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Philosopher Christoph Brunner wins John G. Diefenbaker Award

2019-10-07 Christoph Brunner, Junior Professor of Cultural Theory, was awarded the prestigious John G. Diefenbaker Award of the Canada Council for the Arts. Through the award, the young scientist is able to spend one year researching at McGill University in Canada.

McGill University, together with Concordia University where Brunner earned his doctorate, is one of the two English-speaking universities in the otherwise French-speaking Montreal region. It is regarded as the Ivy League equivalent of Canada. To be considered for the $95,000 John Diefenbaker Award, a Canadian Dean has to propose a candidate. "So far, the prize has only been awarded to 50+ professors. I was quite amazed when I got a call from Canada and heard that they wanted to nominate me," Brunner says enthusiastically. In Canada, he will be working on his research project "Activist Sense. Towards a Political Aesthetics of Experience". "I will use this opportunity to present my work in different contexts, to advance it, and to explore the question of the activation of the sensual and the meaningful in activism. Montreal is an ideal place for this, as it has a very long history of these issues. It is also a very multifaceted place, both in the arts and media and academically.

Christoph Brunner's research project in Canada will investigate the relationship between politics and aesthetics. The title of the project, "Activist Sense", refers to Brunner's research on different politics of the sensual and their medially generated contexts of meaning in social movements. Following Walter Benjamin, he distances himself from the aestheticisation of the political. In other words, he does not investigate how politics is charged aesthetically (e.g. to distract from certain contents), as was and is the case in fascism and other totalitarian regimes. Instead, Brunner proposes "to grasp the aesthetic as something primarily political," in the sense that political discussions and struggles already start in the sensual and the sensory before they are rationalised. To this end, he uses the concept of affect introduced by the Dutch-Jewish Baruch De Spinoza as a counter-concept to the one-sided emphasis on Cartesian reasoning in philosophy.

As a visiting professor, Brunner will conduct workshops and teaching formats and collaborate with the cultural scientist Prof. Dr. Alanna Thain (his 'host'). In addition, he will spend two research stays: One at the New School in New York, the other at Emily Carr College of Art & Design in Vancouver. "The aim, of course, is to expand our own network as well as to realise a student exchange", Brunner says, "I get a lot of enquiries from local students who would like to go to Canada and especially to Québec. One sticking point is the tuition fees that have to be waived by the Canadian university for exchange students, because we don't know anything like that in Germany. So we have to develop high-quality cooperation and projects that are worthwhile for both sides; I believe that we can achieve a lot".

Brunner is looking forward to the exchange with his Canadian colleagues and to their scientific culture, which is quite different from that of Europe: "It is a certain openness and not bound to disciplines, which I already encountered in my Montreal years, and which offers additional space for 'listening to each other', a personal and intensive exchange. This experience encourages me time and again to promote creative formats of joint teaching and learning, such as the ArchipelagoLab. In addition, the visit gives me the opportunity to take up and integrate new impulses and questions. Discourse to raise the awareness of colonial settlements in former indigenous territories for example is a central component of current academic and non-academic debates in Canada”.

 Prof. Dr. Christoph Brunner heads a subproject of the DFG research group "Media Participation" and is the responsible applicant for the DFG network "A Different Form of Cognition in Artistic Research and Aesthetic Theory”. He is director of the Institute of Philosophy and Art Studies and founder of the Archipelago Lab. His most recent publication is "Affective Media Practices during the G20 Summit in Hamburg".

Author: Martin Gierczak