Milieus of Minutiae. Contextualizing the Small in Science, Philosophy, and Literature
The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were replete with large-scale projects and interests: the rise of the most colossal modern literary form, the novel; the craze for panorama; the pursuit of imperial ambitions by both European and American powers. At the same time, however, interest in minutiae proliferated on both sides of the Atlantic, as histories of the microscope and the micrological have revealed. The molecular and infinitesimal gained new importance in philosophy, mathematics, the natural sciences, medicine, and literature, as new technologies gradually rendered the ‘invisible world’ available to human observation. In tandem with this development, the notion of milieu became increasingly prevalent, as instantiated most prominently by the concept of the ecological niche in evolutionary biology. The question of how organisms interact with their milieus emerged as a new area of inquiry across a range of fields; the minuscule beings and objects that had hitherto attracted interest mainly because of their newly discovered individuality were now scrutinized with growing intensity in their environmental context.
This conference brings together scholarly work that addresses these two cultural-epistemological developments: first, the role of minutiae, as manifested in all kinds of diminutive units or categories (for instance: the animalcula, the infinitesimal, the minor, the particular, the seemingly irrelevant, the typographic detail, the cellular, the clue); and, secondly, the interaction between these tiny phenomena and their surroundings. Milieus of Minutiae explores the ways in which what is subvisible or easily overlooked is situated in philosophy, cultural production, and scientific experimentation from early modernity through the twentieth century, with a view toward the contemporary moment. Medieval thought granted discrete being to that which is otherwise considered negligible and only relational – a status later held by both the minor and the milieu – and this conference constellates approaches that restore ontological viability to both of these categories between premodern and contemporary thought. At the same time, it explores the historical dimensions of a micrology of knowledge and aesthetics, reflecting on the objectivity, supra-metonymy, and epistemological value of these units across a wide range of cultural, intellectual, environmental, social, and material milieus.
With Elizabeth Brogden, Natalia Cecire, Tita Chico, Anne Eusterschulte, Christiane Frey, Amelia Groom, Daniel Liu, Roger Maioli, Marlon Miguel, Nikolai Preuschoff, Malte Fabian Rauch, Pauline Selbig, John H. Smith, Elisa Tamarkin, Michelle Ty, Elena Vogmann, and Cynthia Wall.
Keynotes by Marianne Schuller and Hans-Jörg Rheinberger
Organized by Elizabeth Brogden, Christiane Frey, Ulla Haselstein