Seminar Year 2020-2021

Stasis, Flux, Change

For many of us today, the world seems unstable and fragile, suspended between old forms and traditions that are no longer functional (or perhaps never really were) and new paths and methods that are still obscure, only dimly glimpsed possibilities. We want change – but we’re not sure exactly what that change should be, or how to achieve it, or how to know if it is indeed real change, and not merely a minor modification of existing elements. We are unsure whether our situation is one of simple stasis, sterile repetition, or endless flux, and we yearn for the certainty that our actions can have substantial and transformative consequences. This seminar will address the questions of stasis, flux, and change in terms of political, scientific, ontological, and subjective transformation, in response to texts and concepts from the ancient world to today.

In the first part of the seminar we will begin with a central controversy in Pre-Socratic philosophy: is reality fundamentally static, despite the appearance of dynamism (a view associated with Parmenides) or is it in a constant state of flux, despite its apparent stability (as Heraclitus claimed)? With Plato, on the one hand, and the Biblical traditions on the other, new possibilities of radical change are announced and made available. Lucretius and Ovid understand nature and human nature as involving a fundamental “swerve” or metamorphic impulse. And modern thinkers such as Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud all resisted the inertia of the status quo, whether subjective or collective, and sought possibilities of real change.

The second part of the seminar will focus on contemporary aspects of the question of stasis, flux, and change by examining topics including the science of climate change; the idea of epigenesis and the transformation of reason; subjective and political transformations of racial divisions and antagonisms; the categories of the “normal” and “abnormal,” and gender binarism and biological determinism. We will conclude by returning to current philosophical approaches to the nature of stasis, flux, and change in the work of Alain Badiou and Gilles Deleuze.

Guest speakers for the seminar will include Richard Ellis, Brooke Holmes, Francesca Martelli, John Smith, John McCumber, Eric Santner, Bruno Bosteels, Katherine Hayles, Catherine Malabou, Nahum Chandler, Fred Moten, Frank Wilderson, Yala Kisukidi, Zakiyyah Iman Jackson, Adrián Flores, Colby Gordon, David Theo Goldberg, and Eleanor Kaufman.