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robertogreco : michelserres   5

Topologies: Michel Serres and the Shapes of Thought
"In what follows, I try to estimate the novelty, the possibility and the limits of Serres’s intensely topological mode of thinking. In the first section, ‘Phases, States’, I distinguish three periods in Serres’s work, emphasising the increasing importance of topology in it. I suggest that Serres goes far beyond the flat topography, the impoverished views of space and territory to be found throughout the cultural and social sciences. Relating his uses of topology to the ‘material imagination’ of Gaston Bachelard, I suggest that Serres’s topologies are complexes of space and time, matter and process, rather than merely matricial forms. In the second section, ‘Histories’, I consider the kinds of historical poetics to which this topological view may give rise, considering in some detail Serres’s use of the metaphor of kneaded, or folded time. In the third section ‘Shape of Shapes’, I consider critically Serres’s attempts to use topology to provide an integrated view of the contingencies of history and space. Though I conclude the final section, ‘Ethics and Topology’ by affirming that Serres’s work represents a huge and still largely ignored resource for thinking historically about the relations between science, technology and culture, I also suggest that we need not, and probably should not, take it on its own account, particularly when it moves from description to ethics. Paradoxically, perhaps, what Serres increasingly makes of his own work need not be what can most valuably be made of it."



"The ethical claims for synthesis, a holistic grasping of the complete shape of things, which seem increasingly to complete and justify Serres’s rapprochement of science and humanities, fact and value, may in fact be the coarsest and least compelling aspects of his thought. The very power to integrate complex phenomena which the idea of topology offers may be its weakness, in a world in which the acceptance and management of discontinuity may be a better hope than the effort to see and entertain every possibility.

Serres’s topological mode of thinking offers huge possibilities of transformation and renewal for thinking and writing in the humanities and in science, as well as offering a model for how they might begin to include each other. His work makes it clear how crudely mechanical or frankly magical (the same thing perhaps) our conceptions of the nature and workings of social life and time can be. Characteristically, and superbly, he has done this, not through critique, but through the invention of new shapes of thought. Nick Bingham, for example, has argued that we may be able to rouse ourselves from dulling contemporary fantasies of the ‘technological sublime’ through Serres’s idea of the binding mobility of the quasi-object, which holds together complex societies as the movement of the ball may be said to focus and bind together the movements and purposes of two opposed teams (Bingham 1999). Serres’s work offers to contemporary thought the same kind of reinvigoration that the work of Bergson did a century ago, except that, where Bergson attempted to make a clean break between the fixative illusions of spatial thinking, in favour of a thought in motion, Serres offers ways of thinking time spatially and morphologically. For the historian of ideas, forms and feelings in particular, Serres’s versatile development of Bachelard’s insight into the material imagination – the imagining of the material world, and the materiality of the imagination – offers a thesaurus of shapes of thought and thoughts of shape that promise huge enrichment to historical thought. Bachelard’s explication of the poetics of matter and space could only take shape in a reserved space of dream and reverie, set aside from the forms of scientific knowledge that formed the subject of his earlier historical analyses. Serres’s topologies of space and time disclose and project new and more inclusive, less sequestered forms in which to hold together science and culture, and to incubate new forms of historical poetics. His greatest contribution will assuredly have been his restlessly inventive cultivation of the spatial and topological imagination, the ways in which we project how and where we live, as embodied beings who are nevertheless incapable of not being beside themselves, not living beyond the here-and-now of their bodies, not being taken up in the flamboyant dynamics of topology. Michel Serres has always spurned schools and disciples; and it may be that we can do most with his work, by effecting a partial break with it, by declining to accept as definitive the ethical and political shape within which he encloses it."
michelserres  2002  topologies  science  literature  stevenconnor  humanities  transdisciplinary  interdisciplinary  crossdisciplinary  discontinuity  gastonbachelard  space  time  matter  process  technology  culture  ethics 
august 2014 by robertogreco
MICHEL SERRES – 032c Workshop
"MICHEL SERRES is a French philosopher who specializes in the history of science and whose work attempts to reclaim the art of thinking the unthinkable. Born in 1930 in Lot-et-Garonne, Serres is a member immortel of L’Académie française and has been a professor at Stanford University, in the heart of Silicon Valley, since 1984. He’s authored more than 60 volumes that range in topics from parasites to the “noise” that lingers in the background of life and thought. Serres’ writing is like a slow night of constant drinking, taking us irreversibly to places we didn’t know we were heading towards.

In 1985 he published Les cinq sens, a lament on the marginalization of the knowledge we gain from our fives senses through science and the scientific mind. So it came as somewhat of a surprise for his observers when Serres came out in unrestrained support of online culture, particularly Wikipedia, in the first years of the 2000s. “Wikipedia shows us the confidence we have in being human,” he said in 2007. Whether through technology or our own bodies, the world of information is only ever accessible through mediation (Serres often deploys the Greek god Hermes and angels in his writing). His most recent book, Petite Poucette (2012), or “Thumbelina,” is an optimistic work that discusses today’s revolution in communications and the cognitive and political transformations it’s brought about. “Army, nation, church, people, class, proletariat, family, market … these are abstractions, flying overhead like so many cardboard effigies,” Serres writes in Petite Poucette. It’s been on the French bestseller list since its release and has sold more than 100,000 copies. It’s a sort of love letter to the digital generation, and surprising in many ways. One of these is that almost no one in the English-speaking world has ever heard of it. In this conversation with 032c’s contributing editor Hans Ulrich Obrist, Serres muses on the dawn of our new era."



"HUO: You’ve often collaborated with others, and conversation is an important practice in your philosophy. Do you believe that we can invent new forms through collaboration, or even through friendship?

MS: Yes. Certainly. I think it can be done. The key to inventing through conversation is to ensure that the conversation is not … a sort of fight to the death between two set opinions. Each participant in the conversation must be free and open."
michelserres  hansulrichobrist  interviews  2014  digitalnatives  communication  optimism  petitpoucette  adamcurtis  revolution  tocqueville  21stcentury  micheldemontaigne  wikileaks  julianassange  wikipedia  knowledge  mobile  phones  quasi-objects  objects  future  society  conversation  philosophy  resistance  technology  justice  ecologicjustice  politics  montaigne  collaboration 
july 2014 by robertogreco
Michel Serres Interview (1995) | Hari Kunzru
"HK: You say our work, our modern work is as communicators and message bearers. In the book you give a history of labour. Tell me more.

MS: There are three steps. In the beginning our parents, our ancestors were working with physical energies, with the body, with their muscles, as peasants. Do you remember the caryatids who supported Greek temples, or Atlas, who carried the sky on his shoulders? These are figures of the first type of work.The second step is transformation of metals by engines and machines - the industrial revolution. I use three words which are the same word - form, transformation and information - the three steps. In the first step this form was solid as a statue. Atlas, the caryatid. In the second it is involved that the metal becomes liquid. In the third step we are living in the volatile transmission. This word volatile is angelic form. The transmission of message, of code, of signal is volatile. We say now about money that it is volatile, it is turning into the transmission of codes, of messages.

HK: This seems to link with what Deleuze says about relations of speed and slowness

MS: Yes, the faster and faster. The caryatid was steady. Dissolution is taking place. The urban space of Newtown (Villeneuve in French) is a volatile space. All points can be connected to all other points.

HK: Stratification.

MS: Exactly. If you read medieval angelology you find exactly the same demonstrations because all the problems for angelology - what is a message? who are the messengers? what is the messenger's body? - like Saint Thomas Aquinas, the early church fathers, the Pseudo-Dionysius, and so on. In the beginning of my book I quote the problem of the sex of the angels. Everybody smiles about this problem, but it is a serious one, a problem about transmission.

HK: A serious functional problem.

MS: Exactly

W; This is what I began to find when I looked at scholastic philosophy. Having thought it was full of ridiculous problems about angels on pinheads I found that serious problems were simply framed in this vocabulary.

MS: You are right. I was very surprised to find that in the beginning of my career.

W; Let's talk about television. You return again and again to the negative things that tv brings us. I'm interested to know whether all media is a form of pollution, or whether its just the mass media, which makes the viewer or listener passive. I am interested in the possibility of two way media, two way means of communication, an interactive form. Do you think that would be less socially damaging than the mass media?

MS: In the beginning of our history many centuries ago, the Greek fabulist Aesop said that the tongue was the best and the worst thing in the world. This very ancient sentence is exactly the same for us. It is so for the tongue, for language, but also for very sophisticated channels of communication and for instance your question about the TV is a good question because TV is one of the best channels in the world to have information, to have education, to receive instruction, to have OpenUniversity, to have a good lecture, to discover the world. It is the best channel, but on the contrary, do you know that in the US now a typical teenager has seen 20000 murders already in his life, already at fourteen years old. It is the first time in history that we teach murder to children in this intensive way. It is the best channel and the worst at the same time, and it is not a discovery because Aesop told us this centuries ago. I think it is a paradox of communication. When all channel is neutral it can carry the best message and the worst.

HK: You used the word spectacle in your discussion of TV. Do you accept Debord's views on the society of the spectacle, and the way in which the media is used to control us?

MS: It is difficult to control the media

HK: No, is the media an agent of- what is your relation to Debord's analysis of the media, that's what I'm really asking.

MS: I think that Debord wrote many many things which are very ancient opinions. Because power is always spectacle. When you take the example of your kings in England, or our kings in France in the seventeenth century the spectacle always and already exists - on the stage, on coins - it was always spectacle. Alexander the Great discovered that sentence too. But in our day it is the case all power is in representation, of course. But I think, maybe I think the contrary. In the beginning of our conversation we spoke about the invisibility the disappearing of the angels, you remember? But I think that power is more powerful when it is invisible."
michelserres  1995  harikunzru  interviews  television  tv  education  learning  communication  gillesdeleuze  guydebord  deleuze 
july 2014 by robertogreco
Twitter / camerontw: Lyotard's "the inhuman", Serres' ...
"Lyotard's "the inhuman", Serres' "no longer but not yet" RT @TheTweetOfGod: Kids aren't fully people yet. That's why they're so awesome."
camerontonkinwise  michelserres  lyotard  children  humans  human  people  2013  jean-françoislyotard 
july 2014 by robertogreco
Michel Serres, one of France's 'immortels,' tells the 'grand récit' at Stanford
"For the last 150 years, Western philosophy primarily has been a story of telling philosophers that they cannot do this, that or the other. They cannot synthesize, philosophize, cannot tell the grand story." This idea of the grand récit, he said, "is distinctly non-postmodern, maybe even non-modern."

"His is the 'yes we can' of an older concept of the philosopher. Yes, philosophers can—even in our time—tell the grand récit."

"as a writer…he is renowned as a stylist—and style is the hardest element to replicate in another language. His writing has been described as classical, poetic, a little bit arcane and virtually untranslatable…"

"The observant may notice that, although Serres speaks extemporaneously, in front of him is a pile of typed pages. They are not notes but full lectures. He writes about 40 pages between classes, so it is all fresh in his mind when he speaks. Occasionally during his lecture he will pause, flipping through a dozen pages to catch up to his spoken words."
education  howweteach  howwewrite  writing  transdisciplinary  philosophy  2009  michelserres 
december 2012 by robertogreco

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