Materialism in German Philosophy – From Boehme to Sloterdijk and Beyond

In this seminar series we will discuss the history of materialism in German philosophy against the background of the contemporary revival of materialism in continental thought. Materialism will be conceptualised as a destabilising, transgressive and opposing motif in philosophy, a form of critical and enlightened thought that is directed against the ideological structure of all idealisms, including the attempt to silence materialism in much of 20th-century German philosophy by its reduction to a metaphysical doctrine. We will think about materialism’s far-reaching implications for the self-understanding of philosophy, for the theory of subjectivity, of agency, morality, embodiment, freedom, truth, space and time, nature and life, meaning and history.
The opposition between materialism and idealism is far from obsolete, and can also be used today to understand the renewed task of philosophy as the theory and practice of liberation. The seminar will also devote attention to the historical split between university philosophy and non-academic philosophy in German culture, a split that is closely aligned with that between idealisms and materialisms. Other topics will include: materialism and science; materialism and the dialectic of Enlightenment; materialism and Romantic philosophy of nature; dialectical materialism; historical materialism; materialism, individuation and existentialism; objective and subjective materialisms; materialism in aesthetics; materialism in critical theory and Freudo-Marxism; materialism and futurity; materialism, freedom and the absolute. Against the image of German philosophy as the source of modern idealism, there will emerge a clear line of materialist thought in German philosophy, from its beginnings at the end of the Middle Ages, to today: a strong undercurrent of radical thought about the real, uncanny nature of that most German of ideas: Geist. Read German philosophy as you have never read it before.
The seminar will be based on close reading and discussion.
Texts will include, among others, parts of the following:
Boehme, Aurora oder Morgenröte im Aufgang.
Leibniz, Monadologie
Schelling, fragments from System des Transzendentalen Idealismus and Naturphilosophie
Feuerbach, Grundsätze der Philosophie der Zukunft
Marx, Thesen über Feuerbach; Philosophisch-Ökonomische Manuskripte
Wagner, Das Kunstwerk der Zukunft
Nietzsche, Morgenröte
Horkheimer, Materialismus und Metaphysik; Traditionelle und Kritische Theorie
Bloch, Das Materialismusproblem: seine Geschichte und Substanz
Benjamin, Thesen über den Begriff der Geschichte
Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man
Adorno, Metaphysik: Begriff und Probleme; Meditationen zur Metaphysik
Sloterdijk, Der Denker auf der Bühne: Nietzsches Materialismus; Sphären.
Secondary literature (these texts are recommended reading in advance of the seminar; a full list will be provided at the beginning of the seminar):
Diana Coole and Samantha Frost (eds.), New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010
Margaret Wilson, ‘Leibniz and Materialism’, in Canadian Journal of Philosophy, vol. 3, No. 4 (1974), p. 495-513.
Catherine Moir, ‘The Education of Hope: On the dialectical potential of speculative materialism’, in Peter Thompson and Slavoj Žižek (eds.), The Privatisation of Hope: Ernst Bloch and the Future of Utopia. Durham: Duke University Press 2013 (this publication will be available at the beginning of semester two.)
Please register with the seminar leader in advance: johan.siebers@sas.ac.uk
June 2013

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