5th International Summer academy at the ZfL
20 Sep 2015 – 25 Sep 2015

Knowledge of Life. Semantics – Theories – Practices

Venue: ZfL, Schützenstr. 18, 10117 Berlin, 3. Et.
Organized by Georg Toepfer and Stefan Willer, Herbert-Kopp-Oberstebrink, Ernst Müller, Falko Schmieder, Katrin Solhdju
Contact: Georg Toepfer

The concept »life« carries weight in very diverse contexts, which is why Hans Blumenberg’s term »absolute metaphor« lends itself so well to the semantics of »life«. Its significance in biology is particularly striking, where it can denote a state found in organized systems as well as a dynamic force that exceeds the body of a single entity (as in the expression »evolution of life«). In everyday language, it is commonly understood as a unit of individual existence that pertains to a person’s biography and is the sum of that person’s hopes, decisions, activities, projects, and relationships. Moreover, cultural products that deal with the category of vitality are being studied, as with, for example, visual representations and their characteristics of »cohesion and transgression« (Frank Fehrenbach) or literature as »a changing and likewise interactive medium for storing life knowledge« (Ottmar Ette). Whereas the biological sciences have laid claim to the integrative concept of life and present themselves as »the life sciences«, life knowledge in cultural terms does not adhere to one single logic, but rather it has consistently been concerned with multiple, different orders.

Given life knowledge’s extremely varied states of embeddedness, the summer academy will investigate the concept of life and its significance within different theories, practices, and interrelationships. This inquiry aims to engage with projects that are interested in those in-between moments within the discourse on life that appear among the various cultures behind academic disciplines. Also of interest here are studies that use concrete examples to explore the relationship between biological, biographical, and artistic conceptualizations of life. This includes projects that take the rhetoric and mediality used in the »life sciences« as their objects of study. We also welcome participants working on projects that deal with aspects of life knowledge as found within a single field, for example, the role of »life« in the fine arts or the absorption and transformation of biological concepts in literary texts (e.g., swarm, symbiosis, super organism, biodiversity, etc.). Finally, we hope to attract scholars who possess a general interest in the relationships between humanities and cultural sciences disciplines and the biological sciences. This might include questions concerning the cultural anchoring and embedding of scientific practices, concepts, and theories or the history of separation that life knowledge has experienced within various disciplines of different academic cultures.


Public keynote lectures: