Click on the title below, and then on the download button to the right to access the reading for the graduate seminar.


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Wednesday, May 22nd
3:00 PM

Phenomenology and the Realm of the Sensible

Dorothea Olkowski, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs

Stevenson Hall, Room 3106

3:00 PM - 4:30 PM

Graduate students from WSFR, The Theory Centre and Philosophy are invited for this pre-conference workshop. For further info and to RSVP please contact

Dorothea Olkowski is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Colorado. She is author of Postmodern Philosophy and the Scientific Turn, Indiana U Press, 2012, The Universal (in the Realm of the Sensible), Columbia U Press and Edinburgh U Press 2007, Gilles Deleuze and the Ruin of Representation, California U Press, 1999, and a number of co-edited volumes including Time in Feminist Phenomenology (with Christina Schües and Helen Fielding), Indiana U Press, 2011, and Feminist Interpretations of Merleau-Ponty (with Gail Weiss), Penn State U Press, 2006. She has also published around 70 journal articles and book chapters.

Synopsis: As part of the ongoing efforts to undo hierarchies of representation and dualism in our ideas about mind-body relations, theories about affect have come to the forefront in contemporary Continental philosophy. Many of them follow from Spinoza’s dual aspect monism, which in its contemporary form states that feeling is based on the activity pattern of the body-sensing brain regions. Pleasure or pain corresponds to a disturbance of molecules and atoms of the sensory system, and intensity is a measure of the amplitude of such molecular movements. In this logic of sensation, which tears apart the organized senses, sensation is a nervous wave or vital emotion; it is flesh and nerve produced when external forces act on a body, as if the body had no ability to persist or act on its own. A wave of variable amplitude flows through a disorganized body, effecting maximum violence, the violence of forces acting directly on the nervous system. This sensation is cruelty, the direct and unorganized action of physical forces upon the body. As a result, the organs become polyvalent and indeterminate with respect to their organization and function, which will alter if the external forces change. Visually, one would then see spastic and paralytic bodies, hyper- or anesthetics.

The reading for this seminar takes us from a classical account of representation to its postmodern undoing in theories of affect but asks if this is an adequate account of affective life. We will then turn to Bergson’s phenomenological notion that when an obscure desire becomes a deep passion it gradually permeates more and more psychic elements. How is it that as Bergson says, your outlook on all of your surroundings has changed and that the same objects and persons no longer impress you in the same manner? How is it that we can posit a qualitative and not only a quantitative experience of sensibility?

Participants are asked to read the first chapter of The Universal which can be accessed through this site.