Graduate seminar: Life Itself

Engl 226/F&M 252 | UC Santa Barbara | Fall 2009

UC system-wide strike:

Posted by Allison Schifani on November 17, 2009

For additional information on the strike (which begins November 18th) please see this link:


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Friday seminar as planned

Posted by rraley on November 17, 2009

Great news — we will meet on Friday from 12-2 as planned. Reading is the “Nano/splatter” section of Colin Milburn’s book, Nanovision: Engineering the Future.

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Deleuze on immanence

Posted by vashkor on November 16, 2009

This short piece may be helpful:

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New Vitalism

Posted by kellykawar on November 16, 2009

“The currency of vitalism has reemerged in the context of (a) changes in the sciences, with the rise of ideas of uncertainty and complexity and (b) the rise of the global information society.” –Scott Lash, 323

1) What is vitalism? What is “new” about the new vitalism? What does (new) vitalism have to offer to our understanding and conceptualization of life? Is there some philosophical lack that (new) vitalism fills? What kind of thinking might new vitalism enhance or replace?

2) If vitalism strives to keep the concept of life open and malleable and biology seeks to pin “life” into definitive categories, how does this paradox relate to Cooper’s explication of the neoliberal project?

“One aim is thus to think about process, that is, what is distinctive about process as a mode of being. A second aim is to address some of the ways in which attempts are currently being made to introduce information, knowledge or “mind” into social and natural entities, making them less inert, more process-like: bringing them alive.” -–Mariam Fraser, et al, 1

1) How does one talk about “process” as a mode of being?

2) How does process factor into Langton’s A-life project? What is at stake in “life” as process?

“It’s raining DNA outside…This is not a metaphor, it is the plain truth. It couldn’t be any plainer if it were raining floppy disks.” –Richard Doyle quoting Dawkins, 127

1. In what ways is information alive? In what ways isn’t it?

2. How isn’t a computer alive?

“Thus, as long as the “glance away” masks the work of emergence—whether it be the struggling chick or the flashing of a pixel—the purity of the A-life organism remains intact […]” –Richard Doyle, 129

1) In what sense are we always already alienated from our own vital processes and bodies? Conversely, is it even possible to gaze away from the body? Toward the body? How do these questions complicate Doyle’s critique of A-life?

“Vitalism functions in part as an ongoing form of resistance to reductionism ‘and to the temptation of premature satisfaction’, closure, denial, or ignorance.” –Mariam Fraser, et al 2

“Life confers authority on she or he who speaks its name […] What remains often mysterious is the rhetorical gesture whereby “life” is not only claimed to be accurately represented but also thereby exhausted in the images which are only “brought to life” by she or he who thereby claims authority to speak on their behalf.” –Steven Brown, 332

1. In considering these two passages, how might vitalism serve as an ethical system and as system of ethics?

“Revolutionary becoming is living the common as surplus.” –Cesare Casarino, 22

1. Casarino states that in order to desire the common, one must first be able to distinguish between the common and capital. How does one begin to do this?

2. How does one “live the common as surplus”?

3. Is there a parallel between Doyle’s criticism of A-life’s “glance away” and Casarino’s diagnosis of the “desire not to be”? Can we see a forgetting of the common as the “glance away”? In Casarino’s terms, might Doyle see the “desire not to be” as the desire to be, not money, but information?

4. If one of vitalism’s projects is to preserve life’s conceptual malleability, we might view “life” as philosophical commons. In this sense, how might Casarino’s reading of capitalism’s exploitation of the common help elucidate modern science’s neoliberal project?

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Badiou on Deleuze’s “vitalist ontology”

Posted by rraley on November 11, 2009

Thanks to James for suggesting Badiou’s short essay, “Of Life as a Name of Being, or Deleuze’s Vitalist Ontology.” It nicely pairs with our readings on vitalism for next week.

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CFP: Post-Identity

Posted by vashkor on November 11, 2009

Please see the following CFP for the Fall 2010 issue of Spectator (USC),
“Post-Identity.” Submissions due by November 29, 2009.

Spectator: Call for Papers
Volume 30, Number 2 (Fall 2010)
This issue of Spectator seeks papers that engage in current debates about
“post-identity” and their significance to academic studies of identity and
media within national and global contexts. Questions of post-race,
post-gender, and post-human identities have been consistently raised within
the disciplines of Critical Race Theory, queer theory, new media theory, and
gender studies, and this issue will examine the implications of these claims
and their relationship to the field of media studies. This issue is
particularly relevant in a moment when, preceding and succeeding the
election of Barack Obama as President, critics and commentators have
declared race as now “irrelevant.” Academic essays, interviews, and book
reviews that interrogate the idea of “transcending” or moving beyond
identity, as well as representations of “post-identity” within film,
television and new media, are all encouraged for submission.

Deadline for Submission (November 29, 2009)

Spectator is a biannual publication, and submissions that address
post-identity and related topics are now invited for submission. Potential
topics in the fields of Critical Race Theory, queer theory, new media
theory, and gender studies may include, but are not limited to:

New Media and Technology:
• New technologies, new media theory, and the erasure of identity
• Relationships between technology and race, gender or sexuality in film
or television
• Relationships between creative and industrial practices, new
technology, and representation of identity
• New technologies, popular music, and identity
• Avant-garde, technology and identity
• New technologies and issues of nationalism, regionalism or diaspora

Science and Science Fiction(s)
• Representations of the “future” within scholarly texts and visual media
• Utopias, dystopias and connections to identity
• Representations of cyborgs, aliens, monsters and robots within visual
• Special effects and identity
• Artificial intelligence
• Genetic engineering

Political culture and celebrity
• Stardom and identity within contemporary media
• Barack Obama and American racial politics
• Humanism and post-humanism

Manuscripts to be considered for publication should be sent to:
• Janani Subramanian
2000 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Unit C
Redondo Beach, CA 90278
Phone: 323-377-1786

One copy of manuscript should be submitted, as well as a digital copy.
Submissions can also be e-mailed directly. Manuscripts should include the
title of the contribution and the name (s) of authors, as well as the postal
address, e-mail address, and phone numbers for authors who will work with
the editor on any revisions. All pages should be numbered consecutively.
Contributions should not be more than 5,000 words. They should also include
a brief abstract for publicity. Authors should also include a brief
biographical entry. Rejected manuscripts will not be returned.

Articles submitted to Spectator should not be under consideration by any
other journal.

Book Reviews may vary in length from 300 to 1,000 words. Please include
title of book, retail price and ISBN at the beginning of the review.
Examples of possible books include: Dangerous Frames: How Ideas about Race
and Gender Shape Public Opinion, Mixed Race Hollywood, Digital Diaspora: A
Race for Cyberspace, Revisiting Race in a Genomic Age, Draculas, Vampires
and Other Undead Forms: Essays on Gender, Race and Culture and Latino Spin:
Public Image and the Whitewashing of Race.

Forum or Additional Section contributions can include works on new archival
or research facilities or methods as well as other relevant works related to
the field.

Electronic Submissions and Formatting. Authors should send copies of their
work via e-mail as electronic attachments. Please keep backup files of all
disks. Files should be Microsoft Word in PC or Mac format, depending on the
editor’s preference. Endnotes should conform to the Chicago Manual of Style.
Upon acceptance, a format guideline will be forwarded to all contributors as
to image and text requirements.

Current Board for Spectator
Founding Editor
Marsha Kinder
Managing Editor
William Whittington
Issue Editor
Janani Subramanian

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Care of the Self in Bioethics

Posted by Lan Xuan Le on November 9, 2009

This week’s readings explore the idea of bioethics, which Zylenska defines as an embrace of “life as a network of material and symbolic forces that are in operation in the world and that shape both our metaphysical and technological concepts and paradigms” (2009, 66). Whereas traditional bioethics concerns itself primarily with zoe, Zylenska’s bioethics encompasses both zoe and bios, the biological and political. Building upon Foucault’s work on cultivation of the self and the practices of self-care, Zylenska proposes blogging as a form of self-writing. But that writing, in Levinas’ reaching out to the alterity if the other, also reaches out to the social other in the digital network. This turn poses self-care as relational in its becoming, which evokes shades of Donna Haraway’s “becoming with” the companion species. Of interest to us is Foucault and Zylenska’s attempt to locate that which is productive and generative in a bioethics that operates in a biopolitical context. Just as self-surveillance can serve as a neoliberal project, these theorists posit that it may also offer a method of self-making.

For this week’s readings, we organized our reflections into four areas: bioethics, generativity, technicity, and measurement. Bioethics, obviously, concerns itself with questions of definition and conditions of an “ethics of life.” Generativity deals primarily with the question raised earlier in regards to what is productive in these technologies of the self. Technicity raises questions about our relation to the always already technological self that Zylenska proposes. And finally, a pet subject of ours — measurement, which is concerned with the idea of quantification and its role in continuous control versus discrete discipline.


New Media “enacts” symptoms while simultaneously “looking at” diagnoses.  Is the “live practice” of blogging (and other media) Diagnosis or Pathology?  Is this just the same problem of measuring measurements?

What is good narcissism?  Is it just resistance against control?  In “Uncommon Life” Thacker quotes Deleuze “When power . . . takes life as its aim or object, then resistance to power already puts itself on the side of life, and turns life against power.”(313)  Is this different from “Sheer life” as extrapolated by Ong?

Where exactly is the “other” situated in Bioethics?  What would a narcissism of the commons look like? Can we relate this back to Thacker’s conception of the commons, which is at once cellular and not?

How does Foucault’s self-surveillance differ from the surveillance of our previous readings? Where does he locate a possibility for resistance and self-making in this practice?

For a copy of our handout, it is being hosted HERE. (Please right-click and save.)

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Wired Magazine Search Results–Popular science and “the Singularity”

Posted by Dana Solomon on November 3, 2009

wired search results

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The Archaeology of Knowledge/L’Archéologie du Savoir

Posted by rraley on November 3, 2009

It’s p. 76 in my edition; p. 85 here.

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Appendix D (Global Genome)

Posted by rraley on November 3, 2009

You can read “Appendix D: Biotechnology and Popular Culture; or, Mutants, Replicants, and Zombies” from Thacker’s Global Genome on Google Books

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