Brimming with Vitality and The Non-Human Turn

The preliminary schedule for The Nonhuman Turn Conference at the Center for 21st Century Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has been posted. The keynote speakers are impressive. It is a who’s who of contemporary thought and should foster some lively debates and discussions.

The opening two speakers on May 3rd are Brian Massumi (University of Montreal) and my former Ph.D. advisor Erin Manning (Concordia University). The next day on May 4th has Jane Bennett (Johns Hopkins University), Steven Shaviro (Wayne State University), and Tim Morton (University of California-Davis). The conference closes on May 5th with Wendy Chun (Brown University), Mark Hansen (Duke University), and Ian Bogost (Georgia Institute of Technology).

Additionally, there are a few other bloggers who will be presenting papers who have posted their abstracts. Adrian Ivakhiv on his blog Immanence has posted his abstract, as well as, Shane Denson at the intiative für interdisziplinäre medienforschung blog has posted his abstract here.

Below you can find the abstract for the paper I am presenting. The details of when and where this will take place at the conference can be found on my Forthcoming Talks page.

Brimming with Vitality: Experiencing Colour Beyond Human Perception in 
Seurat’s La Grande Jatte 

In this paper I will argue that there is an experience of seeing that is generated between George Seurat’s Un Dimanche Après-midi à l’Île de la Grande Jatte (1884-1886) and its viewers that exceeds human perception. Seurat, using his pointillist technique, composed the painting with thousands of nearly imperceptible tiny coloured dots.  Although these dots are, for all intents and purposes, unable to be perceived, I will contend that viewers experience them through the vibrations generated by each dot’s colour. These colour vibrations produce a dynamism that viewers can feel pulsating throughout the entire painting, giving them a sense that the work is brimming with a vitality that surpasses perceptibility. Henri Bergson explains that colour “amounts, in itself, to a series of extremely rapid vibrations.” Colours simply vibrate: that is what they do in and of themselves.

Because colours always vibrate, I will contend that they have an elasticity that is not restricted to any particular threshold. This enables them to potentially affect all the other colours they encounter. The colour of a particular dot on Seurat’s canvas is not restricted to just that dot. Rather, as I will argue, the vibrations that this colour generates have the ability to affect how the colours of the neighbouring dots are experienced and vice versa. Drawing on the work of Alfred North Whitehead, I will contend that every dot in La  Grande Jatte affectively feels the vibrations of colours from those dots immediately adjacent to it.

The limits of human perception prevent viewers from directly seeing the dots’ reciprocal colour vibrations. However, I will argue that these imperceptible actions are nonetheless felt in the seeing. The colour vibrations occurring in Seurat’s painting generate what Alfred North Whitehead calls contrast. Contrast is not simply the expression of difference or opposition between two juxtaposed entities. For Whitehead, contrast is much more productive, and is an activity of “conjoint unity” that enables two or more potential colours to affect each other. Contrast is what enables the colour vibrations to emerge into experience and generate the more-than-perceptible vitality viewers feel in the seeing.

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3 Responses to Brimming with Vitality and The Non-Human Turn

  1. shane says:

    Thanks for linking to my abstract, Troy. Yours sounds great, too. Looking forward to the conference!

  2. Pingback: Overheard « Center for 21st Century Studies

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