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Sunday March 17 | 10:45 - 12:15
De Brakke Grond | Steegzaal
Nidesh Lawtoo is Assistant Professor of Philosophy and English at KU Leuven and Principal Investigator of a 5-year project on mimesis funded by the European Research Council. His work is located at the intersection of literary theory, continental philosophy, and film studies and has appeared in journals, such as Angelaki, Conradiana, Contagion, MFS, MLN, Novel, SFS, Symploke, TSLL, TCS, among others. He is the editor of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Contemporary Thought (2012) and of a special issue of MLN titled, Poetics and Politics. His books include The Phantom of the Ego: Modernism and the Mimetic Unconscious (2013), Conrad’s Shadow: Catastrophe, Mimesis, Theory (2016), and, more recently, (New) Fascism: Contagion, Community, Myth (forthcoming).

Niki Hadikoesoemo is a PhD candidate and a team member of the ERC funded project Homo Mimeticus: Theory and Criticism (HOM) at the Institute of Philosophy at KU Leuven. She received a BA in Theatre at the Mime School from the Academy of Theatre and Dance in Amsterdam and a BA, MA and Research MA in Philosophy from KU Leuven. Her MA thesis was entitled “Empty Tears: Diderot and the Paradox of the Actor;” she further explored this line of inquiry in her Research Master’s thesis, “Theatrical Mimesis: A Reflection on Pina Bausch.” Her doctoral research within the HOM framework focuses on the role of theatricality and affect in both the formation of the self and intersubjective relations based on the concept of mimesis.

Daniel Villegas Vélez holds a PhD in musicology from the University of Pennsylvania and is currently a Postdoctoral Researcher with the HOM Project at KU Leuven. His work bridges multiple gaps between continental philosophy, sound studies, musicology, and decoloniality through a reconsideration of mimesis as contagious performance. Daniel has contributed to the b2o review and Critical Reviews on Latin-American Research, and has forthcoming articles in New Writing and the Oxford Handbook of Timbre. Daniel is currently working on a book entitled Mimetologies: Mimesis and Music 1600-1850 that approaches musical performance as a mimetic practice that produces and inscribes sociopolitical values.

William E. Connolly is the Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University (video interview). He is the author of seventeen books that are considered landmarks in the field, such as The Terms of Political Discourse (1974; Benjamin Lippincott Award), Appearance and Reality in Politics (1981), Politics and Ambiguity (1987), The Ethos of Pluralization (1995), Neuropolitics (2002), Pluralism (2005), among others. A major advocate of political pluralism, affect theory, and new materialism, his recent books, A World of Becoming (2010), The Fragility of Things (2013), Facing the Planetary (2017), Aspirational Fascism (2017) focus on the states of material, ontological and ethico-political precarity generated by increasingly aggressive neoliberalist policies and neo-fascist drives.
Wherein lies the power of performance today? And how can philosophy reflect on contemporary political, theatrical, and musical spectacles that affect the general audience, generating contagious intoxications that have the potential to form, transform and, sometimes, deform institutions as well? To address such questions from a specific perspective, this panel adopts genealogical lenses to reframe one of the most influential concepts in Western aesthetics, namely mimēsis; and it does so, in light of contemporary developments in performance philosophy that go beyond logocentric approaches to diagnose the political, affective, and intoxicating dimensions of imitation.

Part of a transdisciplinary, problem-based project funded by the European Research Council (ERC) titled, Homo Mimeticus: Theory and Criticism (HOM), contributors to this panel join forces to complicate dominant conceptions of mimesis understood as simple “realism” or “representation of reality” (Auerbach 1946) and cast new light on the less-visible, but not less infective, forms of theatrical performances that were known since classical antiquity (Plato), resurface in the modern era under the different masks of the “Dionysian” (Nietzsche 1872), “crowd psychology” (Tarde 1890, Le Bon 1895, Bataille 1933), “participation mystique” (LévyBruhl 1922), are central to the rise of fascist myths (Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy 1991), stretch to inform visual and musical “methexis” (Nancy 2016) and, more recently, inject mimetic intoxications that animate “(new) fascist” movements as well (Lawtoo 2017, Connolly 2017).

In the “(New) Fascist Intoxications: The Case of Trump,” Nidesh Lawtoo steps back to the marginalized discipline of “crowd psychology,” which, before the linguistic turn, was attentive to the affective power of authoritarian leaders to generate altered states in the crowd, in order to diagnose the massive returns of mimetic intoxications amplified by new digital media. Taking the “case of Trump” as a starting point for a diagnostic of the hypnotic power of mimesis, Lawtoo argues that the success of tyrannical leaders who are currently paving the way for the “road to unfreedom” (Snyder 2018) does not rest only on their hyper-nationalist, racist, and militarist message alone, which was characteristic of “old” fascism as well. Rather, the performative efficacy of new fascism lies primarily in the power of a hypermimetic medium to generate massive intoxications that operate on the “mimetic unconscious” (Lawtoo 2013) along principles that are at least double: first, new fascist leaders rely on pathos more than on logos as
a privileged medium of unconscious communication that turns “actors” into what Nietzsche calls “real masters;” and second, they exploit new digital media that blur the lines between truth and lies, the show and the reality, generating political reality shows that trigger real, all too real mimetic intoxications among physical crowds and virtual publics alike.

In “Altering Bodies: Thinking of Intervention through Impersonation,” Niki Hadikoesoemo investigates the intoxicating effects of the actor on the audience by focusing on the problem of impersonation. She traces the philosophical concept of intoxication back to classical antiquity and explores modern counterparts by staging a dialogue between Plato’s critique of the rhapsode in Ion and Nietzsche’s and Lacoue-Labarthe’s approaches to mimesis as a theatrical practice. While Nietzsche opposes Plato’s devaluation of the actor as an “imitation of a phantom” (1872) he certainly owes much to him with respect to the affective relation between actor and spectator in terms of Dionysian pathos and intoxication (Rausch) (Lawtoo 2013). Lacoue-Labarthe, for his part, stages Nietzsche’s “doubling” of the persona Socrates (1989, 1993, Lane 2011) and, in the process, furthers their accounts of performative mimesis as a practice of self-abandonment by arguing that impersonation is the presentation of a “subjectless subject” (Martis 2005). Thus, despite some important conceptual discontinuities, Hadikoesoemo argues that the similarities between these three figures’ take on the interplay between performer and spectator are at least twofold: first, they characterize impersonation as a loss of self; and second, they attribute to pathos an interactive and formative function that questions, suspends, or disrupts the boundary between performer and audience as such.

Beginning with Plato’s determination of myth as a mimetic performance based on depersonalization, adjacent concepts such as contagion and participation (methexis) are often cast off as irrational, impersonal forces that belong in “primitive societies” but have pernicious effects for “civilized” ones. In “Interruption—Invocation: Performance, Participation, and Myth”, Daniel Villegas Vélez examines diverse accounts of performance as participation, from mimetic performance (Plato) through Dionysian intoxication (Nietzsche) and mystical participation (Lévy-Bruhl), to arrive at Jean-Luc Nancy’s (1991) intervention—or interruption— of dominant accounts of myth. As Nancy argues, casting mythos in opposition to logos only reinforces “the myth of myth”—i.e. the idea that the mythical experience belongs to the “others” of European modernity (including its own past) or that “a new mythology” (leading to the Nazi myth) is necessary—delivering us to new fascist intoxications that force us to choose between wholly atomized individuals and formless masses (Lawtoo 2017). For Nancy, “there is a voice of community articulated in the interruption, and even out of the interruption itself” (1991), and yet what replaces myth in his account is “literature”, a notion that does not fully accommodate performative practice. Echoing Nancy’s invocation, Villegas Vélez turns to ancient Greek mousikē as a sonorous performance that, combining mimesis and methexis, interrupts both the visual clarity of Apollonian representation and the hazy intoxication of Dionysian fusion (Havelock 1967, Nagy 1996). Taking the place of myth, mousikē mobilizes rhythm, spacing, and iterability (Butler 1991) to suggest a notion of community that abandons communion for performative communication.

The panel concludes by changing medium and projecting an excerpt of a video interview with William E. Connolly, titled, “HOM Video 1: The Politics of Mimesis.” One of the most influential contemporary voices in political theory, Connolly, in conjunction with the HOM
project, has recently diagnosed the rhetoric of fascism by going beyond logocentric approaches primarily attentive to writing and foregrounding instead the “affective” or “visceral register” at play in oral forms of “mimetic communication” (Lawtoo and Connolly 2017, Connolly 2017). Filmed in Boston during the Annual Political Science Association (30.8-2.9.2018), this video is the first of a series of interviews with major figures invited by the HOM project to rethink mimesis in light of contemporary challenges. In particular, Lawtoo prompts Connolly to foreground his latent but fundamental engagement with the affective side of mimetic performances that operate at least on three different registers: first, Connolly, reflects on the role imitation played in his professional development; second, he diagnoses the forms of “affective contagion” that brought “aspirational fascism” back on the North American political scene; and lastly, he traces the larger implications of mimetic intoxications that, in the age of the Anthropocene, require immanent political interventions and tactics he is currently articulating in his next book, Climate Machines, Fascist Drives and Truth.

Together, these interventions trace the heterogeneous power of mimesis back to its theatrical origins (mimēsis, from mimos, actor) in order to cast light on the efficacy of intoxicating performances that are, nolens volens, currently transforming our democratic institutions.

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