Feeling and Things in Action: Reading (around) Hannah Arendt

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Feeling and Things in Action: Reading (around) Hannah Arendt

A thematic project by Jan Verwoert (October 2011-June 2012) 8 ECTS

In her reflections on how politics originate in intersubjective exchanges, Hannah Arendt maintains that noone can control the crucial moment of an encounter when people disclose who they are to each other in public. Because of this impossibility to control disclosure, she argues that the social world of human affairs belongs to everyone and noone, so that it can neither be authorized nor objectified nor owned by anyone.

Here she partly seems to be picking a fight with Martin Heidegger who, in his rather mystical approach to the emergence of the social, does give a key role to things, to art objects and authors (and Bruno Latour follows him in some aspects). There is a lot at stake for art in this exchange of arguments: How do we picture the feelings that connect people and constitute the social? As forces that can at best, if not only, be truly relayed in face to face encounters, via actions that forge immaterial bonds between you and me (much in line with the premises of some more ephemeral conceptual/relational practices)? Or is there a particular logic to the ways in which things enter into our exchanges and shape them via forms of indirect communciation (as more materialist approaches to sculpture would maintain)?

This seminar will start with a close reading of Hannah Arendt's writing on action in her book The Human Condition. It will then continue with an exploration of Martin Heidegger's notion of the social power of things (in passages from What is a Thing and The Origin of the Work of Art) and Bruno Latour's ideas around the construction of a parliament of things (in passages from We Have Never Been Modern and Re-assembling the Social).

Back to back with these readings we will take a close look at the practices of a selection artists—I propose Lygia Clark, Helio Oiticica, Chris Reinecke, Franz Erhard Walther, George Maciunas and Adrian Piper—who, during the 1960s, started exploring human affairs and the magic/logic of relationality as their medium and, in this process, experimented both with the immaterial and with new sculptural approaches of using objects to foster, break or transform social relations.