Media Ecology and Bios Theoretikos

That’s the title of the paper of I’ll be presenting at the 18th Annual Convention of the Media Ecology Association, to be held June 22–25 at Saint Mary’s College of California.

It’s Part 2 of the paper I recently published in Cosmos and History. The abstract is below.

Title: Media Ecology and Bios Theoretikos: Philosophy as Extended Skillful Action

Abstract: In this paper, I discuss the media ecology of philosophy. Specifically, I explore the media environments that enable philosophical activity and the media practices that express and transform philosophical understanding. To these ends, I draw on the work of German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk and the ideas of James Gibson to suggest that philosophical ability (techné) is tied deeply to specific exercises of self-transformation (askēsis), best executed within certain affordance spaces, and to specific media practices, in this case those of reading and writing. In short, these media ecologies are immersive technologies for the installation of new philosophical visions in the eyes of the practicing. The activity of philosophy in this way takes as its condition of possibility an intricate ecology of affordance spaces—academies, libraries, monasteries, and more—whose aesthetics complement and enable the individual’s capacity to perform certain maneuvers in thought, maneuvers that make apparent the material conditions of possibility required for the bios theoretikos (the life of contemplation). To use Sloterdijk’s terms, these practice zones afford the architectural equivalent of the philosophical epoché. In other words, they are atmospheres suited for the suspension of the mundane and that support the growth of new capacities in the perceptual arena. The exercises of the philosopher are in this context not adequately described in individual or introspective terms. Instead, acts of philosophical practice, I argue, are better understood as intersubjective modes of skillful action extended amidst larger media environments.

The Side View Published

Cosmos and History has published ahead of schedule my essay “The Side View: Hadot and Sloterdijk on the Practice of Philosophy.”

You can read it online HERE.

The full issue is available HERE.

Many thanks to the folks at Cosmos and History for being so efficient in their efforts.

Article forthcoming in Cosmos & History

I’ve just received word that the online journal Cosmos and History will soon publish an article I completed on the work of Pierre Hadot and Peter Sloterdijk. Readers of this blog are no doubt already familiar with C&H, but if you haven’t visited their site before you’ll find a substantial and worth-while back catalogue of articles available for free. I’m told my essay will appear online in March. The article gives a fuller voice to a few ideas I’ve been ruminating on (see for example here and here). I’ll be sure to post the link to the full essay when it’s published. For now, I’m including below my abstract for the paper.


This essay describes Peter Sloterdijk’s “side view” of philosophy. That is, it describes the self-disciplines that make philosophical activity possible. Along similar lines, the paper draws on the work of Pierre Hadot, who also reads philosophy as an askēsis or exercise of self-transformation. Bringing together the work of Sloterdijk and Hadot, the essay reframes the question, What is Philosophy? by asking, Who is the philosopher? To this end, the essays synthesizes the work of Hadot and Sloterdijk, describing first the philosopher’s exercises of self-transformation, then their relation to the city and the community at a large, and finally their connection to the practice zones, enclaves, and microclimates, to use Sloterdijk’s terms, that enable the philosopher to perform certain maneuvers in thought. The paper concludes with an assessment of Sloterdijk’s global view of human practice—which he calls “the planet of the practicing”—to suggest that a planetary perspective should hold a privileged view for future philosophical inquiries. Who are the philosophers? They are the practitioners of planet Earth, the ascetic planet.

Architecture and Epoché

tumblr_oeivjpl1za1qd0i7oo1_1280[Image: Tanja Deman]

In an earlier post, I connected typography and bookmaking to James Gibson’s theory of affordances, the idea that perception is layered less with the properties of individual objects and more with the possibilities for action they enable or afford. The basic idea of this application is that books provide a detailed and intentional set of affordances for a certain kind of understanding, and that typography and bookmaking are from this perspective intricate material practices for the installment of conversions in apprehension, for the reshaping of awareness through the mode of discursive engagement.

As I noted in the original post, on this view books are things we think with and through rather than storehouses we download from. The art of writing and bookmaking, then, is the intentional creation of affordances that make such transformations of experience possible. The book is the environment in which such affordances can endure. It’s in the context of designed affordance environments—settings created with the expressed purpose of enabling certain experiences—that I find interesting Peter Sloterdijk’s reflections on architecture and epoché.

Exploring Edmund Husserl’s concept of the epoché—which John Cogan aptly defines as “the name for whatever method we use to free ourselves from the captivity of the unquestioned acceptance of the everyday world”—Sloterdijk sees an architectural parallel in Plato’s Academy. That is to say, in much the same way that books are affordances for thinking rather than representations of thought, architecture affords something like an environmental epoché, a design space intended to produce effects in the person. Sloterdijk writes:

Plato was concerned to provide appropriate accommodation for persons in the precarious state of complete devotion to their thoughts. The original Academy was dedicated to nothing other than innovation in spatial creation. It was an unprecedented new institution for accommodating absences that occur on the quest for the still largely unknown connection between ideas and—why not?—the study of the connection between words and things, which, if you really think about it, can only be problematic. The academy is the architectural equivalent of what Husserl apostrophized as epoché—a building for shutting out the world and bracketing in concern, an asylum for the mysterious guests that we call ideas and theorems. In today’s parlance, we would call it a retreat or a hideaway. (The Art of Philosophy, 32–33)

So, the book, the notepad, the retreat, the academy, the library—these are all designed affordance spaces, mostly backgrounded in action, but often preconditions for certain kinds of thinking. The extended activity of mind in this way takes as its condition of possibility a whole media ecology of material affordance spaces, sets of architectural epoché that complement and enable the individual’s capacity to perform certain maneuvers in thought, maneuvers that make apparent the material conditions of possibility required for the bios theoretikos (the life of contemplation).