About

BIOCRITICISM

This seminar series explores relations between the life sciences, critical theory, contemporary literature and visual arts. The proposed scope of biocriticism is:

  • critical examination of contemporary artistic engagement with biological images, discourse and practices
  • critical theory currently engaging with the concepts and discourse of the life sciences
  • art as a space which engages critically with biological theory, technology and rhetoric

For information and links, contact liliane.campos@sorbonne-nouvelle.fr.

BioCriticism is organised by Liliane Campos with the support of PRISMES EA4398 and the Institut Universitaire de France

SEMINAR PRESENTATION

The late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries have seen rapid transformations in biological knowledge and biotechnology, affecting our conceptions of life, self, environment, immunity and community. Postgenomics and microbiology are rewriting development and evolution as collective affairs. The human self must now contend with many others within, microscopic partners that have been our symbionts and vital collaborators throughout our evolution. While biomedicine and bioengineering open up new paths for therapy and sustainable development, we are increasingly conscious of anthropogenic damage to the earth’s habitats and biodiversity, and of the vulnerability of our biosphere. Our new biological awareness is shaped, and stimulated, by a sense of crisis.

The rise of bio-art has been one response to this changing awareness, producing works that are “part critique, part irony, and sometimes part hard science” (Anker). But the turn to the life sciences is a broader trend, as visual artists, performers and writers are increasingly engaging with the ideas and images of contemporary biology. BioCriticism examines these artistic and theoretical engagements with new biological perspectives. How do artists explore symbiosis, post-genomics, or feedback loops between different scales of the biosphere? How do artworks and theoretical texts shift our perspective towards new points of view or “points of life” (Coccia)? What new aesthetic trends are emerging?  Do they redistribute agency towards nonhuman life, or collaborative associations? Do they succeed in questioning our habitual frames of thought? And what critical role might they play in our relation to scientific discourse and practice?

To understand these shifts, biocriticism benefits from a wealth of recent critical engagements with biological concepts across the humanities, including current interdisciplinary work on the idea of “biohumanities” (Séginger, Stotz and Griffith). In the arts, critics and curators are developing new terminologies to tackle “biocreativity” as it spreads through different practices, where bio-art resembles and sometimes merges with bio-design and architecture (Terranova and Tromble, Brayer and Zeitoun). In philosophy, immunology plays a central role in contemporary reflections on relations between individuals and communities, in reassessments of space (Sloterdijk) and of our conceptions of the body politic (Neyrat, Esposito). Postgenomic science, neurobiology and microbiomics are inspiring new philosophical approaches to concepts of identity and the self (Malabou), definitions of legal right-holders (Bapteste, Aidan et al.), and anthropological readings of sociality and citizenship (Rabinow, Rose and Novas, Heath et. al). From an economic point of view, “biovalue” and “biocapital” are developing, debated concepts (Rose, Birch and Tyfield). In the environmental humanities, microbiology has stimulated the emergence of new ecocritical concepts (Haraway), reformulations of ecopolitics (Aït-Touati and Latour), and explorations of the new directions that biopolitics might take.

Across these disciplines, researchers are outlining an emergent symbiopolitics, problematizing the “densely political relations among many entangled things… coexisting, incorporating, and mixing with one another” (Helmreich). In the midst of our ecological emergencies, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus the need for new biopolitical work, including analysis that would place “the evolving symbolic and material rhetorics of germs, disease, and contagion… in broader conversation with politics, security, and culture” (Keränen). These conversations are taking place today not only in theoretical fields: they arise in new forms when art and literature engage with the body politic (Bernard), and with the images and discourse of biology (Campos and Patoine).

The BioCriticism seminar welcomes overlap and conversation with ecocriticism, neurohumanities, medical humanities and environmental humanities, and hopes to foster interactions between scholars of the arts, the humanities and the natural sciences. Meetings alternate between academic presentations and informal sessions discussing recent artistic work and research.

Works cited

Anker, Suzanne, “Foreword”, in William Myers, ed., Bio Art: Altered Realities, Thames & Hudson, 2015, p. 6.

Aït-Touati, Frédérique and Bruno Latour, Trilogie Terrestre, Editions B42, 2022.

Bapteste, E., P. Gérard, C. Larose, M. Blouin, F. Not, L. Campos, G. Aidan, et al., “The Epistemic Revolution Induced by Microbiome Studies: An Interdisciplinary View”, Biology 2021, 10(7), 651.

Bernard, Catherine, Matière à réflexion : Du corps politique dans la littérature et les arts visuels britanniques contemporains, Paris : Presses de l’Université Paris-Sorbonne, 2018.

Bernard, Catherine, “Vibrant Allegories: Questioning Immunity with Ali Smith’s Seasonal Quartet (2016–2020)”, Études anglaises, 2022/1 Vol. 75, 13-29

Birch, Kean and David Tyfield, “Theorizing the Bioeconomy: Biovalue, Biocapital, Bioeconomics or… What?”, Science, Technology, & Human Values, Vol. 38, No. 3 (May 2013), pp. 299-327

Brayer, Marie-Ange and Olivier Zeitoun, eds, La Fabrique du Vivant : Mutations, Créations, Paris : éditions du Centre Pompidou, 2019

Campos, Liliane and Pierre-Louis Patoine, eds, Life, Re-Scaled: The Biological imagination in Twenty-First-Century Literature and Performance, Open Book Publishers, 2022. https://www.openbookpublishers.com/books/10.11647/obp.0303

Coccia, Emmanuele, The Life of Plants: A Metaphysics of Mixture, Polity, 2018.

Esposito, Roberto, Immunitas. The Protection and Negation of Life. 2002. Trans. Zakiya Hanafi. Cambridge: Polity, 2011.

Haraway, Donna J., Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene, Duke UP, 2016.

Heath, Deborah, Rayna Rapp, and Karen-Sue Taussig, “Genetic citizenship”, in A companion to the anthropology of politics, edited by David Nugent and Joan Vincent, 152–167. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007.

Helmreich, Stefan, “Homo microbis: The Human Microbiome, Figural, Literal, Political”, January 2014, Thresholds42:52-59, p. 56.

Keränen, Lisa, “Addressing the Epidemic of Epidemics: Germs, Security, and a Call for Biocriticism”, Quarterly Journal of Speech 97.2 (2011): 224-244

Malabou, Catherine, Métamorphoses de l‘intelligence, Paris, PUF, 2018

Malabou, Catherine, Les Nouveaux Blessés. De Freud à la neurologie, penser les traumatismes contemporains, Paris, Bayard, 2007

Malabou, Catherine, “One Life Only: Biological Resistance, Political Resistance,” Critical Inquiry 42.3 3 (2016), 429-438

Neyrat, Frédéric, “Intact.” Trans Roxanne Lapidus. SubStance 40.3 (2011): 105–14.

Rabinow, Paul, Artificiality and enlightenment: From sociobiology to biosociality. In Essays on the anthropology of reason. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 1996.

Rose, Nikolas, The politics of life itself: Biomedicine, power, and subjectivity in the twenty-first century. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 2007.

Rose, Nikolas, and Carlos Novas, “Biological citizenship”, in Global assemblages: Technology, politics and ethics as anthropological problems. Edited by Aihwa Ong and Stephen Collier, 439–463. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005.

Séginger, Gisèle, “Biohumanities” webpage, https://www.fmsh.fr/fr/projets-soutenus/biohumanities.

Sloterdijk, Peter, Foams. Spheres III: Plural Spherology, Translated by Wieland Hoban, MIT Press, 2016.

Stotz, Karola and Paul E. Griffiths, “Biohumanities: Rethinking the relationship between

biosciences, philosophy and history of science, and society”, The Quarterly Review of Biology, Vol. 83, No. 1 (March 2008), pp. 37-45 

Terranova, Charissa N. and Meredith Tromble, eds., The Routledge Companion to Biology in Art and Architecture, London: Routledge, 2016

 

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