Serres readers: University of Western Ontario

Correction: This event will take place in March 2009. Michel Serres: Global Dynamics Local Interpretations, is being organized by a Ph.D. comparitive literature candidate via the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario - Amy Hondronicols. If you are interested in submitting a paper proposal, you can do that here: http://www.acla.org/submit/ to fill out the form. Proposals are due by November 1st and should be a maximum of 250 words.

This seminar is part of the American Comparative Literature Association’s Annual Meeting. It takes place at Harvard University on March 26-29, 2009. If you have any questions please email Amy Hondronicols: ahondron [at] uwo {dot} ca

I'm always happy to find other Canadian Serres readers and Amy has noted that there are also UWO students and faculty in Lit Theory and French who are engaging with the ideas Serres has been communicating through his various writings.


Re-post: Clouds of Clouds

This was such an interesting post but you can't leave a comment unless you are part of their system. I'd like to open up their post for your comments. Here's the original:

CLOUDS OF CLOUDS by Miguel Leal and Luis Sarmento
Clouds of clouds is a random generator of cloud images. Each new cloud is unique and indexed to a particular time (GMT) on a particular day. Clouds of Clouds was developed in Perl + MySQL. It works over a database of more than 1.000.000 photos of clouds. Photo information was gathered from Flickr between September 10-13 2008, using Flickr API. The database will be regularly updated. Clouds of clouds is a web-based project comissioned for Interact 15 [http://www.interact.com.pt/]. The project was produced between July and September 2008. hosted by virose.pt

"This is randomness, and that is altogether different. If absolutely necessary, you can count the stars. A catalogue has been kept of them since Antiquity. But if you ask for a catalogue of the clouds, people laugh at you. There is no such term as cloud, defined as permanent, defined by its borders, by its terms or its terminations. […] Clouds, whirlwinds, flows, noises, all primary masses without qualities." (M. Serres)

Chaos theories, as they have emerged in strength since the 1960s, with their focus on complexity, were in fact an answer to the monstrous and misshapen nature of certain phenomena that were revealed to be resistant to determinist equations or to the laws of causality. Atmospheric phenomena such as clouds have always been seen as an image of the inability to submit certain realities to precise measurement. To all intents and purposes, clouds appeared to be a perfect example of irreducibility, instability and unpredictability. Clouds, in their apparent causal disjunction, like a whirlwind or vortex, represented the principles of error, exception and monstrosity. Perhaps this is why there have never been dreams of an individual cloud catalogue, since it would be so absurd. If we ask anybody for something similar, we risk being ridiculed, as Michel Serres recalls. Clouds are instantly fleeting and have no number or stable form. They exist now and no longer exist a moment later. We can classify the clouds approximately, order them by type or try to understand their signs but we have no way of archiving them. The exponential growth of Web files, particularly with the participative forms that Web 2.0 has made common, has finally brought us an embryo for these absurd archives, and not only for clouds.

Everything that has always been firmly uncataloguable seems to have found its place in the distributed digital archives. At the same time, curiously, we have an increasing popularity in recent years for terms such as Cloud Computing, Cloud Architecture, Data Clouds, Text Clouds or Tag Clouds, in what represents the attribution of a new semantic power to our idea of a cloud. Particularly on the web, with the explosion of social networks, it has become common to use similar devices to organise meta-information generated by users. Clouds of clouds is a random generator of cloud images. Each new cloud is unique and indexed to a particular time (GMT) on a particular day. Its clouds were made on similar dates and at similar times, not necessarily the same year, and are linked to the original web pages. The basis of the archives are all images indexed with the tags or on Flickr.

These are not clouds in the atmospheric meaning of the word, but instead entities with which they share a complexity that can be confused with instability, unpredictability and irreducibility. That this is based on a relatively simple visualisation arrangement is another way of indicating that this complexity depends less on what we see on the surface than on the networks of relationships established from it. The clouds generated by the users are kept in searchable archives. These archives will grow with the project and are intended to become, over time, veritable daily, monthly, yearly archives of clouds. Clouds of clouds also works as a type of infinite nesting doll: clouds within clouds, archives within archives.


Good Post on Weather

David Williams has a very nice post on the cultural and intellectual space/aesthetics of weather. Serres is referenced but not featured. However, it is a very worthwhile reflection and anyone familiar with Serres's admonition that contemplation of weather should be the among the most central features of a true philosophers work, will find William's article worthwhile.


Hope and Mary Zournazi

I just came across this post that links to a PDF of Mary Zournazi's book on Hope from a few years back. One of the people she interviewed was Michel Serres. That's of interest. But the other people she interviewed are also well worth reading. The book is a reminder of the role that intangibles, like hope, play in our lives individually and collectively. High tech doesn't render these threads of the social fabric out-of-date.


More Books Added

While in Ottawa recently, I stopped in at the Librairie du Soleil on Rue George - just to the east of Parliament Hill. My good fortune was to find that they had four Michel Serres titles in French that I didn't have. The new additions to my library are: Hominescence, Le Tiers-Instruit, Les Cinq Sens, Le Mal Propre

My desire to become better in speaking and reading French will be enhanced by these texts as I pursue what will, undoubtedly, be a life-long effort to understand more fully the nuance and style of Serres.


What does the world think of Michel Serres?

Inspired by Angela Last's comments to me in a recent email, I'd like learn what people from among the international readership of Michel Serres think about his work. The idea isn't to try to find concensus but rather to explore the range of reactions and thoughts that his complex work inspires in people.

Angela's opening volley
I think Michel Serres has a different status in each European country. In Germany, for instance, hardly anyone knows him, although a few of his books were translated into German. In England, he is very popular with a lot of social scientists, but not so much with philosophers. In France and the francophone part of Switzerland, he seems to be a well-known figure (intellectuals are much more public figures over there - they are on TV and in magazines and everything), but a figure of some sort of controversy: some people like him, some people smile at his ideas, some people are enraged by him joining the academie francaise, some people outright deride his ideas.

In Canada, I'd say he's largely unknown, though where he is read, I think he has a hearing. Memorial University in St. John's, NFLD, awarded him an honourary doc a few years back.

Send in your comments and take a swing at figuring out what people in your part of the world think about his ideas.


New Serres Posts

Here are some new posts that provide commentary on Serres and his work. 

Andrew Czink - Simon Fraser University
Kotaku - Serres shows up in a gaming review
Peter Jones - Health care and Hodges
Stanford - Topics in French Literature, Philosophy and Humanities
Angela - Mutable Matter blog - a surprise discovery in a bookstore


Michel Serres and UNESCO

My Google Alert inbox this morning let me know that Michel Serres has contributed to a UNESCO book titled "Making Peace with the Earth" (Berghahn Books/UNESCO Publishing). I wasn't familiar with the series but apparently it is the third volume in the UNESCO 21st Century Talks which is edited by Jérôme Bindé. The article from a Turkish source states that Paul Crutzen, Nicolas Hulot, Javier Pérez de Cuellar, Michel Serres, Mostafa Tolba, Asit K. Biswas and Edward O. Wilson are among the contributors. A quick spin around the UNESCO site didn't turn anything up on the book. I'll check back later.


Steven Connor - paper on Serres and the Middle

A provoking meditation on the very common Serresian theme of the middle, as a passing between things. 
"There are two kinds of middle, static and dynamic. There is the abstract middle, or centre, that part of a structure which is equidistant from all bounding edges. Then there is the more dynamic kind of middling or mediation, which consists in a movement towards the middle, which never comes to reside there. The line which runs down the centre of an opening in a book divides it into two, but does not belong to the space of the page, since there is no part of the page that does not belong to the recto or the verso. The dynamism of the middle arises when the middle of the page is folded into the middle of one of the spaces it divides off, which then creates two more halves, and another middle into which the centre may be drawn. This kind of middling is always on the hop, an unbalanced attempt to re-topple itself into balance."

Weissman on the Birth of Physics

The title link will bring you to Joseph Weissman's article that explores some key ideas relating to Michel Serres, mathematics and physics.

Declination in a Laminar Flow

Serres begins the first section of The Birth of Physics by showing how the clinamen (atomic swerve) has been represented as a weakness of atomic theory, as a prescientific absurdity. Why has it been able to appear this way? First, because declination is a physical absurdity (since experimentation cannot reveal its existence); second, it is a mechanical absurdity (since it is contrary to the principle of inertia and would result in perpetual motion); and finally, it is a logical absurdity (since it is introduced without justification, as being the cause of itself before being the cause of all things.) Serres writes: “The thing is so absurd and so far from our experience that the physicalist minimizes it, as if to hide it.”


Legendas da Ciência - Emergir - Parte 5 de 5

Michel Serres dancing

Catherine Bernstein interviews Michel Serres on the Seine

Michel Serres - Fnac Boulogne (1/3)

Michel Serres - Fnac Boulogne (2/3)

Michel Serres - Fnac Boulogne (3/3)

Raoul Mortley - Interview of Michel Serres

ABSTRACT (click for PDF of interview)
Michel Serres was born in France in 1930, and is Professor in History of Science at the Sorbonne (Paris 1). He began his adult life by training for the navy, and a love for the sea and its metaphors is always evident in his work. Originally from the south of France, Michel Serres is keenly interested in rugby. His philosophical work began with the study of Leibniz, but following this he embarked on his own self-expression, which led him to the five-volume Hermes series of books. Some of Leibniz' themes persist throughout his work, particularly those concerned with combination, communication and invention. His method is based on an encyclopaedic approach, and this holism is evident in his writing: all kinds of data are held to contribute to philosophy, and the philosopher must not cut himself off from any form of investigation. His most recent work bridges the gap between philosophy and literature, and it has a wide readership.

Michel Serres on Sport