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UNRECONCILED by Jan Verwoert, 6 credits (scroll down to see list of participants)

October 2019 - June 2020

Critical philosophies of difference and embodiment complicate the use of both these terms. They confront structures of oppression enforced through violent discrimination, and/or insipid inclusions. Some treat you as 'other', some force you to be the 'same'. It hardly makes any difference. Both terms in the equation are born from the selfsame logic (logic of the selfsame) which indiscriminately imposes its standards of otherness and identity onto the world. Difference doesn't actually come to figure: what lived experience it may testify to, and what powers may reside in it, is denied and distorted beyond recognition by divise acts of setting one apart from the other, under the sign of sexism, racism, xeno- and homophobia… How to articulate difference in a key that breaks (with) the logic of discrimination? Unreconciled practices of embodiment don't resign themselves to filling slots on the given menu of alternatives by playing 'other' to the 'selfsame'. They tap powers that elude distinctions between this and that: an excess or collapse of signs and flesh, of artifice and life, of make-up and making do, of meanings, forces and forms of life which surpass or undercut established norms of discrimination, and expand realities. The challenge difference poses to thought is to invoke in a manner that doesn't fall for false promises of reconciliation, but sustains the tension which inheres to what is neither this nor that.

The seminar will seek to unfold a series of genealogies which may render tangible how notions of difference and embodiment have been cracked open and interlaced, philosophically, artistically, existentially, and politically. The seminar is structured in three parts, each of which chooses a potentially formative moment in history as a port of entry to our inquiries.


The educational aim of the course lies in exercising skills of close reading and developing the patience and persistence required for reconstructing complex bodies of thought. Thereby we seek to access an influential tradition of thought and grasp the manner in which different thinkers shape their philosophies by performing variations on premises and key motifs which they share with other thinkers, yet interpret in significantly different ways. In this sense, a goal of the seminar is to reach an understanding of philosophy as an ongoing conversation, so as to acquire the means of joining and continuing this exchange. Consider it a case of call and response: to render the call of a thought audible, we may first need to listen closely, amplify its nuances and voice its implications. Once we hear, we need to respond, and experience the resonances layered thoughts produce, by riffing on them, with precision, answering to philosophical provocations with a freedom born from antagonism as much as attunement.

REQUIREMENTS FOR OBTAINING CREDITS Continuous attendance, presence of mind, lively participation, shared enjoyment of layered abstractions.

READING, LISTENING AND VIEWING MATERIAL Irene Gammel: Baroness Elsa — Gender, Dada, and Everyday Modernity, a Cultural Biography, MIT Press, Cambridge Massachusetts & London England, 2003.

Djuna Barnes: Nightwood. Faber and Faber, London, 2001.

Djuna Barnes: The Book of Repulsive Women and other poems. Fyfield Books, Manchester 2003.

Jacques Derrida: Différance. In Jacques Derrida: Margins of Philosophy, Harvester Press, Brighton, 1982, pp. 1-28.

Luce Irigaray: The Sex which is Not One, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, 1985.

Luce Irigaray: Speculum of the Other Woman, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, 1985.

Gilles Deleuze: Difference and Repetition. Columbia University Press, New York, 1994.

Hortense J Spillers: Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: an American Grammar Book. In: Diacritics, Vol. 17, No. 2, Culture and Countermemory: The American Connection (Summer 1987), pp. 64-81.

Alexander G. Weheliye: Habeas Viscus — Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics, and Black Feminist Theories of the Human; Duke University Press, Durham and London, 2014.

SCHEDULE Port 1 OCTOBER - DECEMBER Blood, sweat and artifice; life, art and excessive body-text-objects; The Baroness Elsa, Djuna Barnes, Jacque Derrida.

The first port of entry is marked by the life and work of two mothers of modernism, as it played itself out in New York and Paris: 'The Baroness' Elsa von Freytag Loringhoven (poet, performer, phenomenon, sculptor, dada personified) and Djuna Barnes, radical artists in their own right, friends at one point. Both put their bodies at stake, in a performance of art, poetry and literature, that exploded binaries, between gender stereotypes as much as between life and art. They set the tone for the seminar, in the sense that neither of them is a particularly conciliatory figure. Their ways of messing with the difference between existence and artifice led to oeuvres and biographies that not only challenge the canon of modern art as it's commonly taught, they remain unreconciled: Rather than ask for a rephrasing of the protocols for canonisation, their practices demand for a rupture to be held open, and thought through, on its own terms. If there is an ethos implicit to the deconstructive philosophies the seminar studies, it might lie in the need to keep the gaps open from which displacements spawn embodiments surpassing and undercutting imposed norms of difference and/as identity.

As is becoming increasingly clear now, the life and work of the Baroness is inseperable from the entry of the ready-made into the discourse of modern art. Her practice of clothing herself in garments made from assorted bathroom appliances, and use of plumbing metaphors for erotic purposes, most likely laid the ground for the appearance of the infamous urinal. Her and Duchamp being lovers not only resulted in the series of photographs that saw them posing together in drag (in her clothes) for Man Ray (launching Duchamp's alias Rrose Sélavy), but also led to two sister pieces being put forward in 1917, the upturned urinal (Fountain), and a knotted pipe-trap (God), a twisted vaginal and phallic shape, the first to be authorised by him, the second by her. Quite literally though, it seems she gave the thing to him. What body did the Baroness enter into public circulation in the guise of the ready-made? Anonymous sexual organs? Unattached porcelain and metal genitals to be exchanged as gifts? Or existential signifiers of twisted relations? As little as a throw-away joke? Or as much as all a creature can give? A sur-plus, less than a body, too much of a signifying organ…

Not only did The Baroness and Djuna Barnes later become involved, there is a strong resonance between the form of existential camp The Baroness advanced and the way Barnes in her pivotal novel Nightwood twists the relation between art and life, artifice and embodiment in a manner that exceeds and undercuts simple binaries. On the face of it, the novel may be read as a slash-your-wrist type queer break-up tale, in which an entire personage of Parisian Left Bank characters becomes transposed into larger-than-life versions of themselves, not least because key voices in the book speak with a tone and vocabulary taken from Milton's Paradise Lost. Not unlike Kathy Acker, Barnes amplifies intensities of life by channeling them trough ostentatious artifice. The result is an incredible displacement, in which language bursts open and defracts realities like a shattered disco-ball. A pivotal figure in the novel—who practically embodies the role of a second narrator of the story within the story, competing with the voice of Barnes' alter ego— is an Irish fake gynaecologist transvestite public drunk commentator of everyone's fate speaking in magnificently riddled anachronistical English, like a queered Joyce or sick doctor straight out of the commedia dell'arte. Semiotically, physically, and glamouristically the sick doctor disseminates difference, in that nothing he says or does is ever at one with itself, but this is precisely why, as a fractured assemblage, his discourse yields perverse wisdom.

Like Barnes, Jacques Derrida embraces the ongoing displacement of semiosis through 'differing (différance)': the inherent motion of semiotic shifters, and language in so many ways becoming bodily. Here we cross over from poetry, performance, and literary forms of excessive embodiment into the field of a philosophy (at times referred to as 'deconstruction'), which, from the 1970s onwards seeks to voice difference in a key that undercuts and supersedes oppressive regimes of imposed distinctions. In many ways the keys developed by Derrida among other associated thinkers are the arms that many thinkers in the fields of queer, feminist, postcolonial, and black studies thereafter took up.

Port 2 JANUARY-MARCH Embody what dwells in difference, concealed in distinctions, revealed in material experience: Luce Irigaray & Gilles Deleuze

We will closely study Luce Irigaray to see how she dismantles psychoanalysis as a discourse articulating sexual difference in an oppressive patriarchal key, and how she, in a feminist key, opens pursuit of ways to testify to forms of embodied desire undercutting and superseding the false alternatives imposed by the dominant order preached by psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. Not unlike Derrida, Irigaray localises the seat of oppression in a symbolic matrix, or semiotic structure, which, by imposing its concepts of otherness on gendered experience, distorts and occludes what potential may reside in difference. In unmaking this matrix, Irigaray seeks to gesture towards the possibility of the feminine AS difference, as "The sex which is not one". Contrary to Irigaray and Derrida, Deleuze attempts to sidestep the challenge of theorising difference/embodiment primarily through symbolic matrices. From a holistic materialist (Spinozist) point of view, he develops ideas around the concatenation and displacement of singularities along lines of flight, in terms of embodied intensities playing across assemblages and rythms of difference and repetition.

Port 3 APRIL - JUNE Difference is no exception! Refusal, in the flesh, as a constant state of life under conditions of oppression. Hortense J. Spillers & Alexander G. Weheliye.

The third section is centered around the work of contemporary philosopher and critic, Alexander G. Weheliye. In his book "Habeas Viscus - Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics, and Black Feminist Theories of the Human." he launches a powerful critique against forms of philosophy which address difference in the key of the "exception", even and especially when the experience and embodiment of difference is portrayed (in more or less romanticised terms) as a form of deviance, subversion or life on the edge. He points out that, conditions of racial oppression and enslavement create cruel conditions of normality which make violence, and the need for survival persist on a level of collectivity and constancy that can hardly be grasped in a vocabulary focussed on individual performances. To this end Weheliye dismantles Giorgio Agamben's concept of 'bare life' as life in the state of exception. In dialogue with Deleuze and Hortense Spillers, he instead develops the notion of 'enfleshment' to evoke conditions of persistent embodiment of difference, to address the world-changing violence of enslavement, and pertinent forces of racism. The final third section will be an ongoing back-and-forth between Weheliye and Hortense Spillers, their texts being read side by side, so as to create the experience of how philosophy emerges as a form of layered abstraction, in the close interplay between thinkers.


> > Next to your name add (credit) if you are officially taking this thematic project for credits.


  • Junghun Kim
  • Aimilia Efthymiou
  • Dagmar Bosma
  • Steven Maybury - credit
  • Halla Einarsdóttir - credit
  • Pascale de Graaf
  • Diana AL Halabi - credit
  • Linus Bonduelle - credit


  • Antonia Brown
  • Annabelle Binnerts
  • Peter Horneland > credit
  • Olga Hohmann > credit
  • Christine Ayo