Dear Organizers of the Metabolic Museum-University,

I am hereby applying for the program of MM-U during the Ljubljana Biennial of Graphic Arts 2019. I am a master student of Cultural History and Theory at Humboldt-University of Berlin. I work as a student assistant at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin-Dahlem and at the Department for the History of Knowledge and Culture at Humboldt-University. My studies revolve around on the cultural history of science and of technical media. Within the last year I have given special attention to the material culture of processes of formalization in science and industry.

I would like to present an excerpt of my studies and make a contribution to either Day 2: Tongueday or Day 3: Eyeday of the program of MM-U: (Staab eventually came under Lungday, ed.)

Only when I kneel down and move my lips, I truly believe.

Following this formula of 17th century philosopher Blaise Pascal I want to give an instruction on discipline of thought and of bodily movement. Discipline is to be understood as the commandment of bodies and minds, individual and or collective. Despite broadly perceived as a concept of coercion and obedience discipline also points towards a friction/tension between structural determination and unanticipated outcome. Discipline can be obtained through a formal set of rules. The point where the body and a formal rule set meet is the realm of gesture.

I will introduce two perspectives on the relationship between discipline, body and formalism. On the one hand I will draw on a French 20th-century tradition of philosophers concerned with a theory of mathematical gesture i.e. bodily operations like measuring, counting or collecting that constitute the most basic forms of work on algebraic structures. My presentation will concentrate on the Spinozist philosopher Jean Cavaillès and his view on mathematical gesture as experimentation which in his case is an exploratory act. Although led by a set of formal conventions of logical and arithmetic manner, mathematical experimentation, in Cavaillès view, still produces novel results that transform the very set of rules by which it was determined in the beginning.

Reading Cavaillès is rewarding for both philosophical as well as biographical details. I will follow him into self-techniques of asceticism that constitute a holistic program of mathematical philosophy as “pure action” with which he aimed to exclude the conscious subject from the philosophy of mathematics.

This theoretical understanding of gesture will be brought together with the practical experiments of writers and artists Helen Chadwick and Kathy Acker. Here, I will join them in asking how geometrical form and repetitive, regulated movement in-form bodies. Their work opens up perspectives on discipline as a tool for transformation of gendered and normalized understandings of corporeality, as Acker states on bodybuilding and language:

Every day, in the gym, I repeat the same controlled gestures with the same weights, the same reps,… The same breath patterns. […] though I am only repeating certain gestures during certain time spans, my body, being material, is never the same; my body is controlled by change and by chance.

The announced program as much as the format of Metabolic Museum University seem very appealing to me. I would be delighted to have the opportunity to get into conversation with participants form other disciplines and contexts. Should you need any further information, please do not hesitate to contact me. I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours faithfully,
Philipp Staab