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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

IAS Fellow's Seminar - Light and Levitation: vertical critique

27th January 2014, 13:00 to 14:00, IAS Seminar Room, Cosin's Hall, Palace Green, Dr Peter Adey (Royal Holloway, University of London)

In this seminar I offer several wide entrance points to ways of thinking about different kinds of objects and subjects that are both light and light, in other words both aerial and luminous. More precisely, the seminar will try to open up a series of questions pertaining to levitating bodies explored through a variety of different genres: from floating saints in blinding ecstasy found in hagiographies and the juridical processes deciding on their miracles; the glowing sovereigns of political theology and legal jurisprudence; night skies contemplated in poetic reverie and elemental thinking; late 19th century magicians unveiled by scientific inquirers; topological philosophers fabling the rationalist and imaginative flights of farmers and mariners; 20th century tightrope walkers and superheroes mythologised in contemporary cinema; and dreams of unidentified flying objects interpreted in psychological analysis.

So why or how do these figures levitate? What conditions make it possible for their reception and interpretation? What role for the viewer or witness of levitation? What is the relationship between light and lightness? In their suspended ‘flights’ I want to suggest that there is something inherently transgressive about these levitators and levitating things, who offer us, in their rejection of the earth, and – for some – the suspension of rules, laws, expectations and beliefs, interesting forms of testimony and critique. Moreover, they offer perspectives and positions quite different to other accounts of aerial bodies and vertical perspectives, commonly held within the ways of seeing of scientific and cartographic practices, security and militarism.

Fellows' seminars take place on Monday lunchtimes in the seminar room at Cosin's Hall.

Places are limited and so any academic colleagues interested in attending a seminar should contact the Institute in advance to reserve a place.

The aim of these seminars is to develop new thinking on the big issues that are of current concern/interest for the Fellows . Each Fellow is asked to present a core idea that informs their current work, or a problem that they are tackling, that could benefit from cross-disciplinary thinking. These seminars are informal and designed to encourage discussion.

Contact for more information about this event.