification (Deleuze).
            However, both dialectics and genealogy are ways of coming to terms with the double bind one finds oneself inevitably confronted with when dealing with the idea that concepts, ideas and critical notions relate to the historical, political and social circumstances in which they are developed. On the one hand it implies that thinking is coached in its own, singular historical conditions, affected by them and shaped through them. On the other hand it implies that thinking itself also directly reflects on history and its own historicity. The idea that thinking should reflect on its own position, the idea that his is what thinking is about, is what the modern concept of critique is all about. The dialectic and genealogy, then, are two ways in which critique can be defined.          
            This seminar is based on three pillars. Firstly participants will familiarize themselves with the dialectic (Hegel, Kojève, Sartre), it’s criticism (Nietzsche, Deleuze, Bataille), and its persistence (Jameson, Malabou). Secondly we will study genealogy as a critical method by focusing on the work of Foucault and his interpretation of Nietzsche. The development of genealogy as a (alternative) form of critique, it turns out, was conceived of as a direct criticism of Hegel and the dialectical method. Finally we will go into one of todays most prevelant reinterpretations of Foucault, namely that of Agamben’s analysis of paradigms.
            By the end of the seminar participants have a thorough understanding of the concepts vital for an understanding of (French) post-structuralist thought: dialectics and its relevance today, the stakes of a philosophy of difference, genealogical analysis and the archaeology of paradigms.

Each seminar session takes place on Friday from 2 to 5PM. For each session a special guest speaker will be invited who will be giving a one hour introduction to the theme after which we will do a close reading of the texts under scrutiny. Reading materials will be distributed in advance. Please register by sending an e-mail to:
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