International Conference Immunity and Modernity: Picturing Threat and Protection

International Conference
Immunity and Modernity: Picturing Threat and Protection
27-29 May 2015
Arts Faculty, Institute of Philosophy, KU Leuven, Belgium
Keynote speakers: Roberto Esposito (University of Naples), Bracha L. Ettinger (European Graduate School), Arne De Boever (California Insitute of the Arts), Johannes Türk (Indiana University Bloomington).
This conference is organized by the Department of Literary Studies, the Centre for Metaphysics, Philosophy of Religion and Philosophy of Culture and MDRN.
In the past decades, ‘immunity’ has become an increasingly important notion in the study of crucial features of modernity. Several influential theorists have adopted the term ‘immunity’ to describe the attempts, whether positive or problematic, of a community to protect itself from the displacing effects of modernity. Niklas Luhmann wrote that modern society became increasingly pervaded with immunity mechanisms. Donna Haraway and Ed Cohen have indicated the transmission of a legal and militaristic view on immunity to the individual and social body as the birth of modern biopolitics, while at the same time arguing for the necessity to rethink immunity as a shared process. Jacques Derrida has analyzed diverse phenomena, from sovereignty to democracy, in terms of autoimmunity, which is both a threat and a chance. Roberto Esposito theorizes the complex and sometimes (self-)destructive relationship between immunity and its etymological counterpart community. Peter Sloterdijk describes the spheres of shared interiority that people develop to protect themselves against a threatening ‘outside’.
The notion ‘immunity’ encompasses the diverse attempts that are made to draw a mark between self and other, communal and ‘foreign’, normal and pathological, order and disorder in times of crisis and anxiety about the coherence of the self and/or the community. Yet, theories of ‘immunity’ will also radically question the ways such divisions are marked and rendered operative. The aim of this conference is to clarify the diverse, and sometimes mutually conflicting, attempts to theorize the problem of ‘immunity’ and their possible relevance for the clarification of modernity as an ongoing project, as well as the tendency towards (self-)destructive excess that has always been a part of it. The way the arts (literature, architecture, visual arts…) have taken up the problem of immunity, from artists who have attempted to picture immunity mechanisms to artists who want to problematize the prevailing immunity discourses, will also be explored.
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