Arts, Ontology, and Politics

First Meeting of the International Collaboration Program, FWO – CAS, 2019 - 2020, between the Center for European Philosophy (University of Antwerp) and Institute of Philosophy (Czech Academy of Sciences)

13 – 14 June

University of Antwerp, SJ 214 (Het Brantijser), St. Jacobsmarkt 19, 2000 Antwerpen

Organizers: Arthur Cools, Jan Bierhanzl, Geoffrey Dierckxsens, Leen Verheyen


In this project, we will investigate the ethico-political significance of art, from two different, seemingly opposed, perspectives. The first perspective considers art as an ontological event, related to pure materiality (e.g., modern painting). The second examines the connection between aesthetics and political philosophy. The central thesis of our project is that both perspectives on art are complementary, even if they are opposed, because they demonstrate that it is problematic to consider art exclusively as a function of either ontology or the ethico-political. Starting point for this investigation is Levinas’ philosophy. In his reflections on art, Levinas thematizes the appearance of a bare materiality in modern art and in his defense of an ethics as first philosophy, he articulates a subversive dimension with regard to the politicization of aesthetics. Our project aims to go beyond Levinas’ philosophy by investigating the ontological and ethico-political meaning of contemporary art manifestations and by examining some writings of authors such as: Michel Foucault (Le courage de la vérité),  Paul Ricoeur (Temps et récit), Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe (La vérité sublime), Giorgio Agamben (Création et anarchie. L’oeuvre à l’âge de la religion capitaliste), and Judith Butler (Frames of War). 

Meeting Program

First day: Thursday, 13th of June

Texts Seminars

  • 10.00 Reading Seminar 1: organized and introduced by Arthur Cools
    Emmanuel Levinas, “Existence sans monde”, in De l’existence à l’existant, Paris, Vrin, 1993 [1963], pp. 83-105.
  • 11.30 Reading Seminar 2: organized and introduced by Leen Verheyen
    José Ortega y  Gasset, “The Dehumanization of Art” inVelazquez, Goya, and the Dehumanization of Art, London, Studio Vista, 1972, pp. 65-83.
  • 13.00 Lunch
  • 14.30 Reading Seminar 3: organized and introduced by Geoffrey Dierckxsens
    Marco Caracciolo, “Experience, Interaction and Play in Julio Cortázar’s Hopscotch” and “Blind Reading: Bodily and Perceptual Responses to Narrative” in Idem, The Experientiality of Narrative: An Enactivist Approach, Berlin / Boston, De Gruyter, 2014, pp. 72-109.
  • 16.00 Reading Seminar 4: organized and introduced by Jan Bierhanzl 
    Judith Butler, “Torture and the Ethics of Photography”, in Frames of War. When is Life Griefable ?, London / New York, Verso, pp. 63-100.
  • 17.30 Closing remarks
  • 19.00 Dinner

Second Day: Friday 14th of June


  • 09.30   Frans van Peperstraten (Tilburg University)
    “Arts, Ontology, and Politics, Departing from Lacoue-Labarthe”
  • 10.30   Jan Bierhanzl (Institute of Philosophy, Czech Academy of Sciences)
    “The Disobedience of the Gaze: Judith Butler and the Visual Arts”
  • 11.30   Sebastian Müngersdorff (University of Antwerp)
    "The Power of Literary Estrangement: a Comparison of Adorno and Blanchot"
  • 12.30 Lunch
  • 14.00   Geoffrey Dierckxsens (Institute of Philosophy, Czech Academy of Sciences)
    "Enactivism in Pictures: An Interpretation of the Photography of Josef Koudelka and the Prague Spring.”
  • 15.00   Leen Verheyen (University of Antwerp)
    “Intertextuality and the Cognitive Value of Literature”
  • 16.00   Kim Schoof (University of Amsterdam)
    “Literature as ‘Compearance-Attestation’: Understanding the Self in Contemporary Autobiographical Literature as Fundamentally Political”
  • 17.00   Arthur Cools (University of Antwerp)
    “Disappearance and Attestation in Literary Fiction: a Sacrificial Bound ? Re-reading Levinas after Derrida”