Conatus or Beyond Death Drive

Szymon Wróbel
(University of Warsaw, Polish Academy of Sciences)

Deleuze rightly discerns at least three ways of reading Spinoza’s central concept of conatus. First, conatus can be understood as a commitment to persevere in existing, sustaining life and circularity of being. This is a mechanical definition of conatus, which makes of it a tool of the death drive. From Hobbes to Freud, both philosophy of life and political philosophy were philosophies of self-preservation, i.e. sustaining life. Yet, paradoxically, these philosophies were becoming philosophies of death. In a second determination, the conatus is a pseudo-dialectic force opposing any disturbances and threats, and as such it negates, defends, avoids, wanders, cheats, and deceits. Hegel in his dialectic of master and servant gives perhaps the first outlook of this strange logic of deception and deferring death through deception, whereby life gets dispersed in a multitude of petty deaths and their simulations. Finally, in a third determination, the conatus is a dynamic force aimed at enhancing the power of understanding; as such it involves the freedom to react and create compositions (collectives). In this final determination conatus stands for reason, here understood as a power to select and organize. In my speech I will try to falsify Deleuze’s hypothesis according to which there is the possibility of deriving all three formulas of conatus from one affirmative concept of life. The key to this verification will be Spinoza’s thesis that affects-affections (affectus) are nothing other than its pseudo-figurations that arise when conatus is determined to do something in response to external stimulation (affectio) which is accidental to the body.

Szymon Wróbel is a professor of philosophy at the Faculty of “Artes Liberales” of the University of Warsaw and at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences. He is the author of numerous books and articles scattered in various scientific journals. His latest book in Polish, is Philosopher and Territory. The Politics of Ideas in the Thoughts of Leszek Kołakowski, Bronisław Baczko, Krzysztof Pomian and Marek J. Siemek, was published by the IFiS PAN Institute in 2016. Currently he leads the experimental Laboratory of Techno-Humanities at the Faculty of “Artes Liberales.”

Love Story in the Post-Digital Age

Aditi Vashistha
(University of Delhi)

This paper explores love stories in the post digital age through a comparative study of love story of two different times, while focusing on the separation of selves. First is “Meghadutam” by Kalidasa in 375CE. Second is an episode “Striking Vipers” from dystopic TV series “Black Mirror”. While former is only a separation of space, the latter, because of digital communication, is a separation in temporality. Dystopic literature today trangresses1 the limitation of space that existed in literature earlier. Separation in love, and the desire to be with the lover are two intimate parts of a love story. Desire, while forming itself through phantasm creates its own life-world. Separation and the desire to be with the lover creates memories. In Kalidasa’s Meghdutam, space works as a boundary that defines separation. It is limit of movement and communication. Meghadutam is a love poem where Yaksha4 is on a lonely mountain peak, desperate to be with his beloved, he asks the cloud to deliver a message to her in the Himalayan city of Alaka. It describes mountains, trees, oceans, and rivers in the space between them. Only the territorial distance is significant, and not the time because Yaksha is completely absorbed in her memory. Striking Vipers is a story of two individuals who met online where they developed a virtual sexual relationship, and their virtual characters developed emotional intimacy. One of them was single while the other had a married life which started getting affected by this online relationship. Here, separation can be understood not in the terms of space but in the terms of time. The post-digital age has opened up a new dimension of existence. Where self exists at multiple levels simultaneously. This renews the question of existence. The self that exists at multiple levels is living multiple lives also.

Aditi Vashistha is an M.Phil student in Department of Political Science, University of Delhi. Her work is around the interactions of literature and Political Science. Her specialisation is in Indian regional literature. 


Tom Tyler
(University of Leeds)

Videogames offer diverse affective experiences, from the pain that comes with getting stuck or failing altogether to the pleasures of progression and ultimate success.  The vicissitudes of play are a vital part of the videogame experience: the game that is consistently too easy soon becomes boring, whilst the game that is too hard inevitably becomes frustrating.  One way in which designers have attempted to sustain an appropriate degree of challenge for the diverse players who would engage with their game, is to provide a means of adjusting the difficulty of the tasks and trials it presents. In this presentation, I want to reflect on the figure of the videogame player, particularly the ordinary or typical player, whom we might call the “everyplayer.”  I will take as a starting point the influential first-person shooter Half-Life 2 (Valve Corporation, 2004), set in a dystopian future populated by nightmarish monsters and ruled over by a technologically advanced alien power.  I will consider Gordon Freeman, a member of the human resistance and so-called everyman hero of the game, with whom players are invited to identify.  I will look, at the same time, at the three difficulty settings that players are offered by the game: Easy, Normal and Hard.  Drawing on the work of games scholar Espen Aarseth, I will examine the ways in which any given videogame sets expectations of its players, and indeed inescapably implies a particular kind of player who is eligible to take part.  We will find that the myth of the ordinary or typical player is a pernicious illusion and, further, that the player of videogames need not even be human.

Tom Tyler is a Lecturer in Digital Culture at the University of Leeds, UK.  He has published widely on animals and anthropocentrism within the history of ideas, critical theory, and popular culture.  He is the author of CIFERAE: A Bestiary in Five Fingers (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012), co-editor of Animal Encounters (Leiden: Brill, 2009), and editor of Animal Beings (Parallax #38, 12.1, 2006).

Affect and Power in Post-Digital Culture: Reserved’s Marketing Campaign in Posthegemonic Perspective

Artur Szarecki
(University of Warsaw)

On the 17th of March 2017, an American girl, who introduced herself as DeeDee, asked the viewers of her YouTube channel to help her find a boy whom she met at a concert in Poland, but lost contact with. Within a couple of days the video was viewed over 2 million times and widely shared on social media sites. Soon, however, it was revealed that the potential love story is, in fact, a part of a marketing ploy for a clothing brand, Reserved. This caused a strong backlash, as many people accused the company of emotional manipulation in pursuit of profit. Consequently, the campaign was framed in the media in terms of a counter-hegemonic struggle, positing the emergence of a unified public voice that challenged corporate power. However, analyzing over one thousand comments about the video posted on Facebook before the scandal broke, I will attempt to demonstrate that the range of responses to the campaign was, in fact, much more diversified, encompassing a multiplicity of immediate orientations and feelings that were subsequently curtailed in media accounts. To explain these discrepancies, I will frame the campaign in terms of a viral event designed to harness social media’s capacities to pass on and reinforce affect. As such, it exemplifies how media power in contemporary societies becomes increasingly posthegemonic, operating not via discursive capture, but by designing networks of intensive connections that continuously feed on themselves, habituating the multitude to the non-linear dynamics of the post-digital cultural environment.

Artur Szarecki is a cultural theorist and music journalist from Poland. He received a PhD in cultural studies at the University of Warsaw in 2013. Since then he has been conducting research in the field of popular music studies, as a principal investigator in two NCN-funded research projects: Popular Music and Post-Hegemonic Politics (2015-2018) and Musicking Assemblages: Popular Music and New Materialism (2019-2022). Concurrently, he has been investigating vernacular practices online, as part of a NPRH-funded international research project: Polish Vernacular Culture in Comparative Perspective: Memory – Imagination – Resistance (2014-2019). 


Phrasing Affects in the Age of Impossible Mourning

Piotr Schollenberger
(University of Warsaw)

Current discussion concerning the role of affects in constitution (or dissolution) of subjectivity, their impact on language and the affective dimension of art, astonishingly omits the name of Jean-François Lyotard and his theory of „affect phrases” which follows from his The Differend. Lyotard’s „phrase-affect” is by no means a „sentence” (there is no presumed syntagmatic or paradigmatic order of affects, neither they are subsumed to symbolic order). „Phrase-affect” is rather the very occurring of utterance, it is an „expression” in which something „arrives”, „happens”, makes itself present. Lyotard shows that affect slips away from representation and symbolic exchange. It is an unarticulated background of articulated speech. Just like meaningful silence can affect speaking subject with various qualitative tones1. According to such view, the affect is a pure presence which cannot be re-presented, that is: it cannot find unreservedly its reflection within the linguistic order. The remnants of the affect summon us to constantly „work through” (durcharbeiten) what has been felt within what is to be said. As we can easily see, this task is similar to the work of mourning. Jean Laplanche suggestively remarks: mourning is a Penelope’s work of unweaving so that the new fabric can be woven. Mourning, as much as the sense of loss, accentuates the struggle to begin anew. Lyotard used to say: „It’s simple: mourning says ‘The other has left me. Long live me’. Melancholia says ‘The other has left me. I’m poor wretch’”. Preparing the exhibition „Les Immateriaux” in 1984, Lyotard was one of the first philosophers who recognized the impact of digital media on art and sensuous experience. Writing a response to the text proposed for the exhibition by Jacques Derrida, Lyotard announced that in the future, governed by immaterializing technologies „There will be no mourning” („Il n’y aura pas de deuil”). The work of mourning is stated to be impossible because in the world where everything is digitally preserved there is no sense of loss, hence, the mourning becomes impossible. Or maybe the opposite is true: everything is already lost and we are living through our internalized loss in digital melancholy? „But can a sentiment be simulated for itself, and not in its sign?”, asks Derrida.  I will focus on the relationship between the affect and the mourning, the importance of loss and of (impossible) carrying on with reference to Lyotard, Derrida and their discussion, as well as to Jean Laplanche, Andre Green and Sarah Kofman.

Piotr Schollenberger holds a PhD in philosophy and works at the Department of Aesthetics, Institute of Philosophy, University of Warsaw. His research interests include phenomenology, phenomenological aesthetics, philosophy of art, and modern art theory. He recently published the monograph: Jednostkowość i wydarzenie. Studia z estetyki Lyotarda (Singularity and Event. Studies in Lyotard’s Aesthetics, Wydawnictwo Naukowe Semper, Warszawa 2019) and is the author of Granice poznania doświadczenia estetycznego (The Limits of Cognition of the Aesthetics Experience, Wydawnictwo Naukowe Semper, Warszawa 2014), he also co-edited a collection of essays on contemporary French phenomenological aesthetics: Fenomen i przedstawienie. Francuska estetyka fenomenologiczna. Założenia/zastosowania/konteksty (Phenomenon and Representation. French Phenomenological Aesthetics. Assumptions/Applications/Contexts, IFiS PAN, Warszawa 2012), and the book on Kant’s aesthetics: Aktulaność estetyki Kanta (Actuality of Kant’s Aesthetics, Wydawnictwo Naukowe UMK, Toruń, 2016). He also translated (with Monika Murawska) Jean-François Lyotard’s Que peindre? Adami, Arakwa, Buren (Co malować? Adami, Arakwa, Buren, Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN, Warszawa 2015). 

Affect Trapped: On Algorithmic (Ir)Rationality

Denis Petrina
(Lithuanian Culture Research Institute)

In 1992, Gilles Deleuze established a frame to analyze new taxonomies of power, based less on a disciplinary power (associated with the power of sovereign) than “free floating” control. Technologically, this novel society of control breaks from sovereign societies that mainly relied on simple machines, employing with much more complex machines – computers. Viewed from a Marxist perspective, given that means of production (machines) are tools reinforcing a regime of power, these new complex machines Deleuze speaks of require a more nuanced and critical analysis of the nexus between power and its techne – tools. Yet, these are to be scrutinized not merely as a certain sociopolitical reconfiguration (not as a shift towards networked society and its potential political implications), but, indeed, as a biopolitical one – as a new regime that targets, governs, and controls subjects, their minds and bodies, and, most importantly, their affects. This presentation will focus on the relation of the former to algorithms – the operational principle of the aforementioned machines. More precisely, I will discuss how affects are captured and transformed in the digital environment through the means of what we, after Eugene Thacker, might conceptualize as “biomedia”. What I call in my paper “algorithmic (ir)rationality” is a two-fold phenomenon, as, on the one hand, it represents “cold rationality” of the machinic algorithm, and, on the other, it gestures towards what Patricia Clough calls the “user unconscious” – enabled by the machines affective modulations that exploit users (subjects, dividuals) yet remain opaque to them. In this regard, I am going to examine (a) a biopolitical framing of algorithm-driven media (through the lens of Foucauldian account of the apparatus of security), (b) algorithms as power mechanisms, (c) instances of algorithmic (ir)rationality illustrating the modus operandi of biopower, and, finally, (d) potential (political) scenarios of subversion of operating digitally biopower.

Denis Petrina is a PhD student at the Department of Contemporary Philosophy (Lithuanian Culture Research Institute), writing a dissertation on philosophical interpretations of affect and its political implications. His research mainly focuses on biopolitics, theories of subjectivity & sexuality, and media studies. 


From Complex to Affective Biology

Adam J. Nocek
(Philosophy of Technology and Science and Technology Studies School of Arts, Media + Engineering Affiliate Faculty, The Design School Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts Honors Faculty, The Barrett Honors College  Arizona State University)

The work of Conrad Hal Waddington (1905-1975) is foundational for contemporary theoretical biology. Not only did Waddington coin the term epigenetics, an area of research that has proven to be a game changer for the contemporary biosciences, but he is also citied as one of the early promoters of complex systems biology, a paradigm that now dominates the theoretical culture of biology. Despite the central role that Waddington played in the formation of contemporary theoretical biology, his debt to the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) is almost never mentioned in the scientific literature, despite the fact that Waddington himself attributes the development of his groundbreaking work in epigenetics to Whitehead’s metaphysics. And while this little recognized genealogy of theoretical biology (from Whitehead to Waddington) has gained modest traction in the history of science and process philosophy, it has been all but eclipsed from the dominant discourse of theoretical biology. This talk examines how both formulations of Waddington’s legacy reveal a much deeper set of commitments to and assumptions about the affective dimensions of biological systems. In particular, the lecture demonstrates how the onto-epistemological framework that complex systems biology  (and the computational biosciences more generally) presupposes cannot accommodate the affective culture of interstices that Whitehead-Waddington make possible.

Adam Nocek is an assistant professor in the philosophy of technology and science and technology studies in the School of Arts, Media, and Engineering and the Design School at Arizona State University (ASU). He is also the founding director of the Center for Philosophical Technologies at ASU. Nocek has published widely on the philosophy of media and science, speculative philosophy (especially Whitehead), design philosophy, and on critical and speculative theories of computational media. Nocek is the co-editor of The Lure of Whitehead and has just completed a manuscript titled, Molecular Capture: Biology, Animation, and Governance. Nocek is currently working on two book projects: the first project addresses computational governance and the emergence of new regimes of design expertise, and the second project reimagines the role of mythology within speculative design philosophy. Nocek is also a visiting researcher at the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Study and is The Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) Visiting Professor.


Mindfulness and Emotional Capital

Ulrike Nennstiel
(Hokusei Gakuen University, Sapporo)

While for a certain period, digital and technical developments seemed to be opposed to and to oppress affects and emotions, in our postdigital age this tendency can hardly be asserted (any more?). Postdigital technical innovations like emotionally reacting robots in restaurants and care work have earned immense popularity (at least in some countries), innovations for experiences of high affectivity in the pleasure industry ceaselessly try to surpass and outperform all earlier inventions, and anxiety is provoked and amplified in order to be effectively used to establish the necessity of investing in “risk management”. Against this background of capitalizing affects and emotions, I want to concentrate on the comparatively new movement drawing attention to “mindfulness”, focussing on one’s inner mental state and emotional sensitivities. On the surface, this movement looks as if opposed to the incessant demand for uproarious experiences, be it in sports, tourism or entertaining TV programs. Analysing concrete features of this reverse towards tranquillity, however, it turns out to be serving as a new market attracting people fed up with the speedy lifestyle. At the same time, this tendency does not only represent an emerging market for affects and intense emotional experiences. Comprehensive awareness and control of one’s affects and emotions has become crucial in optimizing oneself, one’s status and one’s chances in the postdigital age. In this sense, mindfulness can be considered a new form of capital, with its (alleged) ability to “understand emotionally”, surpassing the boundaries and limits of cultural capital.

Ulrike Nennstiel is Professor at the Department of Social Welfare, Hokusei Gakuen University, Sapporo. She is the author of, among others, Widerstandslos in Japan? Sozialwissenschaftliche Theorien und ihr Beitrag zur Erklärung des Scheiterns von Bürgerbewegungen (Iudicium Verlag 1998).

Content creation, post-truth age and the power of persuasion

Aditya Nayak
(Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)

With the expanding domain of social media, we have entered the age of excess of content. Be it texts, images, videos, or memes. All forms of expression and communication have attained a capacity to reproduce itself at such a speed in the digital medium that it has destabilized the meanings held by such forms of communication. The medium of communication has attained more power to produce affects than the content itself. The subject of enquiry in this paper is what becomes of truth in the post-digital age where techne is mobilized to produce affects and appeal to the eros pervading in the spirit of the communitas? The paper argues that the post-truth age is a product of the time of ‘emotional capitalism’ marked by content (commodity) consumption where the consumer is also the producer of the commodity. In this self-production, a producer attains more power to produce affects by the capacity to keep consumers on social media for a longer span of time. How can progressive politics transform its form of communication, or techne, for the post-truth age? Referring to Aristotle’s work on Rhetoric, this paper argues that the post-digital mediums of communication have altered logos or the way in which logic is produced. However, ethos, and pathos still remain as a craftsmanship of persuasion. Progressive politics is failing to adapt to digital medium of communication because while the forces of empire use techne to mobilize the rhetorical element of pathos to appeal to eros of the multitude, progressive politics has restricted itself to logic and dialectic while trying to combine it with only ethos and ignoring other elements of rhetoric. Thus, the progressive politics appeals to Thanatos instead of Eros.

Aditya Nayak is an M.Phil. Research scholar at the Centre for Comparative Politics and Political Theory, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi, India. The author is a member of the International Society of Artificial Intelligence Humanities with the “Artificial Intelligence Humanities” research project of Humanities Korea and Chung-Ang University, Humanities Research Institute, Seoul, South Korea. His research interests include philosophy of Artificial Intelligence, philosophy of mind & cognition, semantics, and political philosophy.

Technology and affect: some notes on contemporary films

Ewa Mazierska
(University of Central Lancashire)

In my paper I will look at a number of films which take issue with new communication devices and software (video cameras, e-mails, mobile phones, text messages, computer operating systems, video games), asking how they influence human ability to express affection and sustain an authentic relationship. I am also interested in how the representation of communication technologies have changed since the 1980s (the decade of video) to the current day (the time of social media and apps).  For this purpose, I will compare the 1980s films of Armenian Canadian director Atom Egoyan, who belonged then to a small group of filmmakers who examined the lives of people who were excessive users of modern technologies of communication and representation, principally video-cameras, as in Family Viewing (1987) and Calendar (1993) with the films dealing with digital technologies, such as Samotność w sieci (Loneliness in the Net, 2006), dir. Wiktor Adamek, Perfetti sconosciuti (Perfect Strangers, 2016) directed by Paolo Genovese and Her (2013), directed by Spike Jonze. I argue that these films point to a shift in human communication, from immediate, personal contact to contact which is mediated by technology and finally becomes a contact with technology itself (operating system). The tone of the films changes too – from mourning the loss of direct contact, which dominated pre-industrial societies and still can be found in less developed, peripheral countries in Egoyan’s films to accepting the status quo as inevitable or even suggesting that the shift is advantageous to human emotional well-being. The only issue is about improving technology so it responds better to human needs for affective and social life. 

Ewa Mazierska is Professor of Film Studies, at the University of Central Lancashire. She published over twenty monographs and edited collections on film and popular music. They include Contemporary Cinema and Neoliberal Ideology (Routledge, 2018), with Lars Kristensen, Poland Daily: Economy, Work, Consumption and Social Class in Polish Cinema (Berghahn, 2017), Popular Music in Eastern Europe: Breaking the Cold War Paradigm (Palgrave, 2016), Marxism and Film Activism (Berghahn, 2015), with Lars Kristensen, Relocating Popular Music (Palgrave, 2015), with Georgina Gregory, From Self- Fulfillment to Survival of the Fittest: Work in European Cinema from the 1960s to the Present (Berghahn, 2015) and European Cinema and Intertextuality: History, Memory, Politics (Palgrave, 2011). Mazierska’s work was translated into many languages, including French, Italian, German, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, Estonian and Serbian. She is principal editor of a Routledge journal, Studies in Eastern European Cinema.