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San Giorgio Dialogues

Inaugural event. Dialoghi di San Giorgio 12 September 2017, 18.00

Dialoghi di San Giorgio 2017, entitled What’s the body of the Body Politic? Sovereignty, Identity, Ecology, will be opened by a special event: a performance of music from Karlheinz Stockhausen, Tierkreis (1974/1983) for clarinet, flute, trumpet and piano performed by mdi ensemble and readings from works by Platone, San Paolo, Giovanni di Salisbury (John of Salisbury), Christine de Pizan, Thomas Browne

Dialoghi di San Giorgio 13 – 15 September 2017

Do you remember the Aesopian Fable of the Belly and the Members, or the letter of Paul to the Corinthians about the Body and the Church, or The Fable of the Bees by Mandeville, or the somewhat dangerous association of pests and foreigners, or the more recent attempts to think of the Earth as a giant organism? None of these stories stops shifting metaphors between one domain —that of the body— and another —that of politics. The result has been the creation of that most important concept of Western philosophy, corpus politicum, the Body Politic. One interesting aspect of this most famous topic is that every domain borrows from each other the certainty associated with the other’s authority, so that political science ends up borrowing from biology what biologists borrow from political theory. This constant commerce of concepts and metaphors, unfortunately, has never guaranteed the quality of what has been ceaselessly transported from one domain to another. The result is that we remain deprived of a coherent definition of collective bodies. Hence the idea of attempting to re-open the question in this Dialogue by bringing the different domains together and examine what each has really to offer to the others that is genuinely proper to the phenomena it studies.

Just at the moment when the idea of sovereignty has become obsolete through the intensification of globalization, planetary changes and migrations, the new political mood is to withdraw behind the borders that Nation States invented in previous centuries. In spite of the vast transformations that the new climatic regime requires, it is today a politics of identity, nationalism and borders that seems the most attractive to voters. Everywhere the choice is either to prolong the extension of globalization or else return to the older ideas of strictly enforced sovereignty. There seems to be no other alternative. In this Dialogue we wish to open the way for another political orientation, one that relies neither on the idea of globalization nor on those of sovereignty, identity and individuality. Our assumption is that most of the ideas about the Body Politic come from ideas about the biological body, and vice versa.

Although we will speak about totally different entities — bacteria, cells, ants, corporations, clans or bands —, we will force ourselves to be uniquely attentive to the origin, nature, quality, impact, undertone of the metaphors and concepts we borrow from other disciplines when we frame the problem of what is a collective in our own disciplines. It is risky, but every one of us has had to develop some aspect of such an enterprise against the powerful paradigms we had to dispute. As political ecology is clearly and urgently paralyzed by the inability to develop a clear conception of what could compose a Body Politic, it would be heartening to feel that we are not isolated, but – much more important – we might come up with a much better way to phrase the problem.

The Island of San Giorgio Maggiore, a secluded island, is the ideal venue for the dialogue, in that it differs from some other utopias. Instead of dogmatically assuming the answer has already been reached, the Fondazione Cini offers the chance for collaborative search for better questions.

The speakers of this edition of the Dialoghi di San Giorgio are Deborah Gordon, Shirley Strum, Scott Gilbert, Isabelle Stengers, Didier Debaise, Mike Lynch, Kyle McGee, Bruno Karsenti, Timothy Mitchell, Tim Lenton, David Western, Bruno Latour and Simon Schaffer.

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