20711263 - Laboratory of language and public sphere

The Laboratory offers an introduction to the contemporary debate on the relationship between language and the public sphere through the reading and commentary of texts. The aim will be to highlight some problematic knots that can be found in the relationship between politics and language, in philosophical and cultural anthropology, in the different traditions of critical thinking.
At the end of the course the student will have acquired: 1) advanced critical thinking skills and philosophical contextualization; 2) advanced language properties and argumentative ability in relation to the topics covered in the course; 3) ability to read and analyze sources and critical debate.
teacher profile | teaching materials

Mutuazione: 20711263 LABORATORIO DI LINGUAGGIO E SFERA PUBBLICA in Scienze della Comunicazione L-20 GIARDINI FEDERICA


Coord. Paolo Virno, Marco Mazzeo e Federica Giardini

The political problems of modernity illustrated by Hobbes or Spinoza can be addressed by reconstructing the logic and genealogy of the concept of "ethos." The goal of the workshop is to build a toolbox capable of analyzing what we might call the "garments of the present": the characteristic modes of behavior, the specific passions, the particular modes of social (and antisocial) interaction typical of this end of the millennium. What is the ethics of neoliberal capitalism in the 21st century?
To answer this question will require a preliminary theoretical move, to understand more clearly what is meant by "ethics." Better to be clear: the workshop will dismiss the moralistic meaning of the term (ethics as morality, a norm that establishes good and sanctions evil). For this very reason, it will be necessary to sketch a starting identikit of a notion that risks, once the moralistic option is expunged, to be elusive. A selection of excerpts from Aristotle's Ethics to a reading of an essay by linguist E. Benveniste about "the free man" in the Vocabulary of Indo-European Institutions will help to understand the intertwining of ethos and habit, a key passage for both a theory of political action and a linguistic anthropology. What, in fact, is the animal that needs habits? In need of historical-cultural forms of organizing behavior is the animal lacking specialized instincts (Gehlen), the life form that needs to produce the means of survival (Marx). What the Greeks called "ethos" could be the link between the two classical definitions of human beings: sapiens are political animals and animals that talk.
However, the term "habit" risks generating a misunderstanding, alluding to a flat, appeasing repetition that can only establish custom. The term "ethos" seems to indicate, instead, a side b of the problem, a decisive dimension that overturns the customary one so dear to the empiricist of the eighteenth century or the fashionable pragmatist of the century just past. Ethos is such only if it is able to subvert, to put into crisis, itself. As habitual, ethos is the possibility of showing the threatening and disturbing face of habit ("disturbing" a finally political Freud would call it). For this reason, the workshop will investigate two areas in which the ambivalence of ethos reaches a climax: ritual practices and the intertwining of faculties of language and world perception. The first area will be investigated thanks to a text by one of the most important philosophers of the Italian twentieth century: E. De Martino's The Magical World. Magical rituality consists in the organization of habits of crisis, in the formation of anonymous and collective ethical structures (fire ordeals, shamanic trances) capable of showing the bewildering face of rain and wind, fire and thought. The second will find proof in L. Wittgenstein's reflections (Philosophical Investigations Part II; Observations on the Philosophy of Psychology) about the so-called "bistable figures" in which it is possible to see, alternately and mutually exclusive, the face of a hare or a rabbit, two human profiles or the outline of an amphora. What if bistability, the continually possible play of reversal between figure and background, is a defining feature of ethos?
Working on these questions, the workshop will try to return to the present and its ontology. With a swaggering goal that can rely on earlier work done in the late 1980s (AAVV, Feelings of the Aldiqua, 1990): to identify some of the ethical forms typical of linguistic-financial capitalism in order to adoints its inherent possibilities for overthrow. What is the subversive rabbit lurking in the duck called "life in the neoliberal age"? What amphora emerges from the double profile that present-day enthusiasts call "lifelong learning" and "precarious work"?

Core Documentation

A bibliographic selection will be provided by the teachers during the course of the workshop.
For now it is appropriate to indicate at least:

AAVV, Sentimenti dell'aldiqua. Opportunismo, paura, cinismo, nell'età del disincanto, Theoria 1990 (DeriveApprodi 2023)
Aristotele, Etica Nicomachea, passi scelti.
De Martino E., Il mondo magico, Bollati Boringhieri.
L. Wittgenstein, Ricerche filosofiche, parte II, Einaudi.
Virno P., Il perturbante contro Freud, in M. Mazzeo, A. Bertollini (a cura di), Sintomi. Per un'antropologia linguistica del mondo contemporaneo, DeriveApprodi 2023.

Type of delivery of the course

The course consists on lectures; discussions with students and debates on the considered topics; oral presentations by students. Consistent attendance and participation in the activities lead to the achievement of eligibility

Type of evaluation

Consistent attendance and participation in activities lead to eligibility.