CFP: “Between Animals and Machines: Towards a Theory of Embodiment”, Yale University

Between Animals and Machines: Towards a Theory of Embodiment
28th Annual Graduate Student Conference
German Department, Yale University
April 28-29, 2017

Keynote Speaker: Bruce Clarke (Paul Whitfield Horn Professor of Literature and Science, Texas Tech)

What do we mean when we speak about “the body”? Do we have bodies or are we embodied? Does speaking about “the body” approach an understanding of our embodied experience in the world, or does it reify a barren mind-body dualism that thwarts just such an understanding and according to which the body is nothing more than a complex machine? Indeed, even Descartes seems haunted by the specter of bodily consciousness as the body is continuously reinscribed in The Meditations. Teetering between literature and philosophy, The Meditations are rife with tensions between body and mind, text and thought, real and ideal as Descartes struggles to find the adequate “textual body” for his ruminations.

Primarily concerned with the ways in which the human participates in the divine, Descartes had to cut away the temporal, indeed animal character of the human being in order to arrive at what he deemed as its essential nature – namely, thinking. Yet as soon as it became clear after Darwin that the human being is not the product of a separate, divine creation, but rather arose at a particular historical moment, the “bodily” nature of the human being resurfaced as a problem for philosophy, which had to carve out a particular space for the human being against its animal progenitors and the growing specter of technology and automation.

Beginning in the twentieth century, “the body” has resurfaced as a problem not only for philosophy (Nietzsche’s naturalism, Husserl’s work on the lifeworld), but also for fields such as anthropology (Gehlen’s conceptualization of the human as a “Mängelwesen”, Plessner’s distinction between “Körper” and “Leib”), poststructuralist thought (Derrida, Nancy), political theory (Arendt, Foucault, Agamben), women’s and gender studies (Judith Butler), affect theory, and literature. In recent decades, the body has also been problematized in its relation to animals, the environment, and technology, as exemplified by the works of Donna Haraway, N. Katherine Hayles, Mark Hansen, and many others.

Curiously, the presupposed split at the center of the human being has nevertheless remained in spite of the sustained attempt to move beyond the legacy of Cartesian mind-body dualism and the singular “body” towards a theory of embodiment—what might be described as the relation between being and sensing or what Jay Bernstein has recently called “being” and “having” a body. Is the split between mind and body, thinking and feeling, ideal and real a feature of a “modern” way of thinking about the human being, or does it reveal something about the nature of (self)-consciousness itself? Can there be a theory of embodiment that does not already assume such a split?

This conference calls for short papers that conceptualize the problem of the body and indicate possible avenues towards a theory of embodiment. Contributions may be drawn from philosophy, literature, or related fields, and may cover any period.

The conference format will consist of a seminar setting (open to the public) in which participants will each present a short paper of no more than 5 pages to be discussed by the group. Since the purpose of this conference is to think together about the problem of embodiment, a reader will be circulated with excerpts from the primary text that participants are working with in the hope that the individual papers can serve to open up a larger discussion about the primary texts themselves.

Abstracts no longer than 250 words should be submitted to

The deadline for submission is February 15, 2017. Participants will be notified of their acceptance by February 20, 2017.

Topics that could be considered are:

  • Embodiment
  • Affect and emotions
  • Shame, anxiety, fear, laughter, crying, pain
  • Sensuality: touch, smell, taste
  • Animality
  • Hunger, desire
  • Being a body vs. having a body
  • Knowing-that, knowing-how
  • Technology and the body
  • Kinaesthetics, motility
  • Biopolitics
  • Sensing and sensemaking
  • Posthuman Bodies

Organizers: Anna Alber, Ole Hinz, Tobias Kühne