Lecture: Tom Eyers, Formalism in a Positivist Age

Thursday, April 21, 2016
2:00 PM
Grucci Room, 102 Burrowes Building

Co-sponsored by the Department of Philosophy

On Thursday, April 21, 2016, Tom Eyers (Duquesne University) delivered a lecture titled “Formalism in a Positivist Age.”

Event flyer

Description of presentation

Taking up certain aspects of my 2014 article “The Perils of the ‘Digital Humanities’: New Positivisms and the Fate of Literary Theory,” this talk will address the complex relationship between various, overlapping strands of contemporary literary theory, Continental philosophy, and the digital humanities. What is emerging, I will argue, is a contest for the meaning of one of the oldest and most inexact of critical terms — “form.” What might a “speculative” formalism look like, were it to contest the tacit positivism that underpins much that comes under the banner of both the “new formalism” and the digital humanities? How might historical and political questions be integrated into such an approach without neglecting the generative modulations of form at the level of the line? Finally, what are the general prospects for criticism today, formalist or otherwise, given the reinvigoration of positivist and anti-critical lines of thought?

Speaker bio

Tom Eyers is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Duquesne University and Assistant Editor of the journal boundary 2: international journal of literature and culture. He is the author of three books: Lacan and the Concept of the Real (Palgrave, 2012), Post-Rationalism: Psychoanalysis, Epistemology and Marxism in Postwar France (Bloomsbury, 2013/2015), and Speculative Formalism: Literature, Theory, and the Critical Present (Northwestern University Press, forthcoming in 2016).

Description, from publisher’s Web site

This is the first book in English to explore in detail the genesis and consequences of Lacan’s concept of the “Real,” providing readers with an invaluable key to one of the most influential ideas of modern times.

“The Lacanian concept of the Real is itself a case of the real — a frustrating deadlock, combining a series of opposite determinations: lack, without lack; impossible, unavoidable; outside the symbolic, the effect of a symbolic deadlock… Tom Eyers does the impossible: he provides a systematic outline of the concept of the Real in all its dimensions, from its genesis and transformations to its clinical and philosophical implications. His book is thus simply inescapable for anyone who wants to find a way in the labyrinth of Lacanian theory and of modern thought itself. It is simply something one will have to have at his side all the time while reading hundreds of other books.” —Slavoj Žižek

Description, from publisher’s Web site

Post-Rationalism takes the experimental journal of psychoanalysis and philosophy, Cahiers pour l’Analyse, as its main source. Established by students of Louis Althusser in 1966, the journal has rarely figured in the literature, although it contained the first published work of authors now famous in contemporary critical thought, including Alain Badiou, Jean-Claude Milner, Luce Irigaray, André Green and Jacques-Alain Miller. The Cahiers served as a testing ground for the combination of diverse intellectual sources indicative of the period, including the influential reinvention of Freud and Marx undertaken by Lacan and Althusser, and the earlier post-rationalist philosophy of science pioneered by Gaston Bachelard, Georges Canguilhem and Alexandre Koyré.

This book is a wide-ranging analysis of the intellectual foundations of structuralism, re-connecting the work of young post-Lacanian and post-Althusserian theorists with their predecessors in French philosophy of science. Tom Eyers provides an important corrective to standard histories of the period, focussing on the ways in which French epistemological writing of the 1930s and 1940s — especially that of Bachelard and Canguilhem — laid the ground for the emergence of structuralism in the 1950s and 1960s, thus questioning the standard historical narrative that posits structuralism as emerging chiefly in reaction to phenomenology and existentialism.

Other resources

Interview about Post-Rationalism: Psychoanalysis, Epistemology and Marxism in Postwar France at Bloomsbury Philosophy News

Interview about Lacan and the Concept of the Real in 3:AM Magazine

Badiou among the Poets,” boundary 2 43.2 (2016)

The Perils of the ‘Digital Humanities’: New Positivisms and the Fate of Literary Theory,” Postmodern Culture 23.2 (January 2013)