A Brief Introduction to Michel Serres’s Biogea: “Would a new Eden emerge if we agreed to a Natural Contract?”
Wednesday, December 1, 2021, 12:30 p.m.
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Michel Serres (1930-2019) was an interdisciplinary thinker whose works raised questions on science, humanities, and aesthetics from within a particular philosophical query. Toward the end of his life, he created a form of fictional writing, which relocated the same questions from his earlier works to the transforming contexts of the early twenty-first century. Only one of his creative works has received intergenerational “popular” recognition in academic circles: In Thumbelina (Petite Poucette, 2012) he addresses the science of algorithmic calculations, and the communicative capacity of Information and Communication Technologies, while expressing a fasciation of the tactile movement of thumbs, sending text-messages on smart phones.
The book I will introduce in this talk, Biogea (Biogée, 2010) is known within a very limited group of academics specializing in different disciplines and it has not yet been hijacked by some internet entrepreneurs offering Thumbelina, Tom Thumb (and their “grumpy” professors) a quick study guide as to what Serres means by biogea. To acknowledge Serres’s aversion to explication in all his works, I will start by noting the redundancy in the title of the talk: “A brief introduction”. Biogea is a short book. In 200 pages Serres takes the readers to different, unnumbered headings: “Sea and River, Earth and Mountains, Three Volcanoes, Winds and Atmospheric Phenomena, Flora and Fauna, and Encounters, Love”. The style of narration Serres invented for this distinct journey poses at least two specific challenges for the uninitiated. First, his story telling, referred to as recounting intentionally resists to such familiar forms used for travels in time and places as in historical, autobiographical, and fictional writings. Second, he frequently alludes to his earlier works without any reference. To salute Serres’s lifelong pursuit for precision, I will focus on one of the key questions this book raises: the embedded violence in the need to draw up a natural contract. By following the lead from his earlier works, I will address this question in relation with two interrelated themes: the “invasiveness” of language and the “bodiless knowledge” of “old sensuality”. To animate these themes in the context of Bilkent wide drive for sustainability, I will use some photos I took on campus during the lockdown in 2020.
Adjunct Senior Lecturer Banu Helvacıoğlu teaches aesthetics and politics and contemporary political theory in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at Bilkent University. Her publications relevant for this talk are: “An Ankara Chronicle: Fidelity to an Impossibility”, C. C. Davidson (ed.), Anytime (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999). “Human Nature in Nature’s Nature”, Public, issue 26, 2002.