Next Tuesday I will be giving a seminar at Deakin Univesity, Melbourne, on Michel Serres’s understanding of alterity. The paper comes from the first chapter of my book on Michel Serres, on which I have been able to do some more work recently. I’m trying to get permission from Deakin to tweet a live video of the seminar, so that if you can’t make it to Burwood but want to hear about Michel Serres and alterity, you can head over to https://twitter.com/DrChrisWatkin, watch it live from anywhere in the world and, if you want, ask questions and make comments via Twitter. It’s an experiment…
“Not More of the Same: Michel Serres and the Question of Alterity in Recent French Thought”
The themes of difference and alterity are commonly thought to characterise French thought in the second half of the twentieth century, with canonical thinkers such as Lévinas, Derrida and, latterly, Nancy elaborating diverse ethical positions that nevertheless each accord a privileged and positive place to otherness. In recent years, however, a new philosophy of sameness has emerged, most prominently in the thought of Alain Badiou, claiming that the ethics of alterity is bankrupt, disingenuous and dangerous, and that it is identity and sameness, not difference and alterity, that are of positive ethical value. In this talk I introduce into this debate the thought of Michel Serres, in the light of which we can see that Badiou shares more in common with his supposed opponents than either he or they are ready to admit. For all that distinguishes Badiou’s position from that of his antagonists, they share the fundamental assumption that either identity or difference should be coded positively, but not both equally. In a move more radical than Badiou’s own intervention, Serres offers a different account, one in which neither sameness nor difference is ethically privileged over the other. Couched in the language of asymmetry, parasitism, inclination and enantiomorphy, Serres’s approach shows us how we can move on from the conflict between identity and alterity to a more scientifically informed and, I argue, more ethically compelling account of the relation between identity and alterity.