This past summer Anthony Collamati and Sergio Figueiredo had the opportunity to spend three weeks in Saas Fee, Switzerland, studying at the European Graduate School (EGS). Continuing the tradition forged by Justin, Jason, Amanda, and Josh Abboud, they attended six intense seminars in the Philosophy, Art, and Psychoanalysis track of study. Each of these sections parallels RCID’s triad: Knowing (theoretical), Doing (practical/pedagogical), Making (productive). …
We began with ‘knowing’ in our first course with Victor Vitanza: “Jean-Francois Lyotard: Hesitating Thought.” As we “eased” into the program with Just Gaming, the students experiencing Vitanza’s performative teaching approach for the first time had Anthony and me (Sergio, I’m telling this story) recalling our first encounters in a Vitanzian classroom. As we ate lunch with the students during our mid-day break, we found that some students were unsure what to make of the “show,” but were excited about the passion Vitanza put into the course. Over the next two days, we worked our way through Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy and The Differend.
In a change of direction, we moved on to Wolfgang Schirmacher’s course, “Media Culture; Artificial Life.” An introduction to Schirmacher’s own philosophical work, this course was a mixture of an interpretation of other philosophers’ work and a grounding in the function that EGS’s PhD in Communication serves in the wider culture. The key term in Schirmacher’s philosophical ethical thinking is “Homo Generator,” which is defined as a human being that needs no certainty/truth and functions as a body politics treated as artifacts. After three days of “The Wolf’s” perspectives on life, the universe and everything, we were treated to a day of rest.
On our seventh day, we joined Victor and Diane Davis for a leisurely walk up one of the mountains on the ‘south side’ (I’m not really sure of compass-itorial direction). Anthony, with video-camera in-hand, filmed parts of our adventures that were later used to produce a video-adventure for his young son, Hugo. (The video, or part of it, is below.) On our way down the mountain, we discovered a human-made spa where we submerged our arms and legs in cool mountain water, and walked around a path with four different surfaces (the description said that this would help relieve stress and increase blood flow).
The next day, we were back to work in a split session with Sylvere Lotringer and Chris Kraus. In his course, titled “Jean Baudrillard,” Sylvere enlightened us with stories and escapades he shared with Baudrillard and other French theorists of the time. This introduction to Baudrillard was invaluable to situating his thinking in the overall work of media philosophy. Where Lotringer provided a practical (i.e., “doing”) understanding of Baudrillard’s contribution to critical theory, Kraus’ “Performative Philosophy” asked each of us to perform (engage in “making”) work similar to Lotringer’s lecture style. As a creative writing instructor, Kraus’ writing and style, combined with the EGS experience, provided a basis for re/thinking how theoretical work develops – in this case, through personal and social experiences.
Two weeks into the program, we left for the “Venice Biennale.” At midnight we hauled ourselves into two buses and prepared ourselves for this ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ event. Once we arrived (about 7:30am), we hopped onto a vaporetto (waterbus) and headed to the section of the city where the exhibitions are situated. The ticket booths were closed when we arriveed, so we sat down at a local café and enjoy what was, without a doubt, the best espresso ever. Then, after spending a day with a survey of art from around the world, we returned to the buses and got ready to begin the third and final week of our time at EGS.
Upon our return, the village of Saas Fee welcomed our return with a parade which included a musical ensemble accompanied with sheep and cows. Initially, we were appreciative of the very thoughtful offering, but then we realized that this was a part of the build-up to the August cow-fights. Nonetheless, we enjoyed the show as we made our way to Bracha Ettinger’s course “Art, Psychoanalysis, Philosophy: The Matrixial Border-Space.” Grounded in Lacanian psycho-analysis, Ettinger introduced her views of aesthetic practices as a way to rethink ethics, particularly from a feminist perspective, but applicable to other theoretical practices as well.
After Ettinger’s theoretical course, we again shifted paths to “doing” with Larry Rickels and “making” with Diana Thater in the co-taught course: “Haunted Thought and Art.” Rickels started by introducing his current work with philosophical studies of animals, including readings by Derrida (The Animal That Therefore I Am) and Freud (Totem and Taboo), among others. On the third day of the course we turned to Thater’s installation art (usually video and photography), with a focus on animal-rights activism, such as “The Dolphin Project.” As our three-week expedition in Saas Fee came to a close, Thater brought the theoretical, practical and productive elements of media philosophy together with a visually theoretical art installation.
Finally, on June 18th, we made our way to the bus depot once again. Anthony and I left at the same time, but we parted our ways in Visp, Switzerland. Anthony continued on the bus to Bern before jumping in a train to meet his family in Milan. From there, they joined Anthony’s extended family for a wedding in southern Italy. At Visp, I took the rail line to Laussanne where I also caught a train to meet my extended family living in the outskirts of Paris.
As we look back to this summer’s trip, we find ourselves fortunate to have interacted with such wonderful people and to have had the chance to unwind with our families after three intense, but fun, weeks talking with world-renowned thinkers. Here are a few more images from our time at EGS.
The last photo above of dinner (avec Sergio, Diane, Anthony, and V) is a bit out of focus because the owner of the Ital restaurant as well as amateur photographer sat down with us and had a bit too much vino. But really, What is too much of some a’more!
~ Anthony Collamati and Sergio Figueiredo