Thinkables

MODULE THREE 26-27 April 2017

KTH School of Architecture

There is a great deal that constrains thinking, making the encounter with what I call a ‘thinkable’ extremely rare. The thinkable is that which erupts out of the unthinkable. What do we engage in, what do we do when we encounter a thought? We are habituated to the assumption that we invent or ‘have’ thoughts that belong to us, that we can secure them with a signature, which then allows us the right to claim them as our intellectual property. The thinkable operates in quite another way. A thinkable, and this will no doubt sound counter-intuitive, is independent of either a given thinker or a fixed object of thought, instead it circulates between both in the midst of an event, a taking place that takes more or less time. It is less the thought that I have, than the thought that strikes me, coming from elsewhere, emerging in the midst of an encounter.

Isabelle Stengers argues that we are suffering a disaster of thought, and it is this that has contributed to the exhaustion of our environment-worlds today. Bad habits, in thought and in practice, are hard to shake. In the news media and across Web 2.0 feeds, plugged-in readers bear witness to the plague of ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news’; readers become prey to misinformation. As Bruno Latour has pointed out, if fundamental extremists are deconstructing facts according to a well-exercised logic of social constructivism, in effect redeploying the arguments of critical thinkers, what are we to do? (2004: 227). How do we disentangle an assertive matter of fact from an ideological miasma in order to gather around our cares and concerns? Can we fight critique with yet more critique? If so, how might we better hone our critical concept-tools? The job of criticism has been to challenge the myth of a stable ground, but this thought becomes a weapon that can be handled toward the most dangerous ends.

This third module will be dedicated to the capacities of critical thinking and the role of the concept-tool in its relation to pressing problems.

TASK: Heteroglossia and Concept-Tools

This task offers you the opportunity to create a lexicon of key concepts that are relevant to your research. The concept of a heteroglossia is appropriated from Donna Haraway’s famous Cyborg manifesto (1991). Haraway’s aim is to challenge the production of universal totalizing theories and the habits of binary thinking. She explains, “This is a dream not of a common language, but of a powerful infidel heteroglossia” (Haraway 1991: 181). Much like a lexicon or glossary, a heteroglossary is a place where key terms can be collected while creating a space in which contradictory or even conflicting projects and diverse positions can be supported. A heteroglossary allows “different” (hetero) definitions of concepts to jostle alongside one another, which can challenge the stability of a status quo in practice and theory.

The concept-tool as a construct is taken from the work of Isabelle Stengers, Donna Haraway, Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault. Concepts are things for thinking with, they offer aids and prompts to thought, they can be applied and circulated and adapted for use like tools. The concept emerges amidst contingent circumstances, which is not to say it is randomly formulated, or based on some kind of free for all. While contingent in their emergence, concept-tools are also sited, pertaining to specific geographies and histories and material entanglements. The concept-tool plays a pedagogical role: Learning from the concept as it presents itself offers a means of attending to a problem, attentive to the specific moments of its construction, learning how to deal with the milieu in which you find and lose yourself again. Concepts are tools that we share with others and which we are prepared to generously pass on, otherwise concepts easily get stuck in a rut, turning into unreflective dogma.

Create a ‘Heteroglossary’ with around 10 entries for the ‘concept-tools that have been relevant to your research. Note in each case the source of the concept-tool, or its history, or how you have constructed it from several sources.

Guest lecturer: Isabelle Doucet

Guest Lecturer: Alessandro Armando

Readings

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Félix. “What is a Concept?” in What is Philosophy? New York: Columbia University Press, 1994, 15-34.

Doucet, Isabelle. The Practice Turn in Architecture: Brussels after 1968. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2015. Excerpt.

Haraway, Donna. ‘Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective.’ Feminist Studies, vol. 14, no. 3 (Autumn, 1988): 575-599.

Massumi, Brian. “On Critique” in Inflexions 4 – Transversal Fields of Experience (December 2010). http://www.inflexions.org/n4_Brian-Massumi-on-Critique.pdf

NOTE: To these readings will be added suggestions based on essays relevant to your specific projects, which we will share in advance of this meeting.

Background Readings

Foucault, Michel and Deleuze, Gilles. ‘Intellectuals and Power.’ In Language, Counter-Memory, Practice. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1977, 205-217.

Grosz, Elizabeth (2017) The Incorporeal: Ontology, Ethics, and the Limits of Materialism, New York: Columbia University Press.

Haraway, Donna. “The Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminisms in the Late Twentieth Century” in Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, London: Free Association Books, 1991, 149-182.

Hauptman, Deborah and Neidich, Warren eds. Cognitive Architecture. From Biopolitics to Noopolitics. Architecture & Mind in the Age of Communication and Information. Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 2010.

Stengers, Isabelle. ‘Introductory Notes on an Ecology of Practices.’ Cultural Studies Review, vol. 11 no. 1 (2005a): 183-196.