Berkeley Cologne Summer School: “Practice, Exercise, Formation”

The notion of practice has played an increasingly important role in the study of literature, in cultural studies, in anthropology, and in philosophy during the last decades. This increasing interest in practices also entailed a specific interest in forms of writing from a perspective that foregrounds not the production of meaning and the hermeneutic reading of texts, but a specific attention to the ways in which texts shape forms of perception, stiles of thought, and modes of behavior. Thus, we have to distinguish between a focus on and a tension between semiotic and hermeneutic approaches to texts and approaches that analyze texts in terms of exercise and of modes of enactment of perceptual, conceptual, and ethical formation. This also raises the question of how texts reflect the relation between a formative function and the production of meaning, i.e., how texts express, reflect, and enact what the analysis of texts identifies as pragmatic and metapragmatic aspects.

Speaking in terms of exemplary situations we might think here of the significance of traditions of meditation in philosophy, e.g., in Descartes’ Meditations, in Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations, and in the very exercises that philosophical phenomenology asks for. Along these lines, Pierre Hadot’s work on classical philosophy has put a strong emphasis on the pragmatic dimension, reminding us of the importance of understanding philosophy as an exercise. Among others, we might also think of the significance of the notions of exercise and form of life in Wittgenstein’s thought. In the study of literature and of culture, among many others, the work of Michel de Certeau and Roland Barthes’ Sade, Fourier, Loyola draw attention to the significance of aspects of practice. Both draw attention to the importance of exercise and the ways in which forms of writing both in form and content reflect this element.

In the summer school seminars we will focus on historical aspects of notions and techniques of exercise and discuss the significance and the analytical scope of the concept of practice in a range of literary case studies. These may include, to name just a few examples, philosophical treatises and their function of shaping perception and thought, the history of baroque drama and its relation to the tradition of spiritual exercises, the notion of the Bildungsroman, and, more broadly, the ways in which literary texts are invested in the shaping of forms of perception, thought, and life.

The full program is available here