Digital Culture Speaker Series: Drawing Close to the Dead: Why Dark Magic Still Matters
Bio: Gaymon Bennett is associate professor of religion, science and technology at ASU. He co-directs the Beyond Secularization project at ASU’s Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, and leads the Humane Technology initiative at ASU’s Institute for Humanities Research. His work focuses on how enchantment has become a problem for both science and religion: in shifting moral economies, contested power relations and uncertain modes of subjectivity. He is the author of "Technicians of Human Dignity: Bodies, Souls and the Making of Intrinsic Worth" and co-author of "Designing Human Practices: An Experiment with Synthetic Biology."
Abstract: In one of his more enigmatic but telling maxims, the philosopher of biology Georges Canguilhem insisted that for biologist and philosopher alike, “the thought of the living must take from the living the idea of the living.” It was telling, as Foucault insisted, because it was the pivot point on which his debate with Henri Bergson over vitalism —always silently in play — ultimately turned. Yet it was enigmatic because it was the dark riddle both Canguilhem and Bergson couldn’t quite let lie. For Canguilhem, the concept of the living always came first, because it was found in the living. The living was its own concept. For Bergson, it was the experience of the living that made conception (in both the biological and philosophical senses) possible at all. In this short talk, I would like to propose that the dark riddle that lay just beneath the surface for both vitalists was the figure of the dead, and that if life can speak its own concept it is only because it has a history, which is to say that it is itself an articulation of the dead. Such a proposition might seem a provocation suited only to the season, but in a moment when attempts to redesign life — especially under the sign of gene editing — have begun to stir a darker magic, it’s vital we recall how to draw close to the dead and hear what they might yet have to teach us.