April, 2012

Ectoplasm and the Quest for a Supra-Normal Physiology

CSTMS Colloquium
“A medium is a medium is a medium”
Ectoplasm and the Quest for a Supra-Normal Physiology
By Robert Brain, The University of British Columbia

Thursday 26 April
UC Berkeley
Center for Science, Technology, Medicine, & Society
470 Stephens Hall

The French physiologist Charles Richet in the 1890’s proposed that the strange phenomena of “materialization” observed in spiritualist séances—slime oozing from the bodily orifices of the spiritualist medium—should be understood as “ectoplasm,” as extrusions of protoplasm out of the body of the medium “precisely as a pseudopod from an amoeboid cell.” Ghosts and table-turning were out, replaced by the biological equivalent of the ether, the ubiquitous protoplasmic prima materia responsible for transferring vibrations within all cells of all living beings. Richet’s proposal also framed the investigation not as a question of physics or psychology, but as a question of what Gustave Geley and Hans Driesch would respectively call “supra-normal physiology” or “supernormal biology,” a pursuit poised on the cusp between psychical research and the nascent discipline of plasmogeny or synthetic biology. This paper argues that this notion of biological investigation under special conditions reveals important dimensions of broader early 20th century debates about the nature of living substance and its properties such as mobility, plasticity, autonomy, and temporality. It also makes suggestions about the stakes of the “cellular politics” that swirled around these bizarre experiments.

This event sponsored by OHST, STSC, CSTMS

CANCELLED: “A medium is a medium is a medium”: Ectoplasm and the Quest for a Supra-Normal Physiology

What’s New about New Materialisms?

UC Berkeley

May 4-5th, 2012

The social sciences and humanities have long been engaged in the study of matter, materiality and materialisms. So what to make of recent announcements of the arrival of a variety of “new materialisms”? This conference brings together scholars from across the university to discuss a multiplicity of orientations and critical approaches to the use—and in some cases misuse—of the term and conceptual apparatus of “new materialisms” in their own work. Intentionally named as a question, What’s New About New Materialisms? is intended as an exploration of the benefits and limitations to “new” modes of thinking about and through the material. The four questions that guide contributors’ presentation are: What is new about matter? What is a method adequate to a new matter? Do ‘new materialisms’ mark the limit of discourse? How might we attend to materiality as a property of the digital? The first day of the conference will feature faculty presentations, including two keynote addresses, and the second day will feature papers by graduate students.

What’s new about New Materialisms?

Aesthetik der Materialitaet

Karlsruhe, 25.04. – 11.07.2012

Vorlesungsreihe “Ästhetik der Materialität”

Die Vortragsreihe „Ästhetik der Materialität“ strebt an, die natürlich-künstliche (Um)Welt des Menschen aus verschiedenen Perspektiven zu betrachten. Dabei berücksichtigt sie sowohl die mehrsensuellen Wahrnehmungsweisen von Materialität, die gerade auch das Taktile, aber auch Geruch und Geschmack umfassen, als auch die verschiedenen Gestaltungs- und Verarbeitungsdimensionen. Sie fragt damit sowohl trans- als auch interdisziplinär nach den kulturellen, sozialen und technologischen Dimensionen materieller wie immaterieller Substanzen, die die Lebenswelt des Menschen konstituieren und beeinflussen: Was ist Materie und Material aus physikalisch-technischer-gestalterischer Sicht? Welche Rolle spielen sie in der praktischen Realität des Alltags, in der Ökonomie- und Technikhistorie sowie den Künsten? Wie beeinflussen sie konkret unser Leben und unser Verhältnis zur Um- und Mitwelt?

Organisation und Konzept: PD Dr. Christiane Heibach (HfG Karlsruhe, DFG-Projekt “Epistemologie der Multimedialität”) und PD Dr. Carsten Rohde (KIT Institut für Literaturwissenschaft)

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