SAM Seminar: Scripts of Life: DNA, mammoths, and the persistence of the letter in the genome

When:26 Apr 2016, 5pm - 6:30pm
Venue:Cinema 327, Robert Webster Building
Who:Julian Murphet, UNSW
SAM Seminar

The momentous historical shift from an analog to a digital hegemon in the domain of mediation entails much more than microsecond speeds, the Internet, and the thoroughgoing remediation of all hitherto existing media by electronic computation. At the most fundamental level, it augurs the obsolescence of an entire system of reference – analogy – and its replacement by a system of code. Aesthetics cannot but be plunged by this substitution into the most radical crisis of its history, since in one way or another (positively or negatively) mimesis and analogy have been the cornerstones of all aesthetic thought since Plato.

This paper approaches the crisis from the vantage point of a certain figure, which we may take to have been paradigmatic for the very origins of aesthetics and the human itself, and which today signals a completely transformed functionality in the field of evolutionary biology and genetics. This figure – the mammoth – can be said to have inaugurated the history of analogy on which all the arts have thrived, and to have presented that millennia-long history with its quietus. For, as this paper will show, the mammoth is no longer a figure at all in the disciplines for which it has assumed extraordinary contemporary relevance. What, I want to ask, does this portend for aesthetic thought?

Julian Murphet is Scientia Professor in English and Film Studies at UNSW, and Director of the Centre for Modernism Studies in Australia.


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Robert Webster Building is located mid-way off the UNSW main walkway. Map Reference G14. Cinema 327 is located on the third floor. 

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