“Altered States”: Mind, Embodiment, Aesthetics
An international conference at the Sorbonne and the Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art
Paris, June 1-2, 2018
Université Paris 8, Sorbonne Université,
The Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia University
in partnership with
The Institut universitaire de France
and the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics
To be entranced, transported, or to drift into the uncharted realms of dreams… From radical derangement to passing boredom, from hypnosis to sleep or anesthesia, from drugs and medicine to ecstatic fervors of faith, “altered states” constitute a recurrent trope of our ways of relating to our perceptive and affective lives. Encompassing continuities and ruptures, the notion of altered states structures our experience of the world, and forms an integral part of our constructed narratives of consciousness.
But “altered” with respect to what: a norm or baseline which, like bodily homeostasis, presupposes a hypothetical resting state? With regard to a graduation of changes extending across various spectrums? What understanding of the mind and body is provided by the poles of alteration and normality? How are we to distinguish between the end and beginning of various states, or to order them within a hermeneutical catalogue? As we exist in time, and are conditioned by the experience of change, our consciousness, bodies, and even existences, are perhaps necessarily, continually, altered. Moreover, if the notion of alteration implies disruption, does it make sense to talk about states at all, to the extent that this term implies a degree of stability and dependability, rather than pure dynamic flux?
While a series of “altered” objects—whether bodies, personalities, or states—took center stage in modern epistemologies such as psychiatry, both the aesthetic subject and the work of art were increasingly conceived of as prime sites of transformative experience. In a global context, music, literature, and the performing arts, as disciplines of temporal absorption, are frequently seen as the cause of altered states—in spectators and readers, in performers and authors—or as literal incarnations of altered states themselves, in a mode of aesthetic embodiment. From the point of view of the feeling and perceiving subject, the alteration of one’s own states—or even of the self—is actively practised as a means to access “higher” forms of existence, or as a disturbing distortion.
This international conference, which will take place in Paris on June 1-2, 2018 at the Sorbonne and the Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art (INHA), will investigate the concept of altered states in theoretical debates, socio-historical discourses, and in the creation of works of art and their reception. Bringing together scholars with a wide range of disciplinary orientations, the conference will consist of both panel sessions and discussions of pre-circulated papers. A second installment entitled “Synesthesia” will take place at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt in early 2019.
Organizers: Céline Frigau Manning (Université Paris 8—Institut Universitaire de France), Nicholas Manning (Sorbonne Université), Carmel Raz (Columbia University— Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics)