Saturday, March 13, 2010

Affirming Negations -- Negating Affirmations

Affirming Negations – Negating Affirmations
ICI Kulturlabor Berlin

Conference: July 1-3, 2010
Abstracts Due: March 28, 2010

“When we say not-being, we speak, I think, not of something that is
the opposite of being, but only of something different.”
(Plato, Sophist 257B)

How can we speak of non-being if to speak at all implies saying “some
thing”? Would we not thereby impart being to the object of our
utterance and thus contradict the very claim of our assertion? This
linguistic and ontological difficulty raises the broader question of
the nature of negation as a rhetorical, logical and political act.
Negation cannot simply be opposed to or absolutely independent from
affirmation but must instead be intertwined with positivity, since
negation always involves a thing which is negated. But this can be
called into question by asking whether every affirmation might only be
achieved by negating other properties. Rather than starting from the
premise that affirmation and negation are mutually exclusive, we wish
to explore the possibility of a more intricate relationship between
them. How might affirmation be expressed through negation and vice
versa? This conference will focus on concepts of complex affirmations
and negations in domains including rhetoric, logic, ontology, and

Three forms of complex negations provide an initial impetus for our
· First, we are interested in exploring what are known as “infinite
judgments,” in which the property of not-possessing a particular
attribute is ascribed to the subject of the judgment, placing this
subject in an infinite “outside.” For instance, the sentence “The soul
is not mortal” seems to have a different logical form from the
sentence “The soul is immortal.” In the latter case, the form of
judgment appears to be positive, but this attribution is that of not-
possessing the characteristic.
· Second, how do we “affirm the impossible” in the construction of
utopias? Utopias cannot, by definition, take place – the ou-topos is
that which has no place – yet utopias are also the “good” places. But
this affirmation of what cannot take place itself occurs through a
negation of the social status quo, of that which is the case.
· Finally, how can we account for forms of “incomplete negation” as in
the judgment that something possesses a je ne sais quoi. In making
such an assertion, we recognize that an object has a property that I
can only identify by saying that it is that which I cannot know. The
final word of this phrase, quoi, renders the form of assertion even
more complex, however, since it indicates that what I cannot know is
in what this quality consists. This inability to identify a quidditas,
a “whatness,” of the quality becomes its very mark.

The ICI core project, Tension/Spannung, provides a conceptual frame
for our investigation. Complex negations traverse the border between
affirmation and denial, positivity and negativity, confirmation and
rejection. These oscillations raise the question of a tension between
the positive and the negative in language itself. Rather than mutually
exclusive forms, positivity and negativity are perhaps coexisting
forces, interacting in tensile relations to form complex
constructions. We are interested in exploring this hypothesis through
case studies as well as theoretical inquiries.

Possible topics include but are not limited to:
· Negation in philosophy, e.g. dialectical negation, forms of
“nothing”, theories of judgment (contradictions, contraries,
· Linguistic forms of negation from prefixes such as un-, non-, ou-,
through negation on the level of the sentence, and rhetorical devices
such as apophasis, litotes, or double negation, to the empty signifier
· Aesthetics and negation: Je ne sais quoi, presque rien, n’importe
quoi, the uncanny, poetics of the ineffable
· Political conceptions of negation, e.g. utopia: no-place and its
place, über-affirmation towards negation, inclusion as exclusion
· Historical theories of negation, e.g. Aristotle, Kant, Hegel, Freud,

Further information can be found at
Please send an abstract of no more than 400 words along with a short
biographical note to by March 28.

Conference Organizers: Fabio Camilletti, Catharine Diehl, Martin Doll

ICI-Kulturlabor Berlin
Christinenstr. 18-19, Haus 8
10119 Berlin

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