Translating Realism: The Nature and Emergence of Contemporary French Thought

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University of Notre Dame

Keynote Speakers:
Adrian Johnston (University of New Mexico)
Dorothea Olkowski (UCCS/Rotman Institute)
Michael Naas (Depaul)

We are pleased to announce that on May 10-11 2013, we will be hosting an interdisciplinary conference on the emergence and renewal of French thought in the 21st century at the University of Notre Dame.

In the last decade, the cutting edge of French thought appears to have changed radically. Questions of metaphysics, of realism, science, and objectivity, of the end of critique, which might have been proscribed a generation ago, seem to take pride of place. This conference is in part, then, a contribution to a history of the present. Our aim is to provide a genealogy, an account of the present moment in French thought, broadly speaking. We intend to improve our understanding of the non-discursive, material agents – local, global, institutional, social, political, and otherwise – that have jointly made the present moment in French thought possible. However, we also intend to make an intervention in present debates, responding to current dilemmas and puzzles. We would like to gain a firm grasp on the strictly conceptual issues at stake, and start charting both dead ends and new ways forward. If the dream of much 21st century French thought is to burst existing constraints, in ways both accountable to and transformative of the very real networks in which it finds itself, we would like to start tracing the most promising fault-lines.

In the interests of fostering as intensive and wide-ranging discussion as possible, as well as future collaboration, we hope to organize panels of consisting of both graduate students and faculty.

With all of this in mind, we have decided to orient our conference along two axes:

1) Realist philosophy in French context: the appearance of specifically French strains of realism and materialism, whether scientific or speculative, signals a stunning change in theoretical concern from only a decade or two ago. We are confronted with the "irreductive" reflections on scientific theory and practice of Latour and Serres, the rationalist materialism of Badiou and Meillassoux, and the speculative – though differing – philosophies of Malabou, Stengers, Laruelle and Deleuze. Similarly, we find speculative, realist, and/or metaphysical themes in more traditional philosophical programmes: speculative philosophies of life, for example, in the phenomenology of Renaud Barbaras and Michel Henry. Beyond merely tracking influences and identifying ideas, we hope to specify the varieties of French realism, their convergences and divergences, the theoretical problems to which they respond and, perhaps most importantly, their conceptual, argumentative supports and limitations.

2) Translation: though the focus of our conference is contemporary French thought, it would be naïve, at best, to ignore the importance of translation, in a broad sense, in its development. Contemporary French thought has developed to a great degree through processes of literal translation, through dialogue and the establishment of links across individuals and disciplines, both within France and across national boundaries. Further, contemporary French thought is thoroughly engaged in translation in a broad sense, transmitting into new contexts and transforming the concepts of thinkers from Hume to William James and A. N. Whitehead to Bloor and Pickering. Thought never emerges in a vacuum, and the work of translation does not take place in a void. We are interested in discussions of the specific sorts of media through which these translations and transformations have taken place, from cyberspace to international conferences to collaborative research programmes, and their effects on the development of French realism.

We encourage submissions that relate broadly to either of these axes. High-quality submissions on other dimensions of contemporary French thought are also welcome.

Papers should be prepared for blind-review, and should be suitable for a presentation of 20-25 minutes. Deadline for submission is January 15 2013.

Presenters will be provided with lodging and most meals. There may be funds available to subsidize some graduate student travel.

Submissions can be sent to