Approaching the Contemporary Object

Talk given as part of the event “Humanities and Beyond: Exploring the Frontiers of Interdisciplinarity”, University of Leeds, May 2016.

Not only do the most crucial objects of study in contemporary life stubbornly refuse to fall under one discipline or another; not only do they demand that the theoretical, speculative, and historical approaches of the humanities cross over with the empirical and systematic investigations of the sciences: their very status as ‘objects’ is in itself problematic. Any decision to define and address them from a single disciplinary perspective, or as an object of the ‘humanities’ as such, is heavy with both epistemological and political consequences. The question of interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary methodology is therefore all-important; but it is not simply a question of finding ways of ‘working together’, but also involves a search for a new model of the object in general, beyond the division of labour implied by disciplinarity.

Through a discussion of models that have emerged in the process of editing the transdisciplinary journal Collapse and through working with contemporary artists who also seek to address these problematic objects, I want to propose some ways of thinking about the contemporary, and the different contributions that philosophy, art, and science can make as we try—tentatively, experimentally—to approach it.