Genoa, Italy

The Animal (Nature/Science)

when 6 September 2018 - 11 September 2018
language English
duration 1 week

Established in 2013 and directed by Lorenzo Chiesa and Raffaello Palumbo Mosca, the Genoa School of Humanities (GSH) offers weekly series of seminars in English held by scholars of philosophy, literature, and other subjects, as well as by psychoanalysts, filmmakers, poets, and novelists.

In the 2018 Summer Seminars, we will focus on the animal in its close connection with nature in general and science as today’s hegemonic discourse. Our interdisciplinary approach will be from the standpoints of philosophy, psychoanalysis, poetry, literary criticism, and fine art.

Since its origins, Western philosophy has given great importance to the thresholds that would allegedly separate the non-rational life of the animal from both the political commonality of human beings as endowed with language and the life of plants as merely nutritive and reproductive. But the modern state, which was founded theoretically on the exclusion of a state of nature where “man is wolf to man”, has now been mostly reduced to the anarchic administration of the bare life of human animals increasingly deprived of basic rights (terrorists, migrants, precarious workers), if not surviving in a semi-vegetative condition (the terminally ill, so-called “lifers”). How do Agamben’s critique of biopolitics and Derrida’s investigations of the “animal that therefore we are” help us to clarify this predicament? Are the current weakening of the state and concurrent withering away of traditional sovereignty inevitably doomed to pave the way for an apocalyptic, and unprecedented, “war of all against all”?

The consolidation of Darwinism as a dominant scientific paradigm in turn problematised the natural divisions created by classical philosophy and Christian religion. On the one hand, evolutionary theory seems to have refuted anthropocentrism. On the other hand, it still widely relies on a genetic determinism that runs the risk of projecting onto animality a human-all-too-human model of competition and selection (the “survival of the fittest”). Can Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis contribute to elucidating this conundrum? Is human sexuality fundamentally different from animal sexuality? And, if we assume that the former revolves around the sexual difference between woman and man as symbolically constructed categories, how should we map this difference back onto the animal while avoiding both a sexist naturalisation of woman as unable “to attain the ideal” and a hysterical bestialisation of man as “predatory”?

The animal has always played a central role in literature, from Aesop’s fables to Kafka’s nightmares, Borges’s bestiaries, Montale’s ornithology, and Ted Hughes’ zoology. How do the more recent engagements of prominent novelists, including Ishiguro and Houellebecq, with the dystopian possibilities created by cloning complicate the already tenuous border between humans, animals, and plants? Can the writer emerge as the spokesperson for a renewed notion of pietas capable of tackling the ethical dilemmas of a highly advanced – and potentially uncontrollable – technological society, which more and more sees itself as post-human? Conversely, in what sense could one claim that, following the title of a well-known story by Henry James, the poet is himself a beast in the jungle of bodies and signs, whose savage identity awaits to be fully unfolded? Would it be possible to reverse this very identity, extended to the artist’s practice, into a “spiritual hunt”?

Course leader

Organised by Lorenzo Chiesa and Raffaello Palumbo Mosca

Course aim

The GSH provides a venue where young scholars can deepen their knowledge, not only by attending seminars, but also by actively discussing in an informal context their own research projects with highly qualified teachers and among themselves. One of the basic ideas of the GSH is that learning is enhanced by the suspension of formalisms, hierarchies, and the principle of authority that usually define traditional academic contexts. Each seminar day revolves around one or two presentations by an invited speaker and is enriched by roundtables, small study groups, and debates that are always attended by one or more seminar leaders. The exchange of knowledge and ideas is facilitated by the limited number of students (up to fifteen), and by the interdisciplinary nature of the seminars.

Speakers and seminar leaders at the GSH are leading international figures in their academic and extra-academic fields. They are based both in Italy and abroad. Participants are thus exposed to different cultures, teaching methods, and disciplinary perspectives. They are also enabled to establish new research networks and acquire practical information on how to access PhD and post-doctoral programmes. The GSH has welcomed students from several countries, including Italy, the UK, Russia, Iran, Israel, and the Ukraine.

Fee info

EUR 0: 6 days of seminars / 6 giorni di seminari: € 300

5 days of seminars / 5 giorni di seminari: € 250

4 days of seminars / 4 giorni di seminari: € 200

3 days of seminars / 3 giorni di seminari: € 150

2 days of seminars / 2 giorni di seminari: € 100