Saturday, 10 December 2016

Professor Rosi Braidotti - Event Review

What: Professor Rosi Braidotti
When: 9 December 2016
Where: Victorian College of the Arts

Rosi Braidotti - all photos by Samsara

One of the great secrets of every university town is the public lectures available to the community. University of Melbourne is a well-spring of current thinking and ideas and they run an ongoing series of free public lectures on everything from the physics of entropy through to the randomness of chance and probability.

Last night I attended an incredibly inspiring lecture by world renowned philosopher Professor Rosi Braidotti. Braidotti is currently a professor at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, and is a pioneer in European Women's Studies.

Speaking in Federation Hall at the Victorian College of the Arts, Braidotti addressed the question of what it is to be a feminist in a post-human age. Braidotti is an incredibly lively and engaging speaker and it was impossible to not get caught up in her indignation of the past, frustration in the present, and enthusiasm for the future.

Braidotti grounded this presentation in the works of Foucault and Deleuze, but the true foundation of the talk centred around the ideas underlying the philosophies of Baruch Spinoza. Spinoza laid the groundwork for the Age of Enlightenment with his monistic concept of humanity, the universe and God as well as his belief in the future of mankind being determinist rather than an act of free will.

Beginning with the presentation of Leonardo da Vinci's drawing of the Vitruvian Man, Braidotti condemned the idea of this image being a representation of humanity and thereby, the universal. She asked the question "If this is human and I am not this [white male], than am I human?" She took this idea even further, asking can a concept of universal be represented by female or - an even bigger leap - can the concept of universal be represented by other than human?

One of the intriguing insights raised by Braidotti was the amount of money being poured into future studies in Europe. In particular, she talked about the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University and how it is investigating ways to augment biological humanity to help us keep up with the computers and machines we are inventing which outstrip our own unenhanced capabilities.

As such, questions about the usefulness of the concept of other are raised. In a world where humans require augmentation and we are attempting to build moral algorithms into our unmanned killing machines is there really any difference between human and machine, living and non-living, or human and alt-speciies.

Spinoza and Braidotti share the monistic viewpoint and Braidotti is careful to remind us that being part of the whole does not mean we are the same. On the other hand, being different is not about being other. In a post-Brexit, pre-Trump world where the 'other' (such as refugees) are considered disposable these ideas are really important to think about and consider.

These public lectures are a wonderful way to expand our thinking. For example, one of the important observations raised by Braidotti is how it appears the 21st century seems to be a reliving of the 17th century. As such, another Age of Enlightenment is bound to reemerge, unfortunately just not in our lifetime.

Public lectures are a great alternative to movies and sports and gets your brain working in ways it is not used to. They also provide excellent fodder for dinner party conversations and lively debates among friends. And they're free.

To find out what other intriguing and exciting lectures are on offer click HERE.

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