Figura. Joint PhD-Seminar

In the early twentieth century, Walter Benjamin prophesized that the increasing amount of writing surrounding us in modern cities would eventually change our mode of reading, from absorption in textual worlds to a distracted recognition of surface values, like reading hieroglyphs rather than texts. Hundred years later, our immersion in signs of all sorts coming towards us on innumerable and ubiquitous surfaces raises the stakes of Benjamin’s intuition: what is the logic of our interaction with the panoply of signifying processes that are becoming still more deeply ingrained with the machineries of social reproduction today?

We have sign processes conveying information, creating meaning, producing reference and visibility, distributing value, processing commodities, and much more. Faced with this saturation, we are compelled to reconsider our understanding of what signs do, to reassess the scope of Saussure’s famous query into “the life of signs in the life of society.” Signs are expressions, emerging from a surface, and we have huge theoretical and methodological resources to gauge the ways in which they confect meaning and construct reference. We still need, however, to develop our understanding of a third modality of sign processes, namely how expressions affect us. To accommodate this need, this seminar will heuristically suggest considering signs as figura, expressions that combine aspects of meaning, reference and affect.

The seminar will be based on readings of texts by Erich Auerbach, Jean-François Lyotard, Gilles Deleuze, and Maurizio Lazzarato.

Invited speakers are Claudia Brodsky (Princeton) and D.N. Rodowick (Chicago).

Please submit a 300 word abstract for a presentation, or volunteer for a text presentation, before March 31, to the organisers:
Knut Ove Eliassen
Frederik Tygstrup (