Max Planck Institut for the History of Science

Introspective Self-Rapports:
Shaping Ethical and Aesthetic Concepts 1850-2006

05.-06. May 2006

 “Whenever we talk about the individual we mean a subject that is entangled in the adventure of its self-preservation and that experimentally wants to find out the best way of life”, Sloterdijk claimed in an interview with Carlos Oliveira in 1994. And as a diagnosis about self-related techniques in contemporary post-religious culture, Sloterdijk put forward the formula: “Self-preservation plus Self-Experimentation equals Self-Intensification” and to intensify always implies: to risk.

Taking into account such a view, it might not be surprising that it was the era of enlightenment that first brought about a sanctification of self-experimentation as an obligatory step in the process of developing new drugs within pharmaceutical research. Due to ethical reasons concerning debates on the legitimacy of human experimentation the researcher himself should, as Lawrence Altman has pointed out, “go first” in taking primary risks.

With a rising interest in psychology, however, 19th century life-sciences were confronted with the question of how to gain scientific knowledge about processes that took place in an interior and individual space inaccessible from the outside. It was this context in which self-experimentation gained an epistemological status that transcended the realm of risk management and ethical concerns. Whenever self-experimentation was epistemologically inevitable it was thus intrinsically tied to an experimentation of the Self through introspective methods.

Self-relations in this context gained an aesthetic (aisthesis) aspect and simultaneously aesthetics became closely linked to experimental psychology. Most notably, Gustav Theodor Fechner argued for a bottom-up aesthetics based on introspectively observed sensory perceptions that could only proceed inductively. As psychological experimentation at the time was based mainly on physiological measurements, however, aesthetic perception was now linked to measurable vital functions on the one hand and to subjectivity on the other.  Aesthetics shifted its interest from the objects/works of arts and The Beautiful to the subject that perceived and felt; not something was aesthetically pleasing but a subject, someone underwent an aesthetic experience.

The work of the English Artist Neal White oscillates between and refers to the various fields addressed above. As an artist in residence at the National Institute for Medical Researchart (Wellcome Trust, London) he became interested in self-experimental practices and the roles they play within scientific research as well as in their relation to self-techniques within contemporary culture. During this year Neal White has, amongst other things, edited a short booklet entitled “The Self-Experimenter” that was accompanied by a reenactment of an Yves Klein event from the 1950s. The main idea was to make people drink a cocktail that would dye their urine methyl-blue for a few days. The aesthetic experience was thus materially induced into the body with lasting effects; the recipient was transformed into a self-experimenter, a bottom-up aesthetic in a Fechnerian way; and White was seriously confronted with the concerns of an ethics commission thus negotiating on the threshold between ethics and aesthetics.

Stretching from Neal White’s artistic reflections about scientific as well as non-scientific self-techniques to scientific, sociological and historical perspectives, it is the aim of this workshop to analyze how different practices and techniques of approaching oneself change and shape concepts of subjectivity and self-ness and vice versa. In a timeframe ranging from the 1850s to today, it aims at investigating techniques of Self-Rapport and their respective media as practices that produce traces constitutive of the self-conscious subject in the first place. Analyses of historical examples as well as contemporary practices will open new perspectives on the history and theory of subjectivity, as well as to interrelations between the formation of ethical and aesthetic concepts.


Freitag 5.5.
Moderation: Britta Lange
14.00 Neal White: Let' Experiment with Ourselves
15.00 Luciana Caliman: The Biological Moral of Attention in 19th Century
16.00 Kaffeepause
16.30 Jürgen Daiber: "Experimenting with your own Body": On the Specific Form and Practice of a Romantic Self-Experiment
Katrin Solhdju: From Soulful Plants to 'Pure Experience'

Samstag: 6.5.
Moderation: Lambert Williams
10.00 Mark Butler: Experiential Observation - the Playful Challenges of Self-Experimentation
11.00 Annette Bitsch: Self-Experimentation in Surrealism
12.00 Mittagspause
13.30 Nicolas Langlitz and Honza Samotar: Tripping in Solitude
Veranstaltungsort: Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Boltzmannstraße 22, 14195 Berlin

Experiment im Selbst-Test

Veranstaltungsort: BAR - Karl-Marx-Allee 36 - 10178 Berlin

Dies ist ein Beispieltext, der erst noch ein richtiger Text werden soll. Wenn er richtig ausformuliert und groß und erwachsen geworden ist, kann er tolle Geschichten erzählen und ist dann auch wer. Aber so lange steht er hier nur als Exempel für einen richtig erwachsenen und voll ausformulierten Text, der auch einen Sinn hat und deshalb besser hier stehen sollte. Aber so ist das Leben. Ora et labora. Sei es drum. Seine Funktion erfüllt dieser Text auch so.

19.00 Neal White: THE VOID

Kontakt: Katrin Solhdju