In a series of events (2017/18), the Mobile Academy Berlin examines the complicated relationships between the dead and the living - the Former Us and Future Them. In the first part of the series, three theorists defend a proposition to research The Milieu of the Dead which they have submitted to the German Research Foundation (DFG). In a mechanised arena they face their review board in front of the audience. Part 1 presents: A Science under the Influence - speaking scientifically on the margins of administration and speculation.
A milieu arises between the active self-formation and passive adaptation of an organism. In biology, milieu describes a place of exchange between the living organism and its environment. In physics, the milieu is to be found everywhere in the universe, infinite and yet the basis for every dynamic effect. The project asks about a milieu for the dead. Could it be that poor milieu conditions are responsible for the absence of the dead in our modern societies? Where are they permitted to be present, or present absent, as is their way?The natural sciences are interested solely in the bodies of the dead, their corpses, and socially they are appreciated only in exceptional biographical situations. But even in this latter situation, they lack language, practices and cultural attention. The western ancestors are not present and communication with the dead is considered to be pure imagination or psychologically problematic. On the other hand, the dead are constantly visible, for they are omnipresent in the media: every second TV series begins with a close-up of a hygienic corpse in the pathology department. But because the references for us are lacking in reality, media bodies are unable to bring the dead into view, they are merely masks masking death.
Philosophising about death is omnipresent on all channels, and there's even more talk about dying, the extending of life into death. Yet, the dead themselves are a blank space. But not everywhere in the world: whereas Europeans engage in agitated dialogue about dying and a philosophical dialogue with death, in other cultures and places there is dialogue with the dead themselves. In our new series The Milieu of the Dead, this dialogue meets scientific expertise, bureaucratic writing and academic speech.
PART 1: THE PROPOSITION The first part stages the defence of an extraordinary research proposition submitted to the German Research Foundation (DFG).
The three proposers claim that the dead should not be banned from the realm of academic research by being deemed unthinkable and unknowable. But how can research be done and how can it be spoken about when it is necessary to transgress the conventional limits of the thinkable and sayable, without slipping into esotericism, psychologism or religion? What would a set of knowledge practices sensitive to the dead look like that could integrate them into research? Are the dead even a homogenous group? In what temporal dimension are they living? In eternity? If so, which one? The philosopher and expert for theories of death, Prof Dr Petra Gehring, the cultural theorist and researcher on para-human processes, Prof Dr Karin Harrasser, and the literary theorist and art historian Dr Philipp Ekardt, also a specialist on Walter Benjamin, have formed their own research alliance in an effort to seek answers to these questions, proposing a programme of speculative investigation. The goal of their research is to develop a praxeology in dealing with the dead that interrogates the existing distinctions between knowledge, non-knowledge and belief. To finance the elaborate project, an application for funds has been submitted to the German Research Foundation, and the propositions laid out will be defended live on 26 and 27 May before two reviewers and the audience. The media philosopher Prof Christiane Voss and the theologian Prof Philipp Stoellger form the review board. The cultural theorist Dr Britta Lange is invited to offer her expertise as appraiser, complementing the discussion on the dead of the so-called 'modern western type' with those at other places and from other times.
For these dialogues between the Future Us and the Former Them, between otherness and relatedness, inclusion and exclusion, closeness and distance, the Mobile Academy, commissioned by the Humboldt Forum, has worked together with the architect Florian Stirnemann to design a special architecture: a mechanised arena that opens spirally and alternately in- and excludes the viewers and protagonists. Like an animated earpiece, to listen in on the dead. Its curves recall the spiral forms of fossil molluscs: strange remnants of the onetime prehistoric oceans, concrete recollections of a time outside human perception, alien in the present milieu, called the Humboldt snail by Berliners.
The Stiftung Humboldt Forum im Berliner Schloss has commissioned a special stage architecture: a mechanised arena. This mobile architecture will be present at different venues in 2017/18/19. In cooperation with the actors, artefacts and international guests of the future Humboldt Forum, knowledge practices concerned with death and the dead will be presented.
The Future Us - the Dead
The Former Them - the Living
Dr Petra Gehring is professor of philosophy at the Technical University Darmstadt.
Dr Karin Harrasser is professor of cultural studies at the University of Art and Design Linz.
Dr Philipp Ekardt is a literary theorist and art historian currently researching at the Warburg Institute in London.
Dr Christiane Voss is professor of philosophy of audio-visual media at the Bauhaus University Weimar.
Dr Philipp Stoellger is professor of dogmatic theology and philosophy of religion at the theological faculty, Heidelberg University.
Dr Britta Lange is a research fellow at the Institute of Cultural Studies, Humboldt University Berlin.
There is scarcely anything more difficult for a scientist or theorist to speak about than death. One always has the feeling of being off beam, of not being able to address what's essential or of doing something unseemly.
(Karin Harrasser, Vienna, 2015)